The dynamics of political phenomena proves an ever increasing complexity in approaching them. Trying to face this complexity challenge and to keep evaluating the sources of change in the society and in the state dynamics, various research communities in social and political sciences are employing more often and more convinced new types of research methodologies which are based on more advanced technologies of the artificial. One can see how sophisticated technologies, like the technologies of artificial intelligence, artificial life, and artificial societies, as well as technologies of simulation-based modelling and large-scale virtual experiments are intensively employed in research areas of political culture. Moreover, research methodologies from interdisciplinary connected areas like computational linguistics, content analysis, web semantics, semiotics, or cultural anthropology have been intensively employed in the political culture research.
Methodologies in political culture research have started to be intensively employed after the cognitive revolution and mostly starting with the 1990s. Such developments have characterized many areas outside classic original domains of political culture theory, namely political behaviour and comparative politics. Their outcomes have divided the area into, roughly, classic and external areas. While the classic area keeps its attachment to the original type of approach, the “assault” has been prepared for long time outside it. There are several areas which contribute to the domain: initially, the nation identities and nationalism and the democracy areas have divided the domain. Later, several other areas have provided for conceptual and methodological research: (1) policy and public administration, (2) democracy-building (transition to democracy and consolidation of democracy), (3) state-building (state formation, state dynamics, state failure, and state re-construction after failure).
The first main impact has been induced by the value theories which have kept the original concept and methodology, but lowered the level at which values are identified and measured as determinants of the attitudes. Value theory has produced the first main paradigmatic shift toward cultural-based social change.
From a methodological and epistemological perspective, the political culture research is a meeting place for at least three paradigms: (1) positivist and post-positivist epistemologies as inherited from the classic theory survey methodologies of collecting and analysing data based on the empirical data, (2) constructivist epistemologies based on the methodologies of complex emergent systems (agent-based systems, complex adaptive systems), and (3) culturalist and rational choice-based policy studies.
No matter if developed in its own courtyard or in some conceptual neighbourhood, research approaches on issues which are addressing political culture are emphasizing (1) a pragmatic orientation toward widening and diversifying the methodological issues, and (2) the need for methodological considerations which could potentially offer the ground for epistemological clarifications.
In the light of these developments a methodological clarification is strongly needed: getting scattered methodological research approaches together might prove unexpected changes at the theoretical level. The point we want to make is not just a methodological one, but also epistemological. Our Special Issue formulates an essential question in political culture research about whether all such developments represent a proof of an enhanced ability to tackle conceptual constructions by means of advanced technologies or they just reveal a novel framework of political methodological research that is in need of an epistemological clarification: namely what is the knowledge claim of the new methodological approaches?
It was the attitude measurements-based methodology which has initially offered support for shaping a theoretical formulation of what is meant by the notion of ‘political culture’ and how it works. However, later on, it was this same methodology which has actually opened the political culture theory’s door for change. Now and then, this change is foreshadowed by the almost overwhelming extension of the methodological research. In this Special Issue we have considered four relevant types of development, each of them providing support for possible further epistemological clarifications: (1) modernization and human development theory, (2) cultural theory of politics, (3) computational political culture, and (4) political anticipation and anticipatory systems for governance and society.
Since these clarifications would be offered by competing types of approaches and very much different schools of thinking in various areas of social and political sciences, they are themselves questioned with respect to their knowledge claim: Firstly, what type of knowledge do they provide for? Secondly, how do we come to acquire such knowledge?
Let us take a brief look at each of these major developments.
A theory in search for its methodology
During the mid’1960s, there were two main arguments which have been decisive in what has been called the domination of the positivist wave: one was the impact of survey methodology in sociological and comparative politics research, to mention but two most affected areas in social and political research (Berezin and Sandusky 2017). The other one regards the influence of several main schools of thinking in promoting positivist accounts on the empirical research and survey data analysis (Steinmetz 2005): Lazarsfeld’s group at the Columbia University, Campbell’s team at the University of Michigan, David Easton and William Riker as mentors of several generations of political scientists at Harvard (Hauptmann 2005).
