ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 13

Elites and Cosmopolitanism - Anne-Meike Fechter and Stefanie Lotter

Room: CBA 0.003x32

Panel abstract

The cosmopolitanism of elites tends to be taken for granted; by the same token, cosmopolitanism is often regarded as a prerogative of elite groups. One of the main questions of this panel concerns how the cosmopolitanism of ‘Western’ and ‘Non-Western’ elites, especially in the postcolony, relate to local or ‘demotic’ cosmopolitanisms. The panel also aims to explore how cosmopolitanisms of different elites, for instance based in business, politics or religion, relate - do they converge, merge, or exist alongside each other? On a more principal level, it needs to be asked if there is such a thing as a cosmopolitanism of ‘Western elites’, or whether this term merely masks a Western-oriented ‘internationalism’.

Furthermore, a key aspect is considering the processes of (self) ascription of cosmopolitan identities. This involves a closer look at the contexts and circumstances under which such an identity is constructed: to what degree is it based on economic resources and geographic mobility, and how do education and world view matter? To what extent is ‘elite cosmopolitanism’ tied to professions which may involve global mobility, such as corporate or development management, academia or journalism?

On a more concrete note, the panel asks what kind of spaces elite cosmopolitans inhabit - are these, for example, likely to be ‘non-spaces’ as envisaged by Augé (1995)? This issue also highlights methodological questions: what are the particular challenges of gathering substantive ethnographic material in elite environments, involving multiple fieldsites, while avoiding ‘travel anthropology’? Finally, studying both elites as well as cosmopolits raises the question where anthropologists position themselves in relation to their field of interest, in terms of theory as well as social practice.


Anne-Meike Fechter
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Sussex

 Stefanie Lotter
Dept. of Anthropology, Universität Heidelberg
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (Sikkim)


Shifting cosmopolitanisms: cosmopolitan self-fashioning among the Rajput elite

Marzia Balzani, Surrey Roehampton University

Cosmopolitanisms are variously viewed as the domain of political elites, of those who wield economic power, of those who travel and incorporate difference without losing a sense of ‘original’ being and place. They may be viewed as simultaneously hierarchical and democratic, local and supraregional.

The former rulers of Rajasthan may be considered as cosmopolitan successes for the complex and shifting ways in which they adapted to different imperial rulers, over several hundred years. Differences of religion, worldviews, legal and political practices were, as a matter of strategy, studied, copied, adapted or rejected at the local level and used to further individual and group goals both at the regional level and beyond. Those who descend from such rulers now find themselves stripped of their hereditary titles yet may still benefit from the cosmopolitan heritage of their forebears.

This paper considers one such former ruler, H.H. Jodhpur, and his particular strategic cosmopolitanism. The cosmopolitan practices embodied in H.H. Jodhpur are targeted to specific audiences and have strategic goals which are variously economic, political and/or religious. The tools used to achieve his goals in cosmopolitan fora consist both of those which have long historical antecedents as well as those which make use of the latest technological innovations. Examples include the production of a documentary designed for both international and local Rajput consumption which transmits a limited and very particular history of one ruling group. The sophisticated use of such media reveals a complex understanding of cosmopolitanism and seeks, through the medium of film and various re-edits of one film, to meet the needs of H.H. Jodhpur in different religious, political and economic contexts, both national and international.

A cosmopolitan outlook has been key to the success of desert-based ruling elites located at the margins of empire for as long as they have existed and the understanding of this cosmopolitanism requires historical and archival study as well as a multi-sited ethnographic approach which ranges over both geographical and virtual sites.

Nuns at the Airport – Elite Cosmopolitans in Transethnic Religious Organizations

Gertrud Hüwelmeier, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin

Even in the nineteenth century, when many of the catholic congregations were founded in Europe, their elites – the superiors – were traveling around, visiting the dispersed branches in different regions. After Vatican II and the corresponding "opening to the world", women from non-western countries entered women’s congregations in the west. From that time on female orders became more cosmopolitan than ever before. In the past decade the nuns’ cross border activities increased immensely, and the transnationalization of women’s congregations is continuously in progress. Their members negotiate the transcendence of ethnic difference, challenging the hegemony of the former western dominance.

