ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 5

Cosmopolitanism and Development – David Mosse

Room: CBA 0.060x80

Panel abstract

The question that will orientate contributions to this workshop is how the 'cosmopolitan' (in this case policy on international development or global governance) is produced locally, through systems of relationships that are internal to largely unaccountable organisations (e.g., the World Bank) supported by epistemic communities. Global policy is shaped by interests, insecurities or professional rivalries that become concealed in the production of universal knowledge and cosmopolitan expertise. It is because policy making in cosmopolitan spaces such as the World Bank, and the aid partnerships through which global policy is perpetuated, involve intensely interpersonal processes within a relatively small class of border and agency crossing individuals which shared ideas, values, childhoods, education and lifestyles, that 'globalisation' can be subject to ethnographic study, perhaps by anthropologists who are themselves part of these professional communities.

A second theme is aid policy and practice is the relationship between international development policy models and the practices and events that they are expected to produce or shape. Certainly Ethnographic research leads one to question the assumption that the practices and effects of development are the result of policy. On the contrary international policy cannot be 'implemented' because it always has to be translated into the quite different logics and social ambitions of the diverse actors and agents that it brings together. However, international development policy works to sustain a particular interpretation of events which reproduces it and its expertise as the authors of history while concealing contingent actions and unfolding events. Sustaining authorised policy representations becomes the work of a range agency advisers, consultants, bureaucrats, project managers, fieldworkers, and people who learn to become proper beneficiaries with an appropriate 'capacity to aspire' (Appadurai).

The session might also look at the methodological and ethical issues that arise from ethnographic research on such questions.


Dr. David Mosse
Department of Anthropology
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square
London WC1H OXG
T : +44 (0)20 7898 4426


Cosmopolitan coziness: transactorship and the U.S.-Russia aid relationship

Janine R. Wedel, George Mason University, VA

The study of foreign policy, aid, development, and relations among nations tends to focus on policy choices. Yet the means of organizing a relationship among parties and the cultural brokers who serve as links among them can play a huge role in outcomes and even undermine policy objectives. The U.S.-Russia relationship that emerged during the 1990s in the service of U.S. economic policy and aid to Russia is one such example. What might have been a promising rapprochement instead has become a case study in how not to do foreign aid and international relationship-building.

In this case, two circles of cosmopolitans came together – a group associated with Harvard University representing the United States and the “Chubais Clan” representing Russia – to carry out radical economic “reforms” in Russia and to manage hundreds of millions of dollars in Western aid and loans. The American representatives grounded themselves in the tradition of prominent economists brokering influence and money; the Russians built on the conventional role of compradors. Working together, the trans-state brokers developed a modus operandi of “transactorship,” a form of collusion between the representatives of parties on opposite sides. “Transactors” are players in a small, informal group who work together for mutual gain, while formally representing different parties. Although transactors may share the stated goals of the parties they represent, they develop additional self-benefiting goals that, advertently or inadvertently, subordinate or undermine those of their parties. The behavior of members of such groups is marked by extreme flexibility and a readiness to exchange roles, even to the extent of representing parties other than the ones that first designated them as representatives or to which they are formally attached. Transactorship thus lies at the extreme end of a continuum of multiplicity and conflictedness of roles.

Several features of transactorship make the group more effective in achieving its objectives than mere multiple-role-playing brokers. Transactors create their own exclusive, alternative structure; both use and supplant the formal structures of their parties; and bypass bureaucracies and legislative and judiciary bodies that might encumber or resist their activities. Because the group engages in “flex organizing” – meaning it can shift whom it represents to best serve its own goals – transactors enjoy deniability for their actions. And, with roles and structures themselves ambiguous, transactorship obfuscates conflict of interest.

In the U.S.-Russia case, the influence and activities of the Harvard-Chubais group ultimately undermined the stated objectives of U.S. assistance to Russia. Transactorship worked to frustrate true market reform, circumvent accountable and democratic institutions, and harm the bilateral relationship. This mode of organizing relationships, though unusual, is not new with this case. Although transactorship raises questions of accountability and participation, it likely will become more common because the circumstances that facilitate its emergence have become more prevalent in the international arena of retreated states and diffuse authority.

Discrepant cosmopolitanisms at the special court for Sierra Leone

Gerhard Anders (Zurich)

In the modern imagination the cosmopolitan is a citizen of the world, transgressing the boundaries of the nation state and associating freely with other individuals unrestrained by party, faction and nation. Defining cosmopolitanism exclusively in terms of motion, universality and individualism, however, would fail to account for the ways cosmopolitanism is rooted in specific places. According to Samuel Johnson, the famous 18th century man of letters, the cosmopolitan “is at home in every place” thus emphasizing the local dimension of cosmopolitanism.

