American Political Science Review

Research Article

Rethinking Culture: The Social Lineage Account


a1 Princeton University


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.

(Online publication October 24 2011)


c1 Alan Patten is Professor of Politics, Princeton University, Corwin Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (


Earlier versions of the article were presented at the Canadian Political Science Association's 2008 Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC, and at workshops held at McGill University, Yale University, and Princeton University. I am grateful to the organizers of, and participants in, all of these events, and especially to Arash Abizadeh, Nannerl Keohane, Jacob Levy, Dominique Leydet, Philip Pettit, Jeff Spinner-Halev, Annie Stilz, Leif Wenar, and Lea Ypi. Thanks also to the journal's referees and co-editors for their excellent comments on the penultimate draft.