Political culture theory has been conceived as a theoretical and methodological comparative analysis approach in two areas of study: national identity and the nation-state, and the democracy phenomena, including elections, political leadership, partisanship, political socialization. It was its research programmatic goal which has made meaningful its theoretical approach and has conveyed its significance to the extended research community and to the large public as well, that is, the goal of explaining the dynamics of the relationship between citizens and the state in democratic societies as a means of democratic stability. Almond and Verba’s impressive cross-country research approach, The Civic Culture (1963), has explained and made this dynamics predictable on the basis of empirical data and political analysis. The influence of Parsons’ theories on the normative aspects of social and political life as well as the influence of Weber’s ideas has been decisive for guiding the political culture theory’s development under a positivist framework. This positivist background of conceptual architecture and research aims has never changed. It still stands.
Classic political culture theory avoids defining a proper ontology. The theory is based on a comparative analysis approach aiming at explaining the role citizens might play in the dynamics of governance, power and state by means of their attitudes, where the concept of ‘attitude’ is meant to cover in a most general and extensive way a wide range of “subjective orientations”, from sentiments and emotions, to values, beliefs, cognitions, knowledge, and behavioural aspects. The type and structure of the empirical data counts as well since the theory is based on opinion survey data sets which provide for the comparative analysis at nation level such that causality between cultural and political issues can be modelled in variables correlational terms:
Political culture research is characterized by an enormous diversity of studies on political attitudes. However, the theoretical status of a particular attitude and its […] explanatory value often remain ambiguous […] political culture presents itself as collective term […] which is analytically imprecise and hence has limited explanatory value. These two deficits appear in all criticisms regarding the concept. Yet, The Civic Culture has abetted this in two ways. First, it provides a very broad definition of political culture: namely, subjective orientations to politics. Second, the authors chose public-opinion surveys for the generation of the data set of The Civic Culture. This data collection method allows for a relatively simple analysis of individual attitudes (Fuchs 2007)
One of the most debated aspects has thus been that of causality. Classic political culture theory combines political behavior and culture at the subjective level of the individual citizen, atomizing the level on which attitudes are measured. Afterwards, these individual measurements are aggregated so that they provide for generalizations to mass attitudes. On the other hand, culture is considered as an emergent collective phenomenon (Elkins and Simeon 1979), and thus cannot be explained by simply counting or summing up individual projections. However, patterns of features could be identified such that cultures are associated in time and space with some typical community of individuals. Beyond this, the question remains: Political culture theory explains the governance dynamics by cultural means provided by the analysis of individual attitudes. As in this case the “cause” and the “effect” are of different natures (Elkins and Simeon 1979), the question is how could the theory explain the one by means of the other in statistical terms? Approaching this difficulty has resulted in repeated changes of paradigm: from systemism to methodological individualism to phenomenological individualism, from positivist to interpretivist or constructivist views.
Modernization and human development theory
One is concerned with theories of modernization and human development originating in Condorcet’s ideas about the French Revolution, and preserving strong Parsonians and Durkheiminian roots. This development has brought to the front the concept of value (Inglehart et al. 2003; Welzel 2013). The approach combines the classic political culture theory with theories of social change and value theories from psychology (Schwartz 2012; Maslow 1954, 1993), sociology of culture (Rokeach 1973, 1979), theories of state-building and democracy-building after the fall of communism in the Eastern European countries in 1989 and democratic stability (Dalton and Klingemann 2007; Klingemann and Fuchs 1995; Klingemann and Zielonka 2006; Pollak et al. 2003; Mishler and Pollack 2003; Huntington 1993), and state studies (Ellis 1997; Elazar 1970; Eckstein 1988).
