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Presentation Transcript
Presentation on

by Marek Mikuš

7th semester

Institute of Ethnology

Faculty of Philosophy and Arts

Charles University, Prague

Presentation on:Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture. Equality and Diversity in the Global Era(Preface, Chapters 1-2) 2002, Princeton, USA: Woodstock, UK: Princeton University Press.

Seyla benhabib biographic outline
Seyla Benhabib: Biographic Outline

  • born in 1950 in Istanbul, Turkey; Sephardic Jew origin

  • received BA in Humanities at the American College for Girls in Istanbul

  • emigrated to USA in 1970

  • received her BA in Philosophy at Brandeis University and her MA and PhD (1977) in Philosophy at Yale University

  • has been Professor of Government, Department of Government, and Senior Research Fellow, Center for European Studies, at Harvard University (1993 - 2000)

  • currently Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University (from 2001 onwards)

  • areas of specialization: 19th and 20th century continental social and political thought, feminist theory, the history of modern political theory and multiculturalism in liberal democracies

Seyla benhabib bibliography
Seyla Benhabib: Bibliography

  • The Claims of Culture. Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton University Press, 2002.

  • Transformation of Citizenship. Dilemmas of the Nation-State in the Era of Globalization. Van Gorcum, Amsterdam, 2000.

  • The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. Sage Pub., 1996.

  • Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange (co-authored with Judith Butler, Nancy Fraser and Drucilla Cornel). Routledge, 1996.

  • Situating the Self. Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. Polity Press, 1992.

  • Critique, Norm and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory. Columbia University Press, 1986.

Being a political philosopher
Being a Political Philosopher

„What does a political philosopher do? To be a

political philosopher is more a vocation than a career. We can be in our universities, and in some context one can be a journalist, one can be a human rights activist, but basically I would say that it is a vocation for thinking about the political. Not just day-to-day

politics, but about the phenomenon of the political, that all communities of any degree of complexity

organize themselves according to certain principles of justice, equality, reciprocity, and authority.“

Source: Conversations with History, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley.

Main topics
Main Topics

  • social-constructivist position in the debate on multiculturalism vs. reductionist sociology of culture & mosaic multiculturalism

  • narrative view of actions and culture

  • communicative or discourse ethics

  • practical discourses

  • interactive universalism

  • dynamic model of identity groups

  • institutional plurality in liberal democracies

  • typology and defence of universalism(s)

  • challenge of cultural and moral relativism

Central quotation
Central Quotation

“(…) as long as these pluralist structures (multiple legal, jurisdictional etc. systems for multiple groups – note by mm) do not violate three normative conditions, they can be quite compatible with a universalist deliberative democracy model. I call these the conditions of egalitarian reciprocity, voluntary self-ascription, and freedom of exit and association (…)“

p. 19, original emphasis


  • makes clear 2 basic points that underpin much of her reasoning:

  • “cultures are constituted through contested practices” (p. viii) / social-constructivist approach

  • she speaks from the position of democratic theorist, distinguished from one of multicultural theorist

  • this position is one of supporting movements for cultural recognition under the condition they apply for political and institutional inclusion, justice and “cultural fluidity” (p. ix) as well

  • the most strongly she opposes so-called mosaic multiculturalism (a term basically referring to left-essentialist, communitarian and primordialist tendencies in the multiculturalism debate)

Chapter 1 introduction on the use and abuse of culture 1 4
Chapter 1: Introduction. On the Use and Abuse of Culture. 1/4

  • Herderian concept of culture and the “reductionist sociology of culture”

  • narrative view of actions and culture

  • first-order deeds

  • second-order narratives

  • social construction of cultural differences

  • example: Turkish nation-building project

  • the normative principles of her reasoning: communicative or discourse ethics

  • universal respect

  • egalitarian reciprocity

Chapter 1 introduction on the use and abuse of culture 2 4
Chapter 1: Introduction. On the Use and Abuse of Culture. 2/4

  • three types of practical discourses:

  • moral discourses about universal norms of justice

  • ethical discourses about concepts of the good life

  • political-pragmatic discourses about the feasible

  • the actual participation of all concerned subjects in discourses as a source of legitimacy of all norms

  • recursive validation, intercultural communication, resignification

  • declares her proclivity to interactive universalism vs. substitionalist universalism

  • „the boundaries of moral discourses are set only by the extent of our doings as a consequence of which we affect one another’s well being and freedom” (p. 14)

