Fine—Small Groups and Culture Creation

Small Groups and Culture Creation: The Idioculture of Little League Baseball Teams

by Gary Alan Fine

[Fine, Gary Alan. 1979. “Small Groups and Culture Creation: The Idioculture of Little League Baseball Teams.” American Sociological Review 44 (5): 733–45.]

Points

  • based on participant (kind-of) observation over three years with little league baseball teams in three different communities in America
  • “in order to avoid treating cul­ture as an amorphous, indescribable mist which swirls around society members, it is necessary to ground the term in interac­tion” (733).
  • To do this, Fine asserts that each small group has an intercation based culture of its own, and calls this the group’s idioculture. 
    • “Idioculture consists of a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as the basis of further interaction” (734).

Rationale for the deployment of idioculture as a classificatory tool

  • “Five arguments are proposed here for the utility of the construct of idioculture in sociological research” (735).
    1. specificity of cultures
      • The relatively limited extent of the par­ticularistic aspects of small-group culture lends itself to examination by the partici­pant observer, and thus idiocultures can be specified by the researcher to a much greater extent than is true for either societal cultures or subcultures” (736).
    2. Comparative analysis of groups
      • “By comparing groups in terms of their experiences and shared meanings as influencing their culture, one is able to explicate the process of cultural differentiation—a process Fischer (1968) has termed microethnography” (736).
    3. Cultural creation and diffusion in societies and subsocieties
      • “In ob­serving a small group one can pinpoint precisely and with confidence the circum­stances under which an item of culture was created” (736).
      • esp. informal cultural products like jokes or slang.
    4. Groups as cultural units
      • “groups do not exist in a content-free con­text, but are continuously engaged in the construction of a social reality, a history, and a sense of meaning …
      •  Following interactionist theory, we assume that cultural content derives its shared social meaning through interaction, rather than through an a priori assignment of meaning. Groups negotiate meanings, and this ongoing negotiation structures the culture of groups” (737).
    5. Culture as mediation between environment and action
      • “Idioculture is proposed as a mediating element between constraints external to the group and the behavior of the group in dealing with these constraints. It is the process by which collective decisions ares elected, and thus permits an under­standing of how a group increases its sense of “groupness,” cohesion, and commitment” (737).

The Social Production of Idioculture

  • “At the inception of any group, an idioculture does not exist; however, the formation of a culture may occur from the opening moments of group interaction …
  • Eventually idioculture becomes self ­generating, and direct solicitation and re­ciprocal inquisition are no longer neces­sary for social solidarity” (737).
  • Five Filtering elements that establish a piece of idioculture—it must be perceived as:
    1. Known
      • either the item or components of the item must be based on information poreviously known by one or more members of the group
      • ” Since members have access to other idiocultures (or latent cultures)through previous or concurrent member­ships, the range of potentially known in­formation may be extensive” (738).
    2. Usable
      • i.e. must be mentionable in the context of group interaction
      • “Some elements of the latent or known culture, although shared by mem­bers of a group, may not be shared pub­licly because of sacred or taboo implica­tions” (739).
      • this can lead to strategic avoidance of the item (situational racism or foul language)
    3. Functional
      • “its perceived congruence with the goals and needs of some or all group members, and whether it is defined as facilitating the survival and successful operation of the group as a unit” (740).
      • If something is arbitrary or extraneous to group functioning, members won’t feel the need to adhere to it, and it won’t survive
    4. Appropriate
      • “Some potential elements of a group’s culture, while func­tional for satisfying group goals or per­sonal needs, do not occur or continue be­ cause they undermine the group’s social structure in not supporting the interper­sonal network and power relations in the group. Those potential cultural elements which are consistent with the patterns of interaction of the group are the appropri­ate culture of the group” (741).
      • example – the ironic nickname “Tiny” for an overweight member cannot survive if that member loses weight.
    5. Triggered
      • Some event has to bring the item into the group’s use—best if the event is notable or unusual
      • creates a type of genesis mythology for the item
  • These elements are contingent and hierarchical, in that “K>U>F>A>T” (738).

Final thoughts

  • “For both theoretical and methodological reasons, an examina­tion on the level of the small group seems desirable. Small groups can be examined adequately, and they represent locations where much culture, subsequently spread to larger social units, has its origin. This procedure, in addition to increasing understanding about the social role of culture itself, also has the potential for bettering knowledge about small groups …
  • Culture is a construction based upon the consensual meaning sys­tem of members; it comprises the interac­tional products that result from a verbal and behavioral representation of that meaning system.” (744).

Abstract

Following interactionist theory, this study argues that cultural creation and usage can be examined by conceptualizing cultural forms as originating in a small-group context. Those cultural elements which characterize an interacting group are termed the idioculture of the group. This approach focuses on the content of small-group interaction, and suggests that the meanings of cultural items in a small group must be considered in order to comprehend their continued existence as communication. Five characteristics of cultural items affect which items will become part of a group culture. Cultural forms may be created and continue to be utilized in situations if they are known to members of the interacting group, usable in the course of group interaction, functional in supporting group goals and individual needs, appropriate in supporting the status hierarchy of the group, and triggered by events which occur in group interaction. These elements have impact only through the interpretations of group members oftheir situations. Support for this approach is drawn from a participant observation study of Little League baseball teams.

