PO2212 Issues in Contemporary European Politics

Week 7 Ideology, Culture and Socialisation: the Role of Education Systems


In this session, we are exploring some key concepts in political science and then applying them to a case study. Higher education has been chosen as the case study partly to give you the opportunity to include some reflection on your own experience in your work for this module.


Defined by W A Mullins as 'a logically coherent set of symbols, which, within a more or less sophisticated conception of history, links the cognitive and evaluative perceptions of one's social condition - especially its prospects for the future - to a programme of collective action for the maintenance, alteration or transformation of society'.
(Mullins, W A 'On the Conception of Ideology in Political Science' American Political Science Review, 1972)

Can you turn this quotation into simpler language to make sure that you have grasped it?


Can be defined as the value system of a society.

What else does it mean?

Political Culture

We could say that those aspects of the general culture that relate to conflict, power and decision-making constitute the political culture.
The most useful definition for me is that the political culture of a society is the general pattern of citizen's attitudes, values and beliefs about the political system and their own role in it.
The general pattern might be one of general agreement across all social groups or the general pattern might be one of very different sets of beliefs etc. held by different groups or the general pattern might be of common values held by the majority with different sets of values held by one or more subcultures.

Can you see a difference between ideology and political culture?
Can you define the difference with reference to examples?


A process, that the individual is not always conscious of, of learning the values of a particular social group and the social roles that the individual is expected to fill.
Commentators see the following agents as having an important role in socialisation: the family, the education system, peer groups, work groups, leisure groups, the media and the State (either directly or indirectly).

Political Socialisation

We could define political socialisation in almost exactly the same way, just substituting 'political' for 'social' before 'roles'.

Have you ever thought of the influences that have shaped your own values and attitudes?
What do you think has been important?

Political scientists who invented the concept in the 1960s tended to stress the unconscious aspects of the process of political socialisation - today I would argue that our direct experience, or at least how we react to or interpret our own experience, also has an impact on our political values and attitudes.
I would give as examples, the experience of important public events (e.g. war, civil war, revolution, coup d'etat, change of political regime, new government with radically different programme from the previous government, major strike or period of protest) and, in some cases, private events (e.g. marriage, becoming a parent, unemployment, bankruptcy, divorce, bereavement).

What do you think about this distinction between public and private?

Education Systems

In all European countries, the State provides, funds and regulates institutions in which people learn. Schools are often the places where young children first come across people with power who are not their parents, with abstract rules and with pressure to conform to group norms.
Even when there is no direct political learning on the curriculum, the structures of schools, the subjects that are taught and the way the pupils are taught all have a political dimension.

Can you give some examples?

It used to be argued that primary and secondary schools in Britain encouraged conformism and deference to authority, in France they encouraged individualism and elitism and in the Soviet Union they officially promoted collectivism and the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

What values were encouraged or promoted in your secondary school?
To what extent are the school experiences of girls different from those of boys?
To what extent are the school experiences of black pupils different from those of white pupils?
To what extent are the school experiences of middle class children different from those of working class children?

Higher Education

Before we look at the general role of higher education in society, I want you to give me some information which will help me in my work on this topic. Take a clean sheet of paper, write your gender, age, ethnic origin and nationality on it. Then write down the reasons why you are in higher education. Then please give me the sheets (unless you really don't want to)

Having reflected on your own motives for being in higher education, think about what higher education systems are for in general terms.

Values in Higher Education

Think about higher education in one European country. Can you think of ways in which the higher education system promotes or encourages democracy/ participation/solidarity with others/accountability/any other political value you think is important?

Questions to ask about national systems of Higher Education

Where to find some of the answers

Unesco on Higher Education http://www.unesco.org/iau/whed-2000.html

Guide to Higher Education Systems in EU http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/educ/higher/higher_en.html

UK White Paper on Higher Education 2003 http://www.dfes.gov.uk/hegateway/uploads/White%20Pape.pdf

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Page created by Penny Welch November 2000/ updated October 2006

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