06 September 2008

Culture in rotating thirds

Today while listening to while listening to Bill Hempell's ENTC 3020 Technology & Society - Audio Podcast from the University of Tennessee, he mentioned that culture has three components:

  1. Ideological or belief systems,
  2. Social,
  3. Technological.

I am interested in these sorts of claims because they may help me build (or apply) a theory of how wikis effect the user community and vice-versa.

He posited that the Ideological always subjugates the other two, and often very quickly (ie. Pope Gregory over-riding Galileo's findings).

But he also said that over time, the Social and Technological wore away at the Ideological (ie. everyone was against cloning embryos, but once Scientists cloned Dolly the sheep from mammary tissues they were proclaimed heros in the scientific community).

He claimed that in this way, cultural systems evolved.

I'm not sure where he got this idea and how much scientific merit it has in social research, however he defined culture as a social group with manifested, symbolic knowledge. This may give me a starting point for finding out, and to be honest it is a pretty limited definition of culture.

In terms of Cultural Materialism he also said:

Technology helps to share and define cultures. They are a fundamental condition underlying the pattern of social organisation and these technical developments are the soul or prime antecedent causes of changes in society.

Just life the rest of us, technologists tend to kidnap terms for their own use and can cite a general term like "culture" in a more narrow or constrained sense without warning you they are doing so.

In response to this we can tend to start thinking these definitions lack comprehensiveness and are therefore not to be trusted. Cynicism. In some cases this has merit, especially in the physical sciences where new discoveries often refine, rather than overthrow old ones. But in the social sciences, concepts like Culture are the emergent properties of highly complex relationships between innumerable sentient individuals. Until we can map every neuron in real time (and even that isn't enough) we don't even have a handle on the basic building blocks to understand the concept of an individual, let alone culture. As a result, I think the key is to look at these theories of culture with an open and sceptical mind. Always questioning the pragmatic implications, but not ignoring the chance of higher patterns coming to bear.

I know Einstein's theory of gravity is more correct, but for most of my tasks, the Newtonian theory works just fine. To be fair, Bill Hempell's theory is talking about Cultural Systems and he doesn't define this particularly well, but I will add this to my sort list of theories encompassing technologies and culture. If you know of any others, please drop me a line!

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