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‘Cultures do not exist’  
  Exploding self-evidences in the investigation of interculturality

Part 0. Abstract and links to sections


(c) 1999-2001 Wim M.J. van Binsbergen

the text below is the greatly revised and expanded English version of the inaugural address delivered by Wim van Binsbergen on the occasion of his accession to chair of intercultural philosophy, Philosophical Faculty, Erasmus University Rotterdam, January 1999

to 'Inaugural lecture' page | to Wim van Binsbergen's homepage | to NVVIF homepage |

to Richard Fardon


The structure of my argument is as follows. To begin with, I shall indicate how the concept of ‘culture’ has taken root as a key concept in our contemporary social experience and in philosophy. Precisely because it has done so, it is of the greatest importance to subject to empirical and philosophical scrutiny such self-evidences as attach to ‘culture’. Now more than ever, the process of globalisation has brought together within a common political space a plurality of self-reflexive and militant identities. An adequate analysis of this situation will be of decisive importance for the fate of humanity in the first centuries of the North Atlantic third millennium. As a next step, I shall explore the conditions under which my claim that ‘cultures do not exist’ may acquire meaningfulness. Since in this connection I put forth the social sciences as an example for philosophy, I am compelled to discuss the place of empirical knowledge within philosophy proper. I shall stress that intercultural philosophy should take into account such knowledges as the empirical sciences have gathered through explicit and well-tried methods; and here I am thinking particularly of the empirical discourse on African ethnicity, and on extensive cultural connections in space and time. But as a next step I shall argue -- by reference to my own complex itinerary through Africanist cultural anthropology - how that particular empirical science, despite its unmistakable relevance for intercultural philosophy, is yet so philosophically naive, and so disposed towards the North Atlantic perspective from an epistemological point of view, that cultural anthropology can at best constitute a mere point of departure for our theoretical explorations of interculturality. Finally I posit that intercultural mediation ideally situates itself beyond any specific cultural orientation, which allows me to characterise intercultural philosophy as the search for a transgressive and innovative, metacultural medium for the production of knowledge.


Part I. Sections 1 to 3

1. Introduction

2. 'Cultures' in contemporary society

3. The background of the concept of 'culture' in cultural anthropology and philosophy

3.1. Culture in cultural anthropology
3.2. Culture in philosophy
3.3. Philosophers against philosophical ethnocentrism and Eurocentrism
3.4. Culture and difference

Part II. Sections 4 to 7

4. From 'holistic culture' to partial 'cultural orientations'

5. The relativity of an empirical perspective

6. Philosophy as empirical science?

7. Globalisation and ethnicity

7.1. Nkoya ethnic identity
7.2. The discourse on ethnicity in African studies today

Part III. Sections 8 to 10

8. Beyond ethnography

9. From ethnography to intercultural philosophy: Beyond the ethnographic epistemology

10. From ethnography to intercultural philosophy: comprehensive correspondences in space and time

Part IV. Sections 11 to 13

11. Against Eurocentrism

12. To intercultural philosophy as a medium

13. Cultural diversity and universality

Part V. References cited

to Notes | to 'Inaugural lecture' page | to Wim van Binsbergen's homepage | to NVVIF homepage

page last modified: 04-03-02 21:31:35