Cultural Relativism and International Politics
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Cultural Relativism and International Politics

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"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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 128 pages
  • 148 x 210 x 15.24mm | 280g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1473907810
  • 9781473907812
  • 2,659,224

Table of contents

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
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Review quote

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 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 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
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About Professor Derek Robbins

Derek Robbins is Professor of International Social Theory in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of East London. He is the author of The Work of Pierre Bourdieu (1991) and of Bourdieu and Culture (2000); the editor of the 4-volume collection of articles on Bourdieu in the Sage Masters of Contemporary Social Thought series (2000) and of a 3-volume collection of articles on Lyotard in the same series (2004). His On Bourdieu, Education and Society was published by Bardwell Press in July, 2006, and he was the editor of the Special issue of Theory, Culture and Society on Bourdieu which was published as 23 (6) in November, 2006. In 2007-8 he was in receipt of an ESRC award to study the work of Jean-Claude Passeron, and he has written an introduction to a translation of Passeron's Le raisonnement sociologique which will be published in 2011 by Bardwell Press, Oxford, as Sociological Reasoning. As Directeur associe in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and Marseille in 2009-10 he gave courses on the comparative epistemology of the social sciences, and he is currently exploring the influence of Husserl on 20th Century French social theory, particularly in relation to the development of the thought of Lyotard and Bourdieu.
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