Chapter 9

Opinions and Attitudes

Marianne Heiberg

The Attitudinal Framework

That man does not live by bread alone is an adage that gains particular saliency in level of living conditions studies. Living conditions are not determined solely by objective evaluations of living standards. They also have to be assessed in conjunction with the individual's own evaluation of his or her life situation. Again the critical distinction is the degree to which individuals feel they have access to the resources required to gain influence over their own life and future. To what extent do they see themselves as full and purposeful human beings? The determinants of the dignity and integrity of the human being differ from society to society and, of course, have changed radically over time. However, in the contemporary world certain dimensions seem generally applicable. They involve the ability of the individual to participate and exercise choice within political, social and religious life. Among the many questions raised are the following: Can the individual participate in the formation of decisions and practice that directly impact on the quality of his or her life? Does the life situation provide the individual with a sense of personal purpose and fulfilment? To what extent is the nature of daily life a product of choice or of coercion? Is there some correspondence between individual aspirations and real opportunities for their achievement? Does the individual view the course of his past and the potential for his future with optimism and hope or apprehension and despair?

A serious methodological problem in level of living conditions studies is, however, that while the exact measurement of, say, quantities of bread and calorific intakes may be relatively simple, measurements of empowerment and a sense of individual dignity are more problematic. Attitude surveys could be flawed on many levels. Frequently respondents do not wish to or simply cannot reveal their real views in a formally constructed interview situation which is of short duration and in which answer categories are fixed beforehand. Moreover, people are contradictory. Their expressed attitudes often do not form a coherent whole and may not correspond to or predict their actual behaviour in any case. In addition, unlike the more structurally embedded social norms and values which they in part reflect, attitudes tend to be elusive and changeable. They are shaped by a range of different forces, some transient and some enduring, some implicit and some explicit, some which operate in tandem and some which tear the individual in opposing directions.

Difficulties in measuring and interpreting attitudes are intensified in societies undergoing rapid change and social disruption. (This comes in addition to the general statistical difficulties inherent in sample survey data, as discussed in Appendix A, on sampling strategy.) In Palestinian society a sense of social dislocation, instability and uncertainty is pervasive. Although all Middle Eastern- societies have undergone profound transformations during the last 40 years, Palestinians have experienced sharper, more dramatic and more violent change than most.

In relation to this survey, another critical factor is decisive. A central parameter affecting Palestinian perceptions and attitudes is that imposed by the occupation regime. For numerous reasons described elsewhere, the survey does not attempt to explore Palestinians' reactions to this regime nor the impact of the regime upon their attitudes. Nonetheless, the fact of occupation forms an integral, conspicuous framework which impacts directly on Palestinian dispositions, attitudes and consequent behaviour.


al@mashriq                       960428/960710