Culture and Public Policy: Prof. Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán                                                

Culture may be defined as the knowledge, values, and customs that people acquire by living in a given society. Public policy in turn is whatever the government chooses to do or not to do (Dye 2005: 1). Therefore, culture and public policy are closely interwoven. “People always feel [the effects of] their origins. The circumstances that accompanied their birth and served to develop them influence the entire course of the rest of their lives” (Tocqueville 2000: 28).  Since many of the public policy issues are socially constructed, it follows that public policy is going to be shaped by the cultural values and worldviews of the voters. Furthermore, the very essence of what constitutes democracy is, in itself, as well as the basis for its legitimacy, a cultural one (See Avruch 2004:54). Therefore, it could be argue that in America’s democracy, government officials should develop and implement public policy that is culturally accepted by those who have the power to elect them.

Another cultural issue to which public policy responds is to the clash that occasionally occurs between the dominant cultural group and the subcultures of emergent new cultures. For example, the peace movement of the 1960’s was a cultural clash between the then dominant culture (those who favored the War) and the subculture of those who opposed the War in Indo-China and the build–up of nuclear weapons. The leaders of the peace movement – originally viewed as deviants – became a majority and the government eventually modified its public policy regarding the War and the build-up of nuclear weapons. Likewise, in the 1970’s there was a clash between those who favored the prevailing legal practices and those who favored ADR, thus a new profession emerged.

The public policy implemented also has an impact upon cultural values. For example, the passage of several state and federal legislations – such as the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 1998 – have in a way modified the worldview of many citizens and lawyers; other options that are less litigious are know being considered as alternatives to litigation.  

Culture takes place in a historical context and is dynamic. Therefore, the change in cultural values generates changes in public policy. A few decades ago people were afraid of dying; today some fear the possibility that someone will not let them die. The manner in which society collectively values and defines life and death has changed substantially. This in turn has forced the states and the federal government to address the issue with laws and judicial interpretations. The manner in which a governor chooses to act or not act will create conflict because cultures are not homogeneous. Therefore, you have a situation like Schiavo’s case in which the state of Florida was divided with some favoring her parents (who sustained her living) and others favoring her spouse (who favored euthanasia).

However, these cultural clashes are positive and essential for the development of society. It if were not for these cultural clashes the USA would probably still be an English colony, blacks would still be slaves, and many other social injustices would still be perpetuated. In history, the anarchists and revolutionaries of the present – in many occasions – end up being the heroes and founding fathers of the future. It all depends on what side of the fence one is and our world views.

Given the fact that the USA is so heterogeneous culturally speaking, should public policy be implemented taking into consideration the needs and wants of the majority without being culturally sensitive towards those who represent a minority? Food for thought…..

Avruch, Kevin (2004) Culture & Conflict Resolution. Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Dye, Thomas R. (2005). Understanding Public Policy. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Tocqueville, Alexis (2000) Democracy in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.   



Jacqueline Font-Guzmán, M.H.A., J.D., Ph.D.
Associate Director and Associate Professor

Jacqueline has a B.A. from Coe College, a Masters in Health Care Administration from Saint Louis University, her law degree summa cum laude from the Interamericana University of Puerto Rico, and her Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University. Jackie is an experienced mediator, attorney, and healthcare administrator who has done substantial work in the field of conflict studies. Prior to joining the Werner Institute she was a practicing attorney and mediator within her own law firm.



Jackie was awarded a Fulbright fellowship in April 2011 and will serve as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at the Carlos III University Law School in Madrid, Spain in Spring 2012. She is a certified mediator and arbitrator by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. She is a highly accomplished mediator in Puerto Rico and has been very involved in the training of third party neutrals. She has actively participated in the field of conflict studies through national and international conferences and workshops, and has conducted a wide variety of trainings and seminars in the field, throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, and Latin America.


Jackie’s research interests include conflict engagement in healthcare, socio-legal approaches to colonial conflicts, theories of ethnicity and nationalism, terrorism, education of reflective practitioners, connection between conflict theory and practice, bioethics, cross-cultural perspectives in conflict resolution, relationship between culture and oppression, role of history and memory in conflict, mediation and dialogue processes, human rights, legal anthropology, countercultures and law, the socio-legal construction of citizenship and identity, gender theories, and qualitative research methodologies.


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