David Laitin and Aaron Wildavsky, “Political culture and political preferences”, APSR 82 (1988), pp. 589-593.

‘Note: this reading only includes Laitin’s portion of the article, even though it is listed as “Laitin and Wildavsky”


Key insight: it is theoretically more useful to think of political preferences as rooted in political culture than to entertain alternative bases such as schemas or ideologies. Yet since this approach has tended to suffer from trying to explain generalized preferences with cultural variables (thereby depleting the culture concept of any analytic power), three theses that should guide future work in political culture are put forth:


1) Culture instils not values to be upheld but rather points of concern to be debated.

*focussing only on shared values misses the point that people with strongly opposed views can share a culture and people with similar views can come from different cultures.

2) Culture is Janus-faced: people are both guided by the symbols of their culture and instrumental in using culture to gain wealth and power.

*people are instrumental about which aspect of their cultural repertoire is of primary significance. Furthermore, shared symbols constitute a political resource that can be effectively exploited by political entrepreneurs.

3) Culture traffics in symbols, and symbols must be interpreted in full ethnographic context.

*one cannot use simple attitudinal survey data as indicators of culture, since part of the power of culture is that its members are not fully conscious of the sources of their visions and, even if honest, would not necessarily provide the relevant data to survey researchers. Participant observation and other tools of ethnography are therefore crucial in making connections between world view and political action.