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Culture matters… for policy scholars too

On December 18, Mahama Tawat (Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Policy, Higher School of Economics) took part in the “Culture matters” seminar.Mahama Tawat gave a talk entitled “Culture matters… for policy scholars too”, in which he described new developments in policy scholarship.

In political science, the economic, “rational” paradigm has remained dominant for a long time. In that paradigm, decision making is rational and is aimed at maximizing own interest. Psychological science has given an understanding of cognitive mistakes and shortcuts in decision making (such as heuristics) and stressed the importance of irrational processes in decision making. In political science, an attempt to account for such phenomena took the form of the study of ideas and ideologies.

In political science, “ideas” encompass a range of psychological concepts: beliefs, culture, and ideology. Ideas are studied on cognitive and normative levels, and both as independent variables (influencing political decisions), and as dependent variables (being influenced by political decisions).

M. Tawat presented his analysis of institutionalization of ideas. The subject of the study was the passing of immigration legislation in Sweden and in Denmark in the 70s. M. Tawat showed that ideas and ideologies of political actors differed, and while in Sweden the Prime Minister insisted on including immigrants in the development of legislation, the ideological legacy of the Danish Parliament (the agreement on culture between Danish social-democrats and radical liberals in the 50s) precluded radical changes in the policy. As a result, Swedish immigration laws are based on the concepts of multiculturalism, and Denmark still holds on to conservative immigration legislation.