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What is Mary Douglas’s culture theory and how it applies to teams?

The cultural theory of risk was created by Mary Douglas and her colleagues in the early 1980s as an alternative to the popular technical, cognitive, and psychological methods for analyzing risk perception.

According to cultural theory, how one perceives danger depends on their beliefs and chosen social structure. Some threats are acknowledged while others are concealed. Individuals “select what to fear, to sustain their way of life1,” according to Wildasky and Dake (1990). According to Douglas, risk is a social construct in which people evaluate the same risks but arrive at different assessments of risk based on hidden cultural biases related to their way of life. The cultural theory posits that risk perception is a “culturally standardized response”. In short, socio-cultural context is the primary explanation for different perceptions of risk.

Mary Douglas contends that the institutional “thought world” significantly influences organizational decisions. The universe of images, symbols, ideas, and prior experiences that each institution creates is unique. To some extent, for the institution to work, people must embrace this way of thinking. Therefore, in an institution, individual decisions are significantly influenced by the organization as a whole. A foreign church worker must first understand how the local culture thinks. Understanding cultures is made easier by Douglas’ cultural theory, which employs the grid and group models. While a group is defined by borders and separates those who are inside from those who are outside, a grid refers to roles within a social context.

The Individualist

It is noted that (Franchiser) belongs to the Low Grid/Low Group. Franchiser social environments tend to be independent, with few social roles or positions, and little tendency toward group orientation. Individualism, according to Douglas, is more of a competitive market system than it is a formal system of government. Franchisees desire to be independent and try to keep their autonomy. If it enables them to satisfy their unique demands, they ask for other people’s assistance. Any North American who possesses even the slightest bit of entrepreneurial talent is probably a franchiser. This is valid even for churches that want to franchise their global missions initiative. Franchise owners focus on tasks and results. Always, their focus is on the bottom line and ROI.

The Hierarchical

the social environment is High Grid/High Group. The term for it, Chief, has a tribal ring to it but denotes any structure where there is a strong, layered leadership presence with loyal subjects. In Indian society, a caste system permeates the rules and roles in business, church, government, and households. Unlike the Franchiser or The Man, where risk and individual interests are motivated by reward, high-group societies look out for the collective group. Among hierarchical societies, a person may have low status, but is still a part of the supported group. Dominated by status and role, the Indian worldview (dharma) is to live according to a person’s status. Although capitalism and the global economy chip away at the hierarchical system, the Chief still determines how things are done and who in the society will do it.

It is noteworthy that, in Douglas’ opinion, no person, group, or community fully adheres to either one cultural worldview or the other; rather, they are all too different degrees more or less hierarchical, individualist, egalitarian, or fatalistic. Several scholars argue that the grid-group typology is best employed as a heuristic, or a way to evaluate social phenomena. According to Tansey (2004), current efforts to quantify cultural theory have transformed it from a theory of institutional forms to “a psychological theory of risk perception” that is applied to an individual rather than to society. We investigate attitudes about oil and gas development using the grid-group typologies as a framework to comprehend why many people in eastern Montana consider the danger associated with it to be tolerable.

Understanding institutions beyond functionalism

The significance Douglas places on the pangolin cult reveals her fascination with outliers that appear to defy societal norms and the organizations tasked with upholding them. This little species appears to defy the majority of animal classifications. The pangolin is a tree-climbing, scaled anteater. The female only gives birth to one child at a time and lays eggs and cares for her young. Douglas was intrigued by the taboos associated with this animal, and her investigation allowed for the discovery of a method to the madness. She observed how, for the Lele, relations between spirits and nature and between the forest and human beings are forged through the mediation of wild animals, notably in how honouring them was tied to female fertility and successful male hunting. The influence of Franz Steiner (1909-1952), whose teaching Douglas followed, led her to examine the contradiction between negative and positive connotations associated with prohibitions and sacrificial rites reserved exclusively for initiates. An entire economy of relationships between social groups, clans and territories, the young and the old, and men and women could in this way be glimpsed.

Purity and Danger, published in 1966, marks an important turning point, in which Douglas mined her African material to turn away from it, to elaborate a comparative analysis of “primitive” and modern societies, drawing in particular on numerous examples from daily life in the western world. Four years later, with Natural Symbols (1970), she began a systematic examination of the effects of the elementary forms of social organization on behaviour and modes of thought.

Douglas’ response to the problematic reception given Risk and Culture, was a slim volume entitled Risk Acceptability According to the Social Sciences. Although it was not directly a reply to critics, Douglas acknowledged in her introduction that the controversy over Risk and Culture provided much of the impetus for the later work.

As in Risk and Culture, Douglas initially used two kinds of societies to illustrate her case about the selection of risks by active perceivers. These are the competitive, market-type society, based on contract, and the hierarchical society in which social relationships are constrained by status. While markets and hierarchies together comprise Douglas and Wildavsky’s centre of modern society, where there is more exploration of the differences between them. Rather than a dichotomy between centre and border, Douglas creates a triangular space for societal disagreement about the risk that includes the third kind of institution, the egalitarian-collectivist type that is frequently represented in industrial society by voluntary groups.

If Douglas’s reply to the criticism levelled at Risk and Culture was characteristically hierarchies in its attempt at inclusion through technical justification, Wildavsky’s was the typically unapologetic response of the individualist. In Searching for Safety, Wildavsky (cite) abandoned the defence of hierarchy altogether on the basis that it exhibits a “monumental” bias towards anticipatory measures to manage risk and has difficulty making piecemeal adjustments to policies and regulations through trial and error learning. In effect, Wildavsky dismissed hierarchy in the contemporary United States as the captive of egalitarian constituencies bent upon greater equality of condition. In contrast, Wildavsky identified societal resilience to unexpected hazards with the cultural strategy of markets, both because they adapt rapidly to new information and because they help to create the wealth that he regarded as the source of health and longevity.

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