My contribution aims at exploring this tension between universality and the places where cosmopolitans are at home or want make their home. It will do so by drawing on preliminary ethnographic evidence from the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. The Special Court, one of the international criminal tribunals established since the 1990s, is the product of a distinctly cosmopolitan vision of universal rule of law, which can be traced back to Kant’s notions on perpetual peace and world order. The court constitutes the legal dimension of the international humanitarian intervention that has the objective to stabilize and rebuild Sierra Leone after a decade of civil war by transforming the predatory into a developmental state apparatus.

Bearing in mind that even cosmopolitans originate from particular places and are passing through others on their way to “greener pastures” my paper will focus on lawyers who work at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Paraphrasing Clifford I argue that several “discrepant cosmopolitanisms” emerge from different individual careers and experiences of these privileged legal experts. I will compare lawyers with a Sierra Leonean background many of whom have lived in exile with foreign lawyers, who belong to cosmopolitan class of international experts. All of them seem to have very localized agendas and aspirations, some aspire to further their careers in countries such as Britain, Holland, others have political aims in Sierra Leone but all of them consider themselves to be cosmopolitans. In my paper I want to address these diverse moorings of the cosmopolitans and their implications for the cosmopolitan project of humanitarianism in countries such as Sierra Leone to promote international peace.

Unbounded politics and the boundaries of development expertise

Jeremy Gould, University of Helsinki

This paper explores the way cosmopolitan ideals mediate in the political agency of development experts. Some version of cosmopolitanism has long been the unofficial ideology of the development industry. Justification for the existence of a transnational development industry rests on the basic principles of a typical cosmopolitan edict: principles of global responsibility, justice and human rights; skepticism about the validity of the nation-state; a commitment to consolidating institutions of ‘global governance’, etc.

The past decade has seen the rabid ‘securitization’ of development. This is expressed, inter alia, in the way that an emphasis on stability and containment has come to dominate development discourse. With the growing predominance of security concerns, the development industry’s cosmopolitanism takes on ever more explicit political overtones. This is most evident with respect to humanitarian intervention and its subsidiary, post-conflict transformation, the industry’s fastest-growing sector. The ways that the development industry conceptualizes the challenges of restoring stability and containing social conflict appear to signal a distinct normative disengagement with the nation-state project.

As cosmopolitan advocate Mary Kaldor (2000) explains, the post-conflict “restoration of legitimate authority [in non-Western contexts] cannot mean a reversion to statist politics; it must imply multi-layered authority – global, regional, and local as well as national. It is impossible to revert to a bounded ‘civilising process.’” The paper’s first task is to critique the notion of politics implicit in this techno-cosmopolitan idea of an externally engineered ‘unbounded’ mode of legitimacy. The second task is to situate the development industry in this conceptual field and, third, to examine the agency of the individual development expert in this socio-political configuration.

The thrust of the analysis is not to reject cosmopolitan ideals but to juxtaposition the delocalized cosmopolitanism characteristic of the contemporary development expert with what Appiah, for example (1996, 22), has termed a ‘rooted cosmopolitan’ – someone who is attached to a particular place with its cultural specificities ‘but takes pleasure from the presence of other, different places that are home to other different people.’


Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1996), ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’ in Joshua Cohen (ed.), For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism: Martha C. Nussbaum and Respondents (Cambridge, Mass.: Beacon Press).

Kaldor, Mary (2000), Cosmopolitanism and organised violence. Paper prepared for Conference on ‘Conceiving Cosmopolitanism', Warwick, 27-29 April 2000.

World health and Nepal: producing internationals, healthy citizenship and the cosmopolitan.

Ian Harper, Edinburgh University

If - as standard definitions suggest - cosmopolitanism refers broadly to a sense of "citizenship of the world" and to "a taste or consideration for cultures besides one's own culture of origin" (see wikipedia, accessed 3 October 2005), then what might this global citizenship mean in relation to health? Drawing on recent theoretical ideas around "biological citizenship", "therapeutic citizenship" and issues focused on the "biopolitical", this presentation will explore these in relation to two sets of production, broadly around the context of Nepal.

Firstly, from the perspective of the production of global health related knowledge and practices. The WHO advocated DOTS programme in tuberculosis control seeks to prescribe to nation states (in this case, Nepal) the types of therapeutic behaviour - or subjectivities - appropriate for infected citizens and their health workers. Here, those who market this global policy - members of a self defined "international community" - constitute Nepal’s public health infrastructures in particular ways. As such, these cosmopolitans advocate reforms appropriate for the determination of anti-tuberculous therapeutic citizenship in the new global order.

