Cultural Influences on Foreign Policy
Summary and Keywords
Scholars have heatedly debated whether and how culture impacts and shapes a state’s foreign and security policy in particular as well as international relations (IR) in general. The cultural approach to the studies of foreign policy has experienced two major waves since the end of the Cold War. We saw a revival of cultural studies in national security and foreign policy with the rise of constructivism in international relations in the 1990s, while into the 2000s, the culture approach focused on terrorism and globalization. Despite its achievement, the cultural approach continues to face theoretical and methodological challenges in conceptualization, measurement, and generalizability. Therefore, the cultural approach to foreign policy needs to work on demarcating the boundary of “cultural variables,” focusing on mid-range theorizing and placing the cultural variables within a context.
Keywords: culture, foreign policy, strategic culture, cultural approach, culture and national security, culture and globalization, cultural clash, clash of civilizations, culture and terrorism, China and EU
Does culture matter in foreign policy? From earlier studies of “national character” (Gray, 1981; Benedict, 1989; Wang, 1995; Kierman & Fairbank, 1974) to the recent studies of the cultural impact on terrorism, research on culture’s influence on foreign policy has experienced ups and downs. Scholars have heatedly debated whether and how culture impacts and shapes a state’s foreign and security policy in particular as well as international relations (IR) in general. This article aims to survey major contributions and shortcomings of the cultural approach to the studies of foreign policy after the Cold War; it places foreign policy analysis within the broader field of IR, although the distinction between the two is acknowledged in the field.
As Hudson (1997) puts it, “the study of how cultural differences affect behaviour has been, for the most part, the domain of social sciences other than international relations.” Therefore, it is not natural for IR scholars to borrow insights from cultural studies, because IR scholars traditionally focus on what states do, while cultural studies normally examine how individuals behave. However, the cultural approach has begun to penetrate this paradigmatic wall since the end of the Cold War. One obvious reason is that the major IR theories could not provide a satisfactory explanation for the sudden but peaceful ending of the Cold War. Many IR scholars turned to culture as “the explanation of the last resort” (Pye, 1991, p. 504, cited in Hudson, 1997, p. 2). Consequently, the field witnessed a flourishing of cultural studies in international relations in the 1990s.
In 1997, Hudson (1997, p. 2) declared that the time had come to move forward in the study of how culture affects foreign policy, that is, to “outline a coherent research agenda.” Since then, two cultural waves have been experienced in the studies of foreign and security policy. With the rise of China and the increasing threat from terrorist groups, as well as the return of conservatism and anti-globalization forces in the United States, world politics have become more complex than ever before. The significance of understanding the cultural influence on foreign policy is on the rise. Therefore, there is even more urgency to contour how culture affects foreign policy in the future.
There are three parts in this article. First, it examines the two waves of cultural studies in foreign policy and international relations after the Cold War and argues that major international events, such as the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 tragedy, are the driving force for IR and foreign policy scholars to use “culture” in their research. Second, it discusses three achievements and three challenges of cultural approaches in the studies of IR and foreign policy, suggesting that scholars face an intellectual dilemma regarding the role of the cultural approach in IR and foreign policy. On the one hand, the pluralistic cultural approach opens a new door for IR and foreign policy scholars to explain and understand the increasingly complex world politics. On the other hand, the idiosyncratic nature of a culture approach seems difficult to smoothly integrate with a scientific trend in IR and foreign policy studies. Lastly, it offers suggestions on how to narrow the gap between cultural approaches and IR/foreign policy, arguing that the key for future studies of culture in IR is to find analytical balances regarding the conceptualization of culture, the scope of study, as well as the function of cultural influences in foreign policy.
Cultural Studies in the Post–Cold War Time: Two Waves
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union were puzzles for mainstream IR theories of foreign policy, which assign explanatory power mainly to material capabilities and the balance of power in the international system. Facing global transformations in the 1990s within the emerging geopolitical landscape and having to tackle economic challenges from a globalized economy, scholars started to pay more attention to cultural transformations and cultural clashes. There were many questions that material-based rational choice models could explain. Thus, as Lapid and Kratochwil (1995) titled their book, we experienced “the return of culture and identity in IR theory.” In the post–Cold War period, there have been two waves of cultural studies in IR and foreign policy.
