What does it mean to take ‘the cultural turn’ seriously, and in our case, to engage it in research on globalisation and higher education? In this book chapter, we argue that this involves adding a cultural lens to engage with, rather than depart from, an analysis of the global political economy of higher education. This means problematising both globalisation and culture as concepts to provide clarity about the philosophical and knowledge claims being made. Our chapter is developed in two ways. We begin by firstly laying out our theoretical thinking and approach before, secondly, exploring how these conceptual resources help research three global higher education dynamics: globally competitive universities, global market making, and world class universities. We conclude by reflecting on what researchers might learn from a cultural turn, and what it means substantively, theoretically, and methodologically.