GROUNDING POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
(2
nd [WWW] edition)

CHAPTER 7:

CULTURE IS THE LOCUS OF DEVELOPMENT



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If the concept of development exists, as we assume, then it must refer to a change in some thing and thus its definition must take the following form: "X is said to undergo political development when X changes from state PD1 to state PD2."(1) Even if we don't know exactly what PD1 and PD2 are, or how to characterize them, we can still ask what "thing" develops during development. X is said to be the locus of development. What is the "X" in such a definition?

I. Three Potential Systems Within Which To Locate Development

Both Talcott Parsons (Parsons and Shils, 1951) and Jürgen Habermas (1979a) divide the universe of social-scientific concepts into three parts. In Parsons's theory, concepts describe events within three "systems": the "personality" or "individual" system, the "cultural" system, and the "social" system. The individual system includes all concepts that refer to purely intrapsychic events - concepts that can meaningfully characterize a person considered in isolation. Such concepts as "moral reasoning stage" (Kohlberg, 1981, 1984), "subject orientation" (Almond and Verba, 1963)and "need for Achievement"(McClelland, 1976) all refer to intrapsychic events.

Another way of characterizing concepts in the individual system is to use Habermas's (1979a) idea of a "validity claim": Parsons's individual system is composed of concepts that only raise the Habermasian validity claim of "truthfulness." Possession of a need for Achievement, for example, is established only by a person's being truthful about her own experience; issues of intersubjective agreement or of objective truth are irrelevant. A person may have no objective reason to have a need for Achievement, or may find its exercise hampered by her intersubjective understandings with others, but one cannot deny that ultimately her truthful assertion is all that is required to establish the existence of such a need. The validity claim here is one of subjective validity.

Note, however, that the individual system's reference to "intrapsychic events" does not require that the actor be completely isolated; it means, rather, that possession of this characteristic does not depend on any particular action of others. For example, "moral reasoning stage" would be a meaningless concept in a universe having only one inhabitant, but to hold a given set of moral principles does not depend on others' actions or beliefs. The individual system also includes aggregates or averages of such intrapsychic concepts when the aggregate is not held to have any emergent properties. Thus the "average level of need for Achievement" of a collectivity would be a concept still within the individual system.

The cultural system, on the other hand, refers to people's intersubjective understandings - their mutual orientations to one another. The cultural system is thus composed of relationships. For example, to be in the cultural-system relationship of friendship requires someone else's participation: i.e., one's friend. To feel friendly toward someone, on the other hand, does not require the other's cooperation; such a feeling would be part of the individual system.

Cultural-system concepts raise only the validity claim of "rightness" (Habermas, 1979a). To determine the existence of a relationship of friendship demands that both parties agree that friendly behavior is fight within the context of their mutual orientation. The validity claim here is one of intersubjective agreement.

Finally, the social system refers to objective patterns of interaction, such as those revealed in sociometric matrices of contacts or other interaction measures employed in social psychology.(2) The presence of a pecking order in chickens, for example, is an objectively measurable phenomenon that does not depend for its verification on the subjective (individual-system) beliefs of the various chickens or on knowledge of the intersubjective (cultural-system) understandings they have established. The recognition of such interaction patterns only raises what Habermas (1979a) terms the validity claim of "truth": does the pattern objectively exist?

We distinguish these three systems in order to ask what it is that changes in political development: something in the individual system, something in the cultural system, or something in the social system? In other words, is development at root a matter of changes in individuals (or aggregate changes in individuals), in the way people relate to one another, or in the objective patterns of their interactions?

The choice is not obvious. Because the three systems are closely tied to one another, the exact locus of development is difficult to determine. Aggregations of individual characteristics are bound to affect cultural understanding, if only by determining outer limits on the possibilities. Cultural understandings are bound to affect individuals through well-known mechanisms of socialization and peer pressure. Common, cultural understandings will also inevitably create regular patterns of interaction as cultural institutions induce regularities of behavior. Even regularities of behavior that initially arise from accident or impersonal forces can give rise to cultural understandings as the participants recognize, come to expect, and finally name these patterns.(3) Particularly in stable societies, where the three systems have the opportunity to accommodate themselves to one another, distinguishing among the three systems may be both difficult and apparently unimportant. It is not surprising, therefore, that different theorists have located political development in different systems.