Wave I: Cultural Clash and National Security
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War encouraged many liberal scholars, like Francis Fukuyama (1989), to celebrate “the end of history,” in which came “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Unfortunately, the end of history did not happen as predicted. The end of the Cold War featured high uncertainty as to what would become of the international system as well as the states (Katzenstein, 1996; Jepperson, Wendt, & Katzenstein, 1996; Wendt, 1999). The demise of the ideological war between communism and capitalism brought neither liberal values or democracy nor peace to the whole world. Instead, we witnessed many regional conflicts, civil wars, and ethnic wars and cleansings, such as the first Gulf War, the Bosnia conflict, the Kosovo war, the Rwanda genocide, and the war in Somalia. Economic crisis in South and East Asia led to social chaos and regime changes in many fragile states, resulting in large-scale killing of ethnic (Chinese) groups.
Facing these new challenges to international security, the first wave of culture studies emerged from this uncertain and volatile background of the post–Cold War era, in which traditional nation-state-based, material-driven IR theories become insufficient to grasp the dynamics of world politics. In 1993, Samuel Huntington predicted that a “clash of civilizations” would become a new feature of international security after the Cold War and different cultures became a major driving force of war and conflict. Although Huntington’s thesis was criticized widely in the world, his argument inspired IR and foreign policy scholars to seriously consider the role of culture in studies of security and foreign policy.
In the 1990s, a large body of literature appeared trying to explain the impact of internal cultural differences on states’ national security and foreign policy. Flagship IR journals such as International Security, World Politics, American Political Science Review, European Journal of International Relations, and International Organisation provided more spaces for cultural studies, such as Fritz Gaenslen’s work on culture and decision making in China, Japan, Russia, and the United States (Gaenslen, 1986); Jeffrey Legro’s analysis of “Culture and Preferences in the International Cooperation” (Legro, 1996); Thomas Berger’s explanation of the Japanese culture of anti-militarism (Berger, 1993); Michael Desch’s work on cultural clash (Desch, 1998); Johnston’s work on strategic culture (Johnston, 1995); Lucian Pye’s work on political culture (Pye, 1991); and Michael Barnett’s work on culture and foreign policy change (Barnett, 1999).
Peter Katzenstein’s edited volume, The Culture of National Security, is worth noting in this first wave of cultural studies in IR (Katzenstein, 1996). It is the first book that systematically examines how norms and identity, the key elements of culture, shape and influence traditional national security issues, such as nonproliferation, humanitarian intervention, and the nuclear and chemical weapons taboo, as well as making security policy by major powers. Differing from traditional IR and foreign policy approaches that emphasize material power and balancing behavior of states, Katzenstein and his colleagues highlight the linkage between norms and political identity on the one hand and security policy outcomes on the other in a broad cultural-institutional context. The theoretical contribution of this book seems limited if scientific standards, such as theoretical rigor, parsimony, generalizability, and falsifiability, are used to evaluate the scholarship in the book. However, this book has encouraged many scholars to continue their cultural pursuits in the studies of foreign and security policies.
As mentioned before, one of the driving forces of the first cultural wave in IR is the dramatic transformation of the international system. As Hudson (1997, p. 1) points out, “during the Cold War, it was possible for scholars to overlook the effects of culture on foreign policy,” because of the overwhelming impact of material power in a bipolar world. The end of the Cold War, however, unleashed many nonmaterial forces, such as nationalism, norms, and identity, in shaping states’ behaviors and policy choices. Culture, by default, becomes a useful framework to embrace these nonmaterial variables as well as national characteristics in explaining foreign policy and international relations in the post–Cold War era.
For example, Elizabeth Kier (1995) uses a cultural approach to challenge the conventional wisdom that military organizations inherently prefer offensive doctrines. She argues that a military’s culture affects its choices between offensive and defensive military doctrines as shown in her cases of French and British military doctrines during the interwar period. In a similar vein, Johnston (1995) argues that China’s foreign policy behavior is shaped by its strategic culture, which is rooted in realpolitik rather than Confucianism as widely presumed. Although his case is drawn from China’s ancient history in the Ming dynasty, his findings have profound implications for explaining Chinese foreign policy in modern times.
