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Interrogating civilisational analysis in a global age

Contemporary civilisational analysis has emerged in the post-Cold War period as a forming but already controversial field of scholarship. This book focuses on the scholarship produced in this field since the 1970s. It begins with anthropological axioms posited by Ibn Khaldun, Simon Bolivar and George Pachymeres. Three conceptual images of civilisations are prominent in the field. First, civilisations are conceived as socio-cultural units, entities or blocs in an 'integrationist' image. They emerge out of long-term uneven historical processes. Finally, in a 'relational' image civilisations are believed to gain definition and institute developmental patterns through inter-societal and inter-cultural encounters. The book traces the history of semantic developments of the notions of 'civilisation' and 'civilisations' coextensive with the expansion of Europe's empires and consubstantial with colonialism. Early modernities are more important in the long formation of capitalism. Outlining the conceptual framework of inter-civilisational engagement, the book analytically plots the ties instituted by human imaginaries across four dimensions of inter-civilisational engagement. It also interrogates the relationship between oceans, seas and civilisations. Oceanian civilisation exhibits patterns of deep engagement and connection. Though damaged, Pacific cultures have invoked their own counter-imaginary in closer proximity to past islander experiences. Collective memory provides resources for coping with critical issues. The book also explores Latin American and Japanese experiences that shed light on the engagement of civilisations, applying the model of inter-civilisational engagement to modern perspectives in culture and the arts, politics, theology and political economy.

Perspectives on civilisation in Latin America

This chapter explores Latin American experiences that shed light on the engagement of civilisations. Cultural and political engagement began in earnest for independent Latin American societies in the 1880s. Latin America's modernism mostly pre-dated the Second World War. After the Second World War, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes joined Jorge Borges in renewing modernist themes in Latin American literature, essays and poetry. The thread of Romanticism runs through Latin American modernism as a whole. Writers and philosophers strived for a place in Universal History for Latin America on grounds that are typically Romantic. Liberation theology found a collective voice in Latin America, even though liberation theologians were never more than a minority at the episcopal level. Apart from providing cultural and political expression of the suffering of the lived present, liberationists have borne witness to class and civilisational memories.

in Debating civilisations
Imaginaries, power, connected worlds

This chapter outlines the conceptual framework of inter-civilisational engagement. It presents four dimensions of inter-civilisational engagement: migration, deep engagement in economic relations, cultural exchange and creation, and political reconstruction of civilisational models. Labour migration included slaves forced into the flow of emigrants departing Africa, Europe and India. Like migration, economic relations are about movement. Inter-civilisational engagement constitutes economies as relational in the uneven and unequal spread of trade and money, and in commercial networks based on the practices of trust-building. The chapter argues that the transformation of patterns of long-distance trade, the growth of money, the codification of trust and the expansion of imagined connections provided complex and early spurs to the imaginary institution of capitalism. In the epoch of modern colonialism, fourth dimension of engagement almost invariably involves imperial hierarchies of relations between states and broad-ranging constructions of power.

in Debating civilisations

When it comes to the specific field of contemporary civilisational analysis, Johann P. Arnason, Robert Bellah and S. N. Eisenstadt have produced in-depth monographs and numerous essays on Japanese civilisation. For Eisenstadt, Japan was an unusual de-axialising civilisation (1996). In its digestion and relativisation of the world religions, Japan had a foundational moment in which a pattern of ontological dualism was established. Worldwide cultural exploration of many other countries, along with an outgrowth of trade, stimulated an overhaul of the conceptual apparatus of Japan's political culture. The commitment to international knowledge by the Meiji elite had oriented the Japanese to an outside universality and situated their society in an international order that included a normative standard of civilisation. New perspectives emerged after linguistic consolidation of a discourse of civilisations and after the heightening of consciousness around the standard of civilisation.

in Debating civilisations
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Ontologies of connection, reconstruction of memory

The Pacific's past is polycentric and its forms of memory embrace connected centres, a continuous mythology (both temporally and spatially), particular historicities and an unusual mode of inter-cultural engagement. The Pacific has had migratory routes favoured by intertidal systems that created a rim of sorts. Migration has entailed interaction with seas and the ocean that became a model for interaction between peoples. It is indicative of a first Pacific imaginary. Pacific societies are characterised by a paradigm of organisation of material and moral life that empowered trade and exchange across greater distances and involving encounters of more clearly differentiated cultures. The confrontation of European and Pacific imaginaries that came with colonialism has brought contrasting civilisations into contact, conflict and dissonance of understanding. Traditions formed in colonial and then federated Australia has entailed the subjugation of indigenous memory.

