ASA06: Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology

5. Demotic Cosmopolitanism and Strangers

Cosmopolitanism often emerges in sites of cultural and ethnic pluralism, in cities and factories. This is where new cosmopolitan cultures may be formed, but also where animosity towards strangers can threaten emergent cosmopolitan cultures.

Xenophobia and xenophilia in South Africa

Dr. Owen Sichone, Cape Town, South Africa

Anthropologists like to think that they are citizens of the world because they are able to manoeuvre their way in and out of foreign cultures but they are not the only ones. African migrants also have this competence and furthermore, a certain type of migrant, the sort that travels without passports or visas, without any particular place to go, making new lives wherever they happen to be, not only 1) challenges the obsolescent regime of state borders (that everyone continues to erroneously refer to as “national boundaries”), but also 2) make it possible for others who belong to the immobile 98 per cent of the human population that never leaves home, to connect with the world in ways that facilitate the transfer of resources between centres and peripheries, and 3) sometimes impact upon the host population in dramatic and unpredictable ways that belies their small numbers. The cases discussed in this paper celebrate mobile Africans who are not the usual labour migrant or refugee camp inmates. They are not normally recipients of state, UN agency or NGO humanitarian charity or relief and who enjoy their freedom of movement despite the best efforts of postcolonial and post imperial states to limit them. What they depend on for their survival are personal relationships with each other and with individuals in the host country. Although cosmopolitanism as a movement or way of thinking is perceived by many political studies and IR theorists as the antidote to the resurgent nationalism in a globalizing world, the paper argues that there is much that is not new in the African migrants’ method of shifting citizenship. The numerous mass migrations of pre-colonial Africa have surely left us with some idea of how clan, kingdom, territorial and other borders were crossed in the past by people who embarked on one-way journeys to unknown destinations or what in Zambian Bemba is referred to as iciyeyeye.


Cosmopolitans Values in a Central Indian Steel Town

Professor Jonathan Parry, LSE

This paper discusses 'demotic cosmopolitanism' in the central Indian steel town of Bhilai. The Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), a public sector undertaking, was constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Soviet aid and collaboration in the 'backward' rural region of Chhattisgarh. An icon of the Nehruvian nationalist development project, BSP was a 'beacon' for India's industrial future, a 'temple' to its wished-for modernity. By the mid-1980s, it had some 65,000 employees on its direct pay roll and provided a magnet for hundreds of smaller-scale private sector ancillary industries. Some are now substantial concerns that supply a global market. A large proportion of the workforce that built Bhilai was long distance labour migrants from almost every corner of the country. Many put down permanent roots in the town, now proudly described as a 'mini-India'. The regular BSP workforce - amongst whom a disproportionate number are of 'outsider' origin - is the local aristocracy of labour, enjoying pay, perqs and conditions that make it the envy of other working class segments. But the plant also employs around 10,000 casual contract workers on relatively derisory rates of pay. The majority of these are local sons-of-the-Chhattisgarh-soil. Workers in private sector factories are again divided between permanent company workers (a small minority and again typically of 'outsider' origin) and contract workers (many of them locals). Apart from these workers in the organised formal sector, there is also a vast reserve army of informal sector labour irregularly employed in jobs related to industry.

By contrast with other 'fractions' of 'the working class', and for reasons I explain, the aristocracy of BSP labour has tended to embrace a 'cosmopolitan' ethic. Cosmopolitanism is pre-eminently an attribute of those employed by a state enterprise that has a special place in the national imagination. Nationalism and cosmopolitanism are not incompatible; and the first might even been seen as the ground on which the second has developed. A nation-building project that involved the co-ordination of a vast and culturally heterogeneous labour force recruited from many different regions, religions and castes required of its workers a certain tolerance of, and openness to, other ways of life, and a relativization of the absolutist claims of their own. And once a Tamil Brahman has learned to recognise an Untouchable Sikh as belonging to the same moral community as himself, it is not such a leap to imagine the same of people from other nations. This openness to other worlds is also partly a product of a deeply internalised ideology of 'progress'; of the idea that India is treading in the footsteps of, and therefore has something to learn from, other 'more advanced' industrial countries. As this suggests, the 'cosmopolitanisation' I describe is akin to 'Westernisation' - but it is not the same. Its world is wider. Nor is it only a matter of conscious ideas. Rapid industrialisation may certainly result in inter-ethnic competition and a new assertiveness about what are conceived to be primordial identities. But by bringing together a culturally diverse workforce that must co-operate on often dangerous tasks and live as neighbours in a company township, it is at least as likely to produce the enlargement of cultural horizons that is the hallmark of the cosmopolitan outlook. Even the unlettered rural migrant acknowledges, moreover, that running a steel plant requires technical competence; and - cynical though he is about the way things are actually done - subscribes to the principle that individual 'merit' is a more rational basis than collective identities for assigning jobs. Nationalism and a particular pattern of industrialisation have, I judge, been more important in the development of an ethos of cosmopolitanism than globalisation. BSP is a nationalised industry that still largely produces for a domestic market. Some private sector factories are now more likely to produce for export and to be taken over by global capital. Their workforces, however, tend to be more insular and inward-looking. This is not despite capitalism but because of it - because of the way in which capital recruits labour in order to keep it as cheap and as flexible as possible. It is amongst this cheap and flexible contract labour force on the private sector industrial estate that an anti-cosmopolitan sons-of-the-soil movement has put down real roots.

Dar al-Islam, the domain of Islam and its cosmopolitans

Ken Brown, Paris

Alexandria in the nineteenth century and until the Egyptian revolution and the aftermath of the Suez war in the 1950s has often been considered a cosmopolitan city, par excellence. Its multi-cultural and multi-lingual population had their origins from throughout the Mediterranean and the Levant, as well as from the Egyptian countryside. A multitude of religious and cultural communities coexisted in mutual recognition of their differences and, generally, without violence. It was a city of great heterogeneity, and of wealth and creativity. However, its ‘place in the sun’ was relatively short-lived. Within a period of 150 years, Alexandria had experienced the domain of Islam---the Ottoman Empire, British imperialism, the Egyptian monarchy and nationalism, and military coup. In the process cosmopolitans had flourished and then largely disappeared.

In my paper I want to examine the nature of Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism and the extent to which it was an elitist phenomenon dependant on immigration and imperialism. Finally I would like to address some questions concerning nationalist and Islamic identities in contemporary Egypt in regard to their recognitions or non-recognitions of otherness.

Chair: Karen Leonard, University of California, Irvine, USA
Discussant: Keith Hart, Goldsmiths and Paris