As we shall see, however, a concept of development would be located more plausibly in one of these systems than the others. But to determine which, we shall have to concentrate on societies in which the three systems are not in equilibrium. In other words, locating political development in one of the three systems strongly depends on recognizing that development involves disequilibrium, and asking which of the three systems most suits our understanding of development in a situation of change.



II. Individual-System Definitions and Their Problems

There have been many individual-system definitions of political development. The best-known of these, that implied in The Civic Culture, defines political development in terms of a particular "distribution of patterns of orientation" (Almond and Verba, 1963:13). Since such patterns arc "distributed," they evidently must not depend on other citizens also holding them. They are thus part of the individual system, and their aggregation across citizens is also part of the individual system; in this formulation, political development depends by definition only on the mixture of individuals involved.(4) McClelland (1976) might be read to give a similar(individual-level) definition of development: average level of need for Achievement.(5)

The difficulty with such definitions is that people can change their minds faster than they can their institutional practices. A massive shift in the sentiments of a population might well lead to changes in their political institutions, but such institutional responses ordinarily take time. Would we consider developed a society in which the population widely and genuinely believed in freedom of speech but whose police systematically harassed and arrested all dissidents? Would we consider developed a society in which the population generally had a high need for Achievement, but all were constrained to a bare living as tenant farmers? When we think of development, we think of institutional arrangements that may depend on but nevertheless pass beyond individual desires, even in their aggregate.

Conversely, political institutions can change without much shift in population sentiment at all: the Weimar Republic of 1932 and the Third Reich of 1933 both governed virtually the same population. If we define development in terms of individual characteristics alone, we would be forced to regard the two states as equally developed.

These problems arise no matter what individual characteristic we select: "patterns of orientation", psychological needs, moral reasoning levels, etc. Such characteristics may well affect development or arise from it, but the basic point remains that political development itself seems to pass beyond individual characteristics, even aggregated characteristics.



III. Social System Definitions and Their Problems

It is possible to define political development in terms of social-system patterns of interaction. One might define it by the absence of interactions characterized by force, or by density of linkages, or by the frequency of "power cycles."(6) In fact, Moreno (1934) intended his early work on sociometric analysis as a means of studying which groups would survive and which would not. Such social system definitions of development are still virtually unknown in the literature, perhaps due to the difficulty of observing and analyzing interaction patterns in a national society,(7) but they remain a theoretical possibility.

Whether such definitions are theoretically adequate is another question, however. Such definitions lack any sense of moral meaning. An objective pattern of interaction cannot be evaluated (i.e., as representing "development" or its reverse) apart from the meanings attached to it by its participants. One can infer such meanings, but then one is evaluating not the social-system phenomenon - the objective pattern - but instead an (inferred) cultural-system or individual-system phenomenon. Is it development, for example, when the density of linkages increases? One can only say, "It depends." If the increase arises from greater social cohesiveness, then presumably it would be developmental. If the increase arises from overpopulation in a fixed living space, then presumably it is not. The point is that objective phenomena do not provide one with the information one seeks to make judgments of development. Objective phenomena can reflect such information, of course; this is what makes them useful to study. But if we are to determine the actual locus of development, we must look to development itself, not phenomena that merely reflect it.

Indeed, it is possible to produce patterns of interaction without any cultural or individual meaning attached to them at all. Consider a set of people divided into several subsets, each of which has no contacts with other subsets. Suppose further this objective pattern changed so that there were no longer distinct subsets. Such a change might appear developmental (in some quasi-Kantian sense that the basis of interaction had become more universal), but it might not be. It might be that the original subsets were desert dwellers drinking at different oases, all but one of which then dried up. The subsets need not be groups in any social sense, and their interactions no more than accidental contacts when visiting the oasis. In short, objective patterns tell us nothing about the moral meanings we infer to assess development: our inferences may be totally incorrect, and the necessity we feel to make them reveals that we locate development in other systems.



