Cultural Diversity and International Order

Barcelona, Spain | March 30-April 1, 2017

Experts in International Relations, Sociology, History, Political Theory and Law will explore the critical relationship between cultural diversity and international order by bridging disciplinary boundaries.

The modern international order is undergoing far-reaching change. Power is shifting: horizontally to non-Western great powers, and vertically to non-state actors, including transnational insurgents whose war-fighting practices are reshaping whole regions. But this transformation is not just about power: it is about culture. Shifting configurations of power are entwined with new articulations of cultural difference. Western states now share the state with rising powers such as China and India, who bring their own cultural values, practices, and histories. And new forms of transnational non-state violence are being justified in the name of religion.

Understanding how new expressions of cultural diversity, entangled with new axes of power, will affect the modern international order is one of the most urgent challenges facing contemporary world politics. Yet we know very little about the relationship between cultural diversity and international order, and what we think we know is theoretically and empirically problematic.

Cultural DiversityThe dominant way that international relations scholars think about culture and international order assumes that orders emerge in unitary cultural contexts—‘the West,’ for example—and diversity is corrosive of order. Such assumptions are not restricted to the academy; they inform much of the anxiety in Western capitals about the rise of states like China. Yet these views are contradicted by key insights from anthropology, cultural studies, political theory, and sociology, and also by a wave of new histories of past orders. This research tells us that there is no such thing as a unitary cultural context—all cultures are highly variegated, riven with contradictions, loosely integrated, and deeply interpenetrated—and that international orders, including the modern, have historically evolved in heterogeneous cultural contexts, and that managing or governing diversity has been a crucial imperative of order building.

The dominant view is countered by liberal pluralists who think that the institutions of the modern order are a unique solution to the problem of cultural diversity. Some argue that sovereignty allows states of different cultural backgrounds and political purposes to coexist; others hold that the institutions of the post-1945 liberal international order give diverse states ‘opportunities for status, authority, and a share in the governance of the order’ (Ikenberry 2011: 345). Yet in both versions culture is assumed to matter only at the origins of an order—the seventeenth century wars of religion led to sovereignty, and the West created the liberal order, for example—but then it then its disappears, institutionally washed out.

Our ability to understand how cultural diversity affects international order is thus marred by a serious disjuncture between fields of knowledge: between international relations, which focuses most centrally on the politics of international order, and state of the art knowledge in anthropology, cultural studies, history, political theory, and sociology. The former are working with outdated, essentialist conceptions of the culture, while the latter are little concerned with theorizing international order, or with understanding current transformations in, and challenges to, the modern order.

This experts meeting will seek to bridge this gap, bringing together for the first time leading scholars of international relations, whose research focuses on questions of international order, with specialists on the nature and politics of culture, and on the historical development of key international orders.


Patrick Herron - Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals

Elif Kalaycioglu - University of Minnesota

Paper Abstracts

Michael Barnett - George Washington University
The Jewish Problem and International Order

This memo will consider the “Jewish Problem” in the context of the international governance of cultural diversity.   The “Jewish Problem” is the belief among European, Christian societies that Jews are a “problem” because they are an alien nation in their midst; that is, Jews are a “problem” because Christians see the Jews as a threat to the dominant culture.  European principalities, monarchies, and states handled the “problem” by segregating Jews from the rest of the population through rules regarding where they could live, their occupations, and political status.  In the best of time Jews were a “tolerated” group; in the worst of times they were victims of mass violence and forced deportation. 
European governments began to reconsider their relationship with the Jews as a consequence of two sweeping transformations.  The first was the rise of the nation-state – that is, the belief that states should represent a coherent nation and that nations should enjoy self-determination.  For European governments, the question was: could Jews be successfully integrated into the nation?  The likely answer to this question depended on the salience of the enlightenment in general and the rise of liberalism in particular.  Those European countries (mainly in the West) that favored forms of political liberalism were more likely to see the Jews as potential citizens; for those European countries (mainly in eastern and central Europe and Russia) that became dominated by counter-enlightenment politics and thought, and forms of folk nationalism, the Jews became viewed as a growing threat.
Beginning in the 19th century the European states created international mechanisms to oversee and potentially regulate how European states treated their Jewish communities.  In other words, at this point how states treated their Jewish populations was no longer theirs alone to decide, but rather became part of international governance.  Beginning with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Jewish Problem became a regular agenda item at congresses, meetings, and gatherings, leading to some of the first collective efforts to deal with rights of minorities.
I am particularly interested in the dialectical, transnational process of how European states assessed the probability that the Jewish community could become integrated into the body politics, and how Jewish communities responded to this assessment.    Whether the government and majority population viewed the Jews as a candidate for citizenship depended on whether they believed the Jewish identity could be harmonized with the national identity.  Simply put, the issue was whether Jews would be content to be Jews at home and citizens in public, or would they continue to see themselves as a separate, distinct, transnational community? 

