For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Culture, Structure, or Choice?
Essays in the Interpretation of the British Experience
  • Paul V. Warwick
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Culture, Structure, or Choice?.  Essays in the Interpretation of the British Experience
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The study of politics has been profoundly influenced in the post-war era by the introduction of concepts and explanations that highlight the role of culturally determined norms and values in shaping the political process.This study examines three main perspectives from which the social sciences are discussed, and compares the divergent theories by which social, economic, and political phenomena may be explained. Rational-choice theory is contrasted with the structuralist and the culturalist perspectives.

The controversy is then given substance through the introduction of three issues central to the development and present-day functioning of Britain, issues for which specific culturalist, rational-choice, and Marxist alternative explanations can be identified and evaluated. These issues are not unrelated to the pragmatic/ideological distinction; as will be seen, the answers they ultimately suggest will take us back to that distinction and enable us to place it, and political culture in general, in a clearer and more acceptable focus.


About the Author

Paul V. Warwick, professor, holds a joint appointment in the School and in the Political Science department. His main research interests concern Western European politics and, in particular, the formation and survival of coalition governments. He also maintains an interest in the behaviour of political parties and voters in democratic systems as well as in the methodology of comparative research.

About the Book

This study takes aim at a burgeoning dissensus in the social sciences, a dissensus over nothing less than the manner in which social, economic, and political phenomena are to be explained. Until about the mid-l970s, there was broad acceptance...

This study takes aim at a burgeoning dissensus in the social sciences, a dissensus over nothing less than the manner in which social, economic, and political phenomena are to be explained. Until about the mid-l970s, there was broad acceptance in Western sociology and political science of a perspective that may be termed “culturalist”; without ignoring the importance of structures or institutions, it highlighted the role of shared cultural norms and values in determining behavior in given societies. The proliferation of area studies programs was but one manifestation of the great popularity of this trend. Marxist interpretations existed, of course, but they tended to be relegated to the lunatic fringe of social science: they were regarded as overly simplified, highly dogmatic, and fundamentally biased toward the political cause of socialism or communism. Some rational-choice theory had been developed by that time, but it, too, was seen as fringe material in most fields except economics. In any case, the more realistic of its conclusions could be readily absorbed by exploiting the underlying elasticity of the culturalist paradigm.

A great deal has changed since that time. Marxist theories have become ever more provocative, stimulating and politically acceptable; rational-choice theory is now a major growth area in several of the social sciences, not the least of which is my own field, political science. In contrast, the culturalist perspective, far from absorbing the valid points of the other two paradigms, has come increasingly under attack for the vapidity of its concepts, the untestability of its hypotheses, and the lack of generality of its theoretical formulations. As one rational-choice theorist put it, culture is simply too “squishy” to be of use in causal analysis.


Preface

Foreword by Prof. Harry Eckstein, University of California, Irvine

In this foreword I want to explain why I consider this book an important contribution to contemporary political science. I will say little about the book’s contents,...

Foreword by Prof. Harry Eckstein, University of California, Irvine

In this foreword I want to explain why I consider this book an important contribution to contemporary political science. I will say little about the book’s contents, because in his preface, the author outlines very well exactly what he is up to, so that there is no need to summarize again-except to the extent necessary to show why what the author attempts is important. In essence, Warwick’s study is something to which much lip service, but lip service only, is paid in political science: an exercise in cumulativeness.

Political science is at present overrun with basic concepts, hypotheses of the middle range, proposed bases for building theories, and would-be paradigms for the field. If ever there was time for consolidation, for sorting things out in the field’s blooming, buzzing confusion, it is now. That could have been said just as well ten or fifteen years ago. But very little has been done to do so. There have been few, if any, follow-ups of proposed ideas—except to criticize others’ work, usually because it does not fit one’s own preferred research perspective. The latter often are admirably clever, and, of course, the literature grows and grows. But growth is accumulation, not “cumulativeness” in the scholarly sense.

Accumulation, as it now occurs, threatens to split political science into rigid, warring “schools”-if it has not irreversibly done so already.Cumulativeness proceeds gradually toward shared and surer understanding.

