Reinventing Political Culture: The Power of Culture versus the Culture of Power

By Oates, Sarah | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, February 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Reinventing Political Culture: The Power of Culture versus the Culture of Power


Oates, Sarah, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Reinventing Political Culture: The Power of Culture versus the Culture of Power. By Jeffrey C. Goldfarb. Polity Press. 202pp, Pounds 50.00 and Pounds 15.99. ISBN 9780745646367 and 46374. Published 11 November 2011

Political culture is a bit of an elephant in the living room for social scientists. It's large and we know it's there, but we're not sure how to deal with it. As a result, it is often ignored at the expense of a clearer understanding of political transition. In his new book, Jeffrey Goldfarb provides clear and compelling ways to incorporate notions of political culture into the broader understanding of political transition. He uses three case studies: the challenge to the Communist regime in Poland; the rhetoric of Barack Obama and his critics in the US; and the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

Throughout this engaging book, Goldfarb gives persuasive examples of how the "politics of small things" can challenge hegemonic regimes, spurring new readings of history and cultures that can overturn power relationships. His choice of case studies illuminates his central concept of how "common sense" can be redefined by political culture, while at the same time pointing out the differences in how this is expressed - and how it may succeed - in three very different contexts.

In the case of Poland in the 1970s and 1980s, Goldfarb argues that unofficial groups and dialogue eventually were able to provide an alternative political paradigm, which effectively challenges the idea that truth and power are two sides of one coin. Rather, as public understanding of "truth" shifts, so can power, transforming a "culture of power" into the "power of culture". Goldfarb draws on a broad range of political philosophy, ranging from Michel Foucault to Alexis de Tocqueville, in ways that illuminate the original work, critique it and show how it relates to the idea that the relationship between power and knowledge can reinvent political culture. His ability to discuss political philosophy concisely with incisive critique is particularly good, making one wish it were possible to drop into his lectures. …

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