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The Concept of Political Culture Essay

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Updated: Jul 18th, 2021

Culture is a set of beliefs, values, and norms shared by members of society. It largely defines individuals’ attitudes and behaviors, and it is possible to say that, simultaneously, each person can contribute to its development. The same can be said about a political culture because beliefs and ideological symbols are its core elements. However, the nature of political culture is even more complicated than it may appear, and a significant number of scholars of theorists continue to debate over the forces shaping it. Is this culture created by civilians or by elite groups? What role do the mass media play in its design? This paper has the purpose of answering these questions by describing the concept of political culture and analyzing it based on the evidence provided by Andrew Heywood in his book Politics.

The definition of the term “political culture” is slightly different from the definition of culture in a broad sense. As Heywood (2013) states, the concept refers to a set of individuals’ psychological orientations or a “pattern of orientations” to various political phenomena and entities, such as governments, parties, and so forth (p. 172). At the same time, beliefs and attitudes still play a significant role in forming political culture. Notably, Heywood (2013) claims that individuals’ short-term and immediate reactions to particular events are the components of public opinion, whereas political culture is primarily composite of long-term values. Overall, these cultural values determine the manner in which a person engages in political decision-making and other activities within a specific social system.

In general, political cultures may be divided into three categories based on the patterns of civic engagement in politics. According to Almond and Verba, whom Heywood (2013) cites in his book, they include a participant, a subject, and parochial political cultures. The former type is more closely associated with democracy because it implies that citizens show an active interest in politics and a willingness to participate in it. The subject culture is defined as more passive and indicates “the recognition that they [citizens] have only a very limited capacity to influence government” (Heywood, 2013, p. 172). Lastly, the parochial culture is characterized by the least active level of engagement, meaning that citizens do not show a willingness to participate in politics or cannot do so.

Normally, different states combine the features of a few types of political cultures, whereas the participant culture may be regarded as an ideal. However, Heywood (2013) notes that this approach to explaining the political culture was highly criticized because the argument about the level of civic participation “rests on the unproven assumption that political attitudes and values shape behavior, and not the other way around” (p. 173). Additionally, such a view does not take into account that the culture may include a multitude of worldviews and ideas with different social groups having their own political interests, as well as attitudes to existing political and social systems.

In contrast, Marx suggested that every culture is class-specific, which means that it is based on the shared values of individuals who have similar experiences and behaviors (Heywood, 2013). Therefore, one political culture may comprise as many value sets as there are social-economic groups within a society. At the same time, Marx also stated that ideologies held by more powerful social groups, such as bourgeois, tend to dominate but, in order to be successful and reduce competition, they have to reconcile with ideas and values of subordinate classes and include them in the agenda.

Also, another prominent theorist of the 20th century mentioned by Heywood (2013), Antonio Gramsci, declared that elites largely shape the dominant political culture by disseminating their values and pertinent knowledge to other groups through various social institutions, including religion and education.

Mass media can play a vital role in consolidating ideologies as well, and the composition of a political culture may be significantly influenced by a group of people who control it. Heywood (2013) observes that the effects of mass media on governance and politics as such can be both favorable and adverse. Firstly, they may be used as a tool to promote stakeholder accountability and increase transparency within governments and advocate for the needs and interests of various social groups. At the same time, they may be used as an instrument of misinformation aimed to maintain a political status quo and reduce political pluralism. Thus, it may either improve or lower the level of civic participation in politics.

Overall, based on the information provided by Heywood (2013) in Politics, it may be concluded that the relationships of individuals with political culture are based on mutual influences on each other. On the one hand, a culture may be created by an elite or a dominant, the most powerful social group and then promoted to others through various means. On the other hand, distinct classes may have equal opportunities to contribute to changes in politics by engaging in debate and other politically relevant activities.

However, it is important to note that mass media and freedom of speech play a vital role in the mobilization of diverse social groups and the development of political literacy. Therefore, the independence of various mass media and other social institutions is correlated with political pluralism and may be considered a sign of democracy and the health of the political system.


Heywood, A. (2013). Politics (4th ed.). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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