ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

2. Normative Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology as a Cosmopolitan Discipline
Is Anthropology Cosmopolitan?

Travel to distant places and cultures and the comparative study of society and culture epitomize social anthropological practice. But is modern social anthropology a cosmopolitan discipline or is it merely a new form of (colonial and postcolonial) domination?

Making friends in different worlds: the anthropologist as a professional cosmopolitan

Dr. Benoît de L'Estoile, CNRS, France

I suggest that we tentatively define a cosmopolitan not by the possession of moral qualities, but rather by the kind of network in which she is involved, and by one’s ability to build and make use of networks. Sociologically, or ethnographically speaking, a cosmopolitan is someone who is involved in a variety of translocal networks instead of local networks. In other terms, being a cosmopolitan entails a capacity for making friends in unfamiliar world. What I propose to do here is to sketch out the social networks, both colonial and 'native', of the anthropologists working in Africa during the 1930s, a number of whom were among the ASA founders 60 years ago.


Globalization as will and idea: as in Globalisierung als Wille und Vorstellung (thank you Schopenhauer).. Cosmopolitanism, Globalizing elites and "Intellectual" discourses

Jonathan Friedman, EHESS, France

Cosmpolitanism can be either rationalist-modernist, culturalist-hybridist or some combination of the two. The polar tendencies in this identity, discussed years ago by Marcel Mauss, generate different results. The first associated with political internationalism seeks a common global project in which specific cultures have only a secondary place. The second is one, associated with the current situation of Western hegemonic decline, in which the celebration or at least the identification with the world™s cultures is a goal in itself. Cosmopolitan identities are primarily class based and associated with global elites and with their wannabe followers, not unoften intellectuals. In its current variant, which has a long history of its own, it can be said to be the source of the discourses of globalization-multiculturalism-hybridity. The paper addresses the logic of this production process, i.e. the way in cosmopolitan identity can be understood as the social origin of such discourses. The fact that the latter tend toward hegemonic status is also central to the analysis attempted here.

This ideological complex has had an impact on anthropology as well as other disciplines and intellectual domains where it has produced a strange conflation of normative and objectivist propositions about the world, where the emic has been totally conflated with the etic and where the theoretical has become increasingly reduced to ideological representations of the world via a simple suppression of any distance between statements about reality and and something out there that might falsify such statements.


The Cosmopolitan Encounter – Social Anthropology and the Kindness of Strangers

Pnina Werbner, Keele

In the postcolonial era anthropology has been caught in a predicament that denies its cosmopolitan roots. It is a predicament that it shares with the new, normative cosmopolitanism espousing global human rights, and world citizenship and governance. Both of have been accused as being the invisible hand of imperialist and neo-colonialist expansion, disguised in a human-rights, utopianist cosmopolitan language. My paper argues against this critique, following Kant who defined a third sphere of cosmopolitan right, in between civil and international rights, applying to individuals and states that as ‘citizens of the earth’ who ‘may be regarded as having the right to hospitality or temporary sojourn. Both anthropological traveller-sojourners and the subjects of their studies, I argue, enact a cosmopolitan encounter in which the hosts are perhaps the true cosmopolitans. Cosmopolitanism thus, I propose, rather than being a quality of individuals, is a product of a collectively created, transcendent vision, ethos and meta-culture. Moreover, anthropologists returning home and forging a language and discourse of comparative world cultures may be said to have collectively created a cosmopolitan space, ethos and metaculture. Yet the comparative analysis of cultures in anthropological discourse, refined at the metropolitan centre, has led to an attack against anthropology, as though by objectifying and reifying the Other, the discipline is merely asserting – and indeed legitimising - the dominance of the West over the rest. Against a dominant view of the discipline’s history, my paper cites examples of early anthropological studies to prove that British social anthropology is not, and has never has been, the study of closed, immutable, bounded and homogeneous cultural communities. Finally, just as the anthropologist sojourner was frequently the recipient of open hospitality from strangers, in a cosmopolitanising world of increased mobility, in which cosmopolitanism is no longer ‘western’ or class specific, elite and working class cosmopolitans throughout the developing world, whether intellectuals, migrants or trade unionists, transcend the limitations of the local, experience hospitality from strangers and enact cosmopolitan convictions as they reach out beyond their local milieus. Social Anthropology today, I propose, is particularly well placed to study such ‘vernacular’ cosmopolitan encounters.


Chair: James Fairhead, University of Sussex
Discussant: Wendy James, Oxford University