Recasting the critical cosmopolitanism of Watsuji Tetsurō

Michael Murphy

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


This paper develops further an approach to critical cosmopolitan social theory derived from the thought of the Japanese Buddhist philosopher, Watsuji Tetsurō. In order to develop this, his thought is positioned, and recast, against the works of the British sociologist, Gerard Delanty, and the Argentinian semiotician, Walter Mignolo. This will be done through the concepts of dialogue, social connectors, and ontic and epistemic location. Cosmopolitanism’s etymological roots famously lay in Diogenes the Cynic’s (404 BCE-323 BCE) claim to be “a citizen of the world.” In the field of cosmopolitan social theory it is presented by the triadic formulation of individualism, a critical account of change through the acknowledgement of incompleteness and this being absolute (universalism). And from their respective intellectual positions, both Delanty and Mignolo have attempted to develop an approach to cosmopolitan social theory that cannot be reduced to the optic of conceptual Eurocentrism. However, while they have made significant and important contributions to the development of critical approaches to cosmopolitan social theory, they have done so through maintaining old ways of seeing the world. If cosmopolitanism is achieve anything one would expect it to break the circle of presented objective facts about the social and political world. Yet in maintaining either cognitivism or totalities both Delanty and Mignolo fail to provide either a cosmopolitan space for dialogue or a critical language of communication that does not privilege a view from somewhere. However, another ancient cosmopolitan argument and much neglected in the literature, was formulated before Diogenes and comes from Siddhartha-Gautama, the Buddha. This foreshadows Diogenes’s one in interesting ways and also directly addresses, it will be argued, many of the charges made against cosmopolitanism. Buddhism represents a conceptual paradigm of holistic non-dualism, the interdependence of subject and object. In this respect it can be described as constituting a radical critique of thinking and its relationship to how we make sense of the world. In rethinking the work of Watsuji in a ‘post-Watsujian’ light what emerges is an account of a critical cosmopolitanism that moves beyond conceptual ethnocentrism to an approach to cosmopolitan social theory grounded in a relational social ontology. This paper provides the outline of an approach to critical cosmopolitan social theory through transforming the classical triadic account by developing the logic of Watsuji’s concepts of emptiness to provide the space for dialogue, an intersectional account of aidagara as providing the means of cross (intra)-social communication and critique , and an description of milieu (Fudo), that can also account for intersectional tension, to deliver an account of universalism that is relative and not absolute (relative universalism). This provides an interpretation of cosmopolitan social theory that includes individuality and social/temporal relationships and which also identifies a cosmopolitan view of the world as plural and as ‘hetero-spatial-temporal’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015
EventGSA conference 2015 ‘Living the Global: The Cultural Experience of Globalization’ - University of Roehampton, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Jul 20154 Jul 2015


ConferenceGSA conference 2015 ‘Living the Global: The Cultural Experience of Globalization’
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Watsuji Tetsurō
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Gerard Delanty
  • Walter Mignolo
  • Social Theory
  • Critical Social Theory

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