These works prove a strong attachment to the classic concepts of subjective orientations as well as individual and mass political attitudes in political culture theory. However, while keeping in the mainstream Parsonians tradition, it succeeds to lower the classic methodological level of the political culture theory from ‘attitudes’ to ‘values’ as the latter takes a position of precedence with respect to the formation and change of the former in terms of causality. It is the most profound adaptation of the classic theory toward a more sound philosophical background, and what the approach suggests seems closer to an epistemology of democracy (Goldman and Blanchard 2015) in projecting these concepts—values, attitudes and actions as well as the relations between the individual citizen and the (democratic) state—onto the abstract level of their significance in democracy terms for the human development sequence (Welzel 2013). This theoretical development suggests an epistemology of democracy viewed and defined in terms of human action and, as intentional statement it is, most probably, closets to the original ideas of the founding fathers of political culture theory. It fits in the tradition of the ontology and sociological epistemology of human action which could be found in the works of Weber (1949), and Parsons (1968). Moreover, it reveals a deep inspiration in Lipset’s ideas (1959):
Our purpose here is not to demonstrate the impact of changing values on democracy so much as to make a point about the epistemology of survey data with important ramifications for the way we analyze democracy. Unlike dozens of articles we’ve published that nail down one hypothesis about one dependent variable, this piece analyzes data from almost 400 surveys to demonstrate that modernization-linked attitudes are stable attributes of given societies and are strongly linked with many important societal-level variables, ranging from civil society to democracy to gender equality (Inglehart and Welzel 2010)
Though close to some of the political culture theory’s main targets, like the knowledge about democracy and the knowledge about how to keep a democracy stable and efficient in terms of governance (public policy) and relation to the citizenry, an attempt to develop it toward suggesting an epistemology of democracy in terms of human values and actions would, however, deflect the classic political culture theory from its original purpose, which is that of identifying the mechanisms and processes which explain how the citizenry and the democratic polity could substantially and, sometimes, decisively influence each other’s dynamics.
Cultural theory of politics
The other one is a cultural theory of politics (Swedlow 2011a, b; Wildavsky 1987) which builds upon the structuralist backgrounds of Douglas’ Cultural Theory (CT) an approach which combines culture, institutions, and political science in a theory which starts from the rationality of individual agents, their deliberative and action capacities, and the relations between individuals and institutions. The methodological approach takes into consideration the individual level (political culture) as well as the macro level (institutions) in cross-cultural contexts, and succeeds to achieve a significant explanatory power in areas which include public policy and international relations. It is of a special relevance the connection between the cultural relativist theory (Thompson et al. 2006) and the policy theory which explains the impact of the former in explaining the political conflict as well as the political coalition formation and dynamics (Swedlow 2011a, b). This connection is important as it reveals a fundamental orientation toward meaning formation in the relationship between the individual and the institutions in policy terms and dynamics. This might help in identifying a conceptual congruence with the narrative policy theories (NPF) and also with the interpretivist theories of state and the network-based governance models (Marsh 2011). The methodologic approaches in these fields as well in their interdisciplinary areas share a fundamental interest in the dynamics of collective perceptions and meaning extraction from social and political structure suggesting as appropriate an epistemology of structural communication, meaning formation and transfer.
Aiming at explaining the subtle mechanisms of governance by cultural mechanisms, a theory of culture seems to complement the classic political culture theory with respect to the theoretical and methodological issues associated to the applications of the later to the area of governance and public administration, connecting it to both political power and public policy. In spite of its structuralist backgrounds, it suggests an epistemology of meaning. This suggestion might be reinforced by the close ties between cultural theory and narrative theories concerned with public policy.
