Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Culture Pinned Down

Strauss and Quinn do a good job of “demystifying” the concept of culture. Their explanation is so thorough, in fact, that it almost seems a little disheartening. I remember as an undergrad thinking there was almost something “magical” about culture, that somehow this social perspective “sprang up” over time, and it could only be understood through examining symbols, artifacts, and stories. Oh, those were the days.

Now, it’s clear that even culture is situational and experience-bound. The connectionist theory seems complex in its inclusion of so many different variables, but it also seems to simplify discussions around culture, especially that of institutional culture. When institutional culture is seen as a collection of meaning that is illusively formed, it is difficult to address it. However, when we understand institutional culture to be “the typical interpretation of some type of object or event evoked in people as a result of their similar life experiences,” we can address culture by analyzing experiences and then changing environments and situations so that different experiences occur and are supported. I mean, it’s not that easy, but it’s sure a lot easier than when culture is considered almost ethereal.

To what extent do you think it’s possible to sit down with a group of people and recognize shared schemas and their origins? I guess you’d pick up on shared schemas as those things that you “had in common,” but would it be possible to discuss the formation of those schemas?


Blogger asw said...

I like the question you raise at the end of your comment in wondering how we can recognize or pick up on the formation of the schemas that are created.

One of the aspects that I wish the authors could have given time to was some methodological approaches to measuring connectionism and schemas. The chapters 6-8 were actual research studies that helped to support their theory from the previous chapters -- but I was hoping for some meat in understanding how we can delve in and start pulling out these aspects to actually measure.

Maybe as a response to your question we could conduct longitudinal surveys that track individual's perspectives over time and get the group's persepctive too to see how some schemas are forming on a particular aspect/topic...I don't know. I am at a loss to think of ways methodologically...

6:12 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

How to measure schema? Hmmm, not that's a challenging question. GFP, I personally don't think most people are aware of their own schmemas much less someone elses's hard to imagine people sitting around a schema agenda. That said, I love the idea! One easy example of "schema awareness" is living in a different culture where you are constantly faced with perhaps more drastic cross-cultural (vs intercultural although not necessarily so) differences that bring your own subconscious schemas into to consciousness. I don't know if this makes sense but I spent 5 years living overseas as well as taught English to non-native speakers for 8 years so I've become much more aware of my own and other schemas.

I might also add that somehow...schemas seem to be related to effectively situating oneself, no?

9:11 AM  
Blogger Sean McCarthy said...

I certainly think that S&Q have made the idea of culture extremely complicated and nuanced. I don't, however, think that it necessarily contradicts your view that a social perspective "sprang up" over time; what they are advocating is that we need to look at it in a more multi-dimensional perspective. I think the mystery is still there...

Your post prompted me to think about how this theorizing applies to other disciplines. Take literature, for example. If we are analyzing, say, T.S. Eliot, how do you apply the schema theory to his work? How do you negotiate "The Waste Land" as a text written by both Eliot and Pound?

I'm asking this because the application of S&Q's theory is applied to data they could collect from a "live" sample of people. How do we do this historically?

10:28 AM  
Blogger jmj said...


I think a question that would be important in measuring schemas is whether the researcher was trying to predict a schema or describe one. I would guess that Strauss and Quinn are focused on describing them, and that that practice makes schema measurement purely observational. (And I would think, too, that any observer would miss significant parts of a subject's schemas.)


I'm glad you brought up Eliot and Pound. I'm currently taking a class in Modernist poetics, and I've been struck by the similarities between Eliot's description of the way poetry works and the theories of the mind we have been reading. I would guess that many poetry critics might have missed this connection.

10:37 AM  
Blogger gt said...

Good point about demystifying the concept of culture: I didn't realize until I read your post how much I liked that part of the book.

I agree with JMJ's post that researchers are most likely going to be observing rather than predicting (and then looking for evidence of?)schemas. And if one were to predict and then look for evidence of a schema, one would not expect to find every detail of a schema.

2:00 PM  

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