Does Cultural Theory predict its own rejection?

Commenter ‘riskviews’ recently suggested:

I would guess that Grid-Group Theory would predict that it would not itself be widely accepted.
In fact, I belive that if it WERE widely accepted, then that would prove it false.

There are a few possible responses to this interesting proposition.

First, riskviews could be right. Cultural theory has been explored in many different academic fields, but not widely accepted in the way some other social science concepts have been. In particular it does seem to suggest a perspective that requires self-critique. This may be difficult.

Second, it may be that one way of achieving this is to somehow rise above the four cultures as described by Cultural Theory and see them as partially complete perspectives. Michael Thompson proposes that there may be a fifth cultural worldview- that of the autonomous ‘hermit’ – which does not enter into the coercive ways of organising and disorganising that the other four take for granted. So far from being widely accepted, Cultural Theory may be only narrowly accepted by a small section of society, which recognises ‘what’s really going on’ and then chooses to reject cultural bias. (For the record, I don’t find this line of thought very helpful).

Third, it may be argued that the four cultural biases only pause to reflect on their own partial nature when their proposed solutions to complex problems fail to have the desired effect. This kind of failure can be seen as a catalyst for better solutions which take account of something like Cultural Theory. This is the approach of Marco Verweij’s latest book, Clumsy Solutions for a Wicked World. The subtitle is optimistic about the possibility of accepting CT’s analysis and using it in policy formulation: ‘How to improve global governance’. Most writers on Cultural Theory seem to take the position that a wider understanding of its analysis might lead to better social outcomes. So, far from predicting its own rejection, Cultural Theory tends to argue for its own increasing adoption as a solution to a variety of problems.

Fourth, and this is my position, Cultural Theory, like many social science theories, can be seen not so much as a set of propositions to be believed, accepted, or verified, but more as a set of tools for thinking with. It’s quite possible to use it without accepting it. The matter then to be verified is not the theory itself but the further insights it gives rise to.

I hope I understand what is meant by the suggestion that if CT were widely accepted, that would prove it false. My take on this is that the theory claims there are four mutually incompatible ways of organising around truth claims. To accept this, would be (perhaps) to recognise the incompleteness of one’s own cultural worldview, and therefore to step outside it in a way that would call into question whether it really existed in the first place. Actually, I don’t agree with this. I think self-reflection is possible to an extent, both for individuals and for organisations. This is helped by that fact that however biased ourselves and our institutions may be, they still rub up against the world as world, not as pure fantasy. As Richard Ellis says, a cultural worldview is  ‘a prism that biases the way one experiences the world, not a prison that shuts one completely off from that world’ (quoted in Verweij 2011:205).

So what do you think? Does cultural theory predict its own rejection?

The Dark Side of Cultural Theory

Nick Naylor: Right there, looking into Joey’s eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher…
Polly Bailey: Baby seal poacher?
Bobby Jay Bliss:
Even *I* think that’s kind of cruel.

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Grid-group cultural theory proposes that there’s a constant and endless argument going on about ‘the facts of the matter’. We look at the evidence that suits our cultural biases – moreover we create the evidence to fit our take on the world. Continue reading

Climate Change: time to focus

combating global warmingMatthew Taylor at the RSA has recently argued that the Green movement is its own worst enemy.

This is so, he says, because in holding that ‘every little helps’ there has been a lack of policy focus on global warming solutions. This exposes a ‘scattershot’ approach to global warming (my term, not his) that has been taken so far. The One Hundred Ways to Save The Planet Right Now tendency leads to information and decision overload – “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (Simon 1971:40).


In place of this, Taylor proposes a simple idea:

fix one policy area at a time, then move on to the next.

It’s both inspired and inspiring. The questions begged, of course, are: Who draws up the priority list? and What should be on it? Taylor thinks home energy efficiency is an obvious candidate, but who decides, and how, that it deserves top priority?
Continue reading

Grid-Group Cultural Theory: a way of trying not to fool yourself?

complaints departmentTwo recent blog comments  are critical of the way I have presented grid-group cultural theory’s four cultures.

At journalist George Monbiot’s Guardian blog, TheNuclearOption says:

FourCultures: Astrology at least gives one 12 choices, rather than limiting it to four. People are wild chaotic creatures who at any time can flap their wings and turn into a Black Swan!

Meanwhile, over at economist John Quiggins’ blog, KieranO says:

Fourcultures, i like what Richard Feynman says ….
“Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

These four cultures that you describe, simply find and fool themselves. Science is about discovery.

To take the first criticism first, why are there only four cultural solidarities – why not two, twelve or more? Continue reading