RE: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 17 2008 - 17:57:54 PST

Thanks, Deborah -- The Sewell book looks like something I should be reading.


Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program, Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
504 E. Armory, Room 227
Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-244-4095

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of deborah downing-wilson
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:21 PM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

As I lurk here I am also reading (at Mike's suggestion) Wm H. Sewell's
"Logics of History" and just happen to be at a passage that offers some
direction when considering such embedded and interactive 'cultures' as
Helena describes. Sewell draws on Giddens and Sahlins to introduce
"precisely the right objects of theoretical investigation:
*structures,*which shape the world in their image;
* events*, which, although they are shaped by structures, transform the
structures that shaped them; a balky *world*, which is under no obligation
to behave as our categories tell us it should, and *subjects*, whose
interest and creative actions are the human stuff of events." ( top of pg
204) Sewell stresses the plurality of cultures, suggesting we not think
in terms of cultural schemas but of mutually reinforcing sets of cultural
schemas and material resources - and these are placed "emphatically in the
world of material practice." His discussions of structure (Giddens) and
event (Sahlins) are well worth the effort, and there is much more...

On Jan 16, 2008 3:47 PM, Mike Cole <> wrote:

> Its always difficult to interpret non-responses on XMCA, but the note that
> Helena sent in the middle
> of the culture discussion growing out of discussion of Andy's paper
> appears
> not to have been given
> much attention. Its a practical issue for Helena and for the workers and
> company involved.
> I sent the note re "web culture" in hopes of moving discussion in the
> direction of consideration
> of Helena's message, but also to doubtful effect.
> So, let me take a stab at being useful and thereby providing people
> another
> invitation to lend a hand.
> In my intermittent thinking about the question, my thoughts have returned
> often to the idea of "cultural
> styles" because, as in that literature, there appears to be a claim that
> there is some shared pattern of
> meaning and associated practices that apply, more or less, to condition
> all
> of the interactions among
> people in a common social group living in more or less common
> circumstances.
> "Culture of the classroom"
> and DIFFERENT "cultures of the classroom" may be at this level of
> generality. Perhaps "culture of machismo"
> in some societies or parts of societies?
> I also thought about the pilot's in Ed Hutchin's aircraft who have safety
> check lists and routines for going
> through them, and routines for ensuring that the routines are gone
> through,
> and rules about how to go
> through those routines, and sanctions for not going through those
> routines.
> A preliminary guess about how to talk about such group-specific, but
> presumably within-group pervasive
> phenomena in the case of a factory or workplace. In such cases culture
> refers to a combination of values
> and their associated practices which members recognize, recognize that
> others recognize them, and can be
> referred to with the expectation that they will be understood by others,
> so
> they are tools for constructing joint activity,
> a "shared reality." Gary Alan Fine in more elaborated treatments called
> this sort of cutlural system an idioculture.
> (Fine's definition can be interpreted a la Geertz, as an interpretive,
> idealistic approach to culture. This is not my
> reading; I prefer, a s n the parts of Geertz I use, to use it as a way
> to
> keep both material and ideal aspects of
> culture in mind).
> Perhaps this way of looking at things could prove useful, Helene. I got
> to
> thinking that if ALL that constituted the
> "Culture of the workplace" you were studying was safety, people would
> enter
> the building, sit down in a chair, and
> not move a muscle all day to be sure they were safe. Absurd, of course.
> They are engaged in productive activity
> and earning their livings, so they must, like Hutchin's pilots, do things
> that are not guaranteed safe. So as part
> of many of the practices constituitive of the particular activity system,
> safety is a value that gets included, with
> others, in what people do.
> If this is approximately correct, the place to start may be with the
> explicit practices where safety is named and
> included. And then work to ferret out implicit practices where it is
> present, although perhaps not explicitly
> named. And , passim Yrjo, look for the contradictions that arise when
> this value and its associated practices
> and shadings of practices conflict with other, co-existing cultural
> features of the setting.
> A glance at google suggests that there is a n existing literature
> applied
> to workplaces where some such approach
> as I am gesturing toward may live.
> mike
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

Deborah Downing Wilson
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California San Diego
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Received on Thu Jan 17 17:59 PST 2008

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