Culture Matters!? Defining cultural spheres using a two-mode network approach.

Fabian Besche, Michael Windzio, Helen Seitzer


Neo-institutionalism claims that the global diffusion of education policies can be traced back to a western-rational education content and organizational forms. It postulates a common world-culture that shapes (education) policies worldwide. However, one distinctive feature of education as a policy field is that education is intimately entwined with the reproduction of culture and collective identity. It can function as a set of “switches”, in Max Weber’s sense, that determine the course of developmental paths (Knöbl 2007) specific to cultural spheres. International cultural research teaches us that there are different pathways to modernity, and so the particular role of education for reproduction and change of a nation-state’s cultural basis might differ as well. When we postulate that education influences cultural transmission and change on the one hand. Then, we have to see that the differentiation in cultural spheres should on the other hand correspond to differences in the emergence, design, and changes to national, state education systems. Culture seems to matter a great deal. But, how to define differences in cultural configurations? How does research efficiently and accurately operationalize cultural similarity between countries and cultural characteristics of states; and how do we account for the fact that cultural configurations of nations – although slowly – are changing over time, being adapted by inter- and intra-state influences? With this paper we introduce an innovative way of describing these very configurations in a relational way. Given that global cultural clusters of countries do not necessarily have rigid, clear-cut boundaries or ‘fault lines’, we apply valued two-mode social network analysis to define the clusters. Following this approach, countries can be tied by sharing a multitude of cultural characteristics. We draw on a variety of existing cultural typologies that proclaim the membership in clusters (e.g. Hofstede; Nisbett; Inglehart/Welzel/Norris; Huntington). We enhance them with data on dominant religion, language groups, ethnic diversity, legitimacy and strength of state institutions, colonial heritage, and membership in International Organizations – globally, but especially regionally. As a result, we will get a new fuzzy typology of cultural spheres. This typology is a valued network in which the more characteristics countries share, the more closely connected they become. Our hypothesis is that the introduction and configuration of state education correspond to world regions and cultural spheres that can be characterized empirically by consolidated relations in highly dynamic subnetworks. By creating this typology of cultural spheres we depict culture not as one distinct, time-independent feature, but can also trace changes in shared cultural characteristics over time. This enables researchers to overcome various ways of using proxies to define cultural categories. Through a relational, additive approach to show cultural spheres, we operationalize culture in a way that is adaptable to different research questions, especially regarding policy diffusion. We believe this new two-mode network approach, which yields a fuzzy, yet clear empirical view on cultural spheres can depict the cultural reality of different nations states better. This paper is a first step towards harnessing the ‘culture matters’ proclamation in a standardized, controllable, relational way.

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