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clash of Civilizations

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A concept first used by Samuel Huntington (1927–2008) in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article. He argued that, in the context of the end of the Cold War, conflict in international relations increasingly would be due to clashes between civilizations rather than to ideology or economic interests. Huntington conceived of civilizations as the highest level of cultural grouping, identified by features such as language, history, or religion. He identified eight such civilizations—Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic‐Orthodox, Latin American, and African—and predicted that conflict was most likely on the borders between civilizations.

The concept of a clash of civilizations has been used widely since 1993, but it has also been widely criticized. Critics question whether a civilization or culture can be self‐contained in an age of multiculturalism, and claim the thesis creates a polarized view of the other. Concern that the idea could become a self‐fulfilling prophecy has led to the concept of a ‘dialogue of civilizations’ in response.

Since the attacks of September 11th 2001 on the US, the clash of civilizations concept has received increased attention. It has been a convenient framework to use to interpret these events and the ‘war on terror’ that followed. Despite attempts by politicians to distance themselves from a West versus Islam narrative, the events are often reported and interpreted in this way.

Claire Thomas


Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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