RE: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jan 18 2008 - 03:24:45 PST

I don't have my copy here at home, but I know that Mike Cole talks about
idiocultures in Cultural Psychology--I've referenced it in my own work. I'll
attach a manuscript version of a book chapter that employs the construct in
the context of a high school English class. The citation for the publication

        Smagorinsky, P., & O'Donnell-Allen, C. (2000). Idiocultural
diversity in small groups: The role of the relational framework in
collaborative learning. In C. D. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian
perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through
collaborative inquiry (pp. 165-190). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Peter Smagorinsky
The University of Georgia
125 Aderhold Hall
Athens, GA 30602

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Steve Gabosch
Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 10:44 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] A Culture of Safety at Work

Dale, your thinking on workplace "personality" seems to be closely
related to Gary Alan Fine's concept of workplace and small group
"idioculture." See what you think. I found the article in Wikipedia
on Gary Fine helpful in grasping where he is coming from - check it
out (google Gary Alan Fine). His focus is on looking at the
"idioculture" or perhaps "personality" of small groups.

Here is a passage from an intro I drew off the net to one of his
articles (he also has a book on his studies of Little League culture,
among other kinds of groups he has studied). This passage offers a
summary of his concept of what constitutes a small-group
"idioculture." I bolded some phrases and created separate lines for
them for quicker reading and (hopefully) increased clarity. Fine's
thinking about "idioculture" seems to deserve some careful reflection
from a CHAT perspective. What do you think?
Small Groups and Culture Creation: The Idioculture of Little League
Baseball Teams
Gary Alan Fine
American Sociological Review, Vol. 44, No. 5 (Oct., 1979), pp. 733-745
This article consists of 13 page(s).

Following interactionist theory, this study argues that

cultural creation and usage can be examined by conceptualizing
cultural forms as originating in a small-group context.

Those cultural elements which characterize an interacting group are
termed the idioculture of the group.

This approach focuses on the content of small-group interaction, and
suggests that the meanings of cultural items in a small group must be
considered in order to comprehend their continued existence as

Five characteristics of cultural items affect which items will become
part of a group culture.

Cultural forms may be created and continue to be utilized in
situations if they are

known to members of the interacting group,
usable in the course of group interaction,
functional in supporting group goals and individual needs,
appropriate in supporting the status hierarchy of the group,
and triggered by events which occur in group interaction.

These elements have impact only through the interpretations of group
members of their situations. Support for this approach is drawn from a
participant observation study of Little League baseball teams.

<end of modified quote from Gary Alan Fine>

- Steve

On Jan 17, 2008, at 3:37 PM, Dale Cyphert wrote:

> Would it be useful to distinguish between a workplace "personality"
> and a more pervasive social "culture" within which that group
> operates? I work with this two-layer notion quite a bit when I try
> to explain that any organization has an idiosyncratic set of norms,
> behaviors, and expectations of how people ought to think, act, and
> communicate. At the same time, business organizations in general
> conform to a set of norms that is different from engineering
> firms...and neither is ever played out exactly within any one
> organization (or even within any one work-group in an organization.)
> Businesses themselves, in fact, reflect the social norms of the
> region in which they generally do business.
> Which doesn't really answer Helena's question directly, but I think
> it's easy to get hung up on what a "culture" is, when the real
> question is probably closer to "what are the behavior patterns and
> priorities that direct folks toward or away safe behaviors as they
> engage in day-to-day activities?" If the analogy were with
> psychological constructs, that sounds more like a personality than a
> result of culture.
> dale
> Dale Cyphert, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor and Interim Head
> Department of Management
> University of Northern Iowa
> 1227 W.27th Street
> Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0125
> (319) 273-6150
> 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
>> _______________________________________________
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Received on Fri Jan 18 03:26 PST 2008

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