This wave of the cultural approach was gradually subsumed by the rise of constructivism in IR and foreign policy in the late 1990s. Constructivists, such as Alexander Wendt (1995) and Martha Finnemore (1996), highlight the role of shared ideas and norms in constituting state behaviors and international politics. In particular, Wendt questions the materialist and individualistic assumptions of state behavior and international politics in the realist and liberal world. Wendt argues instead that “the structures of human association are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces,” and that “the identities and interests of purposive actors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given by nature.” Wendt’s term “shared ideas” refers to different “cultures” of international relations, including Hobbesian, Lockean, and Kantian ideas (Wendt, 1999, p. 1). Since culture is such an inclusive and broad concept, constructivism can be placed in the camp of cultural approaches. However, one undeniable fact is that social constructivism in IR is different from the traditional cultural approach that emphasizes diversities more than similarities among different cultures. Therefore, “the constructivist turn in international relations theory,” as Jeffery Checkel suggested, also signifies a gradual end of the first wave of cultural studies in IR and foreign policy (Checkel, 1998).
Wave II: Terrorism and Globalization’s Challenge to Cultural Approach
Into the 2000s, with increasing threats from terrorism in the world and deepening globalization facilitated by digitalization, scholars revived their attention to the cultural approach in explaining new challenges to security and foreign policy. In this second wave, two areas of research are worth noting. The first involves terrorism. Due to the 9/11 tragedy, Huntington’s thesis of “clash of civilizations” once again attracted scholars’ attention (Xenias, 2005; Shaffer, 2006). Will religion shape a state’s foreign policy? How does the Islamic culture link to terrorism? Is the clash of civilizations among Western, Islamic, and Slavic cultures, for example, inevitable? Why do countries adopt different strategies of counterterrorism? All these questions encourage scholars to seek answers from different cultural variables (Kluch & Vaus, 2017; Mamdani, 2002; Lacina & Lee, 2013).
For example, some scholars argue that religion is not a source of violence, but extremist elements of ethnic minorities may use religious divergence to mobilize group members to perpetrate terrorism (Satana, Inman, & Birnir, 2013). Omar Lizardo (2006) argues that cultural globalization has a positive effect on the rate of anti-US terrorist activity in the world. Wyn Rees and Richard Aldrich (2005) suggest that the different strategic cultures between the United States and Europe can explain why the former chose unilateralism while the latter adopted multilateralism in dealing with similar terrorist attacks in the 21st century (Hazbun, 2005; Herbstreuth, 2014; Wiarda, 2016).
The second research area is the integration of the European Union and its foreign policy. Although liberalism in IR theory can explain the economic integration of the European Union, the common foreign and security policy of the European Union seems still beyond the explanatory power of liberalism (Ifestos, 1987). Therefore, constructivism becomes a useful theoretical framework in understanding the EU’s foreign policy (Tonra & Christiansen, 2004). In particular, strategic culture becomes a useful framework to find a convergent point for the EU countries.
For example, Paul Cornish and Geoffrey Edwards (2001) point out that the creation of a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) requires the development of an EU strategic culture, which refers to “an institutional confidence and processes to manage and deploy military force as part of the effective range of legitimate policy instruments of the Union.” Biava, Drent, and Herd (2011) also argue that the EU’s strategic culture is “based on an extended concept of security and on a comprehensive, multilateral and internationally legitimated approach to threats.” This shared strategic culture explains the EU’s use of force “in an integrated manner on over 20 common security and defence policy (CSDP) operations” (Biava, Drent, & Herd, 2011). In a similar vein, Paul Cornish and Geoffrey Edwards (2005) point out that “establishing a European strategic culture is vital in order to rationalize the acquisition of capabilities necessary for the range of humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks envisaged.”
In the second wave, the cultural approach to the studies of terrorism and counterterrorism is gradually being assumed by religious studies and psychology (Halverscheid & Witte, 2008). In addition, some scholars are moving the general cultural approach in the direction of “critical terrorism studies,” creating a new subfield of critical theory (Jackson, 2007). In contrast, strategic culture seems to be regaining its analytical popularity in Europe regarding the EU’s foreign and security policy after a debate between the first and the second generations of strategic culture scholars in the 1990s (Johnston, 1995; Gray, 1999). Therefore, this EU-related strategic culture may foreshadow a possible third generation of strategic culture studies in IR and foreign policy analysis.
However, the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath of institutional and humanitarian crises in the EU have brought more doubts than hopes for the EU’s future. Some scholars argue that the widespread cultural heterogeneity in Europe, especially between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, will become a major obstacle for the formation of a collective identity in Europe, partially supporting Huntington’s thesis regarding an inevitable clash of civilizations (Fuchs & Klingemann, 2002). It seems that the second wave of the cultural approach gradually returns to the starting point that emphasized the divergence, rather than convergence, of different cultures in shaping foreign policy and IR in world politics.