Arnulf Becker Lorca - Amherst College
International legal cultures as strategies of inclusion and exclusion

The idea that the international order requires a degree of cultural homogeneity between its members, sounds to international lawyers as a familiar idea. The opposite idea, however, is also familiar. Namely, the idea that an international order structured by formal law can accommodate differences between sovereigns and thus transcend cultural diversity.
This memo will briefly explain this familiarity by looking at the practice of international legal argumentation. I will show that the more substantive the idea of international law advanced by legal operators, the less pluralistic the international order becomes. And vice versa, a more formal concept of law and sovereignty, creates an order open to wider diversity between legal subjects.
Specifically, I will describe how international lawyers, from both Western and non-Western states have used the idea of cultural pluralism, cultural homogeneity and cultural difference in order to support and contest specific rules and doctrines. Thus, the idea that international instability may follow the rise of non-Western states like China, sounds like a strategic argument, similar to familiar legal arguments to produce legal hierarchy, if not exclusion of those who will find themselves outside the definition of legal subjectivity.
The memo concludes arguing that international lawyers’ argumentative practices of inclusion and exclusion constitute themselves alternative legal cultures. They represent alternative strategies for action. Since the 19th century and more forcefully after decolonization, a distinctive style, as a way of organizing and channeling meanings and understandings about legal concepts and doctrines developed in the peripheries of the international order, a style that evolved in opposition to a style of the international order’s core.

Ellen Berrey - University of Toronto
The Agenda 21 Conspiracy Theory and the Cultural Politics of the International Order within the United States 

The international order exists, in part, through the discourses, politics, and institutional actions of people who live within sovereign states. This paper examines the case of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory in conservative, populist U.S. politics to elaborate processes by which political actors formulate cultural concepts of the international order and draw on those concepts to legitimate political action. Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented plan that came out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It recommends actions at the international, national, state, and local levels toward the goal of sustainable development.
According to the U.N. Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, global elites are trying to quash freedom and sovereignty by covertly imposing a totalitarian one-world government under the guise of environmentalism. The conspiracy theory gained traction around 2010, advocated by right-wing media and promulgated by Tea Party activists, who claim that sustainability city planning is an Agenda 21 plot that threatens property rights. In 2012, the Republican National Committee added a statement to its platform opposing Agenda 21, and anti-Agenda 21 legislation has been introduced in at least 26 U.S. state legislatures.
Paranoia about Agenda 21 continues to circulate in right-wing media circles, in a political environment in which conspiracy theories and unabashed lying have been normalized, most notably through the political ascendency of U.S. President Donald Trump. This case study illuminates cultural and institutional forces that constitute the international order in the eyes of populations with a nation state. Through both cultural meanings and social practices, people formulate understandings of what the international order is and how it matters for their lives. These understandings, in turn, can motivate political activity and become institutionalized in public policy, law, and the political theater of both national and sub-national politics. They may even inform how the state engages with the international order.
The paper’s analysis of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory provides two transportable insights relevant for a cultural sociology of the international order. First, the conspiracy and its political legitimation provides a window into how a particular conception of power and global governance gets formulated and becomes politically consequential within a nation state. Second, the anti-Agenda 21 movement reveals how local political actors make sense of global governance by associating it with seemingly unrelated topics: political issues such as taxation and government spending and conspiracies ranging from vaccine-induced autism to alien invasion.
The paper also briefly considers the cultural politics of NATO and NAFTA in Trump’s campaign and early administration to further this argument. Finally, the paper draws on theories of the international order to reflect on why a political movement opposed to intermediary global institutions might arise within the dominant country in a liberal, hegemonic international order.

