Re: socially selected memes

Ilfryn PRICE (
Mon, 26 Jul 1999 10:09:06 +0100

Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 10:09:06 +0100
Subject: Re: socially selected memes
From: (Ilfryn PRICE)

Raymond, you asked

>Are there any texts out there that have addressed this specific set of
>contrasts? I would be interested in finding out what others have had to

Your example is uncannily similar to the one with which Ray Shaw and I opened Shifting the Patterns. I try not to quote my own
work too much on this list but here goes this time:

In most British and American corporations the accepted management dress code is still the business suit. In many, the cut of
that suit and even the colour and make of the shirt and tie that accompany it, has a considerable impact on ones managerial
career. Image counts, right? In Norway, by contrast, the prevailing dress code often embraces an informality that the visitor
finds hard to understand. On social occasions the contrast is reversed. For a dinner party our Anglo-Saxon executive is likely
to dress down. Smart-casual rules. His Norwegian opposite number is likely to wear a suit. Dressing up for the party is seen
as a courtesy to the host.

Such harmless conventions, understood and accepted by all concerned, assist the smooth functioning of formal and informal
social gatherings, whether they be parties or companies. They may be seen as trivial examples of what this book is about:
the taken-for-granted codes or norms of behaviour which exist in all forms of human organisation.

>For example, I am a lawyer by trade. In my part of the U.S. that means
>when at work I must wear a suit, a tie, and a nice pair of shoes. Failure
>to wear the proper attire would result in my getting less respect from my
>clients and less acceptance from fellow attorney. Trends in suits are slow
>moving but they do occur over time and I do have to keep up with them in
>order to maintain social acceptability. There is not much utility outside
>of social acceptibility in wearing a suit.

There is utility. The local legal system would not function if you had no shared social codes. This does not make those codes
any better, or worse, than any other. It merely illustrates the point that all forms of organisation require a set of codes 'a
pattern or memome or whatever we choose to label it'. This side of the Atlantic The Wig Meme (which may have had utility 200
years ago before showers, shampoo etc, still exerts its influence on sections of the legal profession (and locks out other
parts of the profession let alone individuals from aspects of legal practice) - one might even say there is utility to the wig
carriers because they can charge higher fees for repeating the work of none wig carriers.

> I would be much more comfortable
>in sneakers and the only uses I can figure out for a tie is ease of
>lynching. In other parts of the world the same social acceptability might
>be achieved through the use of ritual scarring.

See wigs above.
> By constrast the transmission of scientific meme is largely dependant on
>non social factors. While peer review and other socially related factors
>are certainly factors in acceptance of a scientific meme, just as important
>is the ability of the meme to explain observable phenomena.

There is obviously some truth in this. Explanatory memes which cannot 'keep up' do seem, over time to have lost out. Those
explanatory memes were not just scientific though (compare evolution and biblical or other creation myth fundamentalism). Also
existing scientific paradigms are fairly well documented (Hull 1988 Science as a process, Chicago UP) as resistors of change
because they to perpetuate some form of organisation (chairs, institutes, journals, research grants etc) in which the accepted
codes of behaviour, and the structures thus enabled act for the benefit of the particular paradigm (memome) concerned.

Hence the social / utility distinction seems to me to be exceedingly blurred.

There are memes around which do not perpetuate, or need for their replication, any form of organisation (Paul Marsdens suicides
for example). More interesting IMO, are the memes which replicate by enabling, yet also limiting, organisations.


If Price
Facilities Management Graduate Centre
Sheffield Hallam University
Unit 7, Science Park, Sheffield S1 1WB
P +44 [0]114 225 4032
F +44 [0]114 225 4038

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