Note: Culture and the Social Scientist

I’ve heard the word culture come up a couple times in explaining the differences between Germany and U.S. in water management. It’s a word that puts fear in any social scientist, because if the differences are just cultural differences, well we can’t really say anything interesting about the issue can we? Germans and Americans are different, end of story.

I don’t believe that culture is the end of the story. Clearly I don’t, otherwise I would be wasting my time here and the German government would be wasting its money by way of the Humboldt Foundation.  A water supply or treatment system is a physical and technical system. How it is managed may reflect cultural values, but these aren’t the full story.

Fortunately for me, Elinor Ostrom has included a small mention of culture on page 27 of Understanding Institutional Diversity, as an attribute of a community that reflects its values and thus the “mental models” of its participants. She also mentions that the history community members have with governing institutions will reflect in their likelihood of participating in, adhering to, or ignoring rulemaking procedures.

It isn’t a strong or comprehensive discussion (those of you familiar with the representationalism/anti-representationalism fights in philosophy may see a jarring juxtaposition of culture and mental models without further explanation), but it means this boy don’t need to be overly worried about being not too cultured anytime soon.

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