Traditional Attitudes And Values Toward The Environment

Comparative political analysis has undergone several paradigm shifts over time, and several paradigms coexist. Originally, the sub-discipline was a formal enterprise of comparing national laws and statutes, constitutions and codified political structures and processes. In the post World War II era, however, comparative political studies discovered the importance of culture, society, the non-western world, and the need to explain political behavior. The unhappy experiences with fascist totalitarianism before and during the war sparked an interest in understanding where, why and under what conditions nation-states became democratic or dictatorial. Informed by anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict, political scientists pursued "national character studies," attempting to understand the modal personalities that lead to autocracy, democracy, and social volatility. The cold war contests between liberal-capitalist and state-socialist systems and the massive wave of decolonization that followed the war—beginning in India in 1947 and engulfing most of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean by the 1950s-70s—intensified the interests of scholars and policy makers in political development. Since most states, including the Soviet Union, had well crafted constitutions, elaborate electoral systems and representative bodies, by the 1950s it had become clear that formal documents and procedures, rather than determining the politics of a country, were themselves determined by forces outside of the strictly circumscribed realm of government and the state. While these original attempts to bring culture and behavior into the picture proved problematic, they eventually led to more rigorous, nuanced and less ethnocentric studies—including well-articulated theories of political culture, political systems, and structural-functionalism—under the general rubric of behavioralism.4 Therefore, cultural influences are our starting point, although as we present cases and examples we will modify the often overly deterministic nature of behavioralist analysis by considering the conditioning effects of economic factors, social structure, and political institutions as well as the growing influence of globalization.

Attitudes and values (as well as beliefs and opinions) are patterns in the mind of citizens as they contemplate their universe and interact with others. We assume that these psychological states translate into action: that values and attitudes influence behavior. For more than a generation, social scientists have studied this relationship and found that, generally, culture and values tend to predict behavior, when unconstrained by exogenous factors (for instance, threats to one's survival) and more powerful internal drives (such as hunger). A second assumption in comparative politics research is that values and attitudes vary across cultural regions and may vary from country to country (and within diverse countries too).

In their path-breaking studies of politics in developing areas after World War II, political scientists Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba popularized the concept "political culture" as a tool for the systematic study of differences in values and attitudes cross-nationally. By political culture, they meant citizens' orientations toward the political system, the political and policy-making process, and policy outputs and outcomes.5 Our study of comparative environmental politics focuses on the first and third levels: the beliefs citizens have about relationships between humans and the environment (whether, for example, they regard the environment as of intrinsic value), and the attitudes of citizens and elites toward environmental policies.

We will examine a few traditional sets of values and attitudes toward the environment, beginning in the West. In the process, we will be making generalizations that should be viewed critically, because the tools for understanding values and attitudes within countries, as well as cross-nationally, are not well-developed. And while it is difficult to prove causal relationships between values and practices, we offer some historical examples that correlate attitudes and values about nature with practices that have left lasting marks on the environment.

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Responses

  • mai aoyama
    an interesting report that makes me think something - it's true each country has its value and attitude towards nature. <br />It's also true that each family's annual income influences his/her behavior. They seem to have something common even in a different cultural background, depending on their income. It might be interesting to see how they think of global warming from this perspective (income levels).
    7 years ago

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