Cultural Relativism and International Politics
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Cultural Relativism and International Politics



December 2014 | 128 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

"The political and academic worlds are fractured by two competing discourses: the universalism of human rights and cultural relativism. This fracture is represented by the deep separation of cultural analysis and theories of international politics. Derek Robbins in a brilliant interrogation of European thinkers from Montesquieu to Pierre Bourdieu seeks to replace cultural relativism with cultural relationism as a step towards reconciling Enlightenment universalism and anthropological insistence on cultural difference. Inter alia he reflects on the tensions between political and social science and takes up the challenge from Raymond Aron to construct a sociology of international relations. A dazzling achievement."
- Bryan S. Turner, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Through historical studies of some of the work of Montesquieu, Comte, Durkheim, Boas, Morgenthau, Aron and Bourdieu, Derek Robbins examines the changing and competing conceptualisations of the political and the social in the Western European intellectual tradition.

He suggests that we are now experiencing a new ‘dissociation of sensibility’ in which political thought and its consequences in action have become divorced from social and cultural experience. Developing further the ideas of Bourdieu which he has presented in books and articles over the last twenty years, Robbins argues that we need to integrate the recognition of cultural difference with the practice of international politics by accepting that the ‘field’ of international political discourse is a social construct which is contingent on encounters between diverse cultures.

‘Everything is relative’ (Comte) and ‘everything is social’ (Bourdieu), not least international politics.
 
Montesquieu: Cultural Relativist and Proto-Positivist?
 
Comte: Positivist Science and History
 
Durkheim: Post-Positivist Social Science and Politics
 
American Anthropology and Political Realism
 
Aron: Politics and/or Sociologism
 
Bourdieu: Reflexive Sociologism and the Field of Politics

The political and academic worlds are fractured by two competing discourses: the universalism of human rights and cultural relativism. This fracture is represented by the deep separation of cultural analysis and theories of international politics. Derek Robbins in a brilliant interrogation of European thinkers from Montesquieu to Pierre Bourdieu seeks to replace cultural relativism with cultural relationism as a step towards reconciling Enlightenment universalism and anthropological insistence on cultural difference. Inter alia he reflects on the tensions between political and social science and takes up the challenge from Raymond Aron to construct a sociology of international relations. A dazzling achievement.

Bryan S. Turner
The Graduate Center, CUNY

The strength of this book lies in the capacity of Robbins to excavate from six quite diverse thinkers in different historical periods and quite varied intellectual cultures selected elements for reflecting on the culture and politics theme. That the insights from cultural relativism point up the limits of political realism will appeal to many sociologists and anthropologists and a few IR scholars. That the theme is not sufficiently developed in the view of this reviewer no way detracts from its importance and Robbins’ efforts to draw creatively on these six thinkers to attempt to address it.

David L Swartz, Boston University, USA
Journal of Classical Sociology

The book is recommended for all those who have an interest in understanding world affairs in an intellectually satisfying narrative. It is a very good presentation of modern political thoughts as developed in the past three centuries.

Amitabh Upadhya, University City of Sharjah
Tourism Culture & Communication

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1: Montesquieu: Cultural Relativist and Proto-Positivist?


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ISBN: 9781473907812

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