Mapping four-fold conceptual schemes onto Grid-Group Cultural Theory

Bruegel,_Pieter_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_icarus_-_hi_res Over the last three decades Grid-group cultural theory, first devised by anthropologist Mary Douglas, has been used in a wide variety of disciplines. Here’s an example by David Low from 2008 of its use as:

‘a heuristic structure through which to view the diversity of university-community engagement and create shared understandings of the appropriateness of a wide range of possible engagement methods’.

What’s innovative about this is that it relates the four quadrants of grid-group analysis to the philosopher Charles S. Peirce’s ‘four methods of enquiry’.

But… as with most of these attempts at mapping two different conceptual schemes on to one another, I find myself questioning the methodological basis on which this is being done. Continue reading Mapping four-fold conceptual schemes onto Grid-Group Cultural Theory

Niche construction: what does it tell us about culture?

Meika recently posted a comment on this site, highlighting the concept of niche construction as a driver of evolution.
I found it fascinating, which, partly is why it’s taken me so long to respond. (The other reason is a total computer melt down). Anyway, I’m intrigued with the niche construction material, which I hadn’t come across. I’d agree with the authors of the book that this area is worthy of greater study, but can’t help wondering whether it really does constitute a new way of looking at evolution… Continue reading Niche construction: what does it tell us about culture?

John Dewey on practical intelligence

For philosopher John Dewey, intelligence – knowledge in the absence of certainty – was a matter of judgement.

“A man[sic] is intelligent not in virtue of having reason which grasps first indemonstrable truths about fixed principles, in order to reason deductively from them to the particulars which they govern, but in virtue of his capacity to estimate the possibilities of a situation and to act in accordance with his estimate. In the large sense of the term intelligence is as practical as reason is theoretical”
(The Quest for Certainty, 1933: 170, quoted in Westbrook, 357)

It strikes me, reading this, that ‘the possibilities of a situation’ are not necessarily obvious, nor exhaustively explored in a given ‘estimate’. But that grid-group cultural theory offers a means of describing a fourfold  field of possibility.

The estimate is conditioned both by what is considered personally to be the limits of possibility and by the institutional context in which certain possibilities may be expressed and others may not.

Reference: Robert B. Westbrook 1993 John Dewey and American Democracy.  2nd Edn. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Is God literally real?

3247937322_0f82afc8c1Philosopher A.C. Grayling writes about  the illiterate roots of religion.

The ‘roots’ of religion may be illiterate, but this is hardly a cogent argument since the roots of everything, including writing, are illiterate.

Further, it’s unhelpful to disparage illiteracy in a generalising way. Australian Aboriginal culture, for instance, has been ‘illiterate’ for most of its existence, yet is one of the high points of human achievement. Far from being ‘primitive’ as European theorists such as Durkheim claimed, it is highly advanced and has a highly advanced relationship with its environment. In a sense, country is the ‘text’ with which Aboriginal culture is ‘written’, or the page on which it is inscribed. Or rather, literacy in the sense we understand it is a pale shadow of its former glory (was it Socrates who thought writing was an inferior form compared with face to face discourse?). Continue reading Is God literally real?

Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?

This is the title of a recent paper by a group promoting ‘experimental philosophy‘. This involves the “use of the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people think about philosophical issues and then examine how the results of such studies bear on traditional philosophical debates” (Nadelhoffer and Nahmias, 2007: 123)

The paper examines two related philosophical concepts, determinism and moral compatiblism, and seeks to discover whether views regarding these differ across national cultures. Reading the paper through the lens of the Four Cultures is an interesting experience. Continue reading Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?

Australian Bush Fires: the ‘ground zero’ of meaning

The intensity and scale of the Victorian bush fires stuns the imagination. The photos of those killed are heartwrenching. For Australia this is an example of what Alain Badiou has called a ‘truth event’ – a moment prior to emotional or intellectual assimilation, an interpretative vacuum as yet unready to be filled with meaning or ideology.
Fires, of course, don’t speak, and they don’t deliver messages. To seek to understand what they say to us is inevitable, though, the start of a ‘truth process’. It is to come up against ‘the Real’, as Lacan put it.
For grid-group Cultural Theory, these kinds of events are a kind of ‘ground zero’ for the ongoing creation of meaning and organisation that is culture. Watch how quickly commentators now step into the breach and start to name the un-namable.

What, so far,  is the message of the fires?
For Egalitarian scientist Tim Flannery , the message is obvious: global warming. For many politicians, the message is more traditional, if still Egalitarian: we must all pull through together, or not at all.
However, with fires at one end of the country and floods at the other, many Australians will, as ever, be filling the vacuum with a Fatalist message: nature is capricious. Keep your head down, make the best of it you can, and put the rest down to sheer luck.