How culture affects public policy Essay

How culture affects public policy
How culture affects public policy

How culture affects public policy

Order Instructions:

Choice one from the following:
1. How does culture affect public policy? You may use a case study as an example.
2. Can the concept of political culture explain public policy choices?
3. What are the implications of postmodernisation for public policy?
4. Is democracy culture specific or universal?



Since culture influences government policies, and is also influenced in return, one of the public policies of a government should be to create conditions that will promote a vibrant and happy culture. Culture is a dynamic yet constantly changing process, therefore no one definition is correct. However, to better understand how it affects culture, it is important to first consider what a relevant definition should constitute. Hence, a relevant definition should make sense to people in the milieu in which they live so as to give a real sense of direction and meaning. This cultural milieu in which an individual is present can strongly affect the level of happiness and quality of life as it closely influences the type of public policy passed. Public policy, just like culture, can be described in various ways. Therefore, a relevant definition should constitute a determination of who gets what, when, and how they get it. From theory, it can be influenced by any individual or group of people that manages to garner sufficient power to enable them change resource distributions across society. This paper looks at the relationship between culture and public policy, and it also analyses other underlying components that may also affect the two.

How Culture Affects Public Policy

 In every country, there is a presence of mixed cultures that end up affecting public policy. Therefore, this means that the people of a country have varying beliefs on what is right and what is wrong. This presence of people with conflicting ideas in a society creates the impression that culture affects public policy by stirring moral disputes over areas to be pursued by law. This, however, is not the case as Enserink et al. (2007: 24) states that culture affects public policy by triggering empirical disagreements over the economic, crime control, national security, and other policy consequences that have been designed to promote the people’s common interest. Since culture is a source of identity for many people within a society, they always try to ensure that even the law respects their identity by not passing any policies that will go contrary to what they believe in their culture. Therefore, when the culture of a certain group encompass customs, code of etiquette, rituals and ceremonies, it is considered very important for the members to maintain all these beliefs. This is why the members of the cultural group may contest public policies that are against their code of etiquette, rituals and custom. If the group is powerful enough, the resulting public policy will be in their favour.

Disagreements on the empirical dimensions of most public policy related issues are quite common. Since different cultures have their own views of what is acceptable and what is not, it is expected that members of the society will have differing beliefs on certain issues such as the death penalty effects, handgun ownership’s role on crime, global warming significance, the health consequences of promiscuous sex and many others. According to research by Griswold (1994), such factual disagreements are polarized across distinct social groups including; ethnic, religious, racial, ideological, and regional groups. Moreover, the factual beliefs are more correlated across discrete and disparate issues. When such groups disagree, the public policy makers have the obligation of hearing them out, before trying to come up with a policy that will not negatively impact either groups, in terms of making them go against their culture. Therefore, it is clear that culture, which varies from one group to the other, will affect public policy as actions will be taken to ensure that the policy does not go against the groups’ customs and beliefs.

Culture affects public policy indirectly since it is what affects the identity of many within a society. As culture changes gradually, so does the identity of its members. However, as viewed in religion and civilisation, an individual will always have a fixed identity which is considered a false concept. This false fixed identity conception undercuts an individual’s identity freedom by making it impossible for the identity to change constantly in line with culture as it is supposed to be. Therefore, cultural diversity is smothered in the process. Since the different cultures expected to influence public policy making in this case will be smothered, the resulting public policy will be flawed as the false fixed identity will result in the contribution of few cultures only. Hence, cultural diversity is yet another value which contributes to the well being and coordination of public policy. It also expands choices for the policy makers since each culture presents its own customs and beliefs that should not be crossed in the public policy. Enserink (2007: 24) argues that diversity can be a very useful resource when it comes to resolving conflict. This is because it enhances conditions and conducive qualities that promote cultural differences, which come about as a result of complex patterns of customs, behaviours, and beliefs. These patterns are what play a major role in determining how public policy developed, as the policy makers will have to come up with ideas that are accepted by all cultures.

Cohen (2013: 12) however cautions against diversity as he states that it may end up threatening solidarity when it comes to participations of different cultures in public policy making, especially if it is growing rapidly. All governments from different parts of the world deal with common challenges such as how to manage food, water, infrastructure, education, health, social welfare, the environment, economic development, security, and governance systems. Yet, despite this similarity in challenges, the national governments and other stakeholders use varying public policies to address these issues depending on the country or region. This is an indication that culture affects public policy since different cultures are present in different countries, and the resulting public policies are usually in line with the cultural beliefs of that country (Cohen 2013, p.3). Cohen (2013: 4) further argues that the governments should obtain solid knowledge culture, above other socioeconomic factors that influence human behaviour, which are commonly applied in the modelling of public policy. This is because policy makers will be aware of the differences in beliefs and customs of all the available cultures, thus they will be better placed to create public policies that will be accepted generally across all cultures and produce desirable outcomes.

Frequently, public policy ideas developed and implemented in a certain jurisdiction will be transferred to, or even transformed to comfortably meet the needs and objectives of other jurisdictions (Heath 2012, p. 386). However, these transfers are not always desired, and may not be implementable as a result of the wide range of socio-political, economic, geographical and cultural differences that are existent between jurisdictions. Culture affects public policy in that what is right for one culture may be the opposite when the policy is transferred to another culture. This shows that culture affects public policy by triggering the inclusion of varying cultural ideas to ensure that all ideas from various cultures are included. Therefore, having an improved knowledge on national culture and the differences existing between them can play an important role in informing the international policy transfer practices, and also the joint policy learning exercises (Cohen 2013, p. 5).

