What is Cosmopolitanism?

So just what might Cosmopolitanism be? One recent study manages to catalogue over two hundred meanings of the idea, but is far from complete and misses out the idea of cosmopolitan sexualities entirely. So very many have tried to answer this question that it may help briefly to hear what just a few of them have to say. It is just a small selection from many. Thus, for the Ghanian-American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, it is a ‘universal concern and respect for legitimate difference’. For the Swedish anthropologist Ulf Hannez, it is ‘a mode of managing meaning .. a willingness to engage with the other .. It entails an intellectual and aesthetic openness toward divergent cultural experiences, a search for contrasts rather than uniformity .. an ability to make one’s way into other cultures, through listening, looking, intuiting and reflecting’. For the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (who is at the forefront of sociological writers in this field) we have arrived at the ‘cosmopolitan moment’ as an emergent and distinctive feature of modernity: ‘the human condition has itself become cosmopolitan’. For him, we live with the mélange: where ‘local, national, ethnic, religious and cosmopolitan cultures and traditions interpenetrate, interconnect and intermingle – cosmopolitanism without provincialism is empty, provincialism without cosmopolitanism is blind’ He examines the need for boundaries, the growing sense of ‘boundary-lessness’ and the importance of common bonds and collective life in a world of individual differences. For the British sociologist, Robert Fine, cosmopolitanism is bound up deeply with international law and human rights. Indeed, cosmopolitanism is both ‘a determinate social form’ that ‘reconfigures’ a whole sphere of (potentially contradictory) rights as well as being a ‘form of consciousness that involves an understanding of the concept of cosmopolitanism and a capacity to develop the concept in imaginative and reflexive’. He sees it as both outlook (a way of seeing the world) and a condition (an existing form of the world). And finally, for the influential liberal international, Jewish, feminist philosopher from the USA, Martha Nussbaum, it raises the issue of a ‘decent world culture’ and a world moral community.

So many speak of cosmopolitanism, even as they disagree. At base, they raise questions of differences and solidarity: of both human belonging and living with strangers. It asks how we can live with our closest family, community and nation, while simultaneously recognising and living with other different families, communities and nations. They ponder how we can live together with our common humanity, in spite of ourselves and in spite of our specific local differences?

( The quotes come from: Appiah,2006:xv; Hannerz: 1996:103; Beck 2006:7 Fine, p 111, 134; Nussbaum, 2006:324)

See: Unknown

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