IV. Cultural-System Definitions and Their Problems

Could development be located in the cultural system? In other words, could it be thought of as involving at least a change in people's intersubjective understandings with one another?(8) This possibility has at least a face validity, in that it is not subject to the problems of definitions located in the other systems. (1) Unlike objective patterns of interaction, intersubjective understandings have normative valence: they are evaluable against ethical standards. (2) A problem with locating development in objective patterns of interaction is that we must infer what produces the pattern; such inferences seem to be to intersubjective understandings, which could certainly produce the objective patterns. (3) One of the problems with using the individual system was that people could change individually without such change necessarily producing institutional change. Since institutions are based on intersubjective understandings, locating development in the cultural system surmounts that objection. (4) Finally, intersubjective understandings can change even while the individuals retain the same basic orientations.(9)

Locating development in the cultural system is not without its problems, however. In particular, even though we think of societies developing, intersubjective understandings may not embrace the whole society. As Almond and Verba (I 963) showed, people have substantially different understandings of how they are to relate to one another politically: some relate as mutual participants in a law-making process; some relate as fellow citizens maintaining but merely subject to a preexisting legal order; and some relate in a fashion characterized by inattention to political and legal considerations. Does this diversity argue for a return to Almond and Verba's individual-system locus of development, where development is the aggregate of these different orientations?

I hold that it does not - that we can conceive of development more naturally as a property of cultures than of societies. Societies tend to be defined "topdown" - that is, to be defined by criteria apart from any intersubjective understandings they may contain. U.S. society, for example, is defined in terms of a geographical boundary, not in terms of anything necessarily shared among its inhabitants. Since societies are inevitably diverse, analysts are put in the position of trying to determine the resulting mixture of (individual, because no longer shared) orientations. If, on the other hand, we define culture "from the bottom up," as discussed in Chapter 6, then we can speak of development as occurring when that understanding changes in certain specific ways. Top-down definitions create endless problems: determining where one mixture shades into another; identifying which orientation is politically dominant; and so on. Bottom-up definitions, on the other hand, allow analysts to characterize clearly the understanding and its developmental status. The developmental dynamics of societies as a whole can then be studied in terms of the political interactions of these disparate cultures.



V. Conclusion

If development is an individual-system phenomenon, then the problems of the Third World are merely psychological in nature, not political: development workers must be psychiatrists at best and advertising specialists at worst, all in an effort to get every developing nation's residents in the right frame of mind. If development is a social-system phenomenon, then the problems of development are merely those of putting the world's citizens through the right rituals. Development workers can paint colored lines on floors and can put signs on walls to indicate where people should walk, where they should interact, what they should do. Perhaps a "How To Be Developed" manual could be mass-produced and distributed.

But of course all this is silly. If development indeed exists as a concept, it must be located in the cultural system, and the task of development workers must therefore be the quite difficult one of facilitating the establishment of certain intersubjective understandings despite existing, quite different understandings. Such a task demands not just that people change their own mind about how to orient to one another but also that they become aware that others will reciprocate this new orientation. The complexity of this process explains, it seems to me, why fostering development has traditionally been so difficult.

The question still remains, however, what is development? This chapter argues that if such a concept exists, then it must be located in the cultural system, but the argument does not say how to identify which cultural changes are developmental and which not. That task raises not only the question of identifying development but also the difficult question of how one is to justify a given change as "up." That problem, of "normative grounding," is addressed in DPD, Chilton (1988a), and Rosenberg, Ward, and Chilton (1988).



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FOOTNOTES

1. PD1 and PD2 could be described directly or could be specified only in terms of salient characteristics by which we may know they have appeared.

2. For example, communication studies focus on "who says what to whom, and with what effect." The interpretations of the "what" and "with what effect" lie within the individual and cultural systems, but the bare fact of person X saying something to person Y and the regularities of such communication (frequency, reciprocity, etc.) lie within the social system.

3. For example, accidentally-coinciding course schedules may bring a group of professors together for lunch, but the group's members can bond to create a new cultural understanding that they are a "lunch group."

4. In fact, Almond and Verba conclude that a mixture in the population of "subject" and "participant" orientations is best.

5. McClelland never specifically defines development but rather argues that need for Achievement is a cause of economic growth (per capita GNP).

6. Frey (1963:301n). Power cycles are the opposite of a pecking order. In a pecking order, X1 exerts power over X2, X2 over X3, and so on. In a power cycle, X1 exerts power over X2, X2 over X3, etc., and finally Xn over X1. Democracy could be defined in terms of the presence of such cycles.

7. Having employed such an analysis, Chilton (1977:367ff.) concludes that the observational and computational requirements are extreme, even for relatively small groups (N = 80, 103, and 160).

8. Before his work with Verba led him to change his definition to a more individual-system one, Almond (1956:396) defined political culture in terms of such intersubjective understandings: the "particular pattern of orientations to political action"

9. For example, consider the shift in intersubjective understanding that two people would experience when, terrified by unexpectedly encountering each other in a dark alley, they suddenly discover by the light of a passing car the face of an old friend.


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