APSA 2016 Paper: 3 Elements of America’s Complex Culture

So, I began work on my dissertation in 2010 and I studied under the direction of Distinguished Prof. Philip Abbott through 2012. In 2013, I revised my work on the American culture for Associate Prof. Jeff Grynaviski. I have continued to revise it because creating something new is, well, a prodigious task. Both of these gentlemen have allowed me to stand on their shoulders in order to view the field of political science, and I am, in a way, perceptibly indebted.

I am happy to say that my Vegas paper, which is like a super-condensed introduction and literature review of my dissertation, will be published in a peer reviewed journal very soon!

I will, essentially, be presenting my theory chapter at the APSA Conference on September 2.

Now, because I have been working so hard on this paper, I am providing the introduction to you. Keep your fingers crossed for me at APSA!


Recent culture inquiries have generated new interest in American politics. Wildavsky (1987) contends that cultural orientations form the groundwork to evaluate policy issues. Today, cultural measures are stable at high and lower levels of political knowledge, unlike self-identification of ideology, which is nearly meaningless once voters display low levels of political knowledge (Gastil, Braman, Kahan, & Slovic, 2011). I contend that America’s political culture encompasses multiple political traditions and each political tradition is an element of a complex culture. Once we agree on the core values of each element, then we will be able to generate new research hypotheses and models to observe how culture is explanatory of American politics.

America’s culture is comprised of multiple traditions (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985; Smith, 1993, 1997; Abbott, 1999; Hero, 2003; Stears, 2007).  Yet, culture research lacks the clear distinctions between elements of the culture; such as explanatory definitions regarding power within republicanism, liberalism, and authoritarianism. Because the elements have not been clearly defined as independent variables with endogenous core values, there is a paucity of models to test the culture for multiple elements according to a narrowly defined topic. This paper, building on previous work, seeks to define the core values of the elements in order to convey the power relationships that each element produces as an independent element of the American culture.

In a previous paper (forthcoming), I glean insight from Tocqueville’s account of mores as elements of the American culture whereby Americans are acting out core political values from region to region according to the local political tradition. I follow up Tocqueville’s interpretations with a brief literature review to support a claim that the American culture consists of more than one political element and that these elements have survived through the centuries as a source for American politics. Of particular salience, each element is unlike the other elements according to core values, and it follows, the power relationships between the people and the government are independent per political element as a contributor to the political culture, which in turn affects American politics.

In theory, a political expression by an American is a value expression according the cultural context of republicanism, liberalism, or authoritarianism. On the other hand, the American government also acts to represent the cultural context of the people in order to defend or oppose the institutionalization of republicanism, liberalism, or authoritarianism. Thus, interpreting the cultural context of American ideas, beliefs, and discourses in line with a more empirically grounded approach to culture as a reflection of American politics is possible because the elements appear to be independent variables.

In this paper, I claim that a culture inquiry is best suited by a multiple traditions approach because each element is operationally independent within American politics and all the elements are part of the cultural narrative. Then, I disclose my assumptions about core value systems and the rationale for each assumption. Next, I provide the core values of each element as components to a value system of beliefs. Afterwards, I set forth my hypotheses and predict whether or not each element should be evident, from within, in a dataset according to a narrowly defined topic or issue, such as a case study of the Patriot Act. I conclude that new research endeavors are on the horizon because the elements of republicanism, liberalism, and authoritarianism are disparate value systems and observable in American politics during the early 21st century.




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