Review of International Studies

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Strategic culture as context: the first generation of theory strikes back



‘Strategic Culture as Context: The First Generation of Theory Strikes Back’ takes the scholarly argument about the study, and meaning, of strategic culture to a new stage. Specifically, this article is a direct reply to recent criticisms of so-called first-generation theorists of strategic culture. The author reconsiders both the subject of strategic culture, and what he first wrote about it fifteen and more years ago. He finds that although there is noteworthy room for improvement in what he wrote then, the recent theorising by Alastair Iain Johnston, in particular, rests upon a misunderstanding of the nature, character, and ‘working’ of strategic culture. Of particular note is the insistence by Johnston on a separation of ideas from behaviour, for the dominant purpose of developing falsifiable theory. ‘Strategic Culture as Context,’ therefore, revisits in some detail questions of definition, with particular reference to the ideas-behaviour nexus. The article proceeds both to register arguments that should advance understanding of how strategic culture ‘works,’ and to suggest a better set of discriminators, different perspectives, for better consideration of evidence of strategic culture. Overall, the article suggests that strategic culture provides context for understanding, rather than explanatory causality for behaviour.