Cultural Theory as Political Science

Cultural Theory as Political Science

Cultural Theory as Political Science

Cultural Theory as Political Science

Synopsis

This is the first major European political science book to discuss the growing interdisciplinary field of 'cultural theory', proposing a coherent and viable alternative to mainstream political science. The authors argue that three elements - social relations, cultural bias and behavioural strategy - illuminate political questions at a level of analysis on any scale: from the household to the state; the international regime to the political party.

Excerpt

The agonising complexity of social life can be reduced very easily by assuming that we only have to look at the individual and his or her preferences and behaviour. a social phenomenon, then, is nothing more than the aggregate of actions of these individuals. Individual preferences and motives are presumed to be self-evident and do not require further consideration or explanation. Obviously, individuals will react to and anticipate in social phenomena defined in this way, but this does not violate the basic assumption that social life can be understood only as an aggregate of more or less autonomously acting individuals. Individuals possess preferences and motives and the main task of social scientists is to show the unintended consequences of the collision of these 'possessions' when people get in touch with each other.

Critiques of this type of reductionism usually start with obligatory citations from the work of Emile Durkheim, who stressed that the causes of social facts must be sought among other social facts and not wirhin individual consciousness. This does not imply that psychologically-oriented approaches are useless for understanding social phenomena-it implies that collective life cannot be derived from individual life in a simple way. Already the selection of terms like 'individual' in antithesis to 'social' perpetuates 'the traditional fallacy that the individual is not social', as C.H. Cooley remarked many decades ago. More recently, several aspects of this debate have received new incentives with the rapid rise and remarkable spread of 'rational-choice' approaches on the one hand and 'Cultural Theory' on the other. While rational-choice approaches emphasise that social life basically consists of the sum of individual actions, Cultural Theorists stress the need to focus on the interaction between the individual and his or her social environment. and for these theorists, preferences and motives of individuals cannot be simply taken for granted. On the contrary, individual preferences and motives can be understood only as being defined by and maintained within specific social contexts.

The contributions to this volume are all based on the notion that the interaction between social contexts and individual attributes provides the key to grasp the dynamics of divergent aspects of social life. For Cultural Theory, different social contexts originate from the different ways people bind themselves to one another.

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