Brendon Swedlow

Document Type



A major complaint against cultural theories is that they cannot explain political change (Lockhart 1997). Cultural and institutional accounts of politics are also often seen as antagonistic (Chai 1997; Grendstad and Selle 1995; Lockhart 1999). The cultural theory (CT) developed by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavsky, and others (see, e.g., Schwarz and Thompson 1990; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990), by contrast, offers a theory of culture that includes a theory of cultural change that integrates institutions into its explanation of change (Lockhart 1997, 1999; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990, 69–81; Wildavsky 1985). Moreover, CT can help specify the cultural conditions for sudden, big institutional and policy change, thereby, I argue, strengthening Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones's “punctuated equilibria” (PE) theory of change (Baumgartner and Jones 1993, 2002). The plausibility of this CT of PE change is illustrated in this article by using it to explain dramatic changes in forest and wildlife management in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) (building on Swedlow 2002a, b, 2003, 2007, 2009, and 2011a, b).



Publication Date


Original Citation

Swedlow, Brendon. "Cultural Surprises as Sources of Sudden, Big Policy Change," PS: Political Science & Politics, [in symposium on A Cultural Theory of Politics], Vol. 44, Issue 4 (October 2011) pp 736-739.

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science




Cambridge University Press



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