Computational political culture
In between these two first developments, there is a long-claimed, strongly advocated theoretical development which reveals in political science—as well as in sociology and international relations research—a fundamental orientation toward emphasizing the dynamics of political phenomena and their complexity (Tilly 1995, 2001; McAdam et al. 2001; Goodin and Tilly 2006). The roots of this orientation should be sought in the middle-range mechanism theory (Merton 1949, 1957), and in the theories of mechanism-based explanation (Boudon 1998; Bunge 1997, 2004) which have marked the post-positivist wave. This conceptual and methodological development took political analysis and modelling from the universal law theories (Hempel 1942) to the dynamic processes and recurrence mechanisms in history-sensitive political phenomena (Tilly 1995). The developments on this dimension have revealed different philosophical backgrounds from methodological individualism to systemism. The consideration of culture in state modelling has been the result of the influence of a “culturalist turn” in both social and political sciences during the 1990s (Steinmetz 1999). It revealed the weaknesses of the modelling paradigms which employed culture in explaining state operation and state dynamics, and required a different view:
Methodological individualism, phenomenological individualism, and system realism all have difficulty dealing with culture because they have no secure location for it. The two forms of individualism can pack bits of culture into particular human brains as preferences, cognitive filters, memories, or something of the sort, but they then lack any plausible account of culture’s collective character, much less of its interdependence and systematic change. System realism faces the opposite problem: while locating culture in the aggregate as an organ of system-wide communication, control, or adaptation, it offers no credible account of cultural variability, multiplicity, conflict, and change, much less of how culture affects individual performance. (Tilly 1999: p. 410)
The paradigmatic changes in what regards state modelling dimension of political culture research has been, on the one hand, the result of the “lack of ontologies and methodologies that are both philosophically profound and scientifically defensible” (Pickel 2007). On the other hand, this repeated paradigmatic shift has also revealed the difficulty of such paradigms in answering one of the most challenging research question which concerns the capacity of political culture theory to explain how order emerges, how macro-level processes and structure (institutions) could influence the micro-level behaviors and interactions?
As Tilly suggested, the appropriate developments of state theories which directly point to essential issues of political culture theory should take into consideration a relational approach (Tilly 1999: p. 419) at four levels of conceptual and methodological elaboration: citizenship, democracy, nationalism, and contentious repertoires (Tilly 1999: p. 414). Though elaborated in several fundamental works (McAdam et al. 2001; Goodin and Tilly 2006), this idea remained in theoretical qualitative terms. Notwithstanding its strong influence, the idea has not found a proper methodology, nor has it been going far beyond epistemological assumptions of critical realism. It, nevertheless, found a methodological accomplishment in what has been viewed as the computational and simulation wave in both sociology and international relations research inspired from state studies and from the generative forms theories based on Simmel’ sociology (Cederman 1997). The orientation toward simulation-based research has been initially emphasized in Axelrod’s Tribute Model (1997) and has been soon followed by an avalanche of agent-based methodological approaches to most variated issues in social and political sciences.
This orientation is strongly connected with a trend toward achieving a computational political science in much the same way as sociology, economics, or linguistics have experienced this dramatic transformation induced in the late 1990s and fostered during the past two or three decades by the technological innovation. Classic analysis of survey empirical data has been gradually confronted and sometimes complemented or even replaced by a generative approach which revealed that the constructivist theories took the lead during the late 1990s in social-psychology research on attitudes (Wilson et al. 2000), and simulation-based modelling research on Epstein and Axtell (1996, 2002), Axelrod (1997). Causality-based approaches made room to complexity based ones. It was the time when progress in social simulation and computational sociology has strongly influenced the political science research in the state study area (Cioffi-Revilla and Rouleau 2010), conflict studies and international relations (Axelrod 1997; Cederman 1997) such that the generative experiments of simulation-based modelling have been approached in different paradigms, like KISS (Axelrod 1997), and TASS (Ito and Yamakage 2015). All this struggling for paradigm has revealed a clear appetite for the bottom-up approaches in both social and political sciences, that is, a type of constructivism which has successfully addressed the emergence of structure in social and political organizations. Though not as successful in explaining the emergence of new political order, the methodological individualism and its methodological achievements in social simulation research systems has proved the capacity to explain structure emergence, which has been studied in connection with system complexity and self-organization.
This kind of methodological development suggests an epistemology of interaction. Concepts of “agency” and “interaction” could allow for the elaboration of an epistemology of society and polity as complex interaction entities able to adapt, grow or degenerate in consequence of their interactions in their spatio-temporal contexts. However, interaction alone without reflexivity and self-organization cannot provide for essential views of both society and polity. This might explain why a forth orientation has been identified and what does it offer in comparison with the others.
