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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.

Comte: Positivist Science and History
Comte: Positivist Science and History
The Development of Auguste Comte’s Career

Born in 1798 during the Revolution, Comte was sympathetic to the central control exercised politically by Napoleon. In October 1814, Comte registered at the École Polytechnique, which had been founded by the Convention in 1794–5 to encourage education in the sciences. It was republican in spirit but Comte was one of the student leaders who supported Napoleon’s return from Elba during the Hundred Days.

Comte’s enthusiasm was for a reformed and reforming Napoleon. When, after the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the École Polytechnique was closed down, Comte founded an Association des Elèves de l’École Polytechnique with cells throughout France and wrote an anti-government manifesto, dated June 1816, addressed to the ‘French people’. Comte set himself a ...

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