At the same time, more and more of the emergent middle classes in Nepal study in either nursing or medicine. This production has been facilitated by neoliberal reforms, and the increasing numbers of privately run colleges that have mushroomed in the last 10 years.  With this increasing production of large numbers health workers, many now are seeking employment abroad. Informed via brokerage and diasporic networks, and the internet and media of the shortage of health professionals for public health infrastructures in a Euro-American elsewhere, they also imagine the global in particular ways.

By juxtaposing these two issues and sites of production, the paper will reflect on the political economy of the production of the cosmopolitan.

Government through community: social development and the World Bank in Indonesia

Tania Murray Li, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto 

In this paper I use the Foucauldian optic of “government” to examine the World Bank’s program for Social Development. The Bank’s approach combines a neoliberal stress on competition with concepts of participation and empowerment earlier promoted by NGOs. Its aim is to transform “society” or, as one expert put it, to “get the social relations right.” The social development team of the World Bank in Jakarta has been prominent in the emergence of this approach, and at the leading edge of turning concepts into interventions. The scope of the program the team has devised for Indonesia is enormous. In phases one and two (1998-2003), it was implemented in tens of thousands of villages across the archipelago, and absorbed one billion dollars of loan funds. Its principle point of intervention is “communities” that have, the team argued, natural capacities for self-management that were damaged by military-dominated regime of President Suharto (1965-98), and should be restored. Empowered communities, they proposed, would be able to plan their own projects, manage conflicts, and reform the state apparatus from below.

What kind of analysis, I ask, enabled the Bank experts to render problems of poverty and violence technical and manageable? What were the calculations they applied, and the tactics they devised? Through what chain of reasoning did their program zero in on social relations, while excluding economic relations - especially relations of production and appropriation – from the knowable, manageable, technical domain? What features made community an attractive site of government for a neoliberal development regime?

“After the fall", Cosmopolitanism and the paradoxical politics of global inclusion and authenticity

Philip Quarles van Ufford & Oscar Salemink (Amsterdam)

Cosmopolitanism involves a shared language and code of conduct allowing people of various walks of life, of diverse cultural backgrounds and from different places across national borders, to engage with each other in a rather effective and ‘civilized’ manner. As a way of constructing and representing self and other, cosmopolitanism paradoxically involves a politics of authenticity as relational and as moral categories. Development cooperation assumes a shared cosmopolitan language and code of conduct, based on the idea of shared aspirations of individual and collective betterment, that can be glossed as ‘progress’. Historically, this shared language and the concomitant practices – while shifting over time, with paradigm changes and with political and economic trends – has effectively expanded from the field of relationships between actors to effectively shaping the substantive agenda of development practices, in terms of ‘targets’ and a succession of ‘new ideas’.

In this paper we argue that the two domains – the search for new ideas, and the study of the often strange and contradictory nature of the linkages between actors across all kinds of boundaries – must be interrelated, in line with an emerging anthropology of development where the study of relations takes precedence over and against the notion of order – in the past or present. In this emerging anthropological tradition the relations between development policy practices in different social fields or levels of organisation are being studied. Thus the dynamics of cosmopolitanism as the – largely contingent – interactions between development policy actors at different levels of organisations, at different “locales” become the field of study. This new anthropology allows us to study the emerging new ideas and the dynamics of development policy agenda’s and the trajectories across various social field in an encompassing way. It enables us to trace the sociogenesis of new moral views concerned with the relation with other actors, and nurtures our understanding of development policy practices as a specific domain of cosmopolitanism.

In this paper we shall develop our argument with reference to two case studies. In each case a specific definition of cosmopolitanism constitutes the baseline. In each, attention is given to the contradictory dynamics of cosmopolitanism, the politics of authenticity and of the operational ‘care for the other’. The Vietnam case study starts off in the 1970s with the failed effort towards Socialist modernity, sociality and cosmopolitanism (building ‘New Socialist Man’), which was abandoned for economic reforms conform the Washington Consensus recipe. Being the world’s biggest ODA recipient and WB ‘success story’, the cultural style of development cosmopolitanism does not sit well with the Communist Party leadership, as modernity looks very ‘western’ and ‘un-Vietnamese’ indeed. In 1998 the Party adopted Resolution No. V, calling for “building a progressive culture, imbued with national identity”. Ironically, under that umbrella, myriad localizing and transnationalizing cultural and religious practices have emerged and proliferated, sometimes giving rise to alternative, localized and ‘incompatible’ styles and visions of development that are certainly not ‘cosmopolitan’ but form cultural escape routes from ‘cosmopolitan development’.

