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Choosing Preferences by Constructing Institutions: A Cultural Theory of Preference Formation

  • Aaron Wildavsky (a1)

Preferences come from the most ubiquitous human activity: living with other people. Support for and opposition to different ways of life, the shared values legitimating social relations (here called cultures) are the generators of diverse preferences. After discussing why it is not helpful to conceive of interests as preferences or to dismiss preference formation as external to organized social life, I explain how people are able to develop many preferences from few clues by using their social relations to interrogate their environment. The social filter is the source of preferences. I then argue that culture is a more powerful construct than conceptual rivals: heuristics, schemas, ideologies. Two initial applications—to the ideology of the left-right distinctions and to perceptions of danger—test the claim that this theory of how individuals use political cultures to develop their preferences outperforms the alternatives.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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