Transnational perceptual spaces and the cross cultural political telescope 

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Chapter Three: Theoretical Framework


This chapter describes the theoretical framework within which this thesis is structured. It positions my research as a study in interpretive political acculturation and, as such, is informed by two relevant theories: acculturation and political culture31. The chapter is divided into four parts. Section 3.1 Culture and politics: the traditional view seeks to identify the key components that have led the discussion on the political acculturation of migrants32. Here I critically explore the origins, evolution and effects of the positivist notion of culture in politics, departing from the seminal study of Almond & Verba (1963) The Civic Culture. I close the section with a reflection on what I consider to be the key contributions of positivism and political psychology to our understanding of the concept of culture in politics.
I open Section 3.2 Changing lenses: an interpretive view of political culture and acculturation, by arguing that, regardless of these positive contributions, the recurrent use of positivist oriented studies has limited the expansion of political acculturative studies. After exploring the common assumptions limiting such expansion I introduce the concept of interpretivism and position this as a suitable option to answer new types of political acculturative questions. Key elements of interpretivism and its relationship with the study of culture and politics are addressed in order to provide a theoretical basis to this study.
In section 3.4 Migrants and meaning-making: an operational definition of political acculturation, I seek to identify some basic elements of interpretivism, culture and politics to frame the political acculturative discussion. Combining traditional elements of acculturation with elements drawn from authors such as Geertz, Cohen, Kertzer, Wedeen, Ross and Chabal & Daloz I propose an operational definition of political acculturation.
The chapter concludes with some short reflections upon how interpretive methodologies can benefit the study of political acculturation, as well as contribute to fruitful collaboration with other epistemic communities.

Culture and politics: the traditional view

While exploring the increasing amount of experimental literature on the interaction of migrants with their new political arenas, one becomes increasingly aware of the focus on whether migrant communities or individuals within these communities can embrace specific political values that are central to the receiving countries. When it comes to analysing the cultural influence of migrants on their new societies, the literature does not seem to have much to say. With some exceptions, major works in the field are normally not concerned with specific factors that migrants bring with them when they cross borders33. Moreover, too often their samples cluster individuals from radically different political environments, due to what are perceived as common cultural characteristics, such as being brought up in non-democratic or authoritarian environments.
A comprehensive study of acculturative phenomena challenges researchers to understand the cultural factors of groups and individuals in order to examine undergoing changes resulting from contact with a new culture. Deciding what types of attributes will play a role in acculturative analysis is crucial to the type of understandings that are to be created. To this end, political scientists have opted for feeding the acculturative equation with their own conceptions of culture. As argued by Ross (1997, p.55) “Without a doubt, when most political scientists think about cultural analysis of politics, Almond & Verba’s The Civic Culture (1963) quickly comes to mind”. Indeed, this seminal study marked a dramatic step forward by introducing to the world the concept of political culture (Dalton, 2000, p.914)
Political culture is commonly associated with the paradigm of structural functionalism, an attempt to move the study of social sciences towards more scientific aspects of life through the collection and analysis of empirical evidence34. The concept of political culture was originally proposed by Gabriel Almond in the midst of the behavioural revolution in political science. According to Dahl, such an approach represented “an attempt to improve our understanding of politics by seeking to explain the empirical aspects of political life by means of methods, theories, and criteria of proof that are acceptable according to the canons, conventions, and assumptions of modern empirical science” (Dahl, 1961, p.767).
This behavioural revolution constituted a means of determining the scope for comparative politics between post-colonial and non-western societies. Its origins can be traced to the early years of World War II, when a series of anthropological studies sought to contribute to generating a better understanding of allied and enemy nations. In their review of their studies of national character, Neiburg & Goldman (1998, pp.57-58) state:
First, the U.S. and the Americans, Japan and the Japanese, Germany and the Germans, Great Britain and the British, and a little later, Russia and the Russians, and Poland and the Polish, all came to be treated as cultural worlds susceptible to analysis on the basis of the same categories used in the study of the so-called simple societies, those to which, until then, the majority of anthropologists had restricted their attention.
New political challenges accompanied the post-World War II era. The dissolution of European global empires was accompanied by a series of concerns over the stability and endurance of democracy in old colonial domains and the embracement of democratic institutions in potentially new nations. Such concerns were later incorporated into the framework of modernization theory through the distinction between traditional and modern societies. As emphasized by Moody (2009, p.255), “The guiding hypothesis seemed to be that while traditional societies were certainly different from each other, these differences counted for little when juxtaposed against modern society”. From this perspective, democracy was not only a political system but a political project, one that was deeply regarded as the best possible option for the development of traditional societies. Therefore, the study of the cultural attributes of nations became increasingly relevant.
It is in this context that in 1956 Gabriel Almond wrote his famous statement “Every political system is embedded in a particular pattern of orientations to political action. I have found it useful to refer to this as the political culture” (p396). Seven years later Almond, together with Sydney Verba released to the world their seminal study The Civic Culture, a comparative study regarding political beliefs, attitudes and behaviours in five nations. The essence of this study contends that the functionality and stability of political institutions is directly affected by the political values embraced in the societies they govern. Consequently, elements such as trust, political efficacy and perceived legitimacy are directly related to how societal structures – political, social and economic- operate.
Taking this into consideration, Almond & Verba construct a basic taxonomy of societies according to three different societal archetypes. Societies where citizens possess a strong sense of influence, understanding and confidence in the overall political system are labelled as ‘participants’, whereas those where members are not interested and have no knowledge of politics are named ‘parochial’. Lastly, societies and cultures where individuals are expected to participate in politics, at least in a cosmetic way to show their support for the regime, are called ‘subjects’. Political information regarding the overall composition of political values, beliefs and behaviours of individuals in The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Mexico and the United States of America was methodically collected, codified, and interpreted using statistical methods of analysis for the first time within the political science discipline. However, over the years its results have been criticized due to its extremely American character. As Moody (2013, p.40) observes:
The results are amazingly unsurprising: the United States had a close to model civic culture; England did pretty well, but was a touch more tilted toward a “subject” culture than a civic one; the Germans were good subjects, very obedient; while Italy was a mess. The Mexican case was an anomaly, an “aspirational” culture: Mexicans had a low opinion of the actual outcome of government actions but relatively high confidence in their ability to influence the government.
The initial popularity of the study was largely due to its more rigorous methodological underpinnings. Indeed, Almond & Verba were able to create a method to show what anthropologists and sociologists had not been able to ‘prove’. This systematic, quantitative approach was clearly an alternative to what was then perceived as psycho-analytical and anthropological reductionism. By comparison, political culture was seen as a scientific concept based on the objective examination of psycho-social components in different societies. As noted by Welch (2013), the inception of political culture as an empirical research program was closely related to the invention of a particular kind of survey, the attitude survey.
Armed with a new type of methodology, political scientists attempted to examine the world through new lenses, and over the years several characterizations, comparisons and even predictions have been made using the political culture framework. In 1966, Elazar proposed that American national political culture was a synthesis of three political subcultures — individualistic, moralistic, and traditionalistic—. These subcultures were based on the perceptions of individuals about politics and governments and the role they play in the overall political arena. According to Elazar (1994), immigration and subsequent migratory movements during the colonial period influenced the composition of state cultures. For instance, the precarious situation encountered by people in Louisiana –isolated due to early French colonization efforts- produced a population more driven towards individual survival than engagement in civic responsibilities. In addition, waves of migrants from significantly diverse backgrounds created multiple rivalries and divisions in the area.