Chapter 1 introduction on the use and abuse of culture 3 4
Chapter 1: Introduction. On the Use and Abuse of Culture. 3/4

  • narrative construction of individual identities (selves)

  • example from anthropology of kinship: rule of universal reciprocity

  • individual life stories shaped by multiple affinities

  • dynamic model of identity groups

  • communitarian MC: concentration on classifying, delimiting and describing supposedly homogeneous cultural systems

  • dynamic model means turn towards emphasis on what these groups demand, instead of what they are

  • example of application: the process of channelling of class politics into ethnic politics

Chapter 1 introduction on the use and abuse of culture 4 4
Chapter 1: Introduction. On the Use and Abuse of Culture. 4/4

  • 3 normative conditions, under which plurality of legal, jurisdictional etc. structures is compatible with universalist democratic model:

  • egalitarian reciprocity

  • voluntary self-ascription

  • freedom of exit and association

  • criticism of Rawls' theory of political liberalism

  • constitutional essentials vs more specific institutional arrangements and policies + the private sphere

  • deliberative democracy model (Jurgen Habermas)

Chapter 2 nous et les autres is universalism ethnocentric 1 3
Chapter 2: „Nous“ et les „autres“. Is Universalism Ethnocentric? 1/3

  • deconstructs the notion of ethnocentrism of universalism

  • universalism - necessary grounds for the right to cultural self-determination

  • differentation between four basic types of universalism – all rooted in certain form of belief:

  • essentialism and existenstialism (Hobbes, Hume, Adam Smith, Sartre)

  • justificatory universalism (Habermas, Dworkin, Rawls, Putman)

  • moral universalism

  • legal universalism: “universalism, like justice, can be political without being metaphysical” (p. 28)

Chapter 2 nous et les autres is universalism ethnocentric 2 3
Chapter 2: „Nous“ et les „autres“. Is Universalism Ethnocentric? 2/3

  • deconstructs the notion of „radical incommensurability“

  • draws on Lyotard: phrase, regimen, genre of discourse

  • “If frameworks, linguistic or conceptual, are so radically incommensurable, then we would not even be able to know that much; our ability to describe a framework as a framework in the first place rests upon the possibility that we can identify and select certain features of these other frameworks as sufficiently like ours to be characterized as conceptual activities in the first place” (p. 30).

  • moral reservations against the concept of incommensurability

  • the hermeneutic truth of cultural relativism

  • Gadamer: „a melting or merging or blending into one another of horizons“

  • „real confrontation“ → communities of interdependence

  • pragmative imperative for pluralist ethical universalism

Chapter 2 nous et les autres is universalism ethnocentric 3 3
Chapter 2: „Nous“ et les „autres“. Is Universalism Ethnocentric? 3/3

  • the problem of moral relativism

  • if the cultures function as equal participants in a dialogue, the moral discourses of each culture concerns all the rest

  • can we separate moral discourses from cultural discourses or cultural contexts? (holistic paradox)

  • Benhabib's solution: differentiation between the moral, the ethical and the evaluative

  • „take the best and leave the rest“

  • this type of differentation as an invention of modernity

Textual connection
Textual Connection

“Political society is not neutral between those who value remaining true to the culture of our ancestors and those who might want to cut loose in the name of some individual goal of self-development. It might be argued that one could after all capture a goal like survivance for a proceduralist liberal society. One could consider the French language, for instance, as a collective resource that individuals might want to make use of, and act for its preservation, just as one does for clean air or green spaces. But this can't capture the full thrust of policies designed for cultural survival. It is not just a matter of having the French language for those who might choose it. (...). But it also involves making sure that there is a community of people here in the future that will want to avail itself of the opportunity to use the French language.”

Charles Taylor on Canadian bilingualism

The Politics of Recognition. In: Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, edited by Amy Gutmann. 1994, Princeton University Press, pp. 58-59.

Suggestions of questions
Suggestions of Questions

  • Is the claim that even completely independent sociocultural systems should conform to universal moral norms still to be considered as an implication of the interactive/plural universalism, or rather of a different universalism?

  • Is it possible for the participants in “communities of conversation” to be actually equal in the situation of the growing structural inequality on a global scale?

  • Is there an option to secure the legitimacy of legal universalism in face of the rejection of certain cultures to participate in a dialogue on the topic of their moral discourses? If there is, is it viable to “export” our legal norms or even to impose them in the fashion we witness today?

Thanks for your attention
Thanks for your attention!