Douglas Grid Group Theory

Theory: Grid and Group Theory of Social Environments
Theorist: Dr. Mary Douglas
Short Biography of Theorist:
Mary Douglas was a British anthropologist best known for her book Purity and Danger
which is considered a significant text in social anthropology. She taught at University College
London for 25 years. She published Natural Symbols in 1970 which began her work on the
grid/group cultural theory. She is widely known for her work on such subjects as risk analysis
and the environment, consumption and welfare economics, and food and ritual, all increasingly
cited outside anthropology circles. After four years as Foundation Research Professor of
Cultural Studies at the Russell Sage Institute in New York, she moved to Northwestern
University as Avalon Professor of the Humanities with an objective to link the studies of
theology and anthropology.
Mary Douglas attended Oxford University where she earned a
Bachelors of Arts degree, Bachelors of Science degree, Master of Arts in Politics, Philosophy
and Economics and her Doctorate in Philosophy in Anthropology. She became a Dame
Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's New Year's Honors List,
published on 30 December 2006. She died on 16 May 2007 in London.
Description of Theory:
Douglas’ Grid/Group Cultural Theory “was started modestly in 1970 as a simple model
of the distribution of values” (Douglas, 2005, p.2). The grid/group theory claims that any social
unit can be thought of in terms of two kinds of societal controls. The first being how a person is
bounded by social groups, called group. The second being how a person is bounded or
constrained by externally imposed rules, called grid. Douglas’s two dimensions can be
interpreted as dimensions of power and status with power being represented by the grid and
status represented by the group (Caulkins, 1999, p.110).
In the 1978 Cultural Bias book, Douglas developed the notion that each of the four basic
and relatively stable social structural configurations is associated with a distinctive cultural bias.
The four configurations can be summarized as individualism, hierarchy, fatalism, and
egalitarianism (Caulkins 1999, p. 109). The two dimensions forms a continuum, ranging
between high and low values and producing four major social types (see Figure 1) (Caulkins,
1999, p. 111).
This figure shows the four major configurations of the political culture it creates. The
entrepreneurial environment with few constraints and a wide scope for making connections is
characterized in the low grid/low group quadrant. The fatalist environment is constrained by
exterior social forces without the security of the group and is represented in the high grid/low
group quadrant. High grid/high group has a clear organizational hierarchy and rule constrained
rational action. Low grid/high group is the egalitarian group which emphasizes solidarity and
rejects extensive social differentiation (1999).
Douglas states in her 1995 reflection paper “The most important theoretical development
by a long shot was based on the idea of each culture being self-defined by opposition to the
others.” She continues to state the collaboration done by Thompson and Wildavsky showed that
any community has several cultures and that each culture defines itself by contrast with others.
This was the point at which the title “grid and group” was superseded by Cultural Theory (1999,
Reference List:
Caulkins, D. Douglas (1999). Is Mary Douglas’s Grid/Group Analysis Useful for
Cross-Cultural Reasearch? Cross Cultural Research, 33: 108.
DOI: 10.1177/106939719903300107
Douglas, Mary (1995) Reflection Paper on Workshop on Complexity and Cultural Theory.
June 27, 2005 University of Toronto.
Retrieved from
Douglas, Mary (1978) Cultural Bias (Occasional paper No. 35).
London: Royal Anthropological Institute.