Annotation Summary for: Fine – Small Groups and Culture Creation- The Idioculture of Little League Baseball Teams

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “SMALL GROUPS AND CULTURE CREATION: THE IDIOCULTURE OF LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAMS* GARY ALAN FINE”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “1979,”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “in order to avoid treating cul­ ture as an amorphous, indescribable mist which swirls around society members, it is necessary to ground the term in interac­ tion.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” While cultureis defined, created, and transmittedthrough interaction, it is not interactionitself, but the content, meanings, and topics of interaction.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “experiences can be referred to with the expectation that they will be understood by other members, and further can be em­ ployed to construct a social reality.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “it need not be part ofa demographically distinct subgroup, but rather that it is a particularistic develop­ment of any group in the society.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although cultural elements cantranscend the boundaries of interactinggroups, it frequently occurs that cultural elements are experienced within the con­text of the small group. Thus, one may argue that most culture elements are expe­rienced as part of a communication sys­tem of a small group even though they may be known widely .1”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In focusing on the interacting unit, I argue that every group has to some extenta culture of its own, which I shall term its idioculture. 2 Idioculture consists of a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as the basis of further interaction. ”

Page 3, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “idioculture.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Members recognize that they share experiences in common and these”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My goal in this paper is simple. After briefly suggesting several theoretical ra­ tionales for the idioculture construct, I shall examine several perceived char­ acteristics of cultural items which affect their creation and usage, and, thus, the development of idiocultures within a set of small groups.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “LITTLE LEAGUE IDIOCUL TURES”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the data discussed m this paper derive from three years of parti~i­pant observation research conducted withLittle League3 baseball teams in five communities in New England and Min­nesota.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Little League baseball teams werechosen for observation because theycombine the two major elements of grouplife: task orientation (winning games) andsocioemotional orientation (peerfriendship). ”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “RATIONALE FOR THE IDIOCULTURE CONSTRUCT”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “small-group research can be avoided. Five arguments are proposed here for the utility of the construct ofidioculture in sociological research. 1. Specificity of Cultures”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Since small groups are observable and are capable of being questioned, culture need not remain the amorphous phenom­ enon which it tends to be in social an-”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “By comparing groups in terms of their experiences and shared meanings as influencing their culture, one is able toexplicate the process of culturaldifferentiation-a process Fischer (1968) has termed microethnography. ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “thropology and macro sociology.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Therelatively limited extent of the par­ticularistic aspects of small-group culturelends itself to examination by the partici­pant observer, and thus idiocultures canbe specified by the researcher to a much greater extent than is true for eithersocietal cultures or subcultures. ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “3. Cultural Creation and Diffusion in Societies and Subsocieties”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Understanding the dynamics of the cre­ation of an idioculture may have signifi­cant implications for understanding cul­tural creation in larger social units.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” In ob­serving a small group one can pinpointprecisely and with confidence the circum­stances under which an item of culturewas created. ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “2. Comparative Analysis of Groups”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The concept of idioculture allows for the development of a cultural anthropol­ogy of small groups (McFeat, 1974). So­cial scientists typically have little under­standing of how closely related groups differ from each other. ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Informal cultural products, such as jokes, slang, or superstitions, can develop in the course of natural interaction in a group, and sub­ sequently may “catch on,” spread be­ yond the boundaries of the group to which it originally belonged, and become part of a culture or subculture (Fine and Klein­ man, 1979).”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “4. Groups As Cultural Units”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The idioculture construct indicates that groups do not exist in a content-free con­ text, but are continuously engaged in the construction of a social reality, a history (McBride, 1975), and a sense of meaning”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Following interactionisttheory, we assume that cultural contentderives its shared social meaning through interaction, rather than through an a priori assignment of meaning.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Groups negotiatemeanings, and this ongoing negotiationstructures the culture of groups.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE SOCIAL PRODUCTION OF I DIOCUL TURE”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “At the inception of any group, anidioculture does not exist; however, theformation of a culture may occur from theopening moments of group interaction. ”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Eventually idioculture becomes self­generating, and direct solicitation and re­ciprocal inquisition are no longer neces­sary for social solidarity. ”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “5. Culture As Mediation between Environment and Action”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Idioculture is proposed as a mediatingelement between constraints external tothe group and the behavior of the group in dealing with these constraints. It is theprocess by which collective decisions areselected, and thus permits an under­standing of how a group increases its sense of “groupness,” cohesion, andcommitment. ”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To be sure, not every element of a group’s conversation or behavior will be part of the idioculture.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “K>U>F>A>T.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Known culture. The first constraint onwhether a potential culture element will become part of the group idioculture is that the item or components of the item be known previously by at least one memberof the group. This pool of background in­formation I shall term the known culture of the group. ”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Members construct meanings given a set of social constraints which are per­ceived as affecting the boundaries of per­missible behavior. ”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Since members have access toother idiocultures (or latent cultures)through previous or concurrent member­ships, the range of potentially known in­formation may be extensive.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While the content ofcultural elements needs to satisfy five analytical criteria to become incorporated into an idioculture, these five criteria are not external stimuli which inevitably shape the behavior of individuals or groups. Rather, these are components of the sense-making systems of individuals; the specific implications of these criteria are negotiated in group interaction. These processes essentially operate as filters (Siman, 1977), which constrain cultural options. They provide strictures within which freedom of selection operates”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “”Polish Home Run.””

