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J M Balkin

Cultural software : a theory of ideology

We are all constrained by the norms of the societies in which we live, even when we want to frame an abstract discussion of those norms. So is it possible to escape from this recursion? In Cultural Software J M Balkin thinks that it is, but we should steer clear of attempts to systematize the process, which only results in another ideology. Instead we must rely on what looks like ad hoc thinking - metabricolage is the term Balkin uses. I felt that the book makes an excellent bridge between the scientific ideas of memes and the like and the more literary discussion of ideologies and social norms.

So how well does Balkin do at rising above the ideologies which envelop him? Well, on the positive side, he does present an anti-racist and anti-sexist case. However, in doing this he often makes it sound as if racism and sexism are the norm. In general he seems to present humanity in a negative light, giving the book a sort of 'holier than thou' aspect. For instance he suggests that the USA entered the Vietnam war with the 'Cowboys vs Indians' model of conflict, whereas I would think that the 2nd World War would be a more likely image. I felt that this aspect of the book tended to detract from some of the concrete examples Balkin gives, and so made the book harder to read than might otherwise be the case.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 350 pages  
ISBN: 0300072880
Salesrank: 4678487
Weight:1.52 lbs
Published: 1998 Yale University Press
Marketplace:New from $39.76:Used from $2.34
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 346 pages  
ISBN: 0300072880
Salesrank: 6523410
Weight:1.52 lbs
Published: 1998 Yale University Press
Marketplace:New from £19.50:Used from £14.33
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 350 pages  
ISBN: 0300072880
Salesrank: 3986005
Weight:1.52 lbs
Published: 1998 Yale University Press
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 97.03:Used from CDN$ 29.55
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Product Description
In this book J.M. Balkin offers a theory of cultural evolution, a theory that explains shared understandings, disagreement and diversity within cultures. Drawing on many fields of study - including anthropology, evolutionary theory, cognitive science, linguistics, sociology, political theory, philosophy, social psychology and law - the author explores how cultures grow and spread, how shared understandings arise and how people of different cultures can understand and evaluate each other's views. Cultural evolution occurs through the transmission of cultural information and know-how - "cultural software" - in human minds, Balkin says. Individuals embody cultural software and spread it to others through communication and social learning. Ideology, the author contends, is neither a special nor a pathological form of thought but an ordinary product of the evolution of cultural software. Because cultural understanding is a patchwork of older imperfect tools that are continually adapted to solve new problems, human understanding is partly adequate and partly inadequate to the pursuit of justice. Balkin presents numerous examples that illuminate the source of ideological effects and their contributions to injustice. He also enters the debate over multiculturalism, applying his theory to problems of mutual understanding between people who hold different worldviews. He argues that cultural understanding presupposes transcendent ideals and shows how both ideological analysis of others and ideological self-criticism are possible.