Definitions and Forms of Political Culture


Definitions and Forms of Political Culture

We earlier identified political culture as one of the main thrusts of political behavior. Here we offer a host of definitions of the subject; we also compare it with political socialization, another main thrust of political behavior earlier discussed.

This comparison is necessary because both political culture and political socialization work together and they share determining relationship in the society, thus making them somewhat and somehow mistaken for each other.


Table of Content

The objective of this article is to help you:

1. Understand the concept of political culture as a main thrust of political behavior

2. Appreciate the similarity of, and difference between political culture and political socialization.

3. Forms of Political Culture


Definitions of Political Culture

Let us look at political culture from the two words that make it up: ‘political’ and ‘culture’. What is political concerns itself with politics, and culture simply refers to a well-established way of life of a people in a particular community. (Please read the 1963 work of Clyde Kluckhohn titled “ Mirror of Man” for further understanding of the nexus between culture and politics). In a simple sense therefore, the concept of political culture refers to the dominant political way of life of a people in a particular political community. The following definitions will make your understanding clearer and richer.

Tylor (1924) defined political culture as “the complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts morals, laws, custom, and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society”.

Lucian Pye, (1962) defined political culture as “ the set of attitudes, believes and sentiments which give order and meaning to a political process and which provides the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behaviour in the political system. It encompasses both the political ideals and the operating norms of a polity”.

Some leading scholars of behavioral tradition, Gabriel Almond and S. Verba (1963) also defined political culture as “the patterns of individual political orientations, the attitudes towards the political system and its various parts, and to the role of the self in the political system”.

In the words of Sydney Verba, (1965) political culture can be defined as “a system of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols and values which defines the situation in which political action takes place”.

From the above definitions, the concept of political culture has such common characteristics as the attitudes and values of man towards politics in a particular environment. So apart from the first definition given in this unit (before citing the foregoing four), we may crown up with the description of political culture by the Encyclopedia Britannica as an “attempt to uncover deep-seated, long-held values characteristic of a society or group rather than ephemeral attitudes toward specific issues”, of course issues that are political.


Political Culture and Political Socialization

Now that you have a broad, yet synergized understanding of political culture, let us compare it to its indispensable partner, political socialization. In an earlier unit we defined political socialization as the process of transferring knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and general dispositions about politics from one generation to the other, and that it accumulates almost unconsciously through citizens and people’s interactions with social institutions such as the family, the religious houses, the schools, the tertiary institutions, the media, political parties and so on. The knowledge, values and beliefs that are transferred, and that accumulate through agents mentioned above are nothing but political culture, because political culture is what political socialization transfers.

So, while political socialization is a process, a culture is a state. Furthermore, while political socialization refers to process, and a process is a means of achieving some end, culture as a state is not sacrosanct, it operates at different levels. 

So, as elementary sociology will assert that we have cultures and subcultures within a particular cultural community, when we say political culture what we also mean is the dominant political culture, as there will always be other cultures around dominant ones.

So, you need to note that when we refer to political culture in any literature, what we mean is just the way of political life that is dominant among a people.

There are other non-dominant ones. Another thing you probably need to know is that while we say both political culture and political socialization refer to values and they are not empirical, method of studying them can be, and, as a matter of fact, empiric zed by way of information and data gathered through public opinion surveys and other methods.

Read On: What is Political Participation? - Definition, Forms & Examples in Nigeria


Forms of Political Culture

Almond and Verba’s Classification: Parochial, Subject and Participant

The earliest and most prominent attempt to categorize political culture was made by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963). They compared five democratic nations and surveyed 1,000 persons as samples in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Mexico, and they came out with three levels of political culture: Parochial, Subject and Participant. These three levels of political culture shall be discussed in what follows.

(a) Parochial Political Culture: A parochial political culture exists where there are no specialized political roles and people‘s knowledge of politics does not go beyond their immediate environment. In this kind of culture, religious and ethnic considerations are often put beyond general interest, and people participate in politics mainly because of them, not because of wider socio economic reasons. Where parochial political culture is dominant, citizens hardly make demands from their governments either because of ignorance of what governance is all about, or because they lack trust for the political leaders. Parochial political culture is found among many poor and developing nations that are pre disposed to contradictions such as ethnic rivalry, indigene settler dichotomy, and primordial sentiments.

(b) Subject Political Culture: In a subject political culture, majority of people merely simply align with policies and practices of government almost as obedient servants. The hardly participate in making, amendment or implementation of those policies. This kind of political culture is common where the government expects absolute obedience from the people and they institutionalize means of achieving it. People therefore have little choice but to follow suit because they are just subjects.

(c) Participant Political Culture: In a participant political culture, people understand politics and governance and make several attempts to participate in it. Their participation ranges from voting, attending meetings, joining associations and forming organization. They also mobilize people to participate in protest, social movements where necessary, and they educate others around them on the roles of the government in their lives and how they can make government perform them.

Tunde Babawale adds that where participant political culture is dominant, people “manifest attitudes of personal political competence and they participate in active political process. Advanced countries such as Britain and the United States are found in this category.

