Cultures of democracy

A civil-society approach

Authored by: Ming-Cheng Lo

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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As a political system, democracy generally derives its legitimacy through the claim of broad popular participation. Although many social scientists have examined how socioeconomic factors facilitate or erode the institutional basis for public involvement in democratic politics, recent discussions of the cultural dimension of democratic engagement raise questions that need to be addressed. One dominant conceptualization, often employed in large-scale surveys, views culture in terms of subjective, individual-level orientations toward political values or social trust. But such approaches cannot easily come to terms with the puzzle of how discriminatory, racist, and expansionist collective narratives—even to the point of ethnic cleansing—could develop and become dominant in societies where most members share some commitment to democratic values (see, e.g., Mann 2005). In contrast, those who consider political cultures as fundamentally hegemonic and therefore exclusionary tend to focus on tracing the macro processes that shape dominant discursive constellations. But here, too, an important question arises: How is democratic consolidation to develop if hegemonic struggles are inevitable? What, in general, are the cultural conditions or mechanisms that would facilitate democratic consolidation in the face of ongoing social domination or counter-hegemonic struggles?

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