Culture and Foreign Policy: Achievements and Challenges
The above two waves of cultural studies have proved the analytical value of the cultural approach in the studies of IR and foreign policy. There is an inherent and natural connection between culture and IR/foreign policy, because both emphasize the role of agency in world politics. By definition, culture is more agent-oriented and idiosyncratic in nature than IR/foreign policy. For example, American exceptionalism refers to its distinct culture compared to the European one. For international relations and foreign policy, the debate over agent versus structure is still an ongoing topic. However, as Hudson points out (1997, p. 5), foreign policy analysis is also “agent-specific” (Hudson quoted Alexander George’s 1994 work), because foreign policy decisions are all made by individual actors, not the international system. Therefore, the natural connection between culture and foreign policy leads to three positive outcomes in the cultural waves of IR and foreign policy.
First, the cultural approach opens the “black box” of the state through highlighting the complex linkages between decision-making processes and nonmaterialistic, culture-related variables rooted in an individual country’s tradition, history, and society. One notable effort is Lebow’s book (2009), A Cultural Theory of International Relations, which argues that many culture-related irrational factors (he called them “motives”), “appetite, spirit, fear and reason,” may dominate political decision making in the world. In addition, Lebow’s book is a valuable move towards the grand theorization of culture in IR. Some scholars question the efforts at grand theorizing in terms of explanatory power, although they also highly commend the book’s historical scope and culturalist/constructivist core (Ball et al., 2012). There is no denying the added value of cultural perspectives (Schemeil, 2011).
Second, cultural approaches are interdisciplinary in nature. Other disciplines have incorporated cultural insights into their paradigms, for example anthropology, sociology, political psychology, social psychology, organizational behavior, and religious studies. Cultural analyses of foreign policy can benefit from insights and findings from other disciplines through a cross-fertilization process. For example, Johnston has adopted cognitive mapping methodology from cognitive psychology to measure China’s realpolitik strategic culture in his “cultural realism” book. McDermott creatively integrates prospect theory and foreign policy analysis and borrow insights from behavioral economics in explaining risk-taking behavior in foreign policy.
Third, cultural approaches have encouraged scholars to seek theorization in IR and foreign policy beyond the West. Both IR and foreign policy analysis have been dominated by the West since their inception, because both fields originated from European interstate history and Western philosophy. In 1977, Stanley Hoffmann (1977) criticized the fact that IR is an American social science due to the US hegemonic status in the postwar era. The behavioral revolution of social sciences in America also pushed IR and foreign policy analysis toward a more quantitative methodology direction in the 1950s. The rise of cultural approaches after the Cold War, however, inspired scholars to look for cultural variables from non-Western worlds. They not only use cultural approaches to explain what Western theories cannot address, but also have started to theorize non-Western theories to enrich IR and foreign policy scholarship.
For example, Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan (2007) edited a special issue entitled “Why Is There No Non-Western IR Theory?” in 2007. In this issue, scholars from China, Japan, India, and Singapore examine the question from different cultural backgrounds. The lack of non-Western theorization of IR has encouraged Amitav Acharya (2014) to call for a “global IR” in his presidential speech as the ISA president in 2014–2015.
Calling for non-Western cultural contributions to IR and foreign policy is not just an empty proposal. Yan Xuetong and his colleagues at Tsinghua University in China introduce a “Tsinghua approach,” which advocates theorizing and borrowing insights from Chinese ancient political thought and philosophy regarding war and peace to explain a state’s foreign policy and international relations. In particular, Yan (2011) proposes a “moral realism” theory to explain the political leadership transition in world politics. Although it is still early to claim successes for the Tsinghua approach or Yan’s moral realism, it is clear that they signify theoretical “fruit” from the culture studies in IR and foreign policy. In a similar vein, Klaus Brummer and Valerie Hudson (2015) edited a volume entitled Foreign Policy Analysis beyond North America in which many non-American scholars examine and explore the unique theories and methodologies of their own countries.
The turn to culture since the 1990s is to some extent promising but unfulfilled. The cultural approach was under attack from the beginning on issues of conceptual clarity, unclear causal mechanisms, and problems of generalization and falsification.
A major challenge for the cultural approach remains that the concept of culture is hard to define and its boundary can be very broad. Although culture is a “foundation concept for the social sciences” (Eckstein, 1996), the concept of culture is “both the most elusive and most easily understood concept in social science” (Hudson, 1997). Hudson (1997) summarized three major ways of defining culture: culture as the organization of meaning, as value preferences, and as templates for human strategy.