To better explain this, a case study that looks at how national culture orientations may be used to better understand the relationship between knowledge construction and policy making, from a cultural perspective, is employed. When it comes to the inclusion of stakeholders who have the power to affect or get affected by the public policy making process, different countries have their own preferences on how the act may be handled to avoid problems which may surface as a result of disagreements (Heath 2012, p. 385). Such public participation in the decision-making or their participatory approaches to public policy has been highlighted as important internationally. This is because culture triggers the participation of groups or individuals in the process of public policy making. This is especially true in fields such as the environmental and technological risk focused decision-making, as well as development policy (Maleki & Bots 2013, p. 377). These public policy fields are what most cultures fight for as they have varying beliefs on each one of them.

In this case study, it is visible that alongside other political, technological, economical, and ecological factors, culture is also an element of public policy. For example, when cultural change takes place, social problems may arise, which will need the policy makers to resolve. According to Heath (2012: 386) the rise in rates of unwed childbearing and poverty of such families raised an issue saw to it that many activists joined hands to urge a focus on the promotion of various factors that would in turn reduce these cases. This form of change resulted to issues for the government as they had to find a way of ensuring that heterosexual, two parent households is achieved so as to reduce the instances of poverty for these families. Therefore, from this perspective, it is clear that culture can influence public policy through its effects on the economy (Kahan 2006, n.p). This example used from the case study shows the relationship since culture, as is depicted in early childbearing and polygamous marriages affected the economy as it enhanced poverty.

Next, this case study also supports the argument that culture affects the interests pursued by policy makers, and thus the eventual content of the public policy (Heath 2012, p. 387). Gollnick and Chinn (2009: n.p) argue that these interests of public policy makers is influenced by culture when these actors take their time to understand the different cultures effectively. Therefore, they will know what will be right and wrong for these cultures. This step will lead them towards wanting to create a policy that will be right for all cultures, thus it affects the content of the public policy. This leads us to the next point.

Culture also influences public policy since it is a source of the ideas that determine the policy (Rao & Walton 2004, n.p). According to the case study, Heath (2012: 387) states that policy scholars have studied the mode through which ideational processes inform the normative and cognitive procedures, which determine the legitimacy perceptions. Culture, therefore, plays an important role in producing ideas to be used for formation of public policy in that it actively articulates, understands consciously, and strategically deploys these ideas (Swidler 1986, p. 280). For policy makers to possess these ideas, they must first be ready to deeply learn and understand the various concepts and views of the different cultures.


Judging from the arguments in this paper, it is clear that culture truly affects public policy since it is the people who decide on what can be implemented. This is usually influenced by their customs, beliefs and world views, which stems from their culture. Since there are different cultures in every country, it is important that public participation is encouraged in the process of policy making. This is because the varying cultures will be expressed, and the policies resulting from the process will be accepted nationally. No group will feel left out in the process, thus no one will feel obligated to reject the policies or cause chaos. From the content of this paper, and the case study used, it is clear that culture affects public policy by triggering empirical disagreements over issues designed to promote the people’s common interest, as a result of false identity resulting to smothered cultures, a difference in what is right and wrong between cultures and many more. Therefore, culture affects public policy from more than one dimension, as is noted in this paper.


Cohen, N 2013, ‘Solving Problems Informally The Influence of Israel’s Political Culture on the Public Policy Process’, Innovation Journal, 18, 1, pp. 1-16, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 September 2014.

Enserink, B, Patel, M, Kranz, N, & Maestu, J 2007, ‘Cultural factors as co-determinants of participation in river basin management’, Ecology and Society, 12, 2, pp. 24,

Harsanyi, F, & Schmidt, S 2012, ‘Creating a public affairs function in countries without a public affairs culture’, Journal Of Public Affairs (14723891), 12, 1, pp. 86-97, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 September 2014.

Heath, M 2012, ‘Making Marriage Promotion into Public Policy: The Epistemic Culture of a Statewide Initiative’, Qualitative Sociology, 35, 4, pp. 385-406, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 September 2014.

Maleki, A, & Bots, P,W,G, 2013, ‘Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice: A Framework for Operationalizing the Effect of National Culture on Participatory Policy Analysis’, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 15, 5, pp. 371-394.

Griswold, W 1994, “The Social Construction of Social Problems”, in Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, California.

Kahan, DM 2006, ‘Cultural Cognition and Public Policy’, Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository, Faculty Scholarship Series, Vol. 24, Issue 147.

Gollnick, DM & Chinn PC 2009, Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society, 8th ed., Merrill-Pearson Education Australia Pty Limited.

Swidler Ann 1986, ‘Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies’, American Sociological Review,  Vol.51(2), pp.273-286, Peer Reviewed Journal, Accessed on 17 September 2014, Stable URL:

Rao, V. and Walton, M. (eds.) 2004, “Culture and Public Action: Relationality, Equality of Agency, and Development”, in Rao, V. and Walton, M. (eds.) Culture and Public Action, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California

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