Paul Warwick’s book, in this sense, is exceptional, and thus exceptionally useful. Warwick wrestles with what seem to me to be the two chief alternative perspectives on building theory in macropolitical science, that is, study on the level of overall political systems (in this case linked to microlevel assumptions about motivations in individual political behavior). The perspectives are the “culturalist” and “rationalist” modes of theorizing. He confronts these perspectives with problems concerning changes in British economic and political history— past, present, and probable future. Throughout, he compares Britain with France, to deepen and add plausibility to his exercise and its conclusions. He also goes into “structural” (essentially Marxist) ways of interpreting the same data. Marxism, in one or another form, also has become a basis of constructing theory for a sizable number of political scientists, and it is a mode of theorizing that does not link the macrolevel with the microlevel (as may be done without violating any epistemological canons).

Warwick’s study could stand very well even without its theoretical thrust. To be sure, he summarizes others’ relevant, special work on Britain and France, rather than working with self-generated data. But such summaries are hard to do, except perhaps for a handful of country and period specialists. They are also, in a particular sense, cumulative- or at least labor-saving devices. They do for us what we would not do ourselves, in the great majority of cases.

More important, I read Warwick’s study as a kind of “strong-inference” study. Studies of that type are particularly suitable for cumulativeness and consolidation. Hence, some remarks about them follow, which, I hope, will make clearer the usefulness of what Warwick does, and others neglect.

The ability to show that a well-selected case, or a matched pair or other limited set of such cases, predictively fits a general theoretical model creates a strong presumption in favor of the theory expressed by the model. The ability to show, further, that the case does not fit any major alternative model creates a still stronger presumption of the model if it fits. The essence of strong-inference procedure is simply that one simultaneously tests alternative theories, in fair competition with the same data.


Introduction

My own initiation into the squishiness of culturalist interpretation began with the study of France. In the English-speaking world, France has usually been portrayed as a nation riddled with ideological divisions, a manifestation, so it was said, of the pervasive ideologism of the French temperament. The most frequently cited consequences of...

My own initiation into the squishiness of culturalist interpretation began with the study of France. In the English-speaking world, France has usually been portrayed as a nation riddled with ideological divisions, a manifestation, so it was said, of the pervasive ideologism of the French temperament. The most frequently cited consequences of this disease were the ineffectiveness and instability of governments in the Third and Fourth Republics, traits that condemned those regimes to failure and ridicule, both at home and abroad. Given the high degree of Anglo-American consensus on this stereotype, I was surprised to discover that Frenchmen living under the Fourth Republic tended to trace responsibility for the regime’s problems to precisely the opposite fault: the politicians were insufficiently principled, in their view — too prone to compromise, to prefer office for its own sake (Williams 1957, p. 321).

The first chapter of this study explores the dilemma of culturalism by examining the validity of the fundamental distinction between pragmatic and ideological cultures and its utility in explaining political behavior and political outcomes. The cases of both France and Britain are employed in this exploration. It might be argued that the comparative analysis of these particular ccuntries is overworked and incapable of yielding any new insights. And perhaps it is, if by it we mean the examination of France in the light of the British experience. My approach has been the reverse; I came to the subject of political culture with a stronger background in French politics, and the more I investigated, the more I realized that the case so often taken for granted, Britain, was every bit as ‘‘paradoxical, ” to use a favorite culturalist label, as France had ever been. Chapter 1 sets the context for what follows by developing, through this comparison, not only the problematic nature of culturalism but also the surprisingly problematic nature of the British experience.

In the second chapter, the theoretical debate, which hitherto had contrasted culturalist with structuralist perspectives, is expanded to incorporate the rational-choice mode of explanation. The characterization I place on the three-way confrontation of paradigms is one in which the culturalist and rational-choice approaches are the most sharply contrasted, with structuralism of the Marxist sort, grounded as it is in the materialism of classical economics but concerned with the role of values and ideas in social life, occupying to some extent the middle ground. The controversy is then given substance through the introduction of three issues central to the development and present-day functioning of Britain, issues for which specific culturalist, rationalchoice, and Marxist alternative explanations can be identified and evaluated. These issues are not unrelated to the pragmatic/ideological distinction; as will be seen, the answers they ultimately suggest will take us back to that distinction and enable us to place it, and political culture in general, in a clearer and more acceptable focus. But the issues are ones for which a most formidable array of rational-choice and Marxist theories have been developed, and the credibility of culturalist interpretations of the sort that used to prevail in political science and the other social sciences will be severely challenged in the confrontations that ensue.