The second case study deals with cosmopolitanism as a religious discourse in Indonesia. The case study will deal with the relations between a Javanese church and a Dutch mission at a crucial juncture in time around , 1970. That year Dutch definitions of the self and of the other, that is its Javanese counterparts changed dramatically. It led to an explosion of an earlier discourse of strongly inclusive, cosmopolitan, relations. Instead, a new discourse of ‘independent churches’ effectively cut the ties between Dutch and Indonesian churches, causing havoc in the relations between the two ‘partners’. The tragic outcomes of various conflicts at different sites, locales, both in Java and the Netherlands will be analysed. In the case study the contradictions between the politics of authenticity and of partnership with the other will be given central place sat different sites. These contradictions led to the collapse of one kind of cosmopolitan set of relations, leading however at the same time to the emerging of new views of the self, and of the other emerging from the conflict and thus a new form of cosmopolitanism.

“The sociality of international aid staff and the irrelevance of the local”

Rosalind Eyben, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex

International aid officials are a sub-class of a global elite of cosmopolitan citizens, a class of professionals whose commitment is to their profession rather than to any particular locus (Isin et al. 1999). Members of a trans-national network (Hannerz 1990) staff move regularly from one foreign country to another reproducing a sociality that may be more significant in shaping their beliefs, values, knowledge and action than either their intermittent interaction with family and colleagues back home or with the people of the country where they are temporarily residing. The current emphasis on donor coordination and harmonisation is accentuating this sociality as officials are required to meet each other at ever more frequent intervals, with fuzzy boundaries between a business and a social event.

I argue that this sociality supports the managerial approach to aid that allows donors to protect the purity of their mission and their clear objectives from the messiness of local reality (Mosse 2005). Donor co-ordination includes a shared diagnosis of the problem as a desirable attribute of aid effectiveness, any attempt to experience the local beyond the confines of the donor community is likely to be perceived officially as unnecessary and a waste of time. Although a current argument in aid circles for posting international staff to a recipient country is to ensure there is appropriate responsiveness to the local situation - with increasing emphasis on the need to know about a recipient country’s history and politics (known as the “Drivers of Change” approach) - donor staff’s knowledge of the local is actually largely mediated through their mutual interaction plus what is provided by a small circle of local staff, consultants and others in the recipient country who learn what to tell and about what to remain silent about.

I use as a case study auto-ethnographic material from when I was head of an aid agency office in Bolivia and relate my findings to a current interest in why and how aid officials visit rural areas together as a tourist activity but feel unable to take up offers of immersion programmes designed to expand their horizons of knowledge of the local (Irvine R 2004).

Hannerz, U 1990 'Cosmopolitans and locals in world culture' in Mike Feathe rstone (ed) Global Culture. Newbury Park, CA: Sage

Irvine, R., Chambers, R. & Eyben, R. 2004. ‘Learning from poor peoples experience: immersions' Lessons for Change no. 13. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies

Isin, Engin F. & Wood, Patricia K.1999 Citizenship and Identity London, Sage Publications

Mosse, D. 2005 Cultivating Development London: Pluto

Parochial cosmopolitanism and the power of nostalgia

Dinah Rajak and Jock Stirrat, CDE, University of Sussex.

People working in the development industry tend to see themselves as part of a cosmopolitan world. They shift from place to place, often with alarming speed, and see themselves as bearers of universal values and forms of knowledge, free of cultural baggage. They pride themselves on their ability to adjust to alien and often un-nerving social milieux and in Hannerz’s terms see themselves as possessing ‘an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness towards divergent cultural experiences’.

Yet whilst on one level all this is true, at another the cosmopolitanism of the development professional is undermined by an at times crippling parochialism. This is not just a matter of the ideological and historical origins of the development discourses with their roots in post-enlightenment thought and the modernist dream. Perhaps more significantly, it is present in the lives these people create in the developing world which are frequently self-conscious efforts to recreate a national identity through clubs, through other associational forms and through rituals which stress a distant national identity.

What is striking about these life forms which are created in the developing world is the way in which they harp back to an imagined ‘home’, a world which no longer exists and which would be seen as somewhat risible in the countries which the aid professionals claim as home. What is created is a sense of nostalgia for an imagined past which in one sense further distances the expatriate development professional from the present of his or her place of origin.

