Cultural theory - it's back! - RSA

Cultural theory - it's back!


  • Social brain

Regular readers will have heard me banging on about cultural theory – the idea that in all organisations there are certain fundamental ways of viewing the world which will be at play: egalitarianism, hierarchy, individualism, and fatalism.

If you haven’t already heard too much, or have never understood what I have been going on about, you might enjoy listening to one of our leading cultural theorists, Michael Thompson, in discussion with John Gray in an excellent Radio 4 programme yesterday. And, yes, I do admit to a family connection!


Just a few minutes after I wrote this, I popped into Vauxhall station to buy a newspaper (I had half an hour to kill before giving a talk to the charity, Leonard Cheshire Disability) and, by an amazing coincidence, saw a classic example of cultural theory happening in practice.

Due to delays on the tube network, a queue had formed in the booking hall waiting to get into the station. On the left, people were patiently standing in line, but on the right (the exit) a small number of people had ducked under the barrier and forced themselves to the front, jumping the queue.

So the forming of the queue can be seen as a hierarchical response – we listened to the station controller and accepted the need for authority and regulation. Those ducking under the barrier represented individualism – the system wasn’t working, so it was ‘every man for himself’. As more people queue jumped, an audible murmur grew amongst those waiting patiently. By voicing their disapproval, they were expressing an egalitarian solidarity - a shared set of norms; they were the kind of people who queued and listened to instructions, and wanted to separate themselves from the disruptive behaviour of individualists. Of course most in this situation are simply fatalist – accepting that getting to work is a nightmare!

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