Political Culture, Then & Now (Spring 2009)
The concept of political culture presents a paradox. On the one hand, it has been widely viewed as being theoretically and politically problematic. The original purposes for which the concept was systematically deployed appear to be outdated, tied to the problems of the cold war era and the theory of modernization. And large cross-national quantitative comparison, the way scholars went about studying the subject, buries cultural differences, concealing culture factors more than revealing them. On the other hand, the common sense usage of political culture in social scientific inquiry persists because the concept points to a significant dimension of political and cultural life, illuminating pressing cultural and political problems. In this course, we will work with this paradox. We will review the literature on political culture, work on a new way of conceptualizing it, and critically apply this conceptualization to a set of major cultural and political problem areas. We will review the notion as it was suggested in key works in the history of social thought, critically analyze the employment of the concept as it has been used in comparative politics and studies of development and modernization, and, then will, responding to the contributions of a more critical social theory, work together to develop a clear conceptualization of political culture that seriously attends to both the political and the cultural side of the concept. The remainder of the inquiry will be an application of this understanding of political culture to comparatively study pressing political and cultural problems of our times.