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SHOPFLOOR CULTURES: The Idioculture of Production in Operational Meteorology


*Direct all correspondence during the 2005–2006 academic year to Gary Alan Fine, visiting scholar, Russell Sage Foundation, 112 East 64th Street, New York, NY 10021. After this year, direct all correspondence to Gary Alan Fine, John Evans Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University, 1810 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60208; e-mail:


Each workplace operates within a cultural context in which local features of interaction influence how employees conceptualize their workplace self. Building on small-group research, I argue that understanding these idiocultures as action arenas helps to specify how group knowledge, practices, and beliefs are expressed and affect occupational identity. To demonstrate the power of microcultures, I analyzed local offices of the National Weather Service (NWS) through ethnographic methods. I focused on the Chicago office, demonstrating how its culture, which emphasizes autonomy and resistance to authority, shapes the staff's images of scientific practice and the contours of being a scientist. The culture is revealed in their joking relations as well as in other office traditions. I then compared this culture with that of Flowerland, a spin-up office established in the 1990s. These two offices use their cultures to differentiate themselves, creating distinct work practices. As all work groups have local cultures, giving greater attention to small-group dynamics helps us understand how workers define themselves, how cultures differ, and how the effects of these differences shape the experience of work.