Moreover, Hudson (1997, 1999) identifies a small research interface between the study of culture and the study of foreign policy, that is, cultural studies of particular nations or regions with identifiable implications for foreign policy research. However, even for this indeed small research arena, Hudson finds some analytical difficulties, such as “how can one determine the extent to which cultural factors are affecting any given foreign policy?... to what extent is culture in a mutually constructive relationship with other FPA variables, such as style of small group interactions, and so forth? What is the relationship between culture and notions of rational choice in foreign policy?” (Hudson, 1997, p. 17). The key to answering these questions is to clearly define and measure these cultural variables. Unfortunately, these questions regarding the cultural approach remain unanswered twenty years later in the field of foreign policy.
This elusiveness of culture renders it hard to attribute effective explanatory power to culture versus other variables. One major problem of the cultural approach is that “all human activity—including foreign policy—becomes both a product of and a component of culture” (Hudson, 1997, p. 3). In other words, it remains uncertain how scholars should place “culture” in an academic inquiry. For example, Lisa Wedeen (2002) tries to conceptualize culture as “semiotic practices of meaning making which facilitates insights about politics,” but she acknowledges that culture can provide independent, dependent, and intervening variables.
Even for constructivism, culture seems too broad to define, because all key constructivist variables, such as norms, identities, values, and ideas, are part of the cultural concept. Therefore, it seems culture is so powerful that it can constitute all kinds of political behavior and actions. One unanswered question, however, is how to account for the existence and relevance of these cultural variables in the first place. In addition, it is not clear why these cultural variables are more dominant and important than other materialistic variables, such as the power balance, in explaining state behavior.
Cultural analysis is constrained by time, space, history, tradition, and experience. It benefits from a deep and thick analysis of a single country, but suffers as a result in meeting the standards of generalizability and falsification. For example, regarding Chinese strategic culture and its impact on Chinese foreign policy, many scholars agree there are two strategic cultures from Chinese history that impact Chinese strategic thinking, realpolitik and Confucius strategic cultures; however, they disagree whether both are impacting Chinese foreign policy. Johnston argues that it is the realpolitik strategic culture that is the dominating force in Chinese war decision making (Johnston, 1995), and Scobell argues that the two strategic cultures are both functioning in Chinese warfare decisions (Scobell, 2003). Feng’s work suggests that different strategic cultures will influence China’s decision making under different conditions (Feng, 2007).
These analyses definitely enrich our understanding of Chinese strategic culture. One unanswered question is how to generalize findings from China’s strategic culture to other countries’ strategic cultures. Moreover, even for China’s own strategic culture, will it explain China’s different foreign policies under different leaders? How to account for changes of a certain culture as well as the linkage between culture and behavior is still an unsolved problem for the cultural approach.
Conclusion—How to Move the Cultural Approach Forward
There is no denying that cultural differences affect foreign policy decision making and that the cultural approach can better catch the particularistic domestic motivations, imperatives, and idiosyncrasies of states, as well as the fault lines between civilizations (Huntington, 1996; Hudson, 1999). Thirty years after the first wave of cultural studies in foreign policy and IR, the same theoretical and methodological challenges persist despite a richer pool of empirical cases and a better understanding of those cases. The question is: how can the cultural approach to foreign policy be further advanced?
Constructivism in IR has been successful in presenting the explanatory and constitutive power of ideas, ideology, and identity, or cognitive beliefs in shaping world politics. However, the cultural approach in general remains modest, as efforts are mostly complementary to other theories’ explanations. Besides the works of Pye, Huntington, Hudson, and Lebow, there are few efforts to systematically generalize the cultural paradigm. There is yet to be seen a coherent cultural paradigm that proves to have a robust analytical framework and theoretical strength. Given the continuous challenges discussed in the previous section, it is time for the cultural approach to reflect and decide on its future directions.
First, demarcating the boundary of “cultural variables” may address the initial conceptual problem of the cultural approach. Since culture is a contested concept in social sciences, cultural variables seem inherently ambiguous in the studies of foreign policy and international relations. Therefore, one possible solution is not to define what culture is for a consensual purpose. Instead, scholars can clearly define and measure their own culture-related variables in their own research. More important, they should draw a clear boundary between culture-related variables and non-culture-related variables. For example, is nationalism a culture-related variable? Different scholars might have different views. How to define and measure nationalism is also a debatable question. Therefore, it will be useful for scholars to clearly define what nationalism means in their research, even though it might or might not be agreed by other scholars. Although this “demarcating” method will not resolve the contested nature of culture-related variables, it at least offers a clear baseline for scholars to debate and exchange views on the subject.
