Culture and Politics

Image by Matteo Paganelli

Image by Matteo Paganelli

Culture and Politics

By Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh -

Culture is an important element to research and understand when studying political systems as it plays an influential role, is ingrained in the foundations on which political systems are built, and it colors the lenses from which people view the world around them. Culture helps us understand political systems in three important ways: it plays an integral role in modernization; language is an influential element of culture and impacts business and economic success; and culture (along with ethnicity) can impact the success or failure of states through the bonds that it creates or disrupts.

Modernization and a states’ ability to modernize is important to their political system and culture plays a big role in that. As Cao highlighted, “In cultural development, the ideological and ethical standards, the scientific and cultural qualities, as well as the health of the entire people, will be upgraded so as to promote the all-around development of people” (2009, 13). This illustrates that culture is deeply woven into the political systems that build and structure the lives of people within a state. It factors into the politics that emerge and for this reason, culture is an important element to include in the study of comparative politics. China and its path to modernization is an example of how culture plays an important role in political systems.

Language is a huge part of culture and it also impacts business and the economic successes or economic failures of a people and a state. In the wake of globalization, the world is in many ways a smaller place and a globalized economy means language and communication skills are all the more important in business. Today’s businesses have a strong need to communicate effectively across multiple languages to stay relevant and viable. In other words, the world needs more people who speak multiple languages and understand the intricacies and nuances of multiple cultures to drive a successful business. An interesting example of how language skills can impact business can be seen in the United States. Immigrant children in America often enter into the school system only to have their native language essentially purged and replaced with English, but then enter into college where millions of dollars are invested in trying to teach students to speak the languages that were purged from the start. (“Speaking in Tongues | Kanopy” n.d.). Imagine how much more successful the United States could be in the global economy if it were to embrace the diversity and multicultural strengths (including languages) of its people. Significant money could be saved, and it would be a stronger player in the global arena.

Additionally, culture includes ethnicity and has a way of bringing people together and creating a bond. However, it can also create a divide and lead to violence. In this way, culture is important to include in the study of political systems as it can mean the difference between stability and chaos. Lane and Ersson argue that “the cultural approach to understanding behavior has become at least as relevant as the rational choice framework. And ethnicity is one of the three pillars of culture besides religion and values” ( 2005, 96). They go on to explain how “ethnic fragmentation” can stimulate cultural vibrancy and progress (Lane and Ersson 2005, 96). It also has the potential to be a source or a strategy used to create a divide, violence, and conflict; as seen in the tactics of criminals employed in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. 

Without the inclusion of culture, the study of comparative politics would be missing a great deal. Not only would it paint an inaccurate picture of what modernization might look like, but it would also be missing vital elements in economic success, such as language. Further, failing to include culture in comparative politics studies would mean missing an important element that can bring people together or tear them apart––and ultimately mean the difference between war and peace. 

#culture #politics #language #writing #writer #modernization


Cao Fangjun. 2009. “Modernization Theory and China’s Road to Modernization.” Chinese Studies in History 43 (1): 7–16.

Lane, Jan-Erik, and Svante Ersson. 2005. Culture and Politics: A Comparative Approach. Farnham, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge.

“Speaking in Tongues | Kanopy.” n.d. Accessed June 17, 2019.

About the Author:


Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh is a writer, podcaster, artist, and nonprofit operations director. She currently resides in Houston, Texas, where she works to help the local refugee community and the general population navigate the job search arena. She is currently working toward a degree in Middle Eastern studies.

Interests, ever-evolving: photography, painting, art, science, medicine, astronomy, yoga, travel, the world, culture, language, education, politics, women's rights, human rights.