Prof Alan Jacobs wants to know whether magic and technology can learn to get along with each other. He laments the dominant tone of fantasy literature that sees natural magic opposed to cultural machinery.
“A fictional world where magic rules but is not the only game in town”.
This sounds very much like Tolkien‘s home town of Oxford. When he lived there his charmed life as a university don was under a certain amount of pressure from the city’s belated industrialisation. The Morris Motor works had been built in Cowley, on the edge of town, lending a new, Fordist edge to the politics of town and gown. It’s hard to look at the map of Middle Earth without seeing a psychological map of Oxford just behind it. So writers who want magic and the machine to coexist could do worse than to fictionalise the way they see this working already in a specific place. China Mieville has done this with New Crobuzon – and more explicitly with UnLunDun and Kraken.
The either/or/both/neither terms in which this discussion is framed will be familiar to the readers of Fourcultures.
Fourcultures has previously reviewed the work of Perri 6 , Professor of social policy at Nottingham Trent University. The Institutional Dynamics of Culture (which he edited with Gerald Mars) remains the most important compendium of sources on Mary Douglas’s cultural theory.
“Explaining political judgement” lays out a full specification of a neo-Durkheimian institutional theory of political judgement, emphasising its causal mechanisms as much as its typology. It argues that political judgement is best understood as a form of thought style, and it proposes a set of measures for capturing thought styles in political decision-making. These styles are best explained, it argues, by the work of informal institutions shaping the ways in which decision-makers are organised. Those institutions shape judgement by quotidian ritual processes in meetings and exchange of memoranda etc. To make an illustrative case for the theory’s promise, plausibility and for its comparative merits over rival explanations in the social sciences, the book re-examines the evidence about decision-making by the US, Soviet and Cuban governments in the period immediately before and during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The case has been chosen to set the argument in direct comparative relationship with one of the great classics of the social sciences, Graham Allison’s “Essence of decision” (2nd edn, 1999, with Philip Zelikow). “Explaining political judgement” concludes with arguments about the prospects for the neo-Durkheimian approach generally.
While you’re here, though, you could take our little fourcultures quiz just to the right of this page. How much is there?
You know you want to.
…and if you really can’t get enough quiz in your life, why not try the cultural theory quiz posted at the OK Cupid website (no, really). According to its creator, ” The test items are taken from Gunnar Grendstad and Susan Sundback’s paper “Socio-demographic effects on cultural biases” published in Acta Sociologica, vol. 46, no. 4, 2003, pp. 289-306.”
Maybe one day I’ll get round to writing about my scepticism of these kinds of tests. There, I said it.
at the if:book blog, of the Centre for the Future of the Book, Dan Visel has been reading Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques and noting his link between the invention of writing and improved social control.
Dan’s ‘wish that someone would present a cogent argument against reading’ rang a bell and I remembered Douglas Rushkoff’s argument that ‘text leads to a society of hearers read to by priests’; that by the time the masses have acquired the ability to read, the priests have already become writers, controlling what the masses read. The latest iteration is that anyone can publish (online), an ability until very recently reserved for elites. But now the publishing masses meekly accept the tools they are given to publish with. Every time a literacy skill becomes ubiquitous, the elite moves one step ahead once more. If the latest elite is the coders, it’s incumbent upon all of us, says Rushkoff, to learn a little coding – to program or be programmed. I read at the header to the little box I typed in to leave a comment: ‘you may use HTML tags for style’. This is often seen in comments pages on blogs. It raises the question of the way permission is embedded into the process, almost inconspicuously, mechanically. Who gives or witholds this kind of permission? It also raises a question about how many people can actually use HTML tags, or do any other kind of simple coding. Let’s call it the a href= test.
John Adams of Imperial College London produced a new preface for the Brazilian translation of his important book Risk. His very interesting analysis of the social construction of risk is strongly informed by Grid-group cultural theory:
“I have been increasingly impressed by the ability of cultural theory to bring a modicum of order and civility to debates about risk. It is not a typology for pigeonholing participants in debates about risk. Occasionally one encounters a pure type, but most of us are too complex and multi faceted to be captured by a simple label. It does however provide a useful framework and vocabulary for describing the attitudes encountered in discussions about the best way to approach an uncertain future. It helps people to introspect about their own biases and prejudices.”
Adam L Penenberg has created the perfect illustration for his new book Viral Loop. It’s a Facebook app that tells you exactly how much in dollars you and your network of friends are worth to Facebook. How could you resit using it?
Listening to Australian historian Robert Mann’s recent lecture at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on whether neo-liberalism has a future, I was struck by the deficiency of the rush to psychological explanation. In seeking to analyse the supposed inadequacies of the free-market ideology, there is an increasing tendency to rely on psychology as the master discipline, the new ‘commmon sense’ that will unlock the secrets of collective human behaviour. Just as the neo-liberals championed the perfectly rational economic actor, homo economicus, who as an individual is unrecognisable from any other perfectly rational individual, so the latest commentators attempt to correct and complete the picture by pointing out that this vision misses out humanity’s essential irrationalism, epitomised by a host of psychological quirks – which set the bounds for Kahneman and Tversky’s bounded rationality. But whether for or against the unfettered free market, these supposedly conflicting approaches share much more than they disagree on: namely a confidence that what goes on in our heads is what it’s all about. Continue reading “Why Psychology fails to explain the Global Financial Crisis”→
So many four-fold conceptual schemes, so little time… The following three appear arbitary, contrived, as though arranging a subject matter in groups of four was in itself clever (and just to complete my own set of four, here’s one I wrote about earlier).
Manuel Castells’ (2001) four cultures of the internet:
* Open source advocates
* Social communities
Also Dennis Mumby’s four kinds of discourse, producing narratives of:
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.
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?