‘My Culture Made Me Do It’: Freedom and Choice in Current Multicultural Democracies


Francesca Cesarano (Facoltà di Filosofia, CeSEP, Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)

Roberta Sala (Facoltà di Filosofia, CeSEP, Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele; ETHOS Luiss, Roma)

Ingrid Salvatore (Dipartimento Studi Politici e Sociali, Università degli Studi di Salerno; ETHOS Luiss, Roma)

Freedom of choice is placed at the heart of the liberal conception of justice. Liberals believe that each citizen is equally entitled to form and revise their own plan of life, according to what they value the most. (Rawls, 1971) 

In this scenario, cultures can be considered as contexts of choice. (Kymlicka, 1989) They are the media through which the subject becomes aware of the options available to her and the relative value that her cultural community assigns to these options. (Deveaux, 2006) Hence, putting aside the intrinsic value that cultures may have per se, it can be said that their existence must be protected in virtue of their functioning as a sort of prerequisite to exercise one’s own ability to choose.

However, the individual is always already situated in a specific cultural community at the moment of birth, therefore, she does not really choose the cultural context in which she will develop her values and form her life plan, she is rather ‘thrown’ into it. (Benhabib, 2002) Moreover, not all cultural traditions share the liberal commitment to equality and autonomy. On the contrary, many cultural communities are suffused with discriminating practices and ideologies towards e.g. gender, sexual orientation, race and disabilities. (Okin, 1999; Eisenberg and Spinner-Halev, 2005). Consequently, they may be charged with being inappropriate contexts of choice, which do not effectively enable individual autonomy. (Lépinard, 2012)

The subjects who are “thrown” into the narratives of these cultural communities may risk to see their ability to autonomously form and revise their own plan of life compromised. (Chambers, 2008) For instance, they may adapt their choices to the limited options offered by their communities or they may act based on values that significantly disadvantage or hurt others, without fully understanding the gravity of their actions. (Liebow, 2016).

 As concerns the first case, some liberals, especially feminist theorists, have used the notion of adaptive preferences to call attention to the insufficiency of choice as a determinant of justice. (Levey, 2005; Nussbaum, 2013). Choices can be distorted and shaped by the cultural environment of the subject in a way that severely disadvantages the subject herself. On the other side, as regards the unconscious introjection of values that may endanger others, the subjects may not be considered as entirely responsible for their wrongdoing, as some strategies of cultural defence try to highlight (Coleman, 1996, Renteln, 2005).

Coming from a cultural community with illiberal traits, ‘My culture made me do it’ can be said by both the alleged ‘victim’ of adaptive preferences and the wrongdoer. (Honing,1999) 

Therefore, we invite contributions that address, but are not limited to, the following questions:   

  • Do liberal theorists have an appropriate strategy to deal with ‘non liberal’ cultural instances? 
  • Do liberal policies aimed at maximizing individual autonomy, through promoting cultural pluralism, risk to actually limit the subject’s ability to choose? 
  • Is individual choice a sufficient basis for liberal normative theories in a multicultural society? 
  • What conception of citizenship should underlie such accounts?
  • How to conceive of citizenship with regard to cultural strangers?
  • What idea of inclusion and/or integration can be defended nowadays?
  • How to rethink multicultural citizenship in the post-Covid world?
  • Does a culturally diverse society require an individualization of justice in its judicial and administrative processes?

Submission Guidelines

If you wish to apply, please submit an approx. 400-words abstract of your paper prepared for blind-review by the 3rd May 2021. We will respond within two weeks. All abstracts and enquiries about the workshop should be sent to the following address:  mancept.culture21@gmail.com

We aim to allow for 20-30 minutes per presentation and 20-30 minutes for Q&A. However, this may be subject to change.   

Registration will open in May. All participants must register in order to attend. 

This year’s fees are

Academics:  £45

Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20

Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

A small number of bursaries (for graduate students only) are available. Please state in your application to our panel whether you intend to apply for a bursary.   

We look forward to reading your abstracts