Cosmopolitanism and Anthropology
Venue: University of Keele
|Event Date/Time: Apr 10, 2006||End Date/Time: Apr 13, 2006|
Moving away from the dominant stress in globalisation theory on financial and media flows, contemporary theorisations of cosmopolitanism reflect upon globalisation from an aesthetic and moral perspective. One tendency has been to think of cosmopolitanism as transgressing the parochialism or ethnicism of the nation-state. In this view, cosmopolitans are travellers who move beyond national boundaries, and hence a cosmopolitan social science must study these flows and movements, or reflect on issues of global justice, human rights and governmentality. This apparently commonsensical view has been challenged, however, in a deservedly much cited article by Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’3, in which he argues that cosmopolitanism is equally an argument within postcolonial states on citizenship, equal dignity, cultural rights and the rule of law. Appiah speaks of a ‘rooted’ cosmopolitanism, and proposes that cosmopolitans begin from membership in morally and emotionally significant communities (families, ethnic groups) while espousing notions of toleration and openness to the world, the transcendance of ethnic difference and the moral incorporation of the other. His vision opens up scope for a cosmopolitan anthropology which builds on anthropological strengths of fieldwork in particular locales.
Can there be a cosmopolitan anthropology? One central aim of the conference is to reflect back in order to consider the place and contribution of British and Commonwealth anthropology to current debates on cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitans. An argument can be put that anthropology has always been a cosmopolitan social science par excellence. Hence, Kuper has argued against postmodern critiques of anthropology that we should aspire to contribute ‘a comparative dimension to the enlightenment project of a science of human variation in time and space. Our object must be to confront the models current in the social sciences with the experiences and models of our subjects, while insisting that this should be a two-way process’ (1994:551)4.
In this spirit, one aim of the conference will be to interrogate critically a historiography of modern British social anthropology that has challenged - as being western and hegemonic - British anthropology’s cosmopolitan engagement with the ‘other’, and its discursive articulation by metropolitan anthropologists. A further aim might be to question critically the view that imputes to British social anthropology a narrow focus on closed cultures and restricted locales. One has only to think of the many studies of cross-ethnic engagement by the founding generation of British social anthropology, from Malinowski’s study of kula, to Nadel’s study of a multi-ethnic state, Fortes’s study of Tallensi ritual extensions beyond the local, Schapera’s study of civic incorporation of strangers among Tswana, Evans-Pritchard’s Nuer-Dinka encounter or Leach’s complex model of Highland Burma. Such examples can be multiplied, and include the extensive studies of modern colonial towns, urban ethnicity, mines in Central Africa, regional cults, trading diasporas, ethnogenesis, Christian churches, anti-witchcraft movements, etc., which all point to the gross distortion of the history of social anthropology that has been perpetrated on the subject by its critics.
Clearly, issues of methodology are critical ones. Arguably, it is not the lone, culturally promiscuous individual who should be the subject of a cosmopolitan anthropology but cosmopolitan spaces and collectivities. In this regard, a key debate is whether cosmopolitanism is always an elite ethos or sensibility. May we talk of demotic cosmopolitanisms? Second, what is the relationship between elites who may be cosmopolitans, and non-elites, who may not be? Whereas Hannerz appears to endorse an elitist definition of the cosmopolitan subject, Clifford has argued for a view of ‘discrepant’ cosmopolitanisms, to include servants and migrants workers as well. Both, however, focus on the individual ‘traveller’, whether forced or voluntary. One aim of the conference is to look beyond this kind of travel anthropology in order to consider the contribution that social anthropology can make to the study of the aesthetic and normative understandings and practices created, or at least situated, in cosmopolitan spaces and collectivities – in third world cities, among postcolonial elites, in NGO activism, in contemporary indigenous artworlds, in settled or trading diasporas, in transethnic religious organisations, and so forth. Such studies highlight some of the paradoxical intersections of the local, the civic and the global, as in the ‘cosmopolitan ethnicity’ of Kalanga elites in Botswana.4 Not all members of diasporas or local elites are cosmopolitans. Some are ethnicist, inward looking or exclusively nationalist. The intersection of the local, the national and the global is an important field of anthropological research, which arguably enables anthropologists to continue to use holistic fieldwork methods in order probe transethnic and global subjectivies and activities from specific field sites outside the industrial West or at its margins.
Most anthropological conversations are regional, as Fardon has pointed out.5 We have developed, as it were, regional cosmopolitanisms. But can those conversations be extended cross-regionally, between Africa, South Asia, Melanesia, Latin America and the Middle East? Can there be a more integrated cosmopolitan anthropology?
Perhaps the most dominant strand in current debates on cosmopolitanism is that of ‘normative’ cosmopolitanism. This is a political and philosophical discourse of human rights and global justice, of global institutions and individual responsibility beyond the national, which springs from Kant’s essay on perpetual peace. In Britain the most prominant political theorist working on cosmopolitanism is David Held, whose book, Democracy and the Global Order (1995) set some of the terms for the debate. Like anthropologists, normative cosmopolitanism has been accused of articulating and hence colluding with a western universalist hegemonic discourse, a discourse invoked to justify military interventions by the US and its allies in Kosova or Afghanistan (and most recently, Iraq). There appears to be very little connection between the scholarly conversations about normative cosmopolitanism, on the one hand, and cultural cosmopolitanism invoked by literary, cultural studies and postcolonial critics (including some anthropologists), on the other. One side is focused on law and fundamental notions of justice, the other on cultural hybridity, multiculturalism and border crossings. Social anthropology is arguably well placed as a discipline to bridge this apparent chasm, since it studies both normative moral issues and material practices, and the aesthetics of culture and symbolic meaning. As the term ‘cosmopolitics’, the title of a much-cited collection, implies, cosmopolitanism, however defined, is enmeshed in politics. It is a political consciousness of the ‘world’ and the ‘other’ and a potentially contested cultural sensibility which denies closure.
1. Recent collections include Cosmopolitics (1998) edited by Robbins and Cheah, a special double issue of Theory Culture and Society (2002) edited by Featherstone, a Public Culture reader (2003) edited by Breckenridge et al., Conceiving Cosmopolitanisms (2003)a reader edited by Vertovec and Cohen, Debating Cosmopolitics (2003) edited by Archibugi, and collections on cosmopolitan urbanism (Beauregard) and Middle East cosmopolitan (Meijer). See also the ARI website, Singapore U. http://www.ari.nus.edu.sg/colloquia.htm
2. Ulf Hannerz (Transnational Connections, Chapters 4 & 9) Paul Rabinow (Writing Culture pp. 256-261), James Clifford (Routes,Chapter 1, final chapter in Cosmopolitics), Aiwa Ong (in Cosmopolitics, and her book), Arjun Appadurai (Modernity at Large, chapters 3 &5), Bruno Latour (in Pandora’s Box), Pnina Werbner (Social Anthropology 1999, 7,1), Jonathan Friedman (Anthropological Theory, 2002 2,1), Joel Kahn (Anthropological Theory 2003, 3,4 and forthcoming in Meskell & Pels). Cf. also footnotes 4, 5 and 6 below for further references.
3. In Cosmopolitics, editors Robbins and Cheah. Versions also published in Critical Inquiry and In my Father’s House by the author.
4. Adam Kuper (1994) ‘Culture, identity and the project of a cosmopolitan anthropology’, Man (NS) 29, 3.
5. Richard Werbner (2002) ‘Cosmopolitan Ethnicity, Entrepreneurship and the Nation: Minority Elites in Botswana’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 28, 4: 731-53.
6. Richard Fardon (1990) Localising Strategies: regional traditions of ethnographic writing. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.