The anticipatory systems for governance and society represent an initiative which is currently carried on by LEAP,Footnote 1 with a main focus on policymaking as a political anticipation of risk. The project develops qualitative research in anticipatory systems (Caillol 2017), a concept defined earlier by Robert Rosen (2012) and further adapted by Mihai Nadin to policy making systems (2015). An anticipatory system can be defined as a system in which “present change of state depends upon future circumstances, rather than merely on the present or past” (Rosen 2012: p. 5). Such systems contain models of themselves, and their behavior is characterized as anticipatory. Anticipation is a concept which originates in the interdisciplinary research in natural science and mathematics, and concerns the capacity of biological systems (living organisms) to
generate and maintain internal predictive models of themselves and their environments, and utilize the predictions of these models about the future for purpose of control in the present. Many of the unique properties of organisms can really be understood only if these internal models are taken into account. Thus, the concept of a system with an internal predictive model seemed to offer a way to study anticipatory systems in a scientifically rigorous way. (Rosen, Foreword2012: p. 5)
This concept has been further studied and formalized by Dubois (1998) who defines the anticipatory system as a system which contains a model of itself. Rosen’s theory is based on an “epistemology which defines properties of logic and mathematical structures” (Kercel 2002, 2007) where such property, like “impredicativity” is described as “every functional aspect of the model is contained within another functional component” (Nadin 2012: p. 26)
Luhmann’s theory on social systems (2012) has been inspired by the Maturana’s theory on autopoietic systems (2002). Luhmann’s view is based on the idea of communication. His works on social and political systems are fundamentally concerned with the transmission of meaning in structures of communication (social systems) or structures of governance (political systems). His theories suggest an epistemology of meaning as the fundamental working principle in both social and political systems.
The epistemologies of meaning are more often suggested or elaborated with concern to reflexive systems. Reflexivity is a concept which is intensively used in research on social media systems and on social and political systems. In socializing networks and in self-organized criticality research, reflexivity concerns the capacity of virtual systems to become (re)active to repeated contacts with other virtual active systems, that is, systems which receive messages, understand their content, and further transmit the messages in a neighbourhood of contacts. In social and political systems, reflexivity concerns systems with model-based behaviour, that is, anticipatory systems: such systems could self-organize such that a new internal order might replace an old one. It is one of the possible scenarios which political culture cannot explain so far in terms of mass attitudes and their impact on the dynamics of an open polity. Meaning formation, meaning dynamics and meaning transmission appear as basic aspects in the definition of anticipatory systems. Meaning research methodologies transcend psychological and social boundaries, and have been approached with concern to the definition and operation of macro-systems, like the polities.
From this perspective, meaning epistemologies might be the ones to win the competition as we have described it in the previous sections and sub-sections: the main argument might be that they incur philosophical soundness in political culture theory.
There are other approaches on the ontological and epistemological choices in political culture theory. Some authors have tried to re-elaborate political culture theory on different ontological and epistemological backgrounds by introducing concepts of discourse and practice in a dual model inspired by the philosophical works of Foucault (1981) and congruent with the constructivist works on attitudes (Wilson and Hodges 1992; Wilson et al. 2000):
The great virtue of Foucault is to have stated as strongly as it could be stated that discourse – representation, codification, categorization, prescription, and so on – has a necessarily political character. […] power is discursive in the sense that it operates through analysis and then prescription of the worker’s actions. (Welch 2013, p. 173)
Other authors have elaborated more on the weaknesses and limits of political culture theory (Bove 2002).
Tendencies of methodological research developments in political culture
The aim of this Special Issue is to understand and describe the main tendencies in the area of research methodologies associated with political culture theory research. The most relevant and effective tendencies which have been selected for this Special issue are summarized in what follows. Their selection was meant to illustrate some of the ongoing relevant dimensions of the current development. It was also aimed at warning with respect to the wideness, complexity and multi-, and inter-disciplinary characteristics of the domain of theories and methodologies employed.
