RE: [xmca] artefact

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jan 11 2008 - 07:21:31 PST

Hello --

Here's a concrete situation that I'm up against where the question of what constitutes "culture" matters.

I'm on a team that is looking into working conditions at a power plant. It's an old (1940's) plant with a whole lot of old equipment. About 40 people work there. Management as asked us (a mixed team of students and professors from Human Resources, Sociotechnical Systems, Engineering, and Labor Education -- me) to come and study the place specifically to look at the "culture of safety" at the plant. By this they mean the human interactions, behaviors, practices that address the exposure of workers to the risks that abound in the plant which include high pressure, hot steam, electrical current, moving parts, noise, dust, asbestos, explosions, etc. etc. etc. So....where in the interface between and among human beings and all this equipment does a "culture of safety" get created? Is it in the regular use of safety glasses, hard hats, ear plugs and gloves (personal protective equipment)? Is it in the open lids of vats of acid that becomes gaseous and corrodes the steel beams that hold up the conveyors? Who is responsible for creating it? What are the social connections that engender a "culture of safety"? What undermines it? What defeats it? Whose responsibility is it? How can it be created?

The answers to these questions are totally concrete and they are different depending on who you're talking to.

So here's a use from real life (what's a good word for that -- colloquial, non-technical, practical?) of the word "culture" where in practice the people on the team are all agreeing that we all know what we're talking about by the word culture, and we're getting started at going around trying to answer the question, "How can a culture of safety be developed at X power plant?"

I'm going to use Andy's formulation of the subject/subject of analysis, to the extent that I understand it, but I'm also using the Engestrom triangle which has "tools" at the top and rules/customs/historic practices etc on the lower left hand. I don't see a problem with keeping both in mind when figuring out how to approach a complex problem where you have to keep your information organized while doing things. The theory is the tool, here -- you can draw a picture of it and put it up on the wall for people to use to talk about things.



From: [] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden []
Sent: Friday, January 11, 2008 1:26 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] artefact 4

Chapter 5 of Mike's book, "Cultural Psychology," found at

concludes as follows (p. 144):

"We can summarize the view of culture given here in the following terms:
1. Artifacts are the fundamental constituents of culture.
2. Artifacts are simultaneously ideal and material. They coordinate human
beings with the world and each other in a way that combines the properties
of tools and symbols.
3. Artifacts do not exist in isolation as elements of culture. Rather, they
can be conceived of in terms of a heterarchy of levels that include
cultural models and specially constructed "alternative worlds."
4. There are close affinities between the conception of artifacts developed
here and the notion of cultural models, scripts, and the like. Exploitation
of these affinities requires one to conceive of schemas and scripts as
having a double reality in the process of mediation.
5. Artifacts and systems of artifacts do not exist as such in a second
sense: they exist as such only in relation to "something else" variously
referred to as a situation, context, activity, etc.
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Received on Fri Jan 11 07:23 PST 2008

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