Cultural Diversity as a Concept of Global Law: Origins, Evolution and Prospects

Diversity, Vol. 2, 2010, pp. 1059-1084

26 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2010

Date Written: August 5, 2010


“Cultural diversity” has become one of the latest buzzwords on the international policymaking scene. It is employed in various contexts – sometimes as a term close to “biological diversity”, at other times as correlated to the “exception culturelle” and most often, as a generic concept that is mobilised to counter the perceived negative effects of economic globalisation. While no one has yet provided a precise definition of what cultural diversity is, what we can observe is the emergence of the notion of cultural diversity as incorporating a distinct set of policy objectives and choices at the global level. These decisions are not confined, as one might have expected, to cultural policymaking, but rather spill over to multiple governance domains because of the complex linkages inherent to the simultaneous pursuit of economic and other societal goals that cultural diversity encompasses and has effects on. Accounting for these intricate interdependencies, the present article clarifies the origins of the concept of cultural diversity as understood in global law and traces its evolution over time. Observing the dynamics of the concept and the surrounding political and legal developments, the article explores its justification and overall impact on the global legal regime, as well as its discrete effects on different domains of policymaking, such as media, intellectual property and culture. While the analysis is legal in essence, the article is meant to speak also to a broader transdisciplinary public.

The article is part of the speacial issue on ethnic diversity and cultural pluralism, which is available under the creative commons licence:

Keywords: cultural diversity, international economic law, trade and culture, intellectual property protection, media, WTO, UNESCO

Suggested Citation

Burri, Mira, Cultural Diversity as a Concept of Global Law: Origins, Evolution and Prospects (August 5, 2010). Diversity, Vol. 2, 2010, pp. 1059-1084, Available at SSRN:

Mira Burri (Contact Author)

University of Lucerne ( email )

Frohburgstrasse 3
PO Box 4466
Lucerne, 6002


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