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The five filtering elements are proposed to explain the selection and continued salience of any given item in a group’sidioculture–that the item be perceived as Known, Usable, Functional, and Appro­ priate in terms of the group’s status sys­ tem, and Triggered by some experienced event. ”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “known culture, although shared by mem­ bers of a group, may not be shared pub­ licly because of sacred or taboo implica­ tions.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Thus, in Bolton Park one star player objected strongly to anotherplayer’s reference to the “fucking umps”;another player on that team chastised ateammate for uttering the epithet “JesusChrist” and taking the Lord’s name in vain. ”

Page 8, Note (Orange): But Chinese pain quake is fine!

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Chinese pain shake”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Usable culture.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “culture-that is, mentionable in the context of group in­ teraction. Some elements of the latent or”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Functional culture. A third factor in­fluencing the likelihood of an item being incorporated into a group’s idioculture is its perceived congruence with the goals and needs of some or all group members, and whether it is defined as facilitating the survival and successful operation of the group as a unit (Pellegrin, 1953). ”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “(A black boy pitching for the opposing team has just hit one of their batters) Justin: “Come on, you nigger.” Coach: ” Don’t be stupid. ” Justin: ” That’s what he is .” Assistant Coach: “You’ll get thrown out of the game. ” Justin: ” I don’t mind if he calls me whitey.” (Field notes)”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “. In this situation, and others, theseadults see racial abuse as a strategic problem. Boys should not use these termsbecause other adults will sanction them, or because (on other occasions) it was said the targets may attack the speaker.”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Tied to usability is situational appropri­ateness. Norms for prescribed and pro­scribed behavior tend to be contextually bounded. An item of culture may be appropriate only in certain circumstances, such as when the coach is absent. ”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A Hopewell team prohibited chewing gum on the playing field because one of their players had almost choked on a piece of gum after he ran into another outfielder when attempting to catch an unexpected fly ball. Other teams in the league did not have a similar rule, because the issue was never salient.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Some potential elements of a group’s culture, while func­ tional for satisfying group goals or per­ sonal needs, do not occur or continue be­ cause they undermine the group’s social structure in not supporting the interper­ sonal network and power relations in the group. Those potential cultural elements which are consistent with the patterns of interaction of the group are the appropri­ ate culture of the group.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Appropriate culture.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Triggering event.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” some interactional mechanism (or filter) is necessary to account for which items enter the group’s cultural re­pertoire. The concept of a triggering event is postulated as an explanatory device to determine selection.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “content of a group’s idioculture. Different configurations of these five factors suggest how groups come to differ in theirculture, and why specific forms appear and remain in particular groups.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “triggers which are notable or unusual are especially likely to produce idioculture.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Triggering events and their effects are difficult to predict in advance in natural settings, as they are emergent from social interaction. However, in an experimental setting, triggering events can be sys­ tematically arranged by the researcher and their effects upon the content of group culture examined.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Summary.”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Five elements-the knownculture, the usable culture, the functional culture, the appropriate culture, and the triggering event-influence the specific”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “CONCLUSION”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Sociologists have had considerable dif­ ficulty in analyzing the position of culture in society because of a general unwilling­ ness to examine culture in its behavioral context.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “For both theoretical and methodological reasons, an examina­ tion on the level of the small group seems desirable. Small groups can be examined adequately, and they represent locations where much culture, subsequently spread to larger social units, has its origin.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” This procedure, in addition to increasing understanding about the social role ofculture itself, also has the potential for bettering knowledge about small groups.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Culture is a construction based upon the consensual meaning sys­ tem of members; it comprises the interac­ tional products that result from a verbal and behavioral representation of that meaning system.”

Page 13, Underline (Red): Content: “Fine, Gary Alan and Sherryl Kleinman 1979 “Rethinking subculture: an interactionistanalysis.” American Journal of Sociology 85:1-20. ”

Page 13, Underline (Red): Content: “Fischer, J. L. 1968 “Microethnology: small-scale comparative studies.” Pp. 375-87 in J. A. Clifton (ed.),”

Page 14, Underline (Red): Content: “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology.Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ”

Page 14, Underline (Red): Content: “Geertz, Clifford The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: 1973 Basic Books.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s