Culture in World Politics: an Introduction



The purpose of this book is to discuss and show the importance of applying a variety of cultural theories to the study of world politics. The general case for this can be made in at least two ways. First, it can be argued that existing theories of international relations (IR) overlook important explanations and aspects of world events by not focusing on cultural phenomena. A powerful argument along these lines is made by Yale Ferguson in chapter 2. The importance of the adoption of cultural studies within IR can also be highlighted by pointing to the proliferation of cultural analyses within other branches of the social sciences during recent decades.1 Perhaps it has never been a wise move to exclude cultural issues from international theory. However, the argument can be built that with the increased use, variety and sophistication of cultural studies within sociology, political science and literary studies in recent times, IR’s neglect of the issues of culture and identity has become even more untenable.


Cultural Study Political Culture Cultural Theory World Politics American Political Science Review 
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  1. 1.
    An overview of the emergence of a variety of cultural analyses within sociology is Robert Wuthnow and Marsha Witten, ‘New Directions in the Study of Culture’, Annual Review of Sociology (Vol. 14, 1988), pp. 49–67. An introduction to this field of study is Wendy Griswold, Culture and Societies in a Changing World (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1994).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    We will focus mainly on cultural studies that have been undertaken in sociology and political science, and less on cultural analyses that have been undertaken by anthropologists. For a discussion of the use of anthropological concepts and metho ds within IR, see Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Iver B. Neumann, ‘International Relations as a Cultural System: an Agenda for Research’, Cooperation and Conflict (Vol. 28, No. 3, 1993), pp. 233–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    For instance, Robert Wuthnow, James Davidson Hunter, Albert Bergesen and Edith Kurzweil advocate the understanding of culture as ‘the symbolic-expressive dimension of behavior in their Cultural Analysis: The Work of Peter L. Berger, Mary Douglas, Jurgen Habermas and Michel Foucault (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 255. Wuthnow elaborates this definition further in his book Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anton Zijderveld, De Culturele Factor (Culemborg, The Netherlands: Lemma, 1988), chapter 1; Wendy Griswold, ‘A Methodological Framework for the Sociology of Culture’, Sociological Methodology (Vol. 17, 1987), pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gary King, Robert O. Keohane and Sydney Verba have emphasized the methodological difficulties of using concepts that are often not directly observable (such as meanings and perceptions) in causal reasoning. See their Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 109–112 and 191–3. Albert Yee, however, has highlighted the importance of focusing on intersubjective meanings and discursive practices in empirical studies by problematizing the concept of ‘causality’ that is used by King, Keohane and Verba (and many others). According to Yee, a causal explanation of an action is methodologically incomplete without a specification of the intentions (and therefore understandings and meanings) of the actor(s). See Albert S. Yee, ‘The Causal Effects of Ideas on Policies’, International Organization (Vol. 50, No. 1, 1996), pp. 69–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    As exemplified by Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1946)Google Scholar
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  8. 7.
    See especially Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils (eds), Toward a General Theory of Action: Theoretical Foundations for the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951)Google Scholar
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  10. 8.
    The best example of such a study is Sydney Verba, Norman H. Nie and Jae-on Kim, Participation and Political Equality: a Seven Nation Comparison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).Google Scholar
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    See Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values (London: Sage, 1984).Google Scholar
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    See Marc H. Ross, The Culture of Conflict: Interests, Interpretations and Disputing in Comparative Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). To be accurate, it must be noted that although Ross has thus far mainly analysed cultures of ethnic groups that make up a whole society, he has also maintained that within present-day industrial societies, multiple ethnic groups and cultures interact. See in particular the last chapter of his book.Google Scholar
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    Harry Eckstein has also tried to answer this criticism in his essay ‘A Cultural Theory of Political Change’, American Political Science Review (Vol. 82, No. 3, 1988), pp. 789–804. See also his subsequent ‘controversy’ with Herbert Werlin over the degree to which he has been able to answer this criticism: ‘Political Culture and Political Change’, American Political Science Review (Vol. 84, No. 1, 1990), pp. 249–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 14.
    For applications of such studies within the study of IR, see Martha Finnemore, ‘Norms, Culture and World Politics: Insights from Sociology’s Institutionalism’, International Organization (Vol. 50, No. 2, 1996), pp. 325–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    A similar point is made in R.B.J. Walker, ‘The Concept of Culture in the Theory of International Relations’, in Jonsuk Chay (ed.), Culture and International Relations (New York: Praeger. 1990). PP. 3–17.Google Scholar
  19. 16.
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  21. 17.
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    For an elaboration of this, see Marco Verweij, ‘Cultural Theory and the Study of International Relations’, Millennium (Vol. 24, No. 1, 1995), pp. 87–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 19.
    The locus classicus of this research tradition is Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, op. cit., in note 7. An outstanding recent contribution to this research tradition is Robert D. Putnam, with Roberto Leonardi and Raffaella Y. Nanetti, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993). A forceful attack on this research tradition is Margaret R. Somers, ‘What’s Political or Cultural about Political Culture and the Public Sphere? Toward an Historical Sociology of Concept Formation’, Sociological Theory (Vol. 13, No. 2, 1995), pp. 113–44. Other criticisms are contained in Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba (eds), The Civic Culture Revisited (London: Sage, 1989).Google Scholar
  24. 20.
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  25. 21.
    This is why Bourdieu insists that competent sociology always works emancipatory. See the excellent introduction to his work, Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J.D. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), pp. 194–5.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
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  27. 23.
    An influential example is Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    See Jeffrey C. Alexander, ‘The Discourse of American Civil Society: A New Proposal for Cultural Studies’, Theory and Society (Vol. 22, 1993), pp. 151–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 25.
    In ‘Modern, Anti, Post and Neo: How Social Theories Have Tried to Understand the “New World” of Our Time’, Zeitschrift für Soziologie (Vol. 23, No. 3, 1994), pp. 165–97; Jeffrey C. Alexander combines this approach with the analysis advocated in his other essay, op. cit., in note 24. For an application of this approach in the field of international relations, see Isabelle Grunberg, ‘Exploring the “Myth” of Hegemomic Stability Theory’, International Organization (Vol. 44, No. 4, 1990), pp. 431–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 28.
    Samuel Huntington has offered a bleak view of the possibilities for such cultural accommodation: ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, Foreign Affairs (Vol. 72, No. 3, 1993), pp. 27–49. A more optimistic view is offered in Richard Shapcott, ‘Conversation and Coexistence: Gadamer and the Interpretation of International Society’, Millennium (Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994), pp. 57–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 29.
    Although the tide may now be turning. See: Friedrich Kratochwil and Yosef Lapid (eds), The Return of Culture and Identity in IR Theory (Boulder, CO: Lynn Riener, 1995)Google Scholar
  32. Thomas Biersteker and Cynthia Weber (eds), State Sovereignty as Social Construct (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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