Maria Birnbaum - University of Oslo
The Emergence of Diversity: Religion and De-colonization

In the memo I will argue that the international order is co-constitutive of the cultural diversity it seems to grapple with. The prevailing idea – by theorists and practitioners of international politics – of cultures as compartmentalized units able to influence or threaten each other furthers the idea of diversity as a threat to order and stability. In order to move away from the perception that order and diversity are mutually exclusive, I will argue for a different understanding of diversity, neither seeking to affirm nor overcome it.
In order to do so I will trace the emergence of one form of international “cultural diversity” that had become tied directly to the international order through the emergence of two states: Religion. The Muslim Homeland of Pakistan and the Jewish national Home of Israel became two units in the culturally diverse international order of the 20th century. Here, their religious difference would be able to pose a challenge to the otherwise secular international order.
I challenge the assumption of religion – and religious states – as a form of international cultural diversity by analyzing in detail the work by the two commissions drawing the borders of the two states and by showing how religion emerged as the defining difference along the line of which these two states came to be. This move that was by no means necessary, but coherent considering the context and the composition of the commissions themselves.
By looking closer at what the commissions put into the category of religion, crafting and shaping its form and content, I show that the states were only “religious” according to a particular colonial logic which compartmentalized religion and separated it from politics. Questioning this compartmentalization and emphasizing the link to a particular form of – colonial – international order is vital to the development of alternative ways to think about international diversity.

Victoria Tin-bor Hui - University of Notre Dame
When Anti-Eurocentrism Becomes Sinocentrism or What About The “Clash of Civilizations” Narrative in Sinocentric IR?

The recent turn to history and culture in IR theory has zoomed in on historical Asia as the exception to Eurocentrism. It is argued that while pre-WWII Europe suffered from a state of war with at best fragile peace based on unstable balances of power, East Asia enjoyed lasting peace grounded with Chinese hierarchy and Confucian culture. Unfortunately, such works tend to essentialize both Western and Asian histories and replace Eurocentrism with equally problematic Sinocentrism. Works on China should take lessons from critiques of Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.”
If IR scholars denounce Huntington’s caricature of “the West versus Islam,” why do we accept the equally troubling Sinocentric characterization of “the civilized Chinese versus the barbarian nomads”? If IR scholars are skeptical of the US’s claim to bring freedom and democracy to the world, why do we accept at face value imperial China’s claim to bring civilization to “barbarians”? If China worries so much about minority unrests today, why do we take for granted the imperial court’s claim that barbarians willingly coalesced with the superior Chinese civilization? If Asia Pacific is hardly pacific today, why do we presume that the region was the paragon of peace and prosperity in history? If shared socialist ideology has not guaranteed warm relations between China and Vietnam and between China and North Korea today, why do we presume that shared Confucian civilization produced a deep Confucian peace in history? It is commonly said that history is the guide for the present, it is no less true that the present reflects the legacy of the past. To challenge Eurocentric views of the world, we should not uncritically accept Sinocentric views of East Asian international politics; rather, we should work toward transcending Eurocentrism and Sinocentrism.

Andrew Hurrell - University of Oxford
Cultural Diversity and International Order: When and exactly for what does cultural diversity really matter?

There will no doubt be extended discussion across the papers on the meaning and definition of culture. I will work off a very broad distinction between culture in the sense of the overall way of life of a people or group on the one hand and specific practices of meaning-making clustered by space and time on the other.  In order to try and get beyond the broad and not very helpful ‘does culture matter’ debate, the memo will select some of the most interesting spaces where culture and order intersect, and then to examine how the readings on the culture side might reinforce or shift more conventional IR views. For example, one might be to link the IR order arguments about norm translation and norm localization with the Tully arguments about what is involved in applying general rules to particular circumstances. Another would be to consider what gets put into the ‘shared lifeworld’ and what this means for different sorts of claims about mutual intelligibility and mutual understanding. A third, and very important, example would be to look at the those on the IR order side who stress the power of global capitalist modernity and what this means for the shifting role of cultural diversity – again trying to isolate the specific claims made about international law and international order from the much broader range of claims made in the culture/modernity/globalization debates.

