ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 1

Cosmopolitan Cities: from cultural turn to spatial turn – John Eade

Room: 1 -CBA 0.005x32

Panel abstract

In this panel I would like us to consider whether social anthropology has a distinctive place within the burgeoning literature on cities as sites where diverse peoples and places intersect, maintain fiercely defended boundaries or simply look past each other. It could be argued that those leading the debates about cities as cosmopolitan sites are mainly drawn from outside anthropology. Books by A. Amin and N. Thrift, Cities: Reimagining the Urban, Michael Keith’s After the Cosmopolitan?, P. Marcuse and R. van Kampen, Globalizing Cities: A New Spatial Order? and M. P. Smith’s Transnational Urbanism, to name just a few, suggest that the initiative is now held by those operating within social geography, sociology and urban planning rather than anthropology. While anthropologists have made a significant contribution to the study of minority ethnic groups in the UK, for example, they have not engaged very much with the debates about the relationship between the social and the spatial. ‘Urban anthropology’ has almost faded away as a distinct area within social anthropology and the pioneering work of anthropologists in Africa during the 1960s and 1970 on urban migration and new social formations is almost a footnote in the history of the discipline.

Papers are invited which engage with this – perhaps false – interpretation of how the ‘cultural turn’ in anthropology has blocked a contribution to the ‘spatial turn’ in the study of urban life. Contributors may wish to discuss how this theoretical process relates to the empirical study of urban cosmopolitanism through such themes as globalisation and global/local processes, global cities, deindustrialised cities, the rapidly expanding cities across the globe especially in Latin American Africa and Asia, fast and slow lifestyles, urban hotspots and cooler localities, dread and joy, tourism and gentrification, authenticity and the exotic, old and new ethnicities.

Attempts to link empirical work to the theoretical overview proposed above – if only to reject it – will be welcomed so that we can move towards fresh understandings of what cosmopolitanism might constitute in diverse kinds of cities across the world.


John Eade
Roehampton University


Salsa Belfast: elite transformations, cosmopolitanism and personal use of ‘between space’ in dance and city-life

Jonathan Skinner, The Queen’s University Belfast

This presentation looks at the salsa dance scene in Belfast, a fractured cosmopolitan centre. Specifically, it looks at the teaching and learning of salsa, a dance import to Northern Ireland. It suggests that Belfast has become a place of dance translation and fusion, a ‘between’ place where dancers are particularly able to adopt and adapt the dance to suit their needs. These dancers are active cosmopolitans with performance purposes, elitist skills and a desire to further their ‘decontextualised knowledge’ (Hannerz). To do so, they have to carefully negotiate a between space on the dance floor and in the audiences’ minds. This fancy footwork is not dissimilar to the negotiations of city-life.

This presentation is based upon 2 years of participant observation as a dance learner and dance teacher and will develop notions of creativity, hybridity and style on the margins through examples from a range of dance groups in cosmopolitan Belfast. This paper looks at how individuals negotiate a skills-space, how – and why - they transform themselves and how they move (both physically and ideationally) through the ‘active’ space of the dance floor. These movements will be linked to the movements and mobilities of cosmopolitan life. They come together, particularly, when some salsa dancers brave riots, parades, protests and discrimination to dance. Their salsa, this paper concludes, through the use of examples, is a Salsa Belfast.

The proliferation of social technologies and its challenge to anthropological theories of urban sociation

John Postill, Staffordshire University

This paper opens with a review of Vered Amit’s robust critique of recent anthropological studies of minority ethnic groups (e.g. by Appadurai). These studies, says Amit, smuggle back into the discipline static notions of community and identity already abandoned by an earlier generation of anthropologists working in urban Africa. Amit calls for the enlargement of our sociation lexicon to capture at least some of the fluidity and diversity of social formations we encounter in contemporary urban spaces. Our current conceptual universe, she suggests, relies too heavily on concepts such as diaspora’ or ‘imagined community’ that are hollowed of social relational content. This paper takes up the challenge after adding a dimension largely absent from Amit’s programme: the massive proliferation of new forms of mediated sociation in recent years, from websites, blogs and e-communities to online dating, viral networking and smart mobbing. The argument draws on the author’s recent fieldwork on community activism in an affluent ‘cyberdistrict’ in the Kuala Lumpur region. Unlike Amit, the author does not seek a concept that will somehow integrate this huge variety of social formations, and concludes that no such ‘sociological fix’ is in sight.

The emergence of a cosmopolitan Tel Aviv: the new dynamics of migrations in Israel

William Berthomiere, Univ of Poitiers, France

During the 90's, Israel and the Palestinians were unable to reach a Peace agreement and this unsuccessful period led to the production of a new Israeli ethnoscape. With a more and more frequent closures of the borders of Israel (in its pre-1967 limits) to the Palestinians workers, the Israeli government had to authorize the entrance of Foreign workers from Eastern Europe (Romania, Poland) but also from Asia (Thailand, the Philippines). With the fear of their "settlement", these new " faces" of Israel gradually caused a debate in which were underlined the social cleavages of Israel.

This debate took all the more importance that to the first non Jewish immigrants were added those from West Africa and South America (pushed to Israel by the globalization). These regular and irregular immigrations visible in the landscape of Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv, raised the question of the Jewish identity of the State and in the same time have drawn the limits of an Israeli cosmopolitanism.

