University of Cambridge > > All POLIS Department Seminars and Events > Cultural Diversity and International Order Seminar Professor Christian Reus-Smit (Chair of International Relations, University of Queensland)

Cultural Diversity and International Order Seminar Professor Christian Reus-Smit (Chair of International Relations, University of Queensland)

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Maja Spanu.

The modern international order is facing significant challenges. Power is shifting to non-Western states and diffusing to non-state actors, including transnational insurgents. This is more than a power transition, though: it is also about culture. Western states, struggling with a resurgence of ethno-nationalism, challenges to multiculturalism, and the rise of the far right, now share the stage with powers such as China who bring their own cultural values, practices, and histories. And new forms of transnational violence are justified not in the name of political ideology but religious identity and belief. Some see this as a fundamental threat to modern international order, an order created by, and for, the West. Others see the ‘liberal’ order as uniquely able to accommodate states and peoples of diverse culture. How well equipped is IR to contribute to these debates? This paper critically evaluates prevailing understandings of cultural diversity and international order in IR, and sketches a new theoretical framework of understanding this relationship.

International orders emerge in heterogeneous, not unitary, cultural contexts, and as systemic configurations of political authority. Their stability depends on legitimacy as much as material capabilities. But building and sustaining such legitimacy requires two things: converting material might into political authority, and transforming complex heterogeneity into authorized forms of cultural difference. To meet these challenges, international orders develop diversity regimes: institutional norms and practices that define legitimate units of political authority (sovereign states, empires, etc.), authorize certain categories of cultural difference (civilization, nation, religion), and relate the two, generating social hierarchies and patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

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This talk is part of the All POLIS Department Seminars and Events series.

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