Based on fieldwork in a transnational women’s congregation with branches in Europe, the U.S., India, Africa and Latin America, this paper explores the shifting power relations among women religious with different ethnic, social, and political background, simultaneously belonging to one community. Special attention will be given to the cultural transformation of the elite of the community, the Generalate. Part of their job is the regular visitation of all houses in all countries. Focusing on the travel experience of the Mother General and her assistants, I will discuss the following questions: in how far do these experiences affect the nuns´ discourse on internationalization and globalization, on tolerance and openness to the world? In which ways do the ordinary members of the congregation, those, who do not travel, participate in the creation of cosmopolitan spaces? Is there a feminist cosmopolitanism among women religious?

Elites on the frontier: the force of sophistication in colonial history

Peter Sutton, University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum

Unusually fine-grained records of relationships between indigenous people and missionaries and other agents of change in frontier contexts can tell us a lot about the role of elites, on both sides, in the reshaping of a region's history. Too often, colonial processes are described with excessive emphasis on the collectivities of race, nation and local ethnicities, or the atomic, heroic and anti-heroic roles of individuals. Other significant drivers of change, however, include small networks of people drawn from elites on both sides, located strategically where sophisticates of both origins overlap. Dyadic relationships here are vital. In the case of Australian history, metropolitan ideas about the association of intellectual sophistication with political power are echoed, if a little distantly, in native models of the importance of knowledge, political savvy and linguistic adeptness in rising to influence, and thus in rising to deal with colonists, converters and ethnographers. Ideas of sophistication and bumpkinhood probably form a contrast of universal distribution, although scholars often repress their application, no matter how scientifically rephrased, to others. This self-censorship is itself often considered a sign of sophistication. But relativist valorisations of unsophistication are brought into question by its role in the production of victimhood in post-colonial aftermaths, from economic marginalisation to early onset renal failure.

Mobile Prophets and Travelling Pastors: Pentecostal Pathways into Cosmopolitan Male Elites?

Kristine Krause, University of Oxford

The miracle of Pentecost, as it is described in the Bible, put a decisive end to the confusion of tongues that was expressed as a 'tower of Babel', and introduced the Holy Spirit as a mobile, cosmopolitan broker between people of different languages and cultures. Similarly, today's Pentecostalism can be seen as creating a kind of cosmopolitan elite on an ideological, practical, and habitual level. This is grounded in the belief that the Holy Spirit moves in whimsical, 'disinterested' ways; it can legitimate anyone and everyone as potential leaders, and by no means operates solely on behalf of established, Western elites. Whereas North-South hierarchies are thereby called into question, this movement introduces new inequalities as existing Pentecostal networks privilege men who ground their authority on impressive ritual performances, international contacts, money and the adoration of female followers. In particular, Pentecostal networks do privilege men from the South to travel around the world, and to increase their status in different cultural and national contexts, and to freely combine activities such as religion, business, and other professional careers. The paper argues that Pentecostalism thereby promotes specific kinds of cosmopolitanism within its ideological framework, by excluding others. It presents material from doctoral research on Pentecostal churches founded by male West African migrants in London. The paper shows how Pentecostal networks provide an infrastructure on a practical level, by facilitating invitations for visa application and providing forums and audiences. It argues that within Pentecostalism men develop a specific cosmopolitan habitus which is linked to modes of consumption. Wearing designer suits and exquisite shoes present as much religious authority as do embodied practices such as speaking in tongues, and falling under the spirit. These embodied practices provide a ritual repertoire which creates intense male interaction and furthers new forms of 'masculinity'.

Cosmopolitan "Patriots"--Re-Thinking Appiah's "partial cosmopolitanism"

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, University of Wisconsin, Madison

After carefully differentiating patriotism of the individual from state nationalism, the paper argues that "For Love of Country" of individuals is NOT incompatible with cosmopolitanism, and these individuals do not have to embrace "partial cosmopolitanism," as Appiah argues. The second point of the paper is point out an amazing provinciality of "Western" cosmopolitanism, in contrast to the cosmopolitanism of the intellectual elites in other societies. The "cultural imperialism" of the West upon them propelled them to broaden their intellectual horizon far beyond the confines of their own intellectual tradition or a pan-regional tradition, such as East Asian intellectual tradition. Third, the paper raises the question of how to operationalize Appiah's "rooted cosmopolitanism," which is, in some sense, a common phenomenon and common-sensical observation in the past and at present, to make it as a tool to revitalize somewhat derailed "globalization" theories in anthropology.

