Why the Clash of Civilizations is Wrong


Professor Peter Katzenstein
25 March, 2010

Watch the film by ABC Big Ideas


One of America’s leading political scientists, Peter Katzenstein, is particularly interested in the relevance of cultural categories for the analysis of world politics. In his lecture for Sydney Ideas he offered a critique of the Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory that conflict between distinct groups based on religion and cultural identities (eg Western, Islamic, Sinic) is inevitable, and will dominate in the post cold–war period. The emphasis on the unity and uniformity of different civilizations and hence on sharp differences among civilizations is misguided. Civilizations are better thought of in pluralist rather than unitary terms. Civilizations are unique in important respects, but equally they are embedded in a global context of interactions with other civilizations that influence them without robbing each of its distinctiveness. Instead of focusing on the clash of civilizations, we should concentrate on studying encounters and engagements among civilizations that shape their futures as much as their unique foundations do. This is the right lesson to draw from approaches as distinct as American liberalism and Chinese Confucianism.

Peter J. Katzenstein is the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell University and President of the American Political Science Association. His research and teaching lie at the intersection of the fields of international relations and comparative politics. Katzenstein's work addresses issues of political economy, security and culture in world politics. His current research interests focus on the politics of civilizational states on questions of public diplomacy, law, religion, and popular culture; the role of anti-imperial sentiments, including anti-Americanism; regionalism in world politics; and German politics.

Katzenstein is the author, coauthor, editor and co-editor of more than 30 books or monographs and over 100 articles or book chapters. Recent and forthcoming books include: Analytical Eclecticism (2010), with Rudra Sil; Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralist Perspectives (2009); European Identity (2009), co-edited with Jeffrey T. Checkel; Rethinking Japanese Security (2008); and Anti-Americanisms in World Politics, coedited with Robert O. Keohane (2007).

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