Debating civilisations

Interrogating civilisational analysis in a global age

By Jeremy C. A. Smith

Debating civilisations


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0528-8
  • Pages: 216
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: June 2017
  • BIC Category: Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Ethical Issues & Debates, Society & social sciences / Diplomacy, Society & social sciences / Sociology & anthropology, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Society & social sciences / Political science & theory, Political Theory, Sociology & anthropology, Social & cultural anthropology, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Globalization, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Comparative Politics, PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy, POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / Diplomacy, Society & social sciences / Globalization, Society & social sciences / Comparative politics, Political science & theory, Ethics & moral philosophy, Diplomacy


Debating civilisations offers an up-to-date evaluation of the re-emerging field of civilisational analysis, tracing its main currents and comparing it to rival paradigms such as Marxism, globalisation theory and postcolonial sociology. The book suggests that civilisational analysis offers an alternative approach to understanding globalisation, one that focuses on the dense engagement of societies, cultures, empires and civilisations in human history.

Building on Castoriadis's theory of social imaginaries, it argues that civilisations are best understood as the products of routine contacts and connections carried out by anonymous actors over the course of long periods of time. It illustrates this argument through case studies of modern Japan, the Pacific and post-Conquest Latin America (including the revival of indigenous civilisations), exploring discourses of civilisation outside the West within the context of growing Western imperial power.


'This is an important book that makes a positive and sophisticated contribution to comparative-historical sociology. With this work, Jeremy Smith confirms his place in the first rank of scholars of contemporary civilisational analysis. Following in particular the theories of Castoriadis and Arnason, Smith elaborates the idea of intercivilisational engagement that allows him to extend the scope of study of civilisational formations. The author presents subtle arguments which are original and generally convincing. Of special interest is the focus on Latin America and the Pacific as regions that were largely missing from the sociological study of civilisations. At the same time, Smith highlights new aspects of Japan's inter-civilisational relations. I remain impressed by the insights of the book. It is informative, stimulating and "must" reading for anyone interested in civilisational analysis as a "paradigm-in-the-making" of today's sociology.'
Mikhail Maslovskiy, Lead Researcher, Sociological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences

'As we enter a new historical phase of reaction against the cosmopolitan values that became dominant in past decades, the publication of Debating civilisations cannot be any more timely. Based on extensive scholarship in the field of civilisational theory, the book offers a new perspective on the nascent global identity. By examining the processes which have created a new world of inter-cultural encounters, it invites us to rethink the very nature of globalisation. This is not a purely intellectual debate. In its theoretical sophistication, it shines new light on one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century: reconciling the western understanding of democratic equality with the recognition of cultural diversity through a new mode of international relations.'
Natalie J. Doyle, Deputy Director Monash European and EU Centre, Monash University

'Jeremy Smith covers the entire field of civilisational analysis with analytical rigour and penetrating insight. He sketches a programme for the future of civilisational analysis that incorporates the major achievements of its renaissance while extending it into new domains. The distinctive multidimensional framework he proposes represents the combination of historical sociology and social theory at its best.'
Craig Browne, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney


Part I: Theoretical engagements in civilisational analysis
1 Civilisations debated: uses and critiques of 'civilisation'
2 Currents and perspectives in contemporary civilisational analysis
3 Counterpoints, critiques, dialogues
4 Inter-civilisational engagement: imaginaries, power, connected worlds
Part II: Studies in inter-civilisational engagement
5 Salt water horizons: seas, oceans and civilisations
6 Pacific imaginaries: ontologies of connection, reconstruction of memory
7 Engagement in the cross-currents of history: perspectives on civilisation in Latin America
8 Japan in engagement and the discourses of civilisation
9 Conclusion


Jeremy C. A. Smith is Deputy Head of the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Federation University Australia, Victoria

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