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Posted on: April 20th, 2016 No Comments

Welcoming Cosmopolitanism; a paper

Susie Michailidis
Susie Michailidis

Covering a wide range of distinct economic, political, and cultural trends, the term “globalization” has quickly become one of the most fashionable words of contemporary academic debate. According to Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought, globalization is defined as the process whereby information, commodities and images, having been produced in a particular nation or region of the world, enter into a global flow facilitated by the growth of transnational companies, satellite television, and the Internet.

Since globalization contains far-reaching implications for practically every facet of life, it is necessarily suggests the need to rethink key questions of intercultural communication, multiculturalism, cross-cultural education. The definitions of all these expressions is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society. In broad terms, it is the ability to make and communicate meaning from one culture to another by the use of a variety of socially contextual symbols. All these thoughts have been questioned not only by philosophy, sociology, and history but also by the process of globalization. These are the concepts of Cosmopolitan view of world societies and cultures.

The word ‘cosmopolitan’, which derives from the Greek word kosmopolitês (‘citizen of the world’), is defined as: familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures: his knowledge of French, Italian, and Spanish made him genuinely cosmopolitan, including people from many different countries: immigration transformed the city into a cosmopolitan metropolis, having an exciting and glamorous character associated with travel and a mixture of cultures.

What does the notion of ‘cosmopolitization’ then have to say? And why is it so important to clearly distinguish it from the many ‘cosmopolitanisms’ (Kant, Hegel, Habermas, Nussbaum, Appiah, Benhabib, Held etc.) of European philosophy and extra-European histories of thought? Cosmopolitanism as a theoretical approach, provides fine descriptions of what it means to be and communicate as a global citizen, how to critically study interconnectedness within and across cultures, and how to embrace differences without glossing over them.

Cosmopolitanism can be understood as a socio-cultural condition, which is expressed in the conception of an open and cosmopolitan world. This condition is created from the base of processes linked to globalization, such as greater access to information and the development of communications and telecommunications. These processes facilitate a multiplication of social exchanges – including migrations – as well as cultural contacts which bring us closer to places and cultures which are physically and, sometimes, psychologically distant.

Cosmopolitanism has been used to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political thought. All cosmopolitan beliefs share the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, do (or at least can) belong to a single community, and that this community should be cultivated. Different versions of cosmopolitanism envision this community in different ways, some focusing on political institutions, others on moral norms or relationships, and still others focusing on shared markets or forms of cultural and educational expression. Our interest in cosmopolitanism lies in its challenge to commonly recognized attachments to fellow-citizens, the local state, parochially shared cultures, education and the like.

Within various levels of developmental ability, a cosmopolitan person can derive and convey meaning, and use their knowledge to achieve a desired purpose or goal that requires the use of language skills, be they spoken, written or electronically transformed. A literate person can mediate their world by consciously and flexibly coordinating meaning from one linguistic knowledge base and apply or connect it to another knowledge base.

Some critics contend that the multicultural argument for the preservation of cultures is premised on a problematic view of culture and of the individual’s relationship to culture. Cultures are not distinct, self-contained wholes; they have long interacted and influenced one another through war, imperialism, trade, and migration. People in many parts of the world live within cultures that are already cosmopolitan, characterized by cultural hybridist. As Jeremy Waldron (1995, 100) argues, “We live in a world formed by technology and trade; by economic, religious, and political imperialism and their offspring; by mass migration and the dispersion of cultural influences. In this context, to immerse oneself in the traditional practices of, say, an aboriginal culture might be a fascinating anthropological experiment, but it involves an artificial dislocation from what actually is going on in the world.” To aim at preserving or protecting a culture runs the risk of privileging one supposedly pure version of that culture, thereby crippling its ability to adapt to changes in circumstances (Waldron, 110; see also Benhabib 2002 and Scheffler 2007). Waldron also rejects the premise that the options available to an individual must come from a particular culture; meaningful options may come from a variety of cultural sources. What people need are cultural materials, not access to a particular cultural structure.

In response, multicultural theorists agree that cultures are overlapping and interactive, but still maintain that individuals belong to distinct societal cultures and wish to preserve these cultures (Kymlicka 1995, 103). Multiculturalism is a body of thought about the proper way to respond to cultural and social diversity.

In recent years practitioners in a wide variety of fields -scientific cooperation, