EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality

Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008


Towards an anthropology of decision making

Location R1
Date and Start Time 29 Aug, 2008 at 09:00


Åsa Boholm (University Gothenburg) email
Annette Henning (Dalarna University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The 'governmentality' of decision-making bridges the private and the public, connecting individual sentiment and desire with structures of social ordering, power, authority and hierarchy. The aim is to explore social and cultural dynamics of decision processes as situated and temporal practices.

Long Abstract

In modern society decision-making is a taken for granted capacity of agency attributed to individuals, persons, and citizens, as well as to various collectives (organisations, companies, nations, or even 'the global community'). Being the neverending modus operandi of governing, the public domain, in planning, administration, policy-making and implementation, revolves around the making of decisions: what decisions to make (or not) and how to make them. In our private lives we are expected to make innumerable choices, and not only what goods and services to consume or what lifestyle to entertain. We are supposed to 'design' our individual style of life and career and choose close relationships, partners or even children. What we are and what we become as persons are constituted by decisions, our own and others. The 'governmentality' of decision-making bridges the private and the public, connecting individual sentiments and desires with structures of social ordering, identity, power, hierarchy and authority. This workshop aims to problematise and explore decision processes. It asks both for theoretical and ethnographic contributions concerning the concept of decision, and decision-making as a situated and temporal process. Contributions that address social contexts, dynamics and tensions of decision-making, and issues bearing on uncertainty and risk in decision contexts are welcomed. Another area of interest is decisions in relation to non-decisions (habits and 'traditional' conduct). Ethnographies from all kinds of social and cultural environments that address decisions and decision-making are welcome.


Decision making in context: a case of Swedish rail planning in practice

Author: Åsa Boholm (University Gothenburg)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Land use planning in cases of e.g. transportation infrastructure facilities, energy plants, waste disposal facilities, or mining enterprises actualises a multitude of prospected consequences. Planning must take into account an array of intended outcomes, unwanted side-effects and incertitude. To make the picture even more complicated, negative effects or benefits to society associated with a project, including risks to humans and to the natural environment, are seldom understood and prioritized according to one single frame of reference. This paper addresses the multidimensional context of decision making in land-use planning by taking into account a case of Swedish rail way planning under the government authority of the National Rail Administration. According to the Rail Building Act and the Environmental Code consultation with municipalities, stakeholders, the county administrative board, other authorities, and real estate owners, is mandatory in the planning for a new rail way line. Decision making involves officials, consultants and experts, and is organised within a highly regulated administrative setting characterised by strong demands on efficiency and legality. Expert competencies, stake holder interests and priorities, are negotiated and balanced in accordance with an administrative logic of efficiency (producing pre-defined outcomes in relation to a set budget and time frame and following a standardised set of rules). In this setting decisions emerge as negotiated (temporary) achievements rather than determined final choices resulting from a rational process of calculating costs, benefits, and risks for identified decision alternatives in accordance with set preferences, as assumed by normative social science planning theory.

Heating Swedish houses: a discussion about the nature of change, household decision-making, and the prospect of reaching a national target

Author: Annette Henning (Dalarna University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

This paper is based on field research among Swedish households and companies selling pre-fabricated homes. It discusses the nature of individual decision-making and structural change, and proposes some implications for present government energy policy. The Swedish Government has set up a target to reduce the amount of energy used for the heating of buildings by 20 percent to 2020. Fossil fuels should be completely abandoned, and renewable energy should increase. It is widely assumed that important ways to reach this target is to use subsidies and information to persuade households to make wiser consumption decisions. The research results show a more complex picture of decision-making as involving passive decisions, non-decisions, decision-making as a chain of thoughts and events, as dependent on emotions, and as a matter of gender, situation and context. Furthermore, the paper discusses how slow-to-change-structures (such as buildings, organisations or common experiences and modes of thought) are able to restrict or influence individual decisions and actions, but also to be modified by them. Houses, heating systems or thermal comfort devices are capable of delaying energy-efficiency processes by a great number of years. Finally, the paper illustrates culture specific experiences, habits and modes of thought which have potential for energy efficiency. It is argued that, rather than attempting to influence individuals through strategies based on assumed generic human characteristics, the shift of focus provided by anthropological methods would make it possible to support and encourage certain habits that are already in existence.

Hidden power: who makes farm decisions?

Author: Amanda Krzyworzeka (University of Warsaw)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In this paper I would like to consider the process of economic decision making among Polish farmers. The basis for statements is my Ph.D. fieldwork which was conducted in the Eastern Poland about "Farmers' Work and Survival Strategies".

I would like to consider the question of collective character of the decision maker, who is usually not a single person, but a family or its part, or a friend/neighbour group. Reasons and consequences of this situation are of considerable importance for the way the community functions, and the way the local economy works. Another dimension of decision making is mutual relationship between tradition and innovations, which are both important factors of decision making, and both highly valued, although each in a different way and context. This is closely connected to the question of who is treated as local persons of authority and why. The role played by women is also crucial: usually women are not considered as official participants of decision making process, but in many families the last word belongs to them. Interestingly, not only male farmers, but also women themselves tend to deny their position on the farm. Usually neither officials, nor agricultural trainings organizers take their position into account, and so their goals (like changing farmers' way of thinking and making decisions) are impossible to achieve, as they ignore a very important part of the process they try to intervene in. Children's influence is also underestimated.

Participatory democracy as a 'social drama': deconstructing public involvement procedures in Swedish city renewal

Author: Annelie Sjölander-Lindqvist (University of Gothenburg)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Approaches designed to stimulate public involvement and public consultation in social planning relates to the international discourse on governance: integrating government sectors and increasing public participation are seen as the key to sustainable development and reviving local politics. However, the inclusion of citizens in planning practices, such as urban renewal and community planning, are beset with complexity and uncertainty. Observations and interviews in city planning in the south of Sweden illustrate that state/city administered contexts for the publics' participation in planning procedures and decision-making involve the interplay between the public and various administrative levels that are underpinned by social, cultural and historical contexts. Participatory democracy provides rhetorical and symbolic arenas. Besides that economy, politics, media, regulation, and legal aspects, exert influence on planning processes, the foundations of social and cultural identity (besides the aforementioned also history, collective memory, place and landscape) also become integrated parts of decision-making procedures. The formalisation of participatory democracy can be said to be a sequence of social events (Turner 1974), a 'social drama' where messages regarding the past, the present and the future are propagated. This study illustrates that procedures for public participation are highly ritualized and embedded with social and cultural understandings of place and landscape and how participants' roles and positions within the planning process are symbolically informed.

Re-localization and the process of decision making in a Sugpiaq community

Author: David DeHass (University of Alaska)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

It should not be assumed that the introduction of a new technology automatically wipes out past cultural practices; rather, it is often the case that these offerings are integrated into a current routine. For the Sugpiat of Nanwalek, Alaska, there is a constant need to negotiate between what to change and what to preserve. Societies judge new technologies that are introduced based upon the shared wants and needs of their individual members.

This presentation briefly investigates how the people of Nanwalek use All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) as a way to reconnect with past experiences, and to re-localize many traditions that have been lost, but not forgotten. Hondas have affected the lives and landscapes for those Native peoples of rural Alaska; and, often the impact is negative. However, in many ways, the decision to accept Hondas has allowed for increased participation in 'traditional' life-ways and resource management. These machines provide a way to materially and emotionally reunite with that which went before. Many of the activities and places that count are no longer merely fragments of one's memory; rather, they are physical and contemporary in their importance. Yet, it would be a mistake to think that re-localization simply occurs because of the existence of ATVs, or random internalizations and adaptations; rather, it is made possible by purposeful decision making, as well as, the re-interpretations of various and previously accepted traditions, in an effort to fulfill the current needs and wants of the group.

The significance of role, status, and authority in decision making processes among social workers

Author: Charlotte Siiger  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Social workers are involved in numerous and recurring decision making processes concerning their clients. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at three Danish hostels for the homeless, this paper analyses the nature of these processes. According to social workers themselves, decision making processes are about identifying the problems of clients, how best to solve them and assist clients in moving on to, preferably, a better and more self-dependent life. However, this paper argues, there are others and less recognized issues at stake: decision making processes are not only about 'business'; they are also about exercising, challenging and re-confirming distributions of roles, status and authority among staff. In that sense, decision making processes serve the purpose of governing the way relationships among actors are maintained and altered, which, in extension, may explain how the identity of an organization is reproduced and changed.

The analysis form part of a PhD project which examines how work at hostels for the homeless is organized in relation to the intentions of the law saying that residents should only stay on a temporary basis. An essential component is to explore the transformation processes between policy as general guidelines and policy as practice. This involves the understanding of policy as defined by Cris Shore and Susan Wright as well as concepts of technology in line with Michel Foucault.

Vision meets muddle: : an investigation of how vision statements affect decision making in a Swedish municipality

Author: Peter Parker (Malmö University)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

A clearly communicated vision of where the organization should be headed is often seen as an integral part of leadership and necessary in bringing about development in large organizations. However, even in seemingly successful formulations of organizational vision, it is not entirely clear how the high level goals of a vision statement connect with the everyday decisions in daily practice of the organization. Many times daily practical decisions are limited in scope and often characterized by struggles to find acceptable solutions to pressing problems rather than consistent work toward overarching high-level goals. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how an organization's stated vision connects with practice and decision-making on different levels. Special attention is given to the connection of different kinds of organizational logic. On the one hand the importance of vision in creating reflection and identity as a basis for renewal and on the other hand the daily practice of muddling through complex decisions.

The empirical starting point of the study is the municipality of Malmoe that formulated a vision of sustainability and attractiveness. This vision has been operationalized in the municipality's decision to become the first certified fair trade city in Sweden. This decision is in turn translated into operational goals for different parts of the municipal government. However the implementation of these goals in guiding local decisions is neither clear cut or simple. A detailed study of these decisions processes is intended to shed light on the complex social nature of decision-making in organizations.