Research Sunday: a mini theory about why pluralistic society’s work

It’s a boring title, but a super interesting thing I’m reading, trust me.

Since I’m in the middle of a cross-country move, I thought I would post something interesting from my research. I’m in the middle of the end-of-semester paper for one of my classes which I’m hoping I can expand into my thesis. Either way, it’s super interesting. [Context: I’m interested in how corporate culture makes collaborating with other groups easier and harder. This section of the article is discussing how the 4 types of cultures can benefit from each other and it totally reminded me of our current political and social vibe in America right now.]


Article Credit: Weare, C., Lichterman, P., Esparza, N. (2014). Collaboration and culture: Organizational culture and the dynamics of collaborative policy networks. Policy Studies Journal. 42, 4. (590-619).


First, the authors lay out Culture Theory’s 4 types of cultures in this handy graph:

Culture Types
pg. 594


Then they say:

Within collaborative relationships, cultural difference can create tension but can also offer complementary strengths and hence collaborative advantage (Huxham, 2005; Thompson et al., 1990). In an alliance between individualists and hierarchists, for example, one would expect individualists to benefit from the introduction of hierarchal order required to enforce trades, while the hierarchists benefit from the innovation provided by individualists. Egalitarians can benefit from collaborating with other organizations to help them effect change based on their critique of the status quo, change that can be difficult to achieve due to the consensual decision making and suspicion of expertise inherent in the egalitarian way of life. Individualists profit from collaborating with egalitarians or hierarchists to the extent that cultures with greater emphasis on group can provide support for collective action. Hierarchists can profit by the critique of egalitarians, which can prevent systems of authority from becoming stagnant and unresponsive (Thompson et al., 1990). (pg. 597)


There are a lot of problems in our society today that are making a lot of people really angry: rape culture/slut shaming, Ferguson, microagressions, White Privilege, etc. Americans are frustrated with Congress and/or Obama. We wish the government had more control or less control. We wonder why it’s so hard to get “the other side” to do what we want. It’s because America is made up of Egalitarians and Individualists, and Hierarchists (the government, mostly). It’s fundamentally a question of collaboration among very disperate groups. But Weare, Lichterman & Esparza point out an area of hope. We have stuff we can offer each other. Together we’re better. That’s why democracy–as frustrating as it is–works the best.


“Growing Pains”: History’s Theory of Everything

There’s a huge push in my Emergency Management classes to ingrain us with community-building values. Over and over I’m told (and I believe) that 1. the best way to respond to an emergency is to let local leaders direct the resources, 2. that the best way to keep people safe is to make sure they’re connected to each other* and to processes/institutions (neighborhood watches, hospitals), and 3. that the best way to prepare for or rebuild after a disaster is to be responsive to the ones who have to live in the houses you’re building**.

It turns out to be a very democratizing process if you do it right. And it also happens to synergize very well with the internet and social media. (Think about how Twitter aided the democratizing process in Arab Spring).

The following blog post from Raptitude summarizes a “Grand Historical Theory” that explains why community building is so important and so powerful. [And secondarily, why I, for one, am hugely in favor of net neutrality. Allowing corporations to control the speed of the internet for profit would create a hierarchy which would degrade the powerful crowd-sourcing democracy that’s happening on the internet.] I’m going to give a bullet pointed version of Raptitude’s summary (whoa, so meta), but I highly urge you to read the article. It’s short, interesting, and well written.

1. Early man roamed about in small groups where everyone grew up with everyone else and understood all the viewpoints in their society (represented by knowing each person very well). Decisions were made by consensus–a long, boring, but equal process.

2. As we grew into cities and towns, societies were too large for everyone to know or even understand everyone else so hierarchies formed in order to organize society. This silenced all except for the those at the top. When they wanted to make a new society (America, for instance), it was those at the top who made the laws and processes of getting work done.

3. But the printing press and now the internet allowed anyone (almost–although it’s getting more and more accessible) to write and disseminate their viewpoint and opinions. We began to reincorporate society… or to put it another way, we began to dismantle hierarchy. Which has been painful (French revolution, American revolution, civil rights, LGBT marriage equality, etc.) But it’s happening and it’s awesome and we should encourage that.

Because it makes our world safer, healthier, and better.

* So there was this study done of two neighborhoods who experienced a tremendous heat wave. In the wealthier neighborhood the death rate was much higher than in the other poor neighborhood (very unusual). Authorities couldn’t explain it until they realized that the poor neighborhood was made up of minority groups who had stronger ties with one another. They would look in on one another to make sure people were ok. Elders in the wealthier neighborhood didn’t have anyone to call 9-1-1 if they collapsed from heat stroke. So connecting people to people keeps everyone safe by leveraging social ties to get information disseminated.

** In an earthquake zone in India, NGOs used to come in and build villages with cinder block houses. Sturdy, square. But the square huts fell over in the next earthquake while the more traditional mud huts stood firm. It took a while for NGOs to figure out that the simple mud huts stood during earthquakes while Western styled houses–though cement– fell because the huts were round and could resist the movement of the earth in every direction. Squares get warped. Since then EMs have learned that you can’t just import solutions out of context. You have to listen to the community because they know these things.