Tag Archives: Cultural Theory

They’re Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace


Over on the Cricket Couch, an excellent piece gives prominence to the consideration of the C word – Conformity – in the saga of England’s cricketing organisation.

Conformity is the prized value for all hierarchical cultures with their top down, authoritarian philosophy and supportive ethics.  Conformity is pursued, and seeks acceptance, by castigating and disorganizing its alternatives; individuality, autonomy, equality and fatalism.

A key insight into organisational approaches and the ethical tool kits that support them is that each requires the existence of one or more of the others, so that it has something to organize against.

This is evident as the ECB and Andy Flower’s painstakingly configured hierarchy endeavours to re-impose itself – The King is Dead, Long Live the King – by organizing against Kevin Pietersen. What else is a maverick than a non-conformist? How else does the dynasty reassert its legitimacy when its continuance is called into question, if not by identifying the foe without?

You cannot build a totally hierarchical culture. The irony for Flower is that for his hierarchical culture to ‘gel’ you have to have a Pietersen.

The dynamics of cricket pose problems for all five cultural approaches. A good cricket team requires the qualities provided by people whose talents are best developed in different cultural environments. Different players respond well to different types and combinations of cultures.

So, not only is there an ‘I’ in team (where the individualists are free to express themselves) but there is an ‘i’ where the loner feels validated, a ‘who gives a damn’ where the fatalist sits and a ‘we’ were the egalitarians feel ‘togetherness’.

Here are five crude sketches: Boycott is a loner. Gooch a hierarchist, Gower a fatalist, Botham an individualist, Willis an egalitarian.  This is why the Squire and Third Man have always advocated a clumsy solution in which there is something for the hierarchists, the individualists, the egalitarians, the loners and the fatalists.

Mike Brearley’s success in the face of the vibrant diversity of cricketers was to realise who needed more of what they wanted and less of what they didn’t want – and how this can only be achieved when no-one gets all they wanted and no-one gets nothing from the way the team operates.

What went wrong for Flower over the last 18 months is that fewer and fewer team members were willing to accept the hierarchical culture. Irrepressible individualists threw off the yoke, one by one, the loners began to drift into their isolated corners of the dressing room, the egalitarians began to form an enclave. The regime lost control.

Why was the hierarchical option pursued?  Because sports psychology has built its edifice on business psychology, where for too long conformity and the ability to give and take well established instructions appeared to be successful.

A second irony for Flower, Downton and the ECB is that just as these hierarchical values were being thrown over by the forces unleashed in the new economy – English cricket was making them its own.

Many are talking and writing as if Flower has left the scene. But has he? He seems to have been given responsibility for developing leadership. This is no doubt something which he is obsessed with. And offers him the chance to both develop and introduce his ideas without the demands of touring and team management. But his influence on culture, on team ethics and philosophy will be if anything stronger. As the Jesuits were believed to have said, ““Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”.

The ECB and Team England therefore have more to learn from Google, Facebook and Twitter than just better PR. But if the new director does not insist on Flower’s absolute departure, it will be clear that nothing has been learned.

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Das Ding an Sich or Drawbridge Down – Why It’s Time Team England Management Went for a Clumsy Solution


Those who have visited the National Cricket Performance Centre, Loughborough, will know that the glass doorway to this nerve centre of cricket in England and Wales is approached by way of a bridge, all rather reminiscent of, among other besieged entrances, the one taken by Charles 1st into his Carisbrooke confinement.

Phenomenally the span is fixed, but ‘the thing in itself’, the noumenal, is a draw bridge and the draw bridge has been up for many months.

Yesterday, inside the Centre’s print room, where copies of the infamous 84 page Nutritional Guidance for Hosts to the England and Wales Touring Party to the Antipodes 2013/14 were impressed from the divine (original) form, the machine was whirring again.

“’Ou’s this geezer Dildo anyway?”

“Chris Dillow? He’s a Marxists the Gaffer thinks a lot ov.”

“Waz this about then? Seys “Revenge Effects”. We planning fer 2015?”


“Revenge. I likes the sound of that.”

Chris Dillow, who Third Man once described as ‘that radical left arm around the wicket bowler whose front-on and off-the -wrong-foot action delivers very late away swing – a sort of Proctor through the looking glass’ has written an important piece and it is refreshing to see that the Central High Command Cricket England ™ has registered its importance and is already disseminating it’s intelligence to underlings.

The Dillow piece is an extended comment on this from Smudger Smith (RHB, RAMF), copies of which had already emerged warm from the copier and are being collated.

“Smudge ‘as cum up wif anotha one then?”

“Quality, mate, quality, that boy.”

“As soon as I sees him, I seys, ‘quality bat’.”

“A rare’ne.”

“An ‘ard worker wif the right stuff seys the Gaffer.”

Here’s the point that Smudge makes, ‘Some players need to be managed towards greater discipline, focus and restraint. Others require the opposite encouragement, to be set free from stifling executive control. Hence two questions – where each player stands on that spectrum, and how to move them in the appropriate direction – add up to a definitive set of judgements for all captains and managers.’

“Yer see, Smudge’s using an early two dimenshunal form of Cult’ral Theory: the ‘higherarchical’ an the ‘individulistic’.”

“Yer means he’s not yet factored in the ‘fatalist, the ‘egalitarian’ and the ‘autonomous’?


“But the boy done gud?”

“O yeh.”

Thankfully, copies of Organising and Disorganising: A Dynamic and Non-linear Theory of Institutional Emergence and Its Implication by Michael Thompson are already a well thumbed essential in the kit bags of all support staff. (WISH)

As the blurb says, “There are five ways of organising: the hierarchical, the egalitarian, the individualistic, the fatalistic and the autonomous. Each approach is a way of disorganising the other four: without the other four, it would have nothing to organise itself against.

