ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

Panel 14

Cosmopolitan Places and Landscapes – Katharine Tyler and Cathrine Degnen

Room: CBA 0.021 x 30

Panel abstract

Cosmopolitanism connotes movement: of people, of material practices and of ideologies. Place and landscape, while by no means static, connote a being, a resting: sites where meaning accumulates is where meaning is written into. People construct relationships with and through place and landscape; cosmopolitans arguably intersect, rupture, and re-make meaning through their movement and through their ability to bridge multiple places simultaneously if not equally.

What then is the connection between place, landscape, and cosmopoles? Is there a contradiction to resolve between places, landscapes, and the ‘ethos and sensibility’ of cosmpolitans? Or, if we adopt from Ingold a view on landscape and place as loci of social meaning, a ‘dwelling perspective’ whereby the generations of previous occupants have left their mark and fragments of their lives on the landscape (1993), is there no contradiction at all but a reaffirmation of the drivers behind social life?

The panel will explore the interchange and co-existence of people and places within British places and landscapes. If identities become inscribed within and constituted by places then what tactic, visual and material cultural practices render British landscapes and identities cosmopolitan? How do British cosmopolitans move between and connect-up the geographical sites of the local (home, village and city), the national (the state, the judiciary), the global (United Nations, diasporic home-places), and even the planet? How do people mobilise personal and collective cultural histories and memories to interpret their senses of belonging and attachment to these diverse geographical sites?

Like imaginative recollections of the past, landscapes and places hold the potential to include some people while excluding others. How then do cosmopolitan places become exclusionary zones grounded upon elitist and chauvinistic structures of feeling? Alternatively, in what ways might cosmopolitan places become sites for the production of intercultural dialogues across racial, ethnic, classed, aged and gendered locations and boundaries? In other words, how do cosmopolitan landscapes facilitate the transcendence and escape of ‘particular kinds of disciplined selves’, thus becoming spaces for ‘sharing and communicating something with a stranger (Back and Keith 2004)?

Finally, the panel will begin the project of unpacking the contribution that the anthropology of Britain makes to a cosmopolitan anthropology concerned with a politics of disruption that denies closure.


Katharine Tyler
Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Cathrine Degnen
Department of Sociology, University of Newcastle


Dispelling Doonhamers: Naming and the numbers’ game

Alexander Thomas T. Smith, University of Edinburgh

In accordance with the Scotland Act 1998, the number of Scottish MPs was cut from 72 to 59 following the opening of the Scottish Parliament. In February 2002, the Boundary Commission for Scotland published proposals that included the abolition of the old Dumfries constituency. This provoked strong local opposition in Dumfries and Galloway – where I conducted ethnographic fieldwork between September 2001 and June 2003 – especially from political activists fearing the loss of an identity encapsulated by the name for natives of Dumfries: Doonhamer.

This paper focuses on ‘evidence’ presented to a two-day public inquiry the Boundary Commission held locally at which political activists argued about the linking of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ parts to make whole, new Parliamentary constituencies. These arguments constitute an opportunity to explore ideas of relatedness in a region affected by agricultural decline and wider demographic changes. I ask: what kind of place is Dumfries and Galloway in an increasingly cosmopolitan Scotland? In the process, I suggest that putting a name (Doonhamer) to a place (Dumfries) invokes a set of connections (a hybrid) that differentiates between as well as aggregates persons, places and – in a debate over the making of Parliamentary constituencies – democratic institutions.

Cosmopolitanism and Marginalisation as Cultural Capital: Kurdish Narratives of Place in Multi-Ethnic Hackney

Sarah Keeler, University of Kent

London is characterised as a cosmopolitan global city by virtue of its cultural diversity, the density and interconnectedness of its economic forms, and coexistence of varied ideologies. What is often overlooked in such characterisations is the fact that ownership of the positive features of that cosmopolitanism are not equally available to all, particularly to those whose presence - cultural, political and economic ‘others’ - largely contributes to the cosmopolitan feel of the city in the first place. Hackney, an economically deprived and culturally diverse borough in east London, is one such example. Though situated directly on the borders of prosperous and heavily touristed areas of central London, local material and social conditions in Hackney serve to marginalize it from the narratives of cosmopolitanism centred within more dominant spaces. Political economists have claimed that dominant urban narratives are capable of rendering ethnic public space, including ethnic enclave economies and the activities that take place there, as residual and obsolete (Sassen, 1996).

