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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.

Introduction
Introduction

There appear to be two conflicting discourses in operation currently in respect of world affairs and global politics. On the one hand, western media conceptualize events by reference to international law and international human rights on the assumption that these conceptualizations have universal validity and with a view, through their mediation, to securing global acquiescence in a world view developed historically within the particular context of Europe. For most national politicians who aspire to be influential internationally in summits and state visits it has become a sine qua non to speak in conformity with this discourse, which contributes to the constitution of an epistemic community of diplomats and media reporters. On the other hand, there is an enormous interest in cultural difference. What once were the dry-as-dust subjects of archaeology and anthropology are enjoying a ...

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