The critical cosmopolitanism of Watsuji Tetsurō

Michael Murphy

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This article outlines an approach to a critical cosmopolitan social theory derived from the thought of the Japanese philosopher, Watsuji Tetsurō. In order to develop this, his thought is positioned against the works of the British sociologist, Gerard Delanty, and the Argentinian semiotician, Walter Mignolo. This will be done through the concepts of space, time and the imagination. From their respective intellectual positions these other two have attempted to develop an approach to 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, of providing tools to re-imagine the world, they have done so through maintaining old ways of seeing the world. What emerges from Watsuji’s work is an account of a critical cosmopolitanism that moves beyond conceptual Eurocentrism through an approach to social theory grounded in a relational social ontology. His focus on the ontology of social relationships also provides a cosmopolitanism that makes room for the ‘non-social’ and identifies a cosmopolitan view of the world as plural and as ‘hetero-spatial-temporal’. The social ontology developed by Watsuji also forces us to reconsider our understanding of the imagination, and its potential, beyond the dichotomy of an individual faculty or the product of social context. By expanding the notion of the Imaginal of Chiara Bottici, the article introduces a new understanding of the imagination into the debate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Theory
Early online date15 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Gerard Delanty
  • Walter Mignolo
  • Social theory
  • Watsuji Tetsurō
  • Cosmopolitan imagination

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