Four types of institutional control

This diagram comes from a book edited by Christopher Hood (et al.) It shows how contrived randomness can be seen as a method of social control in public institutions (Hood et al. 2004:8).

As mentioned in a Fourcultures post on how to beat the odds and escape your fate, Hood wrote:

“Contrived randomness denotes control of individuals… by more or less deliberately making their lives unpredictable in some way”.

Hood et al., eds (2004) Controlling Modern Government. Variety, Commonality and Change. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Press. p.8.

And as eagle-eyed readers of Fourcultures will observe, this scheme of control is modeled closely on the wider typology of grid-group cultural theory. You can compare the diagram above with this diagram of Cultural Theory to note the consistency.

Mutuality – Egalitarian
Oversight – Hierarchical
Competition – Individualist
Contrived Randomness – Fatalist

I’m interested in Hood’s work because he is one of the few proponents of Cultural Theory who recognize the salience of what may be termed Fatalist Activism – the idea that the Fatalist cultural bias is just as active as the other three biases and constantly seeks to shape our institutions.

This work is very useful for understanding all kinds of social contexts and institutional arrangements. Fourcultures has previously shown how the four cultural biases can be marshalled to develop a fourfold typology of educational equity. Hood et al.’s four types of control can be added to this kind of analysis. In the next post I’ll show how Cultural Theory and especially the concept of fatalist activism is highly relevant for the specific case of public policy on gambling.

How to beat the odds and escape your fate

This lottery ticket might promise luck but it's entirely predictable

We hate it when things that are supposed to be random actually turn out not to be. But on reflection it’s not quite that simple. We like random events to be random in entirely predictable ways. The ‘Fatalism’ quadrant of Grid-Group Cultural Theory includes random activity as a key aspect of social organisation. But it is contrived randomness that is sought – a term coined by professor of government, Christopher Hood:

“Contrived randomness denotes control of individuals… by more or less deliberately making their lives unpredictable in some way”.
Hood et al., eds (2004) Controlling Modern Government. Variety, Commonality and Change. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Press.

Jonah Lehrer (author of The Decisive Moment, previously mentioned at Fourcultures) has a fine article in Wired about how to beat the scratchies. Two ideas stand out.

First, there is a strong sense that we know what kind of randomness to expect when we buy a scratch card. We are really buying into an almost Platonic ideal of randomness that is somehow, we feel, built into the universe. When Mohan Srivastava, a Canadian statistician, notices this is bogus we somehow want the scratch card manufacturers to improve their game and make the tickets really and truly random. We’re happy to be cheated by the goddess of Fortune, but emphatically not by mere mortals. This ideal of luck is very powerful – and very deceptive.

Second, the tenor of the article is that the world of lottery scratch cards isn’t really random at all. Lehrer implies suggests that there is an underworld of crooks who are tricking us out of our randomness fantasy by gaming the system to launder their drug money. Lehrer quotes Srivastava, the statistician who first spotted the flaw in the scratch cards:

“if there were people who could sort the winners from the losers, then what you’d see on the payout statistics is exactly what we see. This is what a plundered game looks like.”

In fact everywhere except in the Fatalism quadrant of Cultural Theory there is a strong bias against the idea of luck. Wired Magazine, we may hazard, does not have a readership of Fatalists. Rather the core demographic is competitive, innovative Individualism. You can imagine them (us?) nodding sagely in agreement when reading Mohan Srivastava’s reason for not making money out of the scratchies:

“to be honest, I make more as a consultant, and I find consulting to be a lot more interesting than scratch lottery tickets.” [note the link to a pay comparison site – this is the stuff Individualism is made of].

What  Srivastava says about the scratch card industry is also true, it is held, for life in general:

“The game can’t be truly random. Instead, it has to generate the illusion of randomness while actually being carefully determined.”

It turns out that the best way to beat the fickle finger of Fate is to refuse to believe in it at all.

 

Now read:

How to be a Fatalist

Fatalist policy in action

Fatalism in America today

Tempting Fate in schools

Tempting fate in schools: contrived randomness as educational policy

Australian economist Andrew Leigh has entered into public discussion with Noel Pearson about Aboriginal inequality by proposing that randomised trials should be initiated for those educational innovations supposedly aimed at improving outcomes for disadvantaged groups. He takes his cue from Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who is well known for testing the effectiveness of cash rewards on academic achievement. Provocatively, Leigh has called proponents of the approach ‘the randomistas‘. (You can also hear about randomised education trials).

The rhetoric of the scientific method sounds very sensible. After all, if it works in medicine, why shouldn’t it work in education? Indeed we can go further: since we don’t accept medicine that hasn’t been tested in a randomised trial framework, why should we accept education without similar confirmation of its effectiveness? The point Fryer and now Leigh have been making is that much educational policy is ideologically driven, rather than evidence driven. We need proper evidence and for them, randomisation is the mark of proper evidence.

So is there any downside? Continue reading

How to be a Fatalist

rs_speed_posterOf the four worldviews of grid-group cultural theory, the one cultural theorists themselves most often exclude from the discussion is fatalism. They do this by claiming it is ‘passive’ (Michael Thompson), or ‘isolate’ (Mary Douglas), and by claiming fatalism opts out of policy debates, or is excluded by the others by definition. This betrays a real bias and a failure of imagination on the part of researchers.

Continue reading to find out about fatalist activism and the fatal nation. Continue reading