Cultural Relativism and International Politics


Derek Robbins

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    For Diana

    About the Author

    Derek Robbins is Emeritus Professor of International Social Theory in the School of Social Sciences at the University of East London. He is the author of The Work of Pierre Bourdieu (Open University Press, 1991), Bourdieu and Culture (Sage, 2000), On Bourdieu, Education and Society (Bardwell Press, 2006) and French Post-War Social Theory: International Knowledge Transfer (Sage, 2011); the editor of two 4-volume collections of articles on Bourdieu in the Sage Masters of Contemporary Social Thought series (2000, 2005) and of a 3-volume collection of articles on Lyotard in the same series (2004). He has also published many articles and book chapters on the work of Bourdieu. He edited and introduced Jean-Claude Passeron’s Sociological Reasoning, published by Bardwell Press in March, 2013. He is editing and contributing to the volume on Bourdieu in the Anthem Companions to Sociology series, scheduled for publication in 2015, and he is currently writing Bourdieu and Social constructionism (provisional title) for publication by Manchester University Press.


    I gave my professorial inaugural lecture as Professor of International Social Theory in 2002, just a few months after Bourdieu’s death. The title was ‘Finding “Reasons for Maxims”: Social Science and International Relations’. The quote is from Montesquieu’s Preface to De l’esprit des lois. I outlined my intention to try to pursue the implications of Bourdieu’s work for the analysis of international relations. This was the commencement of the orientation which finds fruition in this book. In the intervening period, I had the good fortune to work with Dominique Merllié of the Centre de sociologie européenne on a Franco-British project on the trans-national reception of the work of Lévy-Bruhl, and I have also benefited from the opportunities to explore in detail the work of Durkheim and Lévy-Bruhl provided by the Centre for Durkheimian Studies at the University of Oxford. I am particularly indebted to Willie Watts Miller and Bill Pickering, both of whom encouraged me to explore the nature of Bourdieu’s indebtedness to these predecessors. Since the death of Bourdieu, to whom I owe so much intellectually, it has been a great bonus to me to meet Jean-Claude Passeron and to have conversations which have helped me to understand better the issues at stake in the development of social science in France in the 1960s and beyond, with particular reference to the influence of Raymond Aron. Jean-Louis Fabiani was also a great support when I had the opportunity to try out some of my ideas about the trans-national transfer between France and Britain of philosophy and social science in the 19th century as a Directeur associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris and Marseille, in 2008–9. I have most recently, in 2014, had the opportunity to talk at an international conference on ‘Modernity: Culture Tradition and Morality Reconstruction’ in Shanghai at the invitation of Professor Gao, and some of the ideas presented there are developed further in the second half of the book. I am grateful to him for his invitation and for Dr Yang Yang of the University of Cambridge and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, for facilitating the visit.

    My greatest debt is to Chris Rojek, who has encouraged me in my work for almost 20 years. I am grateful to him for the opportunity to write this book.

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