An Equilibrium Alternative to the Study of Culture
The Good Society 15(1): pp 15-20 (2006)
12 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2015
Date Written: 2006
Culture for Norton (2004) is a matrix of the sort popularized in the recent film, The Matrix. For all humans, who are products of culture, there is nothing outside of it. Politics is not merely reflected by culture, but is in culture. Culture also constitutes bodies as it constructs gender, sexuality, and race. Being in one culture precludes being in others.
We propose an alternative metaphor – that culture is not as a matrix, but as an equilibrium in a well-defined set of circumstances in which members of a cultural group, through shared symbols, ritual practice, and high levels of interaction, are able to condition their behavior on common knowledge beliefs about the behavior of all members of the group. These beliefs include what members of the group are likely to do under a range of circumstances, including behaviors that are off the equilibrium path, that is, what behaviors would occur if a member of the group were to violate expected behaviors. Examples of off the path behavior include what behavior should trigger sanctions and what those sanctions should be.
In so doing, we highlight not the ubiquity but rather the restricted domain of culture. An individual is typically a member of multiple cultural groups and hence of multiple cultures. A member of Congress is also an American and part of American culture; she may also be a devout catholic, a member of that church and culture; and she may be a professional, such as a lawyer, and part of that professional culture. The reason people can simultaneously be members of different cultures is that the domain of each culture is limited, and this is an implication that Norton did not derive from her discussion of multiple identities.
Keywords: culture, equilibrium behavior, off the path behavior.
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