Rethinking Cultural Diversity in Europe

Rethinking Cultural Diversity in Europe: Beyond Universalism and Particularism

Research Project Financed by the Network for European Studies (University of Helsinki)

The Project pages in the Network for European Studies

The project focuses on the theoretical reconstruction of the problem of political community in contemporary multicultural society.

In the 20th century political theory, the problem of political community was usually articulated in terms of a dichotomy between universalism and particularism (universal values versus particular cultural values, human rights versus rights of cultures, international law versus state sovereignty, and so forth).

In today’s globalizing and multicultural society, however, this dichotomy has become increasingly obsolete. It has not only prevented new theoretical innovations but also paved the way, for example, for the paralysis of the political construction of the European Union, demonstrated explicitly in the debates on the European constitution and the Lisbon Treaty, which exhibit strong tensions between the universalistic aspiration for common values and norms and the particularistic vision of state sovereignty. Moreover, although the so called multiculturalism, which emerged in the theoretical discourse in the end of the 20th century, has been a promising attempt to challenge traditional conceptions because it has focused on the culturally diverse character of  contemporary political communities, it has hitherto failed to provide a political theory of these communities.

The aim of the project is precisely that: to arrive at an innovative recommencement of the currently paralyzed theoretical debate, venturing to develop a theory of a political community that goes beyond the rigid opposition of universalism and particularism. Such a theory of community would not exclude differences in the name of homogenous One but that would not valorize difference between particular cultures and identities as such either. Instead, the project will proceed by re-examining especially the category of universality: instead of thinking universality as a category that surpasses particular cultures and identities, it should be understood as a process or an event in which these cultures and identities are exposed to each other in the way that renders the exclusive function of identity inoperative. The theoretical approach of the project relies on continental political thought, particularly the work of Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou.