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Rethinking Culture: The Social Lineage Account

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2011

Princeton University
Alan Patten is Professor of Politics, Princeton University, Corwin Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (


Persuaded by the critique of cultural essentialism, many critics believe that there is no defensible way of identifying distinct cultures, or of distinguishing cultural loss from cultural change, that is compatible with the normative agenda of multiculturalism. This article challenges this widely shared belief by developing a concept of culture that can withstand the critique of essentialism and support the positive claims of multiculturalists. Culture, in the view developed here, is what people share when they have shared subjection to a common formative context. A division of the world, or of particular societies, into distinct cultures is a recognition that distinct processes of socialization operate on different groups of people. Because culture in this view is the precipitate of a common social lineage, the view is called the “social lineage account” of culture.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2011

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