John Ikenberry - Princeton University
Liberal Internationalism and Cultural Diversity

Liberal internationalism is a cluster of evolving ideas about modern international order, rooted in the Enlightenment, industrial revolution, liberal ascendancy, and rise of the Anglo-American world.  My paper will look at the ways liberal internationalism – seen as a regime of thought and action – has dealt with cultural diversity, within the West and globally.  
My thesis is that liberal internationalism has mostly sought to “escape” from questions of cultural diversity and identity – pushing them “down” into civil society and away from the rules and institutions of the liberal modern order – but these efforts have largely failed, particularly as the liberal order has expanded outward beyond the West. I develop this thesis in three steps.
First, I will look at liberal internationalism’s ideas about order and cultural diversity as they have traveled from the 19th century into the current era. Across these two centuries, liberal internationalism has made three “moves” to reduce the salience and role of cultural values and identities in modern international order: building its vision of order on the foundation of Westphalian sovereignty; embracing the developmental ideas of  liberal modernization, where cultural differences decline as modernity and modern society unfold and emerge; and restricting the “social purposes” of liberal international order to allow cultural values and identities to remain situated within diverse and autonomous civil societies. 
Second, I will look at the hidden – and not so hidden – cultural foundations of liberal internationalism. In the age of Woodrow Wilson and into the postwar era, liberal internationalism has tied itself to various sorts of civilizational, racial, and cultural foundations and hierarchies. These cultural and racial markers have been contested and in various ways pushed out of the core theories and narratives of post-Cold War liberal internationalism, replaced with more universalistic conceptions of human rights, multi-culturalism, and civic nationalism. 
Finally, I will argue that the “globalization” of the liberal international order has failed – or at least it is failing. It is failing because modernity is not leading to convergence and cultural values and identity are hard to keep contained within civil society – largely because multi-culturalism and civic nationalism do not seem to be fully stable forms of liberal democracy. Liberal internationalism is caught in a world-historical dilemma. It is too “successful” to remain contained within the West – where it gains stability by resting on Western cultural and identity foundations. But it is too contested and unstable as a global-universal set of ideas and principles, because – stripped of social purposes to make it a global organizing vision – it loses its cultural and identity foundations and becomes a type of disembodied and unwelcome neo-liberalism. It if takes on more social purpose, as champions of R2P and other global norms movements propose, it again loses support and brings fraught questions of cultural diversity and identity back into the center of international order.  

Jim Millward - Georgetown University
‘Centralized Pluralism' of the Qing imperium:  a forgotten model for cultural diversity

Chinese states in the 20th (and 21st) century have largely adopted and pursued foreign models for constructing territoriality, sovereignty, and national and sub-national identity.  Besides imagining China as a nation-state in a world order of national actors, for domestic purposes the Chinese republics have distinguished a national subject, "Han" 汉 (equated to "Chinese people" in languages other than Chinese) on the one hand, and other non-Han "minority" groups in what was becoming defined as the Chinese national space, on the other.   The creating of the ethno-national "Chinese" nation-state within an international environment thus engendered the ideological, political and practical "problem" of ethno-national diversity in China, a problem that had existed as such during the Qing empire.  Various efforts under various Chinese regimes since the early 20th century to construct historico-cultural difference as "race" (zhongzu  种族),"nationality" (minzu 民族), or most recently as "ethnicity" (zuqun 族群), whether in imitation of Euro-American or of Soviet policies, have all struggled to reconcile the new categories with the historical legacy of the Qing imperium, the long-lived polity which immediately proceeded the emergence of "China" as a national entity on the East Asian mainland.
This paper will argue, first, that the Qing approach to cultural diversity in the imperial realm differed in significant ways from that of later Chinese nation-states, comprising a model I call "centralized pluralism."  Second, I contend that the Qing used and celebrated cultural diversity both to rule and expand its empire, and to enhance its own dynastic legitimacy, while later Chinese republics, bound to a narrow exogenous nation-state model, have been hindered domestically and pummeled internationally for the diversity they inherited from the Qing imperium—in effect, turning what had been a feature into a bug.  Third, I will suggest that continuing Chinese troubles with Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongolians, Taiwan and Hong Kong stem largely from such procrustean efforts to conceptualize the diverse lands and peoples of the former Qing realm in a Sino-centric national model; moreover, they hinder China's current effort to project soft power and earn wider international affection such as the United States (admittedly, now, improbably) still enjoys.  I will suggest that even short of greatly expanded political openness, the PRC could nonetheless further its domestic and international goals by reconceptualizing cultural diversity as a resource rather than as an existential problem demanding coercive measures to resolve.  By so doing, moreover, the PRC could contribute globally to a much-needed rethinking of sovereignty, territoriality, political and cultural autonomy as they affect cultural diversity.  