Part B contains separate analyses of each of the issues. The first issue, which concerns the rise of modern capitalism in the West And the fact, or rather impression, that Britain was relatively more successful in that process than was France, has been a prime example of culturalist explanation ever since Weber first published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1904-5. In recent years it has come under strong attack from exponents of the “new economic history,” who have sought to explain economic development in terms of favorable property rights, and from a Marxist school of “worldsystem” theorists which prefers to place capitalist development within a global context and, not incidentally, to deny that Britain and France differed significantly in this regard.

The discussion of Britain’s rise to economic supremacy or “hegemony” in the Western world naturally begs the intriguing question of that nation’s relative decline. This issue, too, is graced with a profusion of explanations, including two major variants from the rationalchoice perspective, a highly influential Marxist interpretation and a fascinating array of culturalist perspectives focusing on the loss of the industrial spirit in Britain. Ultimately, the debate boils down to a matter of whether Britain changed in some fundamental respect in the nineteenth century or whether the seeds of decline were sown in the very soil that sprouted her dazzling economic successes.

For the third issue, attention is turned more directly on the political, and in particular on an issue that has bedeviled culturalists: the apparent rapid decline in recent years of many of the central norms and values that were believed to have sustained Britain’s remarkable POlitical stability. Rapid cultural change poses a dilemma for culturalists because basic orientations acquired during childhood should be enduring if they are to be of any explanatory value; nowhere is this more true than in the area of political support or legitimacy. The “decline of deference” throws this whole issue up in the air and, as with the other issues, opens the way for rival interpretations that deny the significance for behavior of values and attitudes not adopted as means to an end (rational-choice theory) or imposed by the structure of class domination (Marxism).

It is worth pointing out that each of these issues is analyzed in its own terms, that is to say, independently of the others. This strategy is quite deliberate. I sought three different arenas in which to debate the relative strengths of the rival schools of interpretation; that is, three different tests of their merits. For this reason the issues are separated both in discipline and in time period. In principle, all that unites them are the facts that they concern Britain and that they draw on the experience of France, on occasion, as a relevant and important focus of comparison and contrast. It would be disingenuous of me not to mention, however, that certain strong lines of interpretation emerge and reemerge in the three chapters. Indeed, one of the principal reasons that I focused on these particular issues, apart from their centrality to the British experience and the clear juxtaposition of competing explanations that they exhibit, is that the solutions I arrived at converge to a substantial degree. These points of convergence are taken up in the final chapter, which attempts to elaborate and integrate some of the lessons that emerge from the confrontations among interpretations and paradigms.

As one would expect, many of those lessons have to do with the ways in which the British experience and, to a lesser extent, the French experience have been interpreted; the reader is warned that quite distinctive lines of interpretation are proposed in this study. But of broader importance is the lesson that, despite the rational-choice and Marxist onslaughts, there is a place for culture in the explanation of social, economic, and political phenomena-perhaps not as grandiose a place as was once claimed, but substantial nonetheless. It is to the identification of this place that the concluding chapter, and indeed the entire study, is dedicated.


Table of Contents
CONTENTS Foreword (Harry Eckstein) Preface Part A. Problems and Perspectives 1. The Dilemma of Culturalism 2. The Alternatives to Culturalis
CONTENTS
Foreword (Harry Eckstein)
Preface
Part A. Problems and Perspectives
1. The Dilemma of Culturalism
2. The Alternatives to Culturalism
Part B. Issues and Answers
3. Was Britain Different? Protestantism, Property Rights, and State Power in the Rise of Modern Capitalism
4. Did Britain Change? An Inquiry into the Causes of Economic Decline
5. Why Has Britain Persisted? The Uncertain Bases of Political Support in the British Polity
Part C. Reprise
6. Some Lessons from the Issues

Bibliography, Author Index , Subject Index


Reviews
"...truly an intellectual tour de force. Even the reader who doesn't agree with all of Warwick's conclusions can't fail to recognize what a tremendous contribution this book makes to the study of... | More »

Pages 268
Year: 1990
LC Classification: JC328.2.W37
Dewey code: 306,2
BISAC: SOC506000
BISAC: SOC041000
BISAC: HIS015000
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ISBN: 978-0-87586-264-4
Price: USD 23.00
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