what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

vegetables, books, grids and groups

The vegetable shop on the corner is the busiest shop I have ever known – although it does seem to be the older generation which uses it. Well-stocked and –frequented vegetable shops are a great feature of Sofia.
It would be interesting to know whether this healthy diet is reflected in Bulgarian health statistics…although any undoubted benefits will be swamped by the effects of smoking!
Certainly when I lived here for 18 months in 2007/2009, it made a significant (positive) difference to my cholesterol level.
So the verandah here is groaning with leeks, pears, beetroot, brocoli, gigantic parsnip, celery etc
I’m not sure if my love of reading and buying books technically qualifies me as a "bibliophile” since the dictionary defines that as "someone who loves or collects books especially as examples of fine or unusual printing or biding”. But I have always admired typface and regret that few publishers give information about the typeface used – or indeed seem to recognise that such an aesthetic consideration might actually help sell their products. I was therefore delighted to read this article which indicates that beautiful book covers are making a comeback. I also discovered that there is a website which celebrates the aesthetics of reading with the delightful name of bookporn.

Talking of books, when I looked recently at my ecological footprint, I forgot to factor in my use of Amazon books. A recent article paints a rather chilling picture of what it’s alike to work in one of their warehouses.

"Aha!" (or eureka) moments are an important but neglected part of life – when complexity and confusion momentarily clear and a strong ray of sunshine reveals a "truth”. I vividly remember that when I first read, in the 1970s, the section of Etzioni’s Social Problems which set out the stories which lay behind and sustained the individualistic, hierarchic and egalitarian perceptions and responses to social problems. The same happened in 1999 when I discovered Chris Hood's The Art of the State – rhetoric, culture and public management. This book uses Mary Douglas’grid-group theory to reduce the whole literature on admin reform to four basic schools. “Grid” denotes the degree to which our lives are circumscribed by rules – “group” indicates the extent to which we are governed by group choice. This gives a matrix of -
• Hierarchist (high on both)
• individualist (low on both)
• Egalitarian (high on group; low on grid)
• Fatalist (high on grid; low on group)

More interestingly, he then shows their typical policy responses, weaknesses and strengths. Sadly, neither the Etzioni nor Hood book is available on google – although this article by Hood demonstrates the use which can be made of the typology. The link I've given ábove for Mary Douglas is actually a very interesting piece in which she reflects on the origins of her theory - and how it developed. It's rare that one gets such an insight into a concept's origins and development from the author. Too often and too quickly concepts become reified.

I had another "aha!" moment when I found recently The case for clumsiness which, again, sets out the various stories which sustain the different positions people take us on various key policy issues – such as the environment. There is a good interview with the author here and a short summary here

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