Anne Norton - University of Pennsylvania                                                                                                                
In Defense of Anarchy

Order gives us states, institutions, constitutions, the rule of law, the governance of norms. Order seeks rules. Order produces stability in time and space. Rules preserve orders through time and in space. Boundaries are drawn, and people and practices sheltered within them.  Law and regulation produce stability in time.  People know something of their future in a place. Property is secured. Practices follow law and settled expectation. 
Anarchy is figured in these literatures as the terrain of violent insecurity: lawless, unprotected, unpredictable and dangerous. In more recent and nuanced considerations, global order is understood as an achievement, and anarchy as a failure of nerve or capacity that forecloses that achievement.   
I intend to offer a defense of anarchy. My defense of anarchy will also be a defense of the democratic against the liberal and the legal, a defense of the refugee and the migrant against the state. Order, whether it is the Westphalian state system or a liberal solidaristic society of states, privileges stability and seeks to slow change or render it predictable. Borders shelter and protect citizens.  They offer only obstacles and impediments to migrants. Those who have a privileged position in the present are (for the most part) served well by the slowing of change. 
Democracy, however, requires a commitment to the unsettled, the unstable, the unpredictable.  In democracy, one commits oneself to an unknowable and uncontrolled future.   
I suspect that the commitment to order arises in part from a defect that unites the literatures of International Relations and Political Theory. In each field, the dominant literatures took their bearings from a European history. When scholars provincialize Europe, they not only reveal the presence of other normative geographies, they also turn from states to diasporas, from peoples to migrants, from systems to circulation.  It produces a dynamic theory of international politics. The turn away from the European heartland in International Relations (as in political) theory entails a turn away from conventional conceptual categories and practices.   
This defense of anarchy is cautionary rather than wholly committed; a consequence of historical circumstances rather than normative principles.  The relation between anarchy and order is more a generative than an exclusive binary. Given the liberal sanctification of the rule of law, however, it seems to me necessary to offer a defense of the ungoverned and ungovernable.    

Ann Swidler - University of California, Berkeley
Global Institutional Imaginaries

A global polity is already in formation. The challenge is to discern what institutional form(s) it may take. How are new institutional orders established, and how does culture (operating at multiple levels) contribute to this process? I focus on the roles of narratives and practices in the ways institutions cohere into stable patterns. Actual cultures are variegated, contradictory, and loosely integrated. Aspiring institution builders draw on multiple narratives, varied models of social coordination, and differing interpretations of existing arrangements. Nonetheless, cultural images of coordinated action also cohere at different levels, and keeping levels in mind is essential for thinking about how cultural patterns might translate into globalized institutional forms.
The paper starts from the varied models through which global governance activities are actually conducted, drawing on research on the global response to the AIDS epidemic and other global public health efforts. A second institutional model of global governance–the international court or tribunal–is largely symbolic, but has an important effect on the global institutional imaginary. Many transnational institutions operate on the model of the regulatory state, seeking to stabilize and sustain a global market, but also to counterbalance powerful global economic actors. And, finally, the UN itself of course operates as something like a legislature, even if the organization thus created lacks the basic elements of sovereignty. Drawing on important recent work on the co-creation of institutional and cultural patterns, the paper analyzes how collective imaginaries–narratives of successes and failure–make a decisive difference at the constitutive level of institutional formation.

