ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

4. Cosmopolitics

Global ideologies often claim to be cosmopolitan while being highly contested and often exclusive, so that they create new boundaries around emergent transnational communities. The panel will consider to what extent human rights, Islam and Christianity, whose reach is global, are also cosmopolitan.

Can a Critic of Cosmopolitanism Believe in Human Rights?

Richard Wilson, Connecticut, USA

This paper is inspired by Steven Lukes’ essay ‘Can a Marxist Believe in Human Rights?’ where Lukes concludes that while Marxism contains a vision of social justice, its rejection of both the individual and liberal justice institutions means that it is incompatible with human rights. I seek to update this debate by examining how, during the 1990s, the field of human rights theory and practice became influenced by advocates of cosmopolitan justice who seek a ‘universal constitutional order’ [Held et al 1999:74], based on multilateral institutions that exercise global jurisdiction. While the cosmopolitan internationalist position is logical and consistent in its support of human rights, it elides the many other emergent sites and normative foundations of rights. In practice, human rights are mostly protected by national rather than global institutions, and all forms of rights-based constitutionalism are in practice forms of constitutional nationalism. Further, even international justice institutions such as the International Criminal Tribunals wrestle with [and eventually, resentfully, recognize] ideas of race and ethnicity in order to make findings on the crime of genocide, a collective right where the victim is the group, rather than the individual. Given the historical context and internal complexity of the rights regime, then, the answer to the question has to be ‘yes’.

Towards a Cosmopolitan Islam? Middle Class Activists and Strategies of Engagement in Britain

Sean McLoughlin, Leeds, UK

As Vertovec and Cohen (2002) argue, ‘Cosmopolitanism’ has found fertile ground in many historical and cultural contexts and taken on quite different forms and idioms, not least in the Islamic world. Indeed, even while militant Islamic movements advocate a violent globalised ‘clash of civilisations’, and secular liberal democracies demonise the ‘isolation’ and ‘self-segregation’ of localised Muslim diasporas in the West, Baumann (1996; 1999) argues for the possibilities of ‘multicultural convergence’. This paper forwards a preliminary analysis of the extent to which cosmopolitan spaces of cross-cultural engagement have emerged amongst South Asian heritage British-Muslims and especially a ‘new’ middle class of upwardly mobile activists. I examine the degree to which activists’ reflexive encounters with (Muslim and non-Muslim) ‘others’ in diaspora (Mandaville, 2001) and, moreover, their particular sorts of social and cultural capital, have contributed to moves beyond a narrow ethnic politics and religious sectarianism. While I begin with general remarks about the cosmopolitanism evident in arenas such as British-Muslim intellectual life, politics, charity, welfare, the media and so on, my main focus is a case study of a movement and organisation that the literature has routinely characterised in terms of ‘Islamism’. Nevertheless, based on observation at local and national events, documentary analysis and interviews with activists, I suggest that the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) has been at the forefront of self-conscious attempts at cross-cultural engagement, both with Muslims of non-South Asian heritage and the UK state and wider society. While appeals to ‘Islam’ often suggest an idealised trans-national religious community and identity that transcends the nation-state (Werbner, 1994, 2003; McLoughlin 1996), I will examine the extent to which, in the hands of ISB, such appeals can do more than reproduce a self-interested identity politics.

Pentecostalism and the cosmopolitanization of everyday life in Africa

Birgit Meyer, Amsterdam

Opting against a normative and narrow definition of cosmopolitanism, I suggest to locate our reflections about cosmopolitanism in the interface of the ‘cosmopolitanization of everyday life’ (Ulrich Beck) and the social imaginaries which are invoked by and speak to this process. Far from being confined to the level of ideas and attitudes, these imaginaries materialize through particular consumptive styles that thrive and circulate by virtue of neo-liberal capitalism. Focusing on two different yet intersected cosmopolitan arenas – Pentecostal-charismatic churches and the popular video-film industry – this paper explores differences and similarities between the ways in which pastors and filmmakers articulate and embody a particular awareness of being part of the world (and, by the same token, defining what ‘world’ means) and of the presence of distant others. It will be argued that next to the elitist ideal type cosmopolitanism ‘as we know it’, the awareness of being part of and open towards ‘the world’ may be articulated in a variety of, often conflicting, modes that need to be situated historically and in relation to each other. While it is important for anthropologists to participate in broader debates about cosmopolitanism, we should at the same time be careful not to force rich empirical materials into all too narrow understandings. In how far is the notion of cosmopolitanism at all useful to grasp the implications of the ‘cosmopolitanization of everyday life’? What is the advantage of this notion compared to the terms ‘modernity’ and ‘globalization’ that have shaped anthropological agendas in the recent past? What is the relation between cosmopolitanism and capitalism?

Bruce Kapferer, Bergen, Norway title tba

Chair: Deborah James, LSE
Discussant: Pat Caplan, Goldsmiths