How then, do we account for the participation of these ‘others’ in cosmopolitan space and in what ways are they narrated out of existence by the dominant systems constructing London as a cosmopolitan city? How do cosmopolitan citizens and especially members of diaspora with multi-local connections, negotiate their presence within this system? Is the ‘forgotten’ nature of the space they inhabit a barrier to these interconnections, or can it serve as an opportunity for refashioning identities and interconnections in transnational space? In answering these questions, this paper will look at Kurdish migrants and refugees in Hackney, a largely forgotten ethnic space, and examine the ways in which their presence as actors with multiple connections to place and identity helps create alternate notions of cosmopolitanism and social capital.

Using an ethnographic approach, it aims to illustrate the ways in which such forgotten and degraded urban spaces can in fact, largely through being ‘neglected’ by dominant frameworks, serve as a mechanism for the development of transgressive identities. Subaltern narratives of locality may serve to challenge mainstream representations and thereby engage ethnically, economically and politically marginalized groups. This is often emphasised through retellings of Hackney’s history of welcoming political dissent and resistance, a feature particularly important for Kurdish activists, many of whom base their community activities in Hackney. The centrality of resistance and marginality to shared local identity are also important features of collective experience for the Kurds, an oppressed minority in their homelands. The political dissent, marginalisation and ‘otherness’ associated with Hackney generally thus become a means for the (re)articulation of ethnic identity by Kurdish groups in the borough, and a potential site in which dialogues across gendered, political, ethnic and geographic boundaries may occur.

Cosmopolitan Action and the Reinvigoration of the Local – A Case Study of British Migration to Rural France

Michaela Lord, University of Hull

In recent years, more and more Britons have decided to move abroad. This form of migration draws on conceptions of both the local and the cosmopolitan. Drawing on my ethnographic research with British migrants in southwest France, this paper primarily discusses how the rural `s of both France and Britain influence expressions of the cosmopolitan and the local. Additionally, it shows how the cosmopolitan and the local shape the meanings that the migrants give to the physical landscape.

Many Britons living in southwest France previously lived in rural Britain. The changing social landscape threatened their power to define the physical landscape. Migration to rural France, where they define the landscape, allows migrants to regain some sense of agency. Their definitions draw on particular notions of rural France, and their previous understandings of rural Britain. In essence, the migrants strive to define the landscape of rural France as they had defined rural Britain before the changes to the social landscape. While the ‘local’ was key to the definition of rural Britain, the cosmopolitan allows the migrants to appropriate the French landscape. The British migrants, through their cosmopolitan actions, strive to rediscover the ‘local’ in the landscape of rural France.

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi, The old land of my fathers so dear to me

Ronnie Frankenberg, Keele University

It Takes One to Know One:The limitations and achievements, as uniquely legitimate boundary transgressors, of Cosmopolitan and less Cosmopolitan (Auto-)Anthropologists in a British area seen as socio-politically separate from, and geographically peripheral to, metropolitan Britain.