Ann Towns - University of Gothenburg
Gender, Culture, and the Liberal International Order

For the past few years, increasing references are made to an ”illiberal turn” among and within states across the world. Gender politics seem to serve a central function in this turn, helping to mobilize state representatives, religious or far right populist parties and transnational social movements against gender equality policies that seemed to be on an irrepressible path only two decades ago. This development is taking the form of opposition to policies and practices expressly identified as liberal and/or Western, with antagonistic references made to feminism, gay rights and even the term “gender” itself as liberal and/or Western constructs. “Culture” is furthermore commonly invoked in debates over gender equality, as a way to interpret differences and to marshal action.  The aim of my memo is to use the global struggle over gender equality as an entry point to think more carefully about cultural diversity and a (liberal?) international order. 

Ayşe Zarakol - University of Cambridge
The Ottoman Lessons for Cultural Diversity in International Relations

In terms of experiences with cultural diversity, the Ottoman legacy is one of extremes. On one side is the fact that the empire lasted more than six hundred years, and for much of that time was a successful and stable political experiment in cultural diversity relatively speaking, compared to other polities of its time. For example, even though the empire underwent a Sunnitization process in sixteenth century in a manner similar to the confessionalisation processes underway in its European counterparts, these dynamics stopped well short of the expulsion or radical mistreatment of non-Muslim minorities (unlike, say, the Moriscos in Spain). The empire thus remained culturally diverse well into the nineteenth century. On the other side, however, is the fact that after the nineteenth century the Ottoman state quickly evolved into one of the least tolerant orders when it comes to cultural diversity, a trend culminating first in one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century and then giving rise to an extremely centralised modern republic the institutional arrangements of which are not able to accommodate any deviations from a particular “citizen” norm. It could even be argued that all of the current problems of the Republic of Turkey are a consequence of its inability to deal with cultural diversity, providing a stark contrast to the Ottoman Empire. In this memo, I will explore the ways in which the Ottoman polity dealt with cultural diversity but also the question of why this pluralist order gave rise to its mirror opposite, and what sorts of lessons can be drawn for future arrangements from that particular historical tragedy. 


Principal Inquiries

  • Can culture be defined, and if so how?
  • How should we conceive cultural diversity? Is diversity the same as heterogeneity?
  • If culture is always heterogeneous and interpenetrated, what gives it form?
  • Can we speak of ‘cultures’ or only ‘cultural phenomena’?
  • How should we define international order/s?
  • Are international orders necessarily made up of sovereign states, or can they take different forms: suzerain, imperial, heterogeneous?
  • How have historical, and historiographical, assumptions conditioned current debates about cultural diversity, power, and international order?
  • How do new histories of the modern international order challenge such debates?
  • What new histories of other international orders, such as the Ottoman and Chinese, tell us about the relationship between cultural diversity, power, and international order?
  • Is a comparative history of cultural diversity and international order possible, and what would be the contours of such a history?
  • What implications do the insights of new histories, and the potential of a comparative history, have for theorizing international order?
  • Can the essentialist and pluralist positions be sustained In the face of such knowledge?
  • Given our discussions, what might be the contours of an alternative perspective on cultural diversity and international order?
  • If present debates are so flawed, what implications does an alternative view have for these debates?
  • What does an alternative view tell us about the resilience of the current order?
  • From an alternative standpoint, what are principal challenges facing the contemporary order, and how can a peaceful and just order be sustained?

Academic Leaders

Andrew Phillips  - University of Queensland

Christian Reus-Smit - University of Queensland


Michael Barnett - George Washington University

Arnulf Becker-Lorca - Amherst College

Ellen Berrey - University of Toronto

Maria Birnbaum - University of Oslo

Andrew Hurrell - University of Oxford

John Ikenberry - Princeton University

James Millward - Georgetown University

Anne Norton - University of Pennsylvania

Ann Swidler - University of California, Berkeley

Victoria Tin-bor Hui - University of Notre Dame

Ann Towns - University of Gothenburg

Ayşe Zarakol - University of Cambridge