“In Organising and Disorganising, Michael Thompson gives a detailed explanation of the dynamics of these five fundamental arrangements that underlie ‘Cultural Theory’.

“We may believe that our perspective is the right one and that any interaction with opposing views is a messy and unwelcome contradiction. So why should egalitarians engage with individualists, or hierachists with egalitarians?

“Using a range of examples and analogies, the author shows how the best outcomes depend upon an essential argumentative process, which encourages subversions that are constructive whilst discouraging those that are not.

“In this way each approach gets more of what it wants and less of what it doesn’t want. Michael Thompson calls these best outcomes ‘Clumsy Solutions’.”

“Lower the drawbridge and let the others in!” yelled Andy (WISH).  

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Chalk and Cheese – Towards A Cultural Theory of Cricket

High on the Downs the sheep prepared the wicket.  The springy turf on thin soil above hard chalk made a ball bowled at pace along the ground hop and skip to the frustration of even the best bat.    

On still days you could look from here across the Weald to the North Downs and beyond towards London – that great wen*.  To the south, the onshore breeze brought the taste of salt and the scent of ozone.  The rising wheatfields, prepared last autumn and now in nature’s hand, gave time for leisure. 

It is April and walking with great cheer up the lanes towards these heights, the people of villages, hamlets and farmsteads could come together at this place to play at cricket three hundred years ago and more.  

Sometimes they played against each other, picking sides as people arrived: the old against the young or the shepherds against the rest; those of one hamlet against those of another or the married against the bachelors.  Sometimes they joined together to take on the challenge of a parish further ‘afield’.

But always having fun at this difficult, frustrating game where the darned ball always bobbles just when you are about to smite it, and when even your demon scuttler, having raced across the turf and beaten the batsman darts right on through the stumps without dislodging the bail, passing the despairing long stop, with his right trouser leg tied with a handkerchief (what is he like?) on and on down the slope as the batsmen laugh and run.

In David Underdown’s engrossing Start of Play, the author identifies the original location of the development of cricket as the Downs and the Weald of South East England.

The typical Downland landscape – the chalk country – was sweeping unfenced hillside, a huge close-cropped sheep pasture, like the one in the photograph above. At around 1700 many villages still grazed their sheep in common. 

There was arable farm land on the lower slopes and the Downland villages strung along the nearby valleys were compactly built with clearly defined central cores, a church, a smithy, an alehouse, a cobbler’s, a cartwright’s.

Even then, as farms sizes started to increase, there were remnants of the old common fields in which the inhabitants sowed the same crops and harvested them together collectively.

As Underdown observes, ‘Strong habits of cooperation were ingrained in such places’. Village institutions, ritualised festivities, mores and manners all stressed the values of neighbourliness and unity.

A symbol and facilitator of this unity would often have been a favourite meeting place, a large tree, a small stretch of green, a patch outside blacksmith’s forge, where people gossiped, relaxed and where impromptu games could take place.

On a simple axis of x and y she sought to plot the location of a social system according to how clearly defined an individual's social position is as inside or outside a bounded social group – termed "group" against how clearly defined an individual's social role is within networks of social privileges, claims and obligations – termed “grid”.

The social anthropologist Mary Douglas who did her fieldwork in the Congo in the 1950s developed a way of classifying cultures according to the degree of ‘group’ and ‘grid’ manifest in a social system.  She and her colleague Aaron Wildavsky later referred to it as Cultural Theory.

A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower degree and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency.  

A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering. 

The old Downland culture is high group and high grid, well suited to activities and games with an emphasis on team work, where the need for defined roles, shared knowledge of rules, assumptions of common practices and implicit codes of behaviour reinforced the sense of belonging and togetherness.

As the 1700s moved ahead there were more individually owned and larger farms which began to produce for the often distant market, and fewer small freeholders and copyholders engaged in subsistence agriculture.  The gap between rich and poor grew.

Individualistic and market-centred behaviour was supplanting the older order of conformity and cooperation.

As the requirements of the social structure changed so the culture responded in the type of rituals (including games) needed to reinforce the system. 

Cricket with its mixture of team work and individualism exactly met the need.  It’s time had come.

Cricket was uniquely placed to respond to a cultural shift as the bonds of group bonds weakened – giving each individual a chance to shine – and the grip of social stratification weakened – requiring the squire to share the crease with the labourer and face the unpleasant fact that fact that the carter was a better batter than he.

* wen – an indolent, encysted tumour of the skin; especially, a sebaceous cyst – adopted by William Cobbett to describe London.

**In a paper here Mary Douglas explains the history of grid and group cultural history.  This is an extract:  “The group dimension measures how much of people’s lives is controlled by the group they live in. An individual needs to accept constraints on his/her behaviour by the mere fact of belonging to a group. For a group to continue to exist at all there will be some collective pressure to signal loyalty. Obviously it varies in strength. At one end of the scale you are a member of a religious group though you only turn up on Sundays, or perhaps annually. At the other end there are groups such as convents and monasteries which demand full-time, life-time, commitment.

“Apart from the external boundary and the requirement to be present, the other important difference between groups is the amount of control their members accept. This is supplied on the other dimension: grid gives a measure of structure. Some peoples live in a social environment where they are equally free of group pressure and of structural constraints. “This is the zero start where everything has to be negotiated ad hoc. Moving along from zero to more comprehensive regulation the groups are likely to be more hierarchical.

“Put the two dimensions together, group and regulation, you get four opposed and incompatible types of social control, and plenty of scope for mixing, modifying or shifting in between the extremes.”


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