Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism: Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspectives

By Pnina Werbner | Go to book overview

Introduction: Towards a New
Cosmopolitan Anthropology1

Pnina Werbner


In the Beginning …

Ten people met in July 1946 to found the professional Association of Social Anthropologists, joined by a score of other anthropologists the following year. In many ways, Elizabeth Colson (who was there) tells us,

those who came to London, as well as the absent members, were a cosmopolitan group.
They had crossed disciplinary and territorial boundaries in becoming anthropologists …
They came out of history, law, geography, psychology, economics, biology, and
engineering. They drew on their reading in other fields as they dealt with what they
regarded as anthropological questions. Those born in Great Britain were in the minority.
The remainder of that first group of perhaps 30 members were born in South Africa,
Australia, New Zealand, and India, of parents some of whom had never visited Great
Britain, while Nadel came from Austria and Peristiany from Cyprus. A cosmopolitan
cohort, yet their subject matter was far removed from the cosmopolitan metropolis in
which they gathered.


The New Cosmopolitanism(s)

Sixty years after the founding of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth, the aim of this book is to reposition social anthropology in relation to an evolving new cosmopolitanism, theorised in political philosophy, sociology of globalisation and postcolonial cultural studies. Words like cosmopolitanism may seem remote from anthropology's subjects, embedded in European liberal elitist ideas of world consciousness artificially imposed on the out-of-the-way locales that anthropologists mostly study. Yet it is remarkable that anthropologists have made significant contributions since the 1990s, and even before that, to contemporary debates on cosmopolitanism. In inaugurating a new anthropology of cosmopolitanism, we argue in this book that both in practice and substantive terms a situated cosmopolitanism, broadly defined, may indeed today be at the heart of the discipline.

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