ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

1. Rooted Cosmopolitanism

Can one be a cosmopolitan in one’s own country? Conversely, can one be a cosmopolitan without being rooted in a particular place, country or culture? Social anthropologists are particularly well-placed to study cosmopolitans in developing countries, in marginal locations away from the metropolitan center.

Peripheral citizens of a wider world: cosmopolitanism’s sleights

Professor Richard Fardon, SOAS

In the light of some observations from recent returns to places where I first undertook research twenty and thirty years ago, the paper will explore some double binds of the relations between central and peripheral world citizenship, particularly in Africa. During these brief trips in the last couple of years, I was struck by mismatches between the rhetoric of the report of the ‘Commission for Africa’ and what I was able to understand of local political culture. I had observed slight aspects of the thinking out loud that went into the Commission’s report from an involvement in Africanist circles in London, and I have no doubts about the sincerity or commitment of those who took part. The document is as good a reaction to its circumstances as one might reasonably anticipate. Yet, there is an intractability to the problems of the world’s peripheral citizens that derives in large part from the length of time that they have had to strive to achieve any measure of progress towards the goals that the wider world holds out as desirable. The cosmopolitan world has a history, I would contend, of misunderstanding, belittling, or actively preventing peripheral citizens from accepting the invitation to join it seems to offer them. This is not always and, even then, not only a matter of bad faith.


Responding to Cosmopolitanism: Patriots, Ethnics and the Public Good in Botswana

Professor Richard Werbner, Manchester

Building on my argument about cosmopolitan ethnicity in Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana (Werbner 2004), this paper considers the rooted public cosmopolitan, who, being proud of his origins and ethnically assertive, deliberately brings cosmopolitanism to bear in his engagement with the state and in his creative impact on the public sphere. The main subject is Richard Ngwabe Mannathoko, one-time senior civil servant, NGO and union leader, ambassador and multi-national director. Mannathoko’s funeral at his home city in Botswana, early in December 2005, is the great civic occasion upon which the biography and ethnography of this paper focuses.

The analysis addresses three aspects of public cosmopolitanism which Mannathoko’s life exemplified, in the large: first, the restless quest for the further horizon, second, the creating and transcending of difference and third, the imperative of moral re-centering.

Ideas of the liberal, the patriot, the ethnic, and the cosmopolitan, which feature prominently in the 1990’s debate about multiculturalism in American democracy, are reconsidered in the light of a related debate about the public good during postcolonial change in Botswana. This brings forward the problem of alliance: How does the making of allies matter, as both cause and effect of public cosmopolitanism? The argument owes much to insights from the second century Stoic philosopher Hierocles,Thorstein Veblen, Martha Nussbaum, Anthony Appiah, and Richard Mannathoko himself. Finally, and far from answered, come the intractable, highly charged questions which, for all of us, cosmopolitanism after The End of Empire raises.


Paradoxes of the Cosmopolitan in Papua

Dr. Eric Hirsch, Brunel

Over the decades Papua highlanders have allowed and often embraced onto their lands and into their social lives various outside influences: colonial government, mission Christianity and capitalist mining. The same is true as regards cultural forms such as foreign place names, dance and music. This implicit 'cosmopolitan outlook' is the way Papuans act and appear powerful: that is, by effecting transformations or conversions on such outside forms and influences. By contrast, there are explicit cosmopolitan Papuans - both in cities and villages - who view such conversions, the adoption of 'disco' in village ceremonies is one such example, as influences to be avoided and criticised. Many of these views circulate in the national media and press. This explicit cosmopolitan outlook perceives these transformations as a threat to distinct Papuan cultures, to their uniqueness. The paper examines this paradox: of Papuan 'cultures' at once exhibiting what seems a cosmopolitan outlook of openness and conversion, and a co-existing cosmopolitan outlook that is critical of outside influences to Papuan 'cultures', as bounded and distinct.


