A visual summary of Grid-group cultural theory

Service designer Nick Marsh has created a nice visual summary (of Matthew Taylor’s summary) of grid-group cultural theory

Nick writes:

The really interesting thing about this way of looking at culture is that it provides us with an off balance, high tension way of thinking about competing agendas and arguments in situations where there is no ‘right’ solution, only better or worse outcomes for different groups (sometimes referred to as Wicked Problems within the design community.)…
Cultural Theory is thus a tool to be used when tackling problems, more than a theory to explain a situation, and this is the appeal for me as a service designer – I’m always looking for ways to frame the often complex and contradictory problems I come across during my work, and Cultural Theory is an inspiring, thought provoking method of viewing these issues. I’m looking forward to reading more about it…

Nipping and Biting: Characterising the Conflict between Science and Religion

Much of the supposed conflict between science and religion may well be imaginary, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any conflict.

How then should this conflict be characterised?

Gregory Bateson once noted the distinction in playful animals between the nip (playful) and the bite (serious). It’s clear that animals, including ourselves, can tell the difference, but how? How do they (we) make the transition between ‘this is play’ and ‘is this play?’?
Bateson famously summed up his observation of monkeys at the San Francisco zoo as follows:

“the playful nip denotes the bite, but it does not denote what would be denoted by the bite” (p.180).

This has a great deal to tell us about the science and religion debate. Continue reading

Do Egalitarians need Spirituality?

A thoughtful review by Graham Strouts of David Holmgren’s new book, Future Scenarios appears at his website, Zone 5.

This provides an interesting angle on the predeliction of Egalitarian thinkers to foreground the need for a ‘reorientation of spiritual values’ or a ‘fundamental change of paradigm’. Note that while Holmgren himself is clear that under certain scenarios such social changes are essential, not every Egalitarian is in agreement. One of the issues with advocating a return to spirituality is the question, Which spirituality? Continue reading

On the Meaning of Culture

Grid-Group Cultural Theory is an uncomfortable thing to live with. It claims that our rationality is partial rather than complete. Instead of one version of common sense, which sensible people have and stupid people ignore, there are actually four competing versions of rationality, four different takes on the way the world actually is. Although we are quite flexible, we spend much of our time stuck inside one or other of these four boxes, unable or unwilling to see anything beyond the walls of the box.

In The Meaning of Culture (1929) John Cowper Powys wrote:

Culture is what is left over after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn…One always feels that a merely educated man holds his philosophical views as if they were so many pennies in his pocket. They are separate from his life. Whereas with a cultured man there is no gap or lacuna between his opinions and his life. Both are dominated by the same organic, inevitable fatality. They are what he is.

Technology publisher Tim O’Reilly sees this as a strength, since it’s part of what gives an individual or an organisation a personality.

“Great companies always have this sense of authenticity, while “me too” companies have a culture made up of the latest management fashions.”

But it can also be a great weakness. Having matched one’s opinions to one’s life and one’s life to one’s opinions it then becomes next to impossible to see the life that exists beyond the opinions, or the opinions that exist beyond the life.

Powys nicely put his finger on exactly the point that Cultural theory seeks to expose: the point at which we abandon our ideas of opinion or philosophy and resort to the claim that ‘this is how the world really is’.

Cultural theory might therefore be regarded as an antidote to cultural inevitability, because it claims that no matter how comprehensive a particular cultural milieu appears to those on the inside, three quarters of the world is always on the outside, waiting to be discovered. Furthermore, it provides a map for navigating this expansive, meta-cultural territory. And like all maps it confronts us with a crucial question: is this organic or is it constructed?

Now read:
A way of trying not to fool yourself

Characterising the Open Source Movement: It’s not the ‘new socialism’

Just as I reach the end of reading Rebel Code by Glyn Moody , a riveting (to my mind) early history of GNU/Linux (subtitled Linux and the Open Source Revolution), Kevin Kelly’s article in Wired mag comes to my attention. Kelly claims the open source movement is ‘the new socialism’.

No, it isn’t.

For example, there is no way on God’s earth that Continue reading

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