Second, the cultural approach will benefit from focusing on mid-range theorization instead of developing a grand theory. It is admirable for some scholars to develop a grand theory to generalize culture-related findings in the field of IR and foreign policy (Lebow, 2009). However, since the cultural approach is more agent-specific, it is reasonable to remain idiosyncratic in specific case studies. For example, Thomas Berger (1998) does an excellent job of examining how “antimilitarism cultures” influence foreign policy making in postwar Japan and Germany. However, this history-based, path-dependent argument is difficult to generalize to other cases. Therefore, it is more reasonable to aim at a mid-range theory based on the Japan and Germany cases and specify under what conditions this antimilitarism culture can work and when it will not work.
Mid-range theorization does not mean forgoing generalizability in research. For the cultural approach, the key is to find a balance between a broad generalization and a limited or contingent generalization. It is true that culture seems inherently exclusive in nature. However, some cultures do share some similarities that offer a basis for cross-cultural comparison and generalization. For example, the debate on Asian values was an important academic topic in the 1990s. The collectivism-based culture in Asia was seen as one of the contributing factors in driving the Asian economic miracle. It is a direct challenge to individualism-based Western democracy. This “Asian value” argument is a good example of limited mid-range theorization, in which scholars draw cultural similarities across some Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea, as well as some Southeast Asian states. The application of the Asian value argument is also limited to the Asian region instead of the whole world. This example does not mean that the Asian value argument is necessarily right. Instead, it is a good example of mid-range theorization, which offers an intellectual platform to engage other theories and ignite academic debate, as we have seen between the “Asian value” school and democracy (Mauzy, 1997; Harrison & Huntington, 2000; Barr, 2000).
Third, placing the cultural variables within a context may address the ambiguous “causal mechanism” problem. No one can deny that culture matters. However, for IR and foreign policy scholars, the question is to prove “how culture matters.” As Schemeil (2011, p. 511) points out, “cultural differences do have deep consequences for institutional design and political action.” The key is to specify how and when these consequences occur. Cultural variables can play a role of independent or intervening variable to contribute to state behavior and various interactions or outcomes of state behavior. If culture is part of “institutional design and political actions,” in Schemeil’s term, then culture variables can become independent variables for designing institutions and taking actions. No matter which role cultural variables play, it is beneficial to consider the role of cultural variables in a context instead of isolating cultural variables from others.
For example, Huntington’s clash of civilizations argument seems powerful and convincing to explain the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East. However, it is weak in accounting for moderate Islam and relatively peaceful relations between Muslims and others in Southeast Asia. One of the reasons for this divergent outcome of “civilizations” is rooted in the interaction between religion (a cultural variable) and other factors, such as geography, political system, and international power configuration. Therefore, it would be dangerous to generalize Huntington’s clash of civilizations without considering differences in the domestic and international contexts between the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
As Schemeil (2011, p. 513) points out, “culture’s minimum contribution to science lies in its capacity to mobilize residual factors that may have been neglected by other paradigms.” However, the cultural approach does not just play a “residual” role in social sciences in general and IR/foreign policy in particular. If culture can be linked with other paradigms and the interaction between cultural variables and non-cultural variables identified, then culture’s contribution will not remain at the minimum level.
Last but not least, cultural scholars will need to embrace a multi-method approach in advancing cultural studies in the field of international relations and foreign policy. Traditionally, qualitative analysis and case study are the dominant research methods in cultural studies. Compared to other quantitative methods and approaches, cultural studies face some measurement problems and replication difficulties. To be fair, the cultural approach is not the only research tradition that is under attack by advocates of behavioralism. Besides insisting on the traditional value of qualitative and case study methods, cultural scholars can also borrow insights from quantitative methodologies.
For example, one notable difficulty in a cultural approach is to measure identity. Some scholars take up this challenge by borrowing insights from a variety of disciplines and methods, such as cognitive psychology, economics, anthropology, experiments, and methods, to treat identity as a variable, and demonstrate the possibilities offered by various methods of measurement (Abdelal, Herrera, Johnston, & McDermott, 2009). Although their book is a preliminary attempt to seek measurement techniques regarding identity through cross-disciplinary collaboration, it has paved a promising research path for others to pursue.
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