With the example of Israel, the aim of this paper is to contribute to the knowledge of the forms of emergence of "new cosmopolitanisms" and to propose some critics on a concept Elaborated to describe the tension existing between national discourse and globalisation.


Title to follow

Paula Davis, Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh

Urban markets in Africa have always been cosmopolitan places, sites in which commodities, traders and customers are likely to be “other.” Success in trading requires knowing one’s customers—on an aesthetic level, knowing various tastes in food, clothing, cosmetics and other household objects, and on a moral level, knowing the individual, his/her family and community. Traders in Owino Market embody the “rooted” cosmopolitanism that Appiah describes, which I will demonstrate by analyzing everyday spatial practices of traders that I observed during ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 1993-94. My analysis is organized around observations and phenomenological considerations of the use of space by traders in Owino Market, and will focus more on lived space or Lefebvre’s (1991) third dimension, representational space. Although some traders in Owino Market might be considered elites since structural adjustment policies have forced even university professors to engage family members in trade to survive on their “killing wages,” the majority of traders are non- elite and living below Uganda’s poverty line (Jamal 1998). This “rooted” cosmopolitanism stands in tension with a preference for Kiganda (cultural practices of the Baganda ethnic group); the market had been named for an Acholi night watchman, but most leadership positions in market management have always been held by Baganda. Through examining the traders’ use of space I will show that spatial codes of domesticity and neighborliness transcend ethnic differences, and they minimize interpersonal conflicts. Traders produce market “stalls” that have the “homeliness” of village life, and they comport themselves in the manner of village morality—presence of family members, offering a seat to a customer who has walked too much in the sun, formal greetings performed for regular customers and openly napping during slow times. Relationships between traders at “neighboring” stalls in the market are more long-standing than those of residential places that I observed during home visits to the traders in my study. These relationships of “neighbors” among the traders at their places of work provided the only real services visible in the market, including security, hygiene, water provision and responding to personal crises. My paper will address the panel theme directly by suggesting, as Lefebvre (1991) argues, that the ‘cultural turn’ in anthropology has emphasized “reading” and text to the exclusion of other more sensual ways of knowing the world. By incarcerating myself in the space of Owino Market for an extensive period I am able to more fully understand and articulate lived space, and that is the contribution anthropology has to this emerging literature on cities.

Emerging Female Subjectivities: Change in Women’s Lives in Urban Turkey

Esin Egit

Over the past two decades, many young women in urban Turkey have begun to question traditional gender roles by openly dating, engaging in pre-marital sex, postponing marriage, having children significantly later in life, and pursuing careers. This paper will argue that increasing number of women benefited from liberalization policies, economic growth, and rapid urbanization that took place in Turkey in 1980s by transforming them into financial and emotional independence, sexual freedom, and personal choices. The emergence of this new type of women is particularly significant in the Turkish context due to vehement public debates on the rise of political Islam, which is a global phenomenon, and expectations to join the European Union which is the historical continuation of Turkey’s efforts to Westernization. This paper will argue that young women in Istanbul take advantage of this ever-fragmented, increasingly- cosmopolitan social and political order by freeing themselves from traditional roles and constructing new cosmopolitan subjectivities, albeit within the borders of their country, with an explicit attentiveness to their personal fulfillment in their emotional lives and intimate relationships. Based on a year long ethnographic research on women’s everyday lives and relations in present-day Istanbul, this project engages in the emerging topic of study on women’s changing experiences in terms of their life-choices and quest for new self-identities in global processes.

Reinvigorating Urban Anthropology: Cittàslow in Britain

Sarah Pink, University of Loughborough

Writing in the Journal of Urban Design Paul Knox (2005) suggests that the principles of the Slow City movement ‘speak directly to the concepts of ‘dwelling’ and intersubjectivity that are key to the social construction of place and, therefore, to successful urban design’. Giddens’ structuration theory, he proposes, offers us a way of understanding how ‘human landscapes are created by knowledgeable actors (or agents) operating within a specific social context (or structure)’. In this paper I shall propose that social anthropology also has a role to play in interdisciplinary theory-building about the constitution of a sense of place in urban contexts. Drawing from recent anthropological understandings of sensory experience and media practices I suggest that the ‘old urban anthropology’ needs to be reinvigorated by a phenomenological approach to urban contexts as sensory, mediated and contingent spaces.

Through an analysis of a Cittàslow (Slow City) town, Aylsham in Norfolk (UK), I shall examine how in this urban context global cittàslow ideologies and criteria operate as part of a process though which a sense of place is constituted though local government, media, individuals’ everyday emplaced sensory practice. As a cittàslow locality the town’s identity, projects, and local government practices are inextricably linked to a global movement. This situates the construction of the local urban context, as well as the trajectories of individuals involved in its projects, within a wider cosmopolitan space that stresses diversity and locality as well as conformity to the ideological and practical goals of slow living. My discussion will be based on an analysis of selected practices that contribute to the production of the town’s cittàslow identity, such as: the work and publications of the local community reporter (a mediated process); a community ‘sensory’ garden project (a project based process); the trajectories of a group of teenagers who travel to Italy to cook in a food festival; the revival of the town’s carnival (the revival of tradition); and cittàslow committee meetings.

Back to the page listing all the panels