The author started his studies in Wales in 1953, because his Mancunian mentors felt, from their experience, that since he could no longer be trusted further afield, let alone abroad, Wales was the nearest suitable “foreign country”. Some Welsh-speaking predecessors, who had however written most of their works in English, urged him to go elsewhere, or at least to a part of English-speaking Wales. They did, in the end, support him in the field and approve publicly of the outcome. This paper will discuss literary and “scientific” ethnographies of Wales and Welshness, mainly in the twentieth century, pursuing the possibility that the divisions of time that separate local from cosmopolitan may be relatively enduring. On the other hand,perhaps paradoxically, within locality, focused local vs chaosmic cosmopolitan may give rise to distinction without a (stable) difference. Except, in time of acute critical intervention (Nuremberg Laws, apartheid, ethnic cleansing etc) where people live is, first determined by political economy or descent and then, within the changing restraints of the latter, by unilateral or multilateral choice. People of unshared past and unlikely to be shared future are frequently juxtaposed either by somewhat random process or, sometimes by major outsider intervention. At least in Britain, a usually minor penetration of strangers within the gates, in the form of writers or artists, some of them, even scientists and/or social scientists, may change the temporal fates and perceptions of place and people. “What Time is this Place? “(Lynch 1976) proves most often, perhaps, a more meaningful question than “What Kind of People do They Think We Are?” (Churchill 194?)

Movement, Place, and Sacredness: Pagans and Cosmopolitan Landscapes of Past and Present

Jenny Blain, Sheffield Hallam University and Robert J Wallis, Richmond University, London

Increasingly, for many people, 'the past' matters: images of heritage surround us, television archaeology brings us reports and finds, and people associate themselves with episodes, times, places, landscapes imaged or seen. Some find interest in a romanticised 'other', some engage with pasts as an intellectual pursuit, and some go further, to develop a passionate interest in culture and identity and attempt to align themselves with previous generations and worldviews. Within Britain, in addition to the public buildings and reconstructions of historical tourism and re-enactment, such landscapes, times and episodes may range from the 'local' of small-scale village 'pasts' or bronze-age moorland cairns, to the 'national' of Sutton Hoo or the 'global' World Heritage Sites of Avebury or Stonehenge: while some are rather more publicised than others, all attract cosmopolitan attentions, with resulting contestations of access, representation, interpretation, 'protection' and appropriation.

In our Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights project we investigate how spiritual understandings of 'past' become part of 'present' shifting identities. In particular, we explore how new-indigenes – pagans, Druids, Heathens and others associating themselves with particular times or cultures and landscapes – construct spiritual identity through recovering and reclaiming landscapes and stories within place, developing both spiritual tourism and public display of meaning. For this paper, within landscapes of imagined prehistory and performed post-modernity, multiple inscriptions of meaning create a rich context for meeting, sharing, and constituting new identities – with considerable scope, however, for denial of the identity-creations of others. Pagan practices and reconstructed spiritualities exist within highly politicised contexts, and we explore an identity-politics of belonging and neo-tribalism within new constructions of relationship to landscape and time. In spaces where tensions between appropriation and the creation of boundaries, expansion and the creation of community are foregrounded, Pagans, as members of highly mobile UK and global populations, visit or make pilgrimage to site after site – 'joining the dots' on a Bronze-Age map of Britain. In movement, appropriation, and contestation, their practices and meanings may question the extent to which cosmopolitanism is practiced and disputed in Britain today.

Cosmopolitan 'Rootedness' and the Ethnic Cemetery

Leonie Kellaher, The Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University

Processes implicated in globalisation are focusing attention on identities in a world where traditional ideas of people as members of fixed, distinct societies and cultures no longer hold. For some incoming and settled groups the cemetery can be a liminal space engendering cosmopolitan engagement, through evocation of place of origin whilst reflecting the genesis of a new situational identity. Geography and chronology are reshaped and history becomes spatial in cemeteries where burial has overtaken the repatriation option after a death. This paper, based on an ESRC funded project to explore contemporary meanings of the cemetery for a range of ethnic groups, describes three -Irish, Cypriot and Gujurati - and the burial places they have maintained for their dead over varying lengths of settlement. Two sets of issues are addressed. Firstly, to argue that, for members of minority and immigrant ethnic groups, cemeteries contribute to emergent and established meanings of community that transcend the familial and generational. Secondly, though cemeteries bridge worlds - of the dead and of the living and link places of origin and settlement, they also serve to distinguish - from host groups or other settlers. The balancing of assimilation and resistance, particularly where death is entailed, can shed light on the nature of cosmopolitan 'rootedness'.

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