Challenges associated with the recent proliferation of cultural claims are exacerbated by the complex heritage and perplexities of the term culture. These difficulties lead those who are called to respond to cultural claims in conflict resolution and other fields to risk either overstating or devaluing human difference. Conflict resolution and culture scholar Kevin Avruch attempts to manage this problem by distinguishing between ‘political’ and ‘scientific’ uses of culture, but this strategy risks disavowing difference through an ethicopolitical dilemma with roots in European colonialism. Embracing and engaging the ambiguity of culture through Ernesto Laclau’s notion of the empty signifier suggests a more complete and self-reflexive way of conceptualising culture. This approach involves valuing ineffable human difference aside from claims to have or know culture, attending to the process of constituting culture, and opening to other ways of knowing human difference.