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date: 30 November 2020

Strategic Culture Theory: What, Why, and Howlocked

  • Edward LockEdward LockCollege of Arts and Education, Victoria University

Summary

The concept of strategic culture has become widely used in the field of international relations, primarily in the context of efforts to explain the distinctive strategic behaviors of states through reference to their unique strategic properties. Despite this, a great deal of confusion remains regarding what strategic culture is, and how it may be used in the context of academic research. Two problems produce this confusion: much strategic culture literature continues to conflate culture-as-ideas with the behavior and artifacts through which those ideas become manifest, and strategic culture scholars have incorporated within their definitions of this concept overly narrow assumptions about where strategic culture may be said to exist.

To address these weaknesses in the literature, strategic culture is redefined as consisting of common ideas regarding strategy that exist across populations. This definition is narrower than many because it defines culture as common ideas rather than as ideas plus behavior (or as ideas plus artifacts). This matters not because it solves the methodological challenges faced by those who seek to study ideas, but because it forces us to confront these challenges directly in the context of efforts to understand the different ways that patterns of ideas may produce patterned behavior. This definition is also broader than many because it refuses to dismiss the possibility that common ideas related to strategic matters may exist across populations that are not bounded by the borders of existing countries. The rationale for such an approach is simply that one ought to look and see how common ideas are in fact distributed across populations, rather than assume that patterns will conform to taken-for-granted political units.

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