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Inhuman Conditions

Inhuman Conditions

On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights

Pheng Cheah

ISBN 9780674023949

Publication date: 01/31/2007

Globalization promises to bring people around the world together, to unite them as members of the human community. To such sanguine expectations, Pheng Cheah responds deftly with a sobering account of how the "inhuman" imperatives of capitalism and technology are transforming our understanding of humanity and its prerogatives. Through an examination of debates about cosmopolitanism and human rights, Inhuman Conditions questions key ideas about what it means to be human that underwrite our understanding of globalization. Cheah asks whether the contemporary international division of labor so irreparably compromises and mars global solidarities and our sense of human belonging that we must radically rethink cherished ideas about humankind as the bearer of dignity and freedom or culture as a power of transcendence. Cheah links influential arguments about the new cosmopolitanism drawn from the humanities, the social sciences, and cultural studies to a perceptive examination of the older cosmopolitanism of Kant and Marx, and juxtaposes them with proliferating formations of collective culture to reveal the flaws in claims about the imminent decline of the nation-state and the obsolescence of popular nationalism. Cheah also proposes a radical rethinking of the normative force of human rights in light of how Asian values challenge human rights universalism.


  • Normative engagements with globalization have for the most part been dominated by debates surrounding cosmopolitanism and human rights. Ironically, few on any side of these debates have directly addressed the capitalist aspects of globalization; even those dedicated to global distributive justice often approach the topic as a moral issue, not a structural one. Pheng Cheah’s Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights is a refreshing corrective to this central shortcoming of many normative approaches to globalization… Inhuman Conditions, written in lucid and accessible prose, is a welcome effort to bring together several schools of thought often considered to be at odds. A poststructuralist account of globalization that takes the structures of capitalism seriously, Inhuman Conditions represents an important contribution to normative political thought on cosmopolitanism and human rights.

    —Isabelle V. Barker, New Political Science


  • Pheng Cheah is Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press