A Native Anthropologist in Palestinian Israeli Cosmopolitanism

Dr. Aref Abu Rabia, Ben Gurion, Israel

The word ‘cosmopolitan’, derived from the Greek, means ‘citizen of the world’, has been used to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political philosophy. The core idea is that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, do belong to a single community. This paper will dwell on the meaning of being a native anthropologist in Palestinian -Israeli cosmopolitanism in the twenty first century. It will also explore the roles of the native anthropologist in conflicted Palestinian- Israeli society. Complex questions will be discussed, such as: can cosmopolitanism really exist in such types of societies? Can anthropologists have a role in facilitating or maintaining cosmopolitanism? All the aforesaid issues will be illustrated by case studies from field work inside Israeli and Palestinian societies.


Cosmopolitanism and (Post)Socialism: Malinowski, Gellner and the Anthropologist’s Dilemma

Chris Hann, Max Planck Institute, Germany

In an elaborate discussion, Ernest Gellner saw cosmopolitanism as a key ingredient in Malinowski’s functionalist ‘cocktail’, explicable both in terms of his personal history and his general political stance. Gellner proceeded to draw out a basic tension:

‘But this internationalist, individualist, ‘cosmopolitan’ option, the cult of the Open Society, is perhaps less likely to constitute the whole answer for a man who knows full well, professionally, that the human condition in general is not like that – who knows … that a greater part of mankind lives or lived in absorbing, relatively self-contained communities. In other words, can an anthropologist whole-heartedly adopt the ‘cosmopolitan’ model of man? He may well be cosmopolitan himself, but can he conceivably see the human condition in general in such terms? And if indeed he cannot, is he therefore condemned to embrace its best known and most favoured alternative, and indulge in the ‘organic’ sense of historic communities and of continuity? … Must he choose between cosmopolitanism and Hegelianism?’ (1988: 168)

I propose to examine how this tension was played out in anthropology under socialism and how it continues to affect the discipline in those countries where socialist rule has collapsed. Western anthropology was condemned by Soviet scholars as a handmaiden of imperialism, long before similar critiques began to be put forward by Western scholars themselves. Malinowski himself was repeatedly denounced as “a cosmopolitan of Polish origin” (in other cases of course the stigma was directly associated with Jewish identity). This history has usually been an embarrassment to socialists, with their principled commitment to internationalism, but such propaganda accusations become less surprising if, as one sees clearly in Gellner’s formulation, the cosmopolitanism pilloried by socialists is linked not only to internationalism but also to liberal individualism. Similarly, the fact that the term cosmopolitan still raises hackles even today in Russia and elsewhere can be partly explained in relation to the impact of neo-liberalism and its apparent disregard of all ‘organic’ communities in favour of subjects postulated as mobile and entrepreneurial individuals.

The paper will outline the dilemma identified by Gellner in the context of his own work, bearing in mind the affinity between his personal trajectory and that of Malinowski, and also in the context of postsocialist social conditions. It will also explore a possible solution: can the link to liberal individualism be broken and cosmopolitanism defined in such a way that it is not the antithesis of ‘rooted’ communities but builds directly upon collective identities? If so, are identities based on work, education and class or citizenship necessarily less significant than those based on descent, language and religion? In the light of this discussion, the paper will assess the prospects for a genuinely cosmopolitan anthropology across the land mass of Eurasia.

Gellner, Ernest 1988 'Zeno of Cracow' or 'Revolution at Nemi' or 'The Polish revenge: a drama in three acts' in R. Ellen et al (eds), Malinowski Between Two Worlds: the Polish roots of an anthropological tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 164-94


Other Cosmopolitanisms? Islam vs culture in the Malay World

Joel Kahn, La Trobe, Australia

This paper focuses on the social, political and economic contexts of translocal or transnational identity formation and its implications for inter-cultural and inter-religious interaction, association and conflict in the modern "Malay World". The paper explores the conditions of possibility for cosmopolitan practice within this particular transborder 'community' by focusing on the relationships between different nation states in Southeast Asia on the one hand and itinerant 'Malay' clerics, religious scholars and merchant/entrepreneurs on the other. At the same time the paper assesses the cosmopolitan potential of what has been the main transnationalizing impulse within this Malay World, namely the project to construct a new kind of religious community (umma) by advocates of Islamic reform. In drawing attention to the parallels between de-culturalising Islam and classical cosmopolitanism, the paper raises questions about the desirability of a concept of cosmopolitanism that is above, between or beyond culture.


Chair & Discussant: Professor Marilyn Strathern, Cambridge (UK)