Social Organization. In terms of economic, occupational, and legal norms, rural Madeirans have lived as if on a Medieval estate; that is, they have endured social and geographic immobility in a virtual caste system. Social inequality was—and, to some extent, still is—validated by adherence to Religious orthodoxy. Its tourist-generated wealth, sophisticated ambiance, and educated citizenry make socially complex Funchal a subcultural anomaly within all of insular Portugal. Despite rural-urban interpenetration and growing economic interdependence, patron-client social distinctions remain largely in place.
Political Organization. Since 1976 the Madeiras have been an autonomous region ( regiâo ) within greater Portugal, with their civil affairs administered under Portugal's constitution by a Lisbon-assigned minister of the republic who appoints the president of regional government. A locally elected regional assembly selects from among its deputies a president and presiding officer, who is second to the minister of the Republic in political power. Funchal is headquarters for six Regional secretariats, one for Porto Santo. Locally based political parties are illegal and expressly forbidden, but they continue to operate clandestinely in Funchal (e.g., FLAMA, Frente de Libertaçâo da Madeira). Widespread popular participation in local governance is inhibited by a long tradition of colonial dependence, by mass ignorance of political procedure, and by the parochialism and debilitation that centuries of choking authoritarianism have created.
Social Control. Portugal has been imperially proficient at control from afar, abetted on the parish level by the Catholic church and, in Madeira, by de facto British economic control. Conflict at any level has been traditionally suppressed.
Conflict. Madeira has been a passive participant in European warfare. Rural dwellers remain effectively hostage to basic human rights' suppression. Underlying political dissent is mainly confined to Funchal. Disputes over women, and more recently drugs, account for most interpersonal conflict.