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Rethinking Culture: The Social Lineage Account

  • ALAN PATTEN (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 24 October 2011

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.

Corresponding author
Alan Patten is Professor of Politics, Princeton University, Corwin Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (
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Joseph Carens . 2000. Culture, Citizenship, and Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Michael O. Hardimon 2003. “The Ordinary Concept of Race.” Journal of Philosophy 100 (9): 437–55.

Philip Kitcher . 2007. “Does ‘Race’ Have a Future?Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (4): 293317.

Will Kymlicka . 2001. Politics in the Vernacular. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David Laitin . 2007. Nations, States, and Violence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ron Mallon . 2007. “Human Categories beyond Non-essentialism.” Journal of Political Philosophy 15 (2): 146–48.

Samuel Scheffler . 2007. “Immigration and the Significance of Culture.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (2): 93125.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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