Cultural Theory

Franke's emphasis on the "norms and rules internal to the network" (2005:19), Szreter and Woolcock's differentiation of the three types of social capital— bridging, bonding, and linking—and the three organizational strategies proposed by Rayner and Malone (see above) all suggest a very close connection between social capital theory and the cultural theory proposed by Mary Douglas (1970, 1978; Thompson Ellis and Wildavsky 1990). This approach proposes that each kind of the three ways of social organizing—hierarchical, competitive, and egalitarian—will articulate its own distinctive way of formulating key issues in resource management. These include, inter alia, ideas about the relative fragility or resilience of nature and the economy; the perception of time and space, principles of intergenerational responsibility, preferences for economic discounting procedures; principles for eliciting consent and distributing liabilities in the face of risk; and selection of regulatory policy instruments.

Drawing on the work of ecologist C. S. Holling, Thompson (1987) suggests that competitive institutional arrangements encourage a view of nature as "benign." The natural environment is favorable to humankind and whatever humans do to it, "it will renew, replenish and re-establish its natural order without fail" (Thompson and Rayner 1998:284). This is a view that encourages exploitation of natural resources and encourages a trial and error approach to their management. This view can be represented by the image of a ball in a cup or basin, which will return to an equilibrium state regardless of how violently it is perturbed (Figure 4.1a). On the other hand, the same social arrangements tend to represent the economy as vulnerable, potentially damaged by constraints on the use of natural resources (e.g., restrictions on oil drilling in Alaska) or by environmental regulation (e.g., constraints on greenhouse gas emissions). The image of a fragile or "ephemeral" economy is represented by the image of a

Figure 4.1 Depiction of (a) the natural environment in a state of equilibrium, (b) the economy in a fragile state, and (c) hierarchical social arrangements.

ball on an upturned bowl (Figure 4.1b), liable to be dislodged catastrophically by even modest perturbations.

These images of nature and the economy tend to be inverted when social organization is dominated by egalitarian arrangements. The egalitarian view is that nature is "ephemeral" or fragile, while the economy is regarded as a robust system that can afford to absorb the costs of resource restraint and may even benefit from increased eco-efficiency.

The illustration of the third view (Figure 4.1c), that which is encouraged by hierarchical social arrangements, might appear to be a mere hybrid of the first two. However, it is distinctive. Although it acknowledges that uncertainty is inherent in any system, it assumes that management can limit any disorder and that a state of equilibrium can be maintained. This applies to the hierarchical view of both nature and the economy. In both cases the ball is in a depression in a landscape which permits some, but not limitless perturbation. The learning and knowledge-selection processes that occur within the hierarchical framework support neither the unbridled experimentation maintained by the view of nature benign and an ephemeral economy nor the cautious restrictive behavior encouraged by the view of nature as ephemeral and the economy as benign. Hence, hierarchical social arrangements demand constant monitoring of both natural and economic systems as well as successive research programs to determine how deep the valley is and exactly how far away the ball is from the peaks of the ridges that contain it. Efforts such as the IPCC, the MEA, current proposals before the ICSU to establish a global risk observation system, and even this Ernst Strungmann Forum can be seen as examples of the hierarchical drive to establish a panoptic view of the world in which we live.

To give another brief example, the perception of time, preferences for economic discounting, obligations to future generations, consent, and liability are closely related. The competitive way of organizing encourages a focus on short-term expectations and immediate returns on activities and investments. Hence, these kinds of institutions have little use for long-term planning and pay little heed to intertemporal responsibility. They tend to assume that future generations will be adaptive and innovative in dealing with the legacy of the industrial era. So far as consent is concerned, it is assumed that future generations will make decisions based on current market conditions and will therefore accept similar decisions by their predecessors. From this standpoint, the emergence of future liabilities can be left to market forces when they occur and will, in fact, provide a stimulus for future enterprise. Under these conditions, different discount rates apply simultaneously for different goods or at different times for the same good. The discount rates also tend to be high.

This is in marked contrast with hierarchical institutions, where history is strongly differentiated by epochs of varying significance to the present. The regimes of distinguished leaders contribute to an ordered expectation of the future. Intergenerational responsibility, therefore, tends to be strong but balanced by the needs of the present. It is also likely to be safeguarded by the longevity of institutions. Consent is based on the assumption that future generations will recognize the legitimacy of present institutions. The apparent discount rate, therefore, tends to be lower than where market (i.e., competitive) solidarity applies. Furthermore, hierarchies are the most likely of the three organizational ways to be concerned with the bureaucratic determination of a standardized rate that can be applied across the board.

Egalitarian groups also tend to view history as epochal, but because they have weak mechanisms for dispute resolution and are prone to frequent schism, they tend to exhibit a sense of historical self-importance that views the present epoch as a decisive historical moment. Hence, intergenerational responsibility is very strong, but trust in formal institutions is weak. If consent cannot be obtained from future generations, and our descendants cannot force long-dead decision makers to pay for their errors, then we have no right to accept risks on behalf of those descendants. "Under these conditions the apparent discount rate used for environmental and intergenerational calculations is very close to zero, possibly even negative" (Thompson and Rayner 1998:330).

Cultural theory suggests that the ordering of social relationships within networks is essential to understanding social capital and its impacts on the defi nition, recognition, and use of resources and materials throughout their lifecycles—from their geological or biological origins to their final biospheric resting places. Hence it seeks to measure the relational qualities of linkages in networks as well as the formal properties of weak or strong ties that characterize the social capital approach.

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