Attitude and attitude change dynamics and the relationship between attitudes and value systems and values dynamics, beliefs systems and belief (ideology) dynamics, affect dynamics, dynamics of knowledge acquisition and structuring (learning) and dynamics of cognitive processes and cultural cognitions
This tendency could be characterized as enlarging and advancing the methodologies for dynamic attitude operationalization and dynamic attitude change research. There are two main dimensions of research which dominate the picture: (1) studies of attitude change dynamics in agent-based systems, and (2) studies of attitude change dynamics in relation to the dynamics of belief systems, ideologies, values, symbols. In this volume, while the former proved fruitful in understanding scenarios of preference falsification in deliberation processes (Tena-Sanchez et al., this volume) or in war contexts (Mitsutsuji and Yamakage 2019), the latter type of approach prove useful in understanding the cognitive basis of attitude change dynamics. However, cognitive modelling, while appropriate to model a dynamic scenario like Brexit attitudes, could also reveal at the methodological level the lack of conceptual complexity in the political culture methodology in relating attitude change dynamics with belief dynamics, thus leaving the burden of the modelling task on the opinion dynamics modelling and social simulation agent-based methodology (Edmonds, this volume). This tendency addresses also the relationship between emotional phenomenology and sentiment analysis (Takikawa and Sakamoto 2019), political violence, contentious politics, social and political unrest and ethnical conflict (Lemos et al. 2019), political discourse and ideology analysis (Maerz and Schneider 2019). This tendency also covers the need to address a complex evaluative perspective over the value system transformation in the context of major political regime change, like revolutions, in particular, the revolutions in the Eastern Europe which determined the fall of communist regimes in 1989. Cultural maps of the world prove their complexity when constructed with different statistical means and criteria (Pavlović and Todosijević 2019).
Emotions and ideology, meaning formation and meaning dynamics in political communication and social media, emergence of symbols
This tendency addresses the communication issues which influence and could appropriately explain the attitude formation and change processes. Such issues address the meaning formation and symbols’ dynamics in sensitive social and political context, emotional phenomenology which influences the formation of meaning and its dynamics in political discourses and dynamic social and cultural contexts (Maerz and Schneider 2019).
Governance and policy public perceptions, collective perceptions, and the narratives
This tendency is mainly addressing the issues of both policy and polity dynamics by means of analysing and evaluating public perceptions and narratives which provide for attitude formation and change. This tendency also covers the need to employ modelling methodologies which provide for explanatory capabilities of both policy and polity dynamics. One major class of methodologies is that of Narratives Policy Framework (NPF) which have been intensively employed in the analysis of the relationship between policy and cultural cognition (Walter-Smith et al. 2019). Another one is that of agent-based models of institutional structures dynamics: political regimes as well as political systems achieve catastrophic behaviour generated by public perceptions revealing preference falsification in contexts of affective cognitions (Miodownik and Lustick 2019).
Common resources management, and community action deliberation
The need to address the complexity of management and deliberation with regard to common resources in deliberative communities induces this tendency of covering the community deliberative action choice in terms of political culture, that is, attitude formation, belief change, value consolidation/de-consolidation, etc. (Barsony et al. 2019).
Comparative analysis, testing, and evaluation of research methodologies and their supporting technologies
This tendency proves the need of the methodological research to achieve an integrated, advanced body of methodologies which could improve not only the performances in processing huge amounts of data, connections, and resources now available in both the physical and virtual spaces, but mainly a justification of their effectiveness in relating political culture theory with its milieu of rather independently developed methodologies which are now waiting to prove how and why they can contribute to political culture theory improvement (Ettensberger 2019). This tendency has been induced and sustained in agent-based modelling and social simulation research by some of the most relevant attempts to elaborate comparative analysis of research methodologies (Axtell et al. 1996; Lorenz 2014). This tendency is now revealed in political culture methodology research development as a way of selecting research methodologies based on criteria of performance and effectiveness in achieving research goals defined at the political culture theory level.