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

By Pnina Werbner | Go to book overview

Cosmopolitanism, derived from the Greek conjunction of 'world' (cosmos) and 'city' (polis), describes a 'citizen of the world', member in a 'universal circle of belonging that involves the transcendence of the particular and blindly given ties of kinship and country' (Cheah 2006: 487). Against 'globalisation', a term implying the free movement of capital and the global (mainly Western) spread of ideas and practices, cosmopolitanism is a word used by the new cosmopolitans to emphasise empathy, toleration and respect for other cultures and values. Thus, at its most basic, cosmopolitanism is about reaching out across cultural differences through dialogue, aesthetic enjoyment, and respect; of living together with difference. It is also about the cosmopolitan right to abode and hospitality in strange lands and, alongside that, the urgent need to devise ways of living together in peace in the international community. Against the slur that cosmopolitans are rootless, with no commitments to place or nation, the new post-1990s cosmopolitanism attempts to theorise the complex ways in which cosmopolitans juggle particular and transcendent loyalties — morally, and inevitably also, politically.

Whatever the definition, and whether we are talking of rooted, vernacular or elite interpretations of the term, cosmopolitanism has to be grasped as an ethical horizon — an aspirational outlook and mode of practice. Cosmopolitans insist on the human capacity to imagine the world from an Other's perspective, and to imagine the possibility of a borderless world of cultural plurality. We often label as cosmopolitan individuals with a certain subjective capacity to enjoy cultural diversity and travel; but because cosmopolitanism is itself a product of creativity and communication in the context of diversity, it must ultimately be understood not merely as individual, but as collective, relational and thus historically located.


The New 'Normative' Cosmopolitanism

The year 1990 was a watershed one for the new cosmopolitanism scholarship. The fall of the Berlin Wall, signalling the end of the cold war, coincided with an awareness of a 'speeded up' economic globalisation, the spectacular rise of extraterrestrial media during the 1992 first Gulf War, and increasing consciousness of the perils of a looming ecological planetary disaster. The new normative cosmopolitanism, heralded by David Held's Democracy and the Global Order (1995), took up the vision of Immanuel Kant's 'Perpetual Peace' to argue for the apparently utopian possibility of cosmopolitan citizenship. Kant, it will be recalled, proposed that only a confederation of republics could guarantee peace and the cosmopolitan right of individuals to venture out as strangers and sojourn in other territories.

There were, originally, three discernible strands to this new normative cosmopolitanism. These have increasingly converged as empirical research reveals the

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