At the same time, development personnel also generate a different form of nostalgia directed towards the imagined past of the countries they are ‘developing’. This tends to focus on idyllic representations of rural life before development arrived and parallels what Renaldo has termed, ‘imperial nostalgia’, a sort of hankering after what one has had a part in destroying.

The result is a double sense of alienation, both from ‘home’ in the sense of a person’s country of origin, and ‘home’ in the sense of where the development professional happens to be living.

Through the looking-glass of Aidland: Alice in her adventures in the world of aid is astonished

Raymond Apthorpe, Australian National University & SOAS

The recent emergence of ‘the ethnography of aid’ (‘aid-nography’) in ‘anthropology and development’ studies has much to offer the probing and pondering of aid intelligibility, design, and outcomes, including when considering the texts and contexts not of single aid policies, strategies, programs or projects but features of the world of aid at large. This paper picks out some of the parameters that astonish Alice in her adventures through the looking-glass of Aidland. Aidland as in this paper is an allegorical representation of where aid comes from, goes, how it gets there and what happens then.

Space has opened up for this development in anthropological theory as for example discourse and culture has somewhat displaced anthropology’s received language and culture focus, as agency has to an extent shifted structure from its former pride of anthropological place, and multi-site field research came into its own where earlier it was shunned or even derided.

Aidnography explores the representations collectives by which Aidmen and Aidwomen say they order and understand their world and work. Seen in this conceptualization, Aidland has to an extent its own mental landscapes, lore, custom, organizational learning (and lack of this), and so on. What development-speak likes to call ‘the human factor’ (or ‘the social factor’, ‘the cultural factor’, etc.), lies no less in the ways of the intervening agencies and their sociology as those of the intervened. Antedating the above shifts in normal anthropological thinking, is the ‘development studies should also be intervention studies’ subaltern position long held in the teaching of development studies, namely, that ‘we’ planistrators, campaigners, researchers and aid-workers are candidates for social – including social class - research, just as much as are the subjects of ‘our’ attentions, peasants, tribes, the dispossessed, and so forth.

However, if, when aidnographically studied, Aidland looks like another planet to those who do not make their livelihoods in it, with, to a degree, its own astonishing lives and letters, and actions and speaks, it is one nevertheless that is both on and of this planet, indeed rooted firmly in it, despite the virtual reality and trompe l’oeil that flourishes fancifully, fitfully and somewhat autonomously in it. Which is why, if Aidland can also be thought of as a kind of bubble, it is one that is remarkably resistant to pricking, let alone bursting, either from the inside or the outside, the perpetuating institutions involved being those of distinctly un-virtual Realpolitik.

Home or away?: Choice-making and cosmopolitanism in the life-work histories of agency personnel within UK 'voluntary' and 'non-governmental' agencies

David Lewis, London School of Economics

The voluntary, non-governmental or 'third' sector in the UK is steadily increasing in both scale and policy profile but has so far received comparatively little attention from anthropologists. A striking feature of this sector is a stark division, reflected in completely different terminologies, between two sub-sectors: one apparently outward-facing (the so-called 'non-governmental organisations' or NGOs that work primarily in 'developing' country contexts) and the other apparently inward-facing and concerned with domestic, UK-focused action (the 'voluntary organisations' that are concerned with a diverse range of social issues 'at home'). Preliminary evidence suggests that these two sides of the UK sector are relatively compartmentalised into two 'parallel worlds' (Lewis 1999) with little or no exchange of ideas, experiences or personnel between them. The fact that these organisations are essentially of the same general type, doing basically similar types of diverse work but simply working in different geographical areas is illustrative of complex and often contradictory ideas about cosmopolitanism implicit in this labelling. At a conceptual level, the continuing existence of these parallel worlds is reflective of a dominant binary worldview that continues to separate problems of poverty and social justice in the UK from those in the post-colonial or post-socialist areas of the world, and one that denies the continuities and connections in migration, displacement, trade, conflict, transnational institutions and many other elements of a globalising world. At the level of the individual, the choices made by people who seek a career of social activism in one or other of these two sub-sectors can be seen as reflective of different perceptions and intensities of the ideas and impulses of normative cosmopolitanism. But on closer analysis, the stories of individuals working in the UK voluntary sector may reveal a more intensive level of engagement with cosmopolitan themes and idea of thinking differently about difference than the communitarianism that may be reproduced among international aid personnel locked into expatriate networks and institutions. This paper will aim to explore these themes using a set of ethnographic interviews with a variety of activists and professionals.

Back to the page listing all the panels