Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On Being Cosmopolitan

I've always liked being a 'citizen of the world'. It simply made sense to me that one should be able to go wherever one pleases and call home wherever one chooses, and that this should be the end of it. I subscribed to ubi bene ibi patria.

I guess I felt strongly about this precisely because I was born in a place where one could not just pack and go wherever one wished. Experiences of humiliating lines at embassies and consulates, instances of realizing you are absolutely powerless in front of the bureaucrat behind the glass, moments of simply not understanding why you going somewhere else was such a big deal.

A recent article* by Craig Calhoun brought me back to thinking about feeling cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitanism - the discourse around cosmopolitan places, choices and lifestyles - is not as simple as it looks: it is not a matter of choice, but a matter of having that choice. As Calhoun puts it: "it obscures the issues of inequality that make ethnically unmarked national identities accessible mainly to elites, and make an easy sense of being a citizen of the world contingent on having the right passports, credit cards, and cultural credentials" (2008: 437).

As much as I like cosmopolitanism, I have to agree with Calhoun: it is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of passports, of the institutions regulating our lives and seting the parameters within which we are able to make our choices. It is wishful thinking more than lived reality. And that's why it stirs so much anger: it speaks of a world in which we are equal. But we know for a fact that we are not. We know that not all passports are equal, not to mention that not all people are equal. We know that we need money to go somewhere - and that for some, the cost of a train ticket (not to mention a plane ticket) is simply beyond one's possibilities.

So is cosmpolitanism something like white racism? Where you wonder why people still get bugged by racism, when you yourself are not (and hey, you are white by the way, and have never been part of the margins)? Is it a new form of mainstream dystopia (or myopia for that matter)? I confess I still like cosmpolitanism as an idea, even if I realize it is not a reality. I like the potential of imagining a world where identity and location are not intrinsically linked. But I doubt it is possible.

* Calhoun, C. (2008) "Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism,"
Nations and Nationalism 14(3): 427-448
Photo credits: Mishel Churkin


Anonymous said...

Aren´t you missing your cultural identity, feeling yourself a citizen of the world? What about your roots, past and ascendancy?

thinkingdifference said...

I do not need any generic roots, past and ascendancy to know who I am, how I look like, what I can do and what I cannot. I am aware that my own preferences are really 'my own', and sometimes not even shared with my close family. I have my own, personal past, I remember the street where I grew up and my grandparents' stories. I have my network of friends that grew from those I made in kindergarten to those I made throughout the rest of my life. As for my culture, I wouldn't know how to define 'culture' in the first place. I do not take pride in collective accomplishments or symbols; they are not "mine" like a sort of a property, nor did I contribute to them.

Bjarke said...

Thumbs up.
I like your way of thinking and your ability to spread the message.

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