The empirical data come from the intellectual elites who were forced to die as tokktai (kamikaze) pilots at the end of World War II. Contrary to the caricature prevalent outside of Japan, of roughly 4000 pilots who perished as tokkôtai pilots, about 1000 were student soldiers who were drafted and “forced to volunteer.” They were university graduates, for whom Latin was the prerequiste along with other foreign languages, and who read hundreds of books in European and Asian High Cultures and were heavily influenced by cosmopolitanism from the classical times, Kantian philosophies, Romanticism, Nihilism, the art for art’s sake, and other counter-Enlightenment intellectual movements. These young men knew that they were destined o die in their early twenties. Their voracious appetite for reading and painful soliloquies as written down in their diaries tell us how they reached out for Socrates, Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Romain Rolland to Thomas Mann in search, first of the meaning of their life and death, which then turned into rationales for their imminent death they desperately needed.

Ideological Relations: Interpersonal Connections amongst Ghanaian Elites

Thomas Yarrow, University of Cambridge

In the context of Africa, Anthropologists – and social scientists more generally – have often suggested that interpersonal relationships amongst elites are conduits of corruption and nepotism, acting to collapse distinctions between domains such as state and society, commerce and the public sector. Such accounts are founded on and reproduce the assumption that African elites are self-serving kleptomaniacs and that apparent acts for the ‘public good’ conceal projects of self-accumulation and aggrandisement. Consequently discussion of the moral and ethical discourses that attend various forms of interpersonal relationship have tended to be foreclosed. Drawing on research among university educated Ghanaian development workers, I seek to interrogate the assumption, that such relations are necessarily problematic, suggesting that interpersonal relations are often the very condition in which the ‘independence’ and ‘objectivity’ of civil society is maintained. The paper explores alliances and factions between the contemporary ‘big men’ of NGOs and the antecedents of these in former social and political movements of the early eighties. Through this it interrogates the way in which notions of ‘friendship’ emerge in relation to ‘ideology’ and the ways in which such relationships intersect with formal organizational procedure.

The Changing Revolution: Cosmopolitan Modernity and Elites in Mozambique

Jason Sumich, London School of Economics and University of Sussex

This paper examines the growth of a form of cosmopolitan modernity among the Mozambican elite and its role in affirming elite status from the colonial period through independence and socialism to the current capitalist era. I argue that in a country where historically control of the means of production has been locally weak and often in the hands of foreigners, the mastery ofa form of cosmopolitan modernity has been central to elite social reproduction. The paper describes the changing forms of cosmopolitan modernity that underwrote and continues to inform the elite through various stages of recent history (colonialism, socialism and capitalism). I pay special attention to elite practices concerning education and consumption and how these activities are used to both inculcate and display cosmopolitan modernity and their key role in social reproduction.

Elite and local knowledges: value representations in development

Julia Holdsworth, University of Hull

Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research and involvement in internationally funded development projects in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, this paper explores ideas of the local and the cosmopolitan in development theory and practice. In particular I explore the differing ways that knowledge held by locals and foreign ‘experts’ are constructed and the consequences that these constructions have for the success of community development initiatives. Foreign ‘experts’ are commonly employed in these projects as they are assumed to have a greater depth and breadth of knowledge than local people which is reinforced by their behaviour and presentation of themselves as cosmopolitan. The former socialist block presents an interesting site for exploration of these ideas as development initiatives are being undertaken in a context that has recently experienced economic and social decline and so is being ‘re’-developed rather than developed. Consequently, physical and knowledge infrastructures are in place and are being challenged on what may be perceived to be ideologically motivated grounds. Examination of these processes reveal tensions between local and ‘expert’ knowledge and reveal both these to be particularistic and local in their own way. After exploring a number of points where these collisions occur I conclude this paper by arguing that what is needed is a revaluing of local and expert knowledges.

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