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Chapter One: Introduction 
1.1 The puzzle: scope, preliminary theoretical considerations and guiding questions
1.2 Limitations and clarifications
1.3 Organization of the Thesis
Chapter Two: Literature Review 
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Towards a cohesive nomenclature
2.3 An International Puzzle
2.4 Conclusions
Chapter Three: Theoretical Framework 
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Culture and politics: the traditional view
3.3. Changing lenses: An interpretive view of political culture and acculturation
3.4 Migrants and meaning-making: an operational definition of political acculturation
3.5 Conclusions
Chapter Four: Research Methods 
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The initial stage: deskwork
4.3 The middle stage: fieldwork
4.4 The final stage: coding, interpreting and writing
Chapter Five: Transnational perceptual spaces and the cross cultural political telescope 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The passing parade of political symbols
5.3 Transnational Perceptual Spaces: The cross-cultural political telescope
5.4 Conclusions
Chapter Six: Political Déjà vu. Cognition, symbols, and political meaning-making 
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Stories of Inception

6.3 Stories of Transference
6.4 Stories of Confusion
6.5 Stories of construction
6.6 Conclusions
Chapter Seven: Matters of the Heart. Emotions, Politics and Meaning Making 
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Ambivalent feelings: the transnational emotional space
7.3 National identity, conflict and emotions
7.4 Coping mechanisms: re-shaping the meaning of the political self
7.5 Conclusions
Chapter Eight: Rituals of integration. From symbolic construction to political action 
8.1 Introduction
8.2 The worst in us: protest politics among Mexicans
8.3 Electoral participation: the ultimate ritual of integration
8.4 Imagined non-political communities: post-migratory civic engagement
8.5 Conclusions
Chapter Nine: Conclusions 
Not from around here: The political acculturation of Mexican migrants in New Zealand

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