The Four Cultures of Administrative Justice

New article : A Cultural Analysis of Administrative Justice

This chapter from an upcoming book is a thoughtful take on the mismatch between contemporary concepts of public management and the theories of administrative justice that they intersect with.

It’s a good example of the usefulness of Grid-Group Cultural Theory to make sense of the social. The authors are specific: in their view Cultural Theory “promises two significant advances to the theory of administrative justice. First, Continue reading “The Four Cultures of Administrative Justice”

On The Age of the Unthinkable

Some of what journalist Joshua Cooper Ramo seems to be suggesting in his book The Age of the Unthinkable is already happening at a local level. Inspired by the science of social-ecological resilience, many communities around the world are adopting strategies of transition- from oil-dependent unsustainability to something more, well, resilient.

Some of this might trickle up to national and international institutions. Long term energy supply insecurity, coupled with climate change uncertainty make it very unlikely the world in even 20 years time will be much like it is now. But since we can’t really see into the future without getting it significantly wrong, it makes more sense to plan for multiple futures, and that means we need built-in redundancy to counterbalance over-brittle efficiency.

Two further contributions to this discussion: Continue reading “On The Age of the Unthinkable”

Beyond enclaves in Palestine: Constructing the physical reality of territorial integrity (Part 1)

I’ve been struck recently by three somewhat contrasting visions of physical development for a future Palestine.

Palestine. Perhaps nowhere else on earth has the philosophy of space been so consistently conceived as a weapon.

The sophistication of the manipulation of space for military and political purposes in the West Bank and Gaza has made the Berlin Wall and the DMZ look dumb by comparison, and the East/West Belfast sectarian divide seem distinctly amateur. Israel has pursued a policy of redefining its own spatial limitations by ‘walking through walls’ at the same time as constraining the movement of others by establishing new spatial limits ‘seam-line obstacles’ and ‘depth barriers’, contesting both below and above in what architect Eyal Weizman has called a ‘Hollow Land’. Continue reading “Beyond enclaves in Palestine: Constructing the physical reality of territorial integrity (Part 1)”

‘I think we won’: Mary Douglas Interview

Mary Douglas, anthropologist and originator of what became grid-group cultural theory, was interviewed in 2006 by Cambridge anthropologist Alan MacFarlane. An annotated video is part of a large series of fascinating interviews he has conducted over many years. Exerpts are posted at Youtube (see below),  The long version is worth watching to find out what illness Mary Douglas had when she wrote Purity and Danger. At the start of Part 2 she describes the influence of Basil Bernstein on the ideas behind Natural Symbols. She suggests that, following Bernstein, hierarchical social arrangements should perhaps be termed ‘positional’. Of her work with Aaron Wildavsky on risk  she says, “I think we won”.

Mary Douglas delivers the Terry Lectures 2003 in streaming audio

thinking-in-circles

In this series of four public lectures delivered at Yale University in October 2003, anthropologist Mary Douglas explains the thinking behind her work on ‘ring composition’. These are the lectures on which her book Thinking in Circles (Yale University Press) is based.

Writing in Circles: Ring Composition as a Creative Stimulus

Slow Reading and the End of Print

It seems you can do all sorts of things slowly. Why weren’t we told?

Actually, Slow Reading by John Miedema is a thoughtful consideration of the enduring place of print in our culture. You’d be forgiven for assuming print was dying out under the pervasive i-influence of e-everything. Indeed, the author quotes Jeff Bezos of Amazon as saying the book is ‘the last bastion of analogue’.

Actually what I find interesting about the times we’re in is the arrival of radical new forms of physical textuality which call into question the simple story of the death of print. Two examples that keep catching my eye are the espresso book machine and the youtube graffiti wall.

The Espresso book machine is basically a photocopier that can spit out well made paperback books while you wait. This is a hi-tech mix of the digital (the back catalogue of every digitised book on the planet instantly available) and the traditionally physical (the physical paperback book to take away and enjoy). But it’s important to remember that paperbacks themselves are relatively new technology, having only achieved mass appeal in the 1930s (and the first paperback book shops were introduced to the US in the 1950s).

Where the publicity for the Espresso Book Machine goes wrong, I think, is that it tremendously underestimates the revolution that it heralds. Supposedly the new technology will make small independent book shops more competitive with the larger chains and the larger chains more competitive with supermarkets. This is exactly wrong. What it means is that notionally, every shop can and will become a book shop. And the cost of the technology is only going to come down. What will make the difference is not the ability to stock books, since there’s no more stock, nor the ability to discount them, since overheads are now minimal. The difference will be in the ability to promote them. The rise and rise of the expert bookseller has just begun.

The graffiti wall is a very weird phenomenon. This is the ability of internet video to bring to life monumental artwork inscribed on physical surfaces using stop motion filming techniques. This form of art has been feasible for a long time – since the invention of photography – but only now, with ubiquitous digitization, has it taken off. What’s interesting about this is the sense that the digital somehow requires the monumentally and immovably physical wall for its rhetorical effect as spectacle to work. It shows, I think, that the end-of-the-book anxiety is just a sub-set of a larger end-of-the-physical anxiety. It also shows that the physical doesn’t end, it just gets transformed. We are living in a time of digital-physical hybridization and we should probably get used to the feeling of not being able to get used to it.

East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet…

Fourcultures has previously expressed frustration over the ubiquity of the fiction of ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ thought worlds. One antidote on offer is to read the excellent book The Shape of Ancient Thought. To get a little more up to date, another suggestion would be:

Kapil Raj. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

This book disputes the idea that modern western knowledge originated in the West then was transmitted elsewhere (contra Basalla 1967, for instance). Instead, the author shows, fields such as botany, cartography, terrestrial surveying, linguistics, scientific education and colonial administration, all depended for their development on a good deal of intellectual coming and going between ‘East’ (with a focus here on South Asia) and ‘West’ , between colonial centres and their colonies.

Read also: How to combine Eastern and Western Philosophy

Reference: George Basalla, The Spread of Western Science.  Science 5 May 1967: Vol. 156. no. 3775, pp. 611 – 622

Towards an institutional understanding of the ‘cultural agoraphobia’ bias

As seen on the Public Library of Science blog, Prof James Boyle has been arguing in his book The Public Domain (read for free) and a recent talk for Arcadia that society is biased against openness.

Grid-group cultural theory contributes a number of factors to this discussion, as follows… Continue reading “Towards an institutional understanding of the ‘cultural agoraphobia’ bias”

Bias, learning to walk at the edge of Chaos

This is a guest post by Meika, for which, many thanks.

Cambridge-based researchers recently published a study providing experimental data which supports the idea that the human brain lives “on the edge of chaos”.
Its press release ends:

According to [co-author] Kitzbichler, this new evidence is only a starting point. “A natural next question we plan to address in future research will be: How do measures of critical dynamics relate to cognitive performance or neuropsychiatric disorders and their treatments?”

Well, taking that ‘cognitive performance’ a bit more specifically to include learning, and learning to walk in particular, the following story leads in an interesting direction for us fourculture fans.
Five years ago… Continue reading “Bias, learning to walk at the edge of Chaos”