It is good to re-emphasize that these political culture levels are not sacrosanct in any society, they are the dominant one that have other forms at peripheral levels. In addition, it is possible to have a country that has more than one, or even all of these political cultures in it, especially a country that is highly stratified along ethnicity and tribes. In Nigeria for instance has three major ethnic nationalities, and research has shown that political culture differs each of these ethnic nationalities to the others

There are other categorizations of political culture apart from the popular one made by Almond and Verba. A key one is that of Daniel Elazar who defines political culture as “what people believe and feel about government, and how they think people should act towards it” and, in another dimension, "the particular pattern of orientation to political action in which each political system is imbedded." In his 1970 work titled the metropolitan frontier and American politics, Daniel Elazar studied the states in the United States and came out with three categories of political culture there in:

Moral political culture, individual political culture and traditional political culture.

Let us again examine each of them.

(a) Moral Political Culture.

Where this culture is dominant, people consider the entirety of their society more

important than their individual self, and they allow this to guide them in all their dealings with the political authorities. Government tends to be seen as a positive force. The moral political culture, according to Eleazar’s findings, was dominant in Upper New England, the Upper Middle West of the United States. This emphasizes the commonwealth conception as the basis for democratic government. Politics is considered one of the great activities of man in the search for common good of the society, and good government is measured by the degree to which it promotes the public good. In a moral political culture, actions and inactions are based on issues, not personal considerations, and politics is often engaged in for record setting and not personal profiteering.

(b) Individual Political Culture

This is the political culture that was dominant in the Middle-Atlantic States through Illinois, and to the West where government has a very practical orientation and is instituted for utilitarian reasons. Emphasis is not on the common good of the society, but on how to restrict the powers of the state in intervening with the private lives of the citizens. In other words, in an Individual political culture, government exists for the purpose preserving and protecting private lives of eh citizens. This type of political culture is not unconnected to the political history of the federalist/anti federalist, abolitionist and anti-abolitionist movement in the United States.

(c) Traditional Political Culture.

In this political culture, certain families run governmental activities and while others appear to be spectators, just like in a hierarchical and natural order system. Although government is seen as performing positive roles in the society, yet, people perceive the roles mainly in terms of maintaining social order and the general status quo. In this political culture, the ruling elite is indulged into mere conformism instead of innovation, and there is a strong interplay of class conspiracies. The Southern part of the United States was noted for this king of political culture.


Finer’s Classification: Minimal, Low, Developed and Mature

Another scholar, Finer, made invaluable contribution towards categorizing political culture. Unlike Almond &Verba and Daniel Elazar tripartite dimensions of political culture, Samuel Finer, in his book, The man on the Horse Back, written in 1962, identifies four levels of political culture: Minimal, Low, Developed and Mature, and like Almond and Verba, he situated the different levels in different socio political environments. Finer’s typology of political culture is however based on political institutions, procedures and legitimacy of rulers. Detailed discussion of his categorization is as follow.

(a) Mature Political Culture

This refers to a system in which institutions of government are very effective to the extent that majority follow appropriate procedures to recruit political leaders. In such a system, a political aberration such as military coup will not only be unwarrantable but also inconceivable. Countries such as Britain, Canada, United States and Australia are full of this political culture.

(b) Developed Political Culture

In this kind of system, there is high level of administrative and bureaucratic stability. Institutions of government may also be very effective e but people do not really concerned about the procedure of attaining governmental powers as well as how it is retained. Germany, Japan and the defunct Soviet Union rightly belong here.

(c) Low Political Culture

A low political culture is that in which one may not confidently call people citizens because they are very poorly organizes and are not pro active towards governmental activities. People do not also agree on bureaucratic and administrative position of the state, so, issues such as military coup, perverted revenue sharing and intra structural relations within the country may be subjected to prevailing pulse of the people rather that legitimate or established procedures. According to Finer, Egypt, Syria, South Korea, Turkey and Iran belong here.

(d) Low Political Culture

This is a system where the ruling class acts with impunity because they are brutal and more coercive than the unorganized and politically passive people. In this place military intervention in politics is perceived as normal, and leaders can fidget with public opinion at will. Nigeria belongs here. Note that at a time in Nigeria’s history, intellectual and the political class proposed what they called diarchy, a system that enables cooperative operation of military and civilian rule. This shows how much the people had been used to military rule. Many other countries of West Africa can also be put under this category.

Conclusion Definitions and Forms of Political Culture

Political culture is another main thrust of political behavior, just as political socialization. It means the totality of people’s worldviews about political institution. It shares a dependent relationship with political socialization but still differs significantly from it. Let us conclude by making certain clarifications and assertions. First, from all written above you will notice that the issue of political culture categorization was much a discourse of the past, even though political culture itself has contemporary relevance. What this supposes is that what contemporary scholarship does is use dominant political behaviour in particular community to analyze issues there in because having subjected the early categorizations to empirical testing, it has slippery validity in many cases. It is therefore possible to identify new political culture categorization in each political community that is studied. In addition, you also need to note that the three categorizations used here, with the Almond and Verba’s as the most widely used, are not the only ones in scholarship. There are a few other ones. 

Finally, what you should grasp firmly is that the ways people interact with politics differ from one cultural setting to another, so, political culture can be as many as these cultural settings if we want to categorize it across the globe.

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