Political Culture: Theoretical legacy and contemporary challenges

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Hans-Jörg Trenz


Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


This course focuses on the study of political culture from a comparative perspective. How can we explain the linkage between historically grown and institutionalized cultural orientations, the formation of political attitudes and support of democracy? The first part of the class introduces participants to theories pertaining to value formation and change in the context of democratic societies and examines similarities and differences in value and cultural orientations within and across countries. In the later part of this course, we will discuss contemporary challenges to the notion of political and civic culture related to diverse phenomena such as the limits of Western universalism, cultural backlashes and populism, globalization and digitalization. 

Course schedule


Session N. 1 Political cultures compared: Origin of the concept

(17/01/2022, h. 14-17)

In the first session we will read the classical volume by Almond and Verba of 1963. This allows us to discuss the origin of the notion of political culture and some methodological considerations of its use for comparison of political systems and societies

Required readings:

  1.      Almond G.A. (2000) The Study of Political Culture. In: Crothers L., Lockhart C. (eds) Culture and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-62397-6_1
  2.      Almond, G. and Verba, S. (1963) The Civic Culture. Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press)., chapter 1 and 2

Session N. 2  Political culture and civic community

(24/01/2022, h. 14-17)

In this second class we will turn to another classic of political culture research and discuss Robert Putnam’s case study of modern Italy. This will introduce us into the notions of civil society and social capital and ways of empirically operationalising and measuring it.

  1.      Putnam, R. D. (1993) Making Democracy Work. Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton: Princeton University Press)., chapter 5 and 6

Session N. 3 The Renaissance of political culture

(10/02/2022, h. 14-17

In this session we discuss standard indicators and measurement for political culture that are used in contemporary comparative research.

Required readings:

  1.      Inglehart, R. (1988) 'The Renaissance of Political Culture', The American Political Science Review, 82(4): 1203-1230.
  2.      Inglehart, R. and Welzel, C. (2003) 'Political Culture and Democracy: Analyzing Cross-Level Linkages', Comparative Politics, 36(1): 61-79.


Session N. 4 The diversity challenge

(14/02/2022, h. 14-17)

In this session, we will discuss some of the contributions of applied political theory on the question how diverse democratic societies can be, how conflicts about values and identities are carried out and how diversity can be accommodated.

Required readings:

  1.      Kraus, P. A. (2012) ‘The Politics of Complex Diversity: A European Perspective.’ Ethnicities, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 3–25.
  2.      Meer, T. and Tolsma, J. (2014) ‘“Ethnic Diversity and Its Supposed Detrimental Effects on Social Cohesion”’. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 40.
  3.      Vertovec, S. (2007) ‘Super-Diversity and Its Implications’. Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 30, No. 6, pp. 1024–1054.


Session N. 5 The erosion of civic culture: the cultural backlash thesis

(17/02/2022, h. 11-14)

This session will discuss the thesis by Norris and Ingelhart of a cultural backlash that has affected Western democratic societies since the new millennium and discuss selected empirical findings about the salience of new cultural cleavages and polarisation.

Required readings:

  1.      Norris, P. and Inglehart, R. (2019) Cultural Backlash and the Rise of Populism: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), chapters 2, 4 and 12.


Session N. 6 Digital culture, digital divides and polarisation

(21/02/2021, h. 14-17)

This session will discuss digital cultures, digital divides and social media political polarisation.

  1.      Mihelj, S., Leguina, A. and Downey, J. (2019) 'Culture is digital: Cultural participation, diversity and the digital divide', New Media & Society, 21(7): 1465-1485.
  2.      Barberá, P. (2020) ‘Social Media, Echo Chambers, and Political Polarization’. In Persily, N. and Tucker, J. A. (eds) Social Media and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambride University Press), pp. 34–55.
  3.      Yarchi, M., Baden, C. and Kligler-Vilenchik, N. (2021) ‘Political Polarization on the Digital Sphere: A Cross-Platform, Over-Time Analysis of Interactional, Positional, and Affective Polarization on Social Media’. Political Communication, Vol. 38, Nos. 1–2, pp. 98–139


Session N. 7 Value conflicts in a Europe of diversity: Some comparative research insights

(28/02/2022, h. 14-16)

This last session will introduce into the project ‘Value conflicts in a differentiated Europe’a nd discuss the research design and some preliminary research findings.

  1.      Eigmüller, M. and Trenz, H. J. (2020) ‘Value Conflicts in a Differentiated Europe: The Impact of Digital Media on Value Polarisation in Europe’. In Leonardi, L. (ed) Shared Values and Global Challenges (Bologna: Il Mulino).

Required readings:

  1.      Crouch, C. (2020) Post-Democracy After the Crises, Oxford: Wiley, chapter 1
  2.      von Beyme, K. (2017) From Post-Democracy to Neo-Democracy, Berlin: Springer International Publishing (chapter 1 and 5)



Obiettivi formativi

By the end of the course, participants are expected to be familiar with 1) factors and indicators that shape political culture and explain cultural change, 2) the operationalisation and measurement of political culture and change in public opinion surveys and other instruments, 3) current trends of accelerated cultural and political change and its impact on democracy and society.