Cosmopolitanism: The Mediterranean Archives

By Giaccaria, Paolo | The Geographical Review, July 2012 | Go to article overview
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Cosmopolitanism: The Mediterranean Archives


Giaccaria, Paolo, The Geographical Review


Without a doubt, "cosmopolitanism" is now a key concept, one that is traveling across not only the disciplinary boundaries of the social sciences but also those between academic knowledge and popular imagination. "Cosmopolitanism is in fashion. The trend started in the 1990s, after the end of the cold war and amid intensifying globalization. Cosmopolitan is now a compliment for the suave in a way it hadn't been since the 1920s or at least the 1960s, when in cold war spirit spies epitomized the cosmopolitan" (Calhoun 2008, 106). Today cosmopolitanism sits firmly in the agenda of the social sciences (Beck 2006), emancipatory politics (Pieterse, 2006), the United Nations (Taylor 1999), and the European Union (Rumford 2007). Despite being fiercely contested (Beck 2002), a "cosmopolitanism turn" is central to many of the key issues and debates concerning contemporary modernity (Delanty 2009, 3; see also Toulmin 1992; Vertovec and Cohen 2002). Present-day cosmopolitanism is particularly associated with globalization (Beck and Sznaider 2006; Delanty 2006; Held 2010) and its different themes and interpretations: human rights and democratization (Archibugi 2004; Cheah 2007), multiculturalism (Rundell 2004; Parekh 2006), diasporas and migration (Werbner 1999), elite mobility (Calhoun 2002), ethics (Appiah 2006), and citizenship (Benhabib 2006).

Within this broad and growing literature, my purpose in this article is to discuss cosmopolitanism from a geographical perspective--and, more specifically, from a Mediterranean perspective. As David Harvey claims (2009, 11, 29-31), geographical knowledge should be assumed as a "condition of possibility" for any foundation of cosmopolitanism, from Immanuel Kant to Martha Nussbaum and beyond. Harvey is even more justified in asking, "What kind of geographical knowledge is adequate to what kind of cosmopolitan ethic? Failure to answer that deeper question condemns cosmopolitanism of any sort to remain an abstracted discourse with no tangible meaning other than the ad hoc, pragmatic, and often opportunistic application of universal principles to particular geographical instances" (Harvey 2000, 547).

From this perspective, the rather marginal interest that cosmopolitanism--in particular in its philosophical and political declination--has aroused amid geographers is quite surprising, as Samuel Schueth and John O'Loughlin acknowledge (2008, 926). Even Harvey's seminal article in Public Culture in 2000 did not succeed in sparking debate on cosmopolitanism among geographers. To my knowledge, only Denis Cosgrove (2003) and Vinay Gidwani (2006)--and, to some extent, K. Mitchell (2007)--have directly engaged with Harvey's claim that "disruptive spatiality worms its way into critical examination of cosmopolitanism" (2000, 540). Similarly, in David Harvey: A Critical Reader, little or no attention is paid to Harvey's reflection on Kant and cosmopolitanism (Castree and Gregory 2006). On the contrary, most of the recent, yet occasional, geographical reflection on philosophical and political cosmopolitanism (Latham 2002; Popke 2007; Schueth and O'Loughlin 2008) seems more at ease with Doreen Massey's idea of "a global sense of place" (1994, 146-156) than with Harvey's all-encompassing structuralist space/time framework (2009, 145-148). (1)

I believe geographical knowledge can address two fundamental issues that lie unresolved at the very heart of the cosmopolitan debate. The first is the debate's almost exclusive focus on present-day cosmopolitanism and/or on the Eurocentric tradition directly linking Greek and Latin Stoicism to contemporary liberal cosmopolitanism a la Nussbaum (1994) via the Enlightenment and Kant's "perpetual peace" ([1795] 1991, 107-108). As a consequence, little or no attention is paid to alternative genealogies of cosmopolitanism, rooted in different traditions, situated in a variety of spaces and times, that only the reading of the "new archives, geographies, and practices of different historical Cosmopolitanisms" can unveil (Pollock and others 2000, 587).

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