in Debating civilisations
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Seas, oceans and civilisations

This chapter aims to interrogate the relationship between oceans, seas and civilisations. It contends that maritime civilisations reach out to saltwater horizons and are animated by oceanic imaginaries. Europe's empires of the seas created global visions by signifying claims over oceanic space in order to extend their imperium. Oceanic civilisations and the states and empires that they instituted had a large-scale reach. Portal civilisations were more modest and had a thalassic imaginary. Though their 'headquarters' was a port city, portal civilisations were more than states with working harbours and open sea-fronts. Islands were the distribution points of many portal civilisations. While islands were crucial in the creation of oceanic and portal civilisations, it is also worth thinking about them as separate entities. When the imperial expansion of European states was at its height and the conflicts it engendered were the greatest, islands were incredibly important strategically, economically and culturally.

in Debating civilisations
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The oddity of democracy

The unique ambivalence of democracy as a form of government and politics is the identity of the mobilised population as both rulers and subjects. Democracy depends not only on good government or good governors, but on the political role of a demos of active citizens. A democratic polity requires a democratic society, characterised by equality of identity in all its dimensions. The ideal identity of a democratic citizenry is composed of polite but limited deference, and robust scepticism of authority.

The possibility of disrespect and satire is both least necessary and most possible in democratic societies, with demonstration and, in its widest form, carnival as the last resort for asserting democratic identity.

The collision between equality and inequality, association and distinction can be vigorous in democracies, as representation not only exemplifies but exaggerates identities cultivated through association.

in Cultivating political and public identity
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People cultivate a public identity both by association with others and by distinction from them. They do so within constraints and possibilities which are themselves the consequence of earlier choices by themselves and by others. They can too be moulded by other people’s recognition of them. The more precisely identity is established, the greater the possibilities of either exploitation or enmity as other people are either conscripted as auxiliaries or demonised as alien. Because of this, whilst competition over resources will become increasingly central to the politics of the twenty first century, identity will be the language through which that contest is conducted, and by which the participants and their interest are shaped, recruited, and assigned. The resurgence of religion is the most intense instance of this.

If human nature is all the behaviour of humans, far from precluding ethical judgment, this observation makes it possible since there are no grounds for imposing one person’s identity on another. Identity will remain both the motor for human progress and the source of human conflict, a generator of a perpetual tension between equality and inequality.

in Cultivating political and public identity
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Public identity consists of every aspect of the life of a person or a group or association. Democratic empiricism dismisses nothing, not even deception or hypocrisy, as superficial or merely rhetoric. Human social life is composed of all the aspects of its identity, each one of which contributes to the whole; take them all away, and nothing, no essence or founding principle, remains. Coherence of this patchwork is always sought, seldom attained. Identity is cultivated in circumstances which provide both limits and opportunities, but those circumstances are themselves the result of human choices. So the word ‘cultivation’ is important as describing neither untrammelled choice nor determination by circumstance. The manner in which people are seen by others can be a factor in shaping identity, the ‘Medusa Syndrome’ as Appiah has called it, or dynamic nominalism in Hacking’s account. Interests and identity are not distinct, and one cannot be described without the other. Cultivation involves the paradox of on the one hand association with a wider community, and on the other distinction within it.

in Cultivating political and public identity
Why plumage matters

This book presents the rich fabric of language, clothing, food, and architecture which forms the diverse religious, political, cultural and ethnic identities of humanity. The colour of a scarf, the accent of a conversation, can unite people or divide them, and the smallest detail can play its part in signalling who are allies and who are enemies, as much for elites as for citizens in a democracy. Human identity is neither rigidly determined nor unpredictable and spontaneous, but between those two extremes is the forum on which the public life of humanity is generated. After a century in which an assumption was held across the ideological spectrum from left to right and from Marxists to economic individualists that the rational pursuit of material gain underlay social and political activity, the fundamental importance of the cultivation and preservation of identity is re-emerging across the whole spectrum of politics in which Britain is one example only. Yet while identity is the dimension in which public life is conducted, it is inherently paradoxical: on the one hand people cultivate their identity by association with a group, or religion, or nation, whilst on the other hand they distinguish themselves from their associates within those groups by presenting an intensified or purer form of the qualities which otherwise unite them. So identity simultaneously generates equality and inequality, between identification by association, and identity by exclusion and differentiation; it is both the engine of public life, and the cause of its confusion and conflict.

This Open Access edition was funded by London School of Economics and Political Science.