Cosmopolitan Pluralism: Beyond the Cultural Turn

Stephanie Lawson


The ‘cultural turn’ has had a profound influence across the humanities and social sciences in the last few decades. In calling into question the universalist basis on which conventional methodological and normative assumptions have been based, the cultural turn has focused on the extent to which specificity and particularity underpin what we can know, how we can know it, and how this affects our being-in-the world. This has opened the way to a range of insights, from issues of pluralism and difference, both within political communities and between them, to the instability if not impossibility of foundations for knowledge. Too few studies embracing this ‘cultural turn’, however, pay more than cursory attention to the culture concept itself. This article suggests that conceptions of culture derived mainly from the discipline of anthropology dominate in political studies, including international relations, while humanist conceptions have been largely ignored or rejected. It argues further that we would do well to reconsider what humanist ideas can contribute to how ‘culture’ is both conceptualized and deployed in political thought and action, especially in countering the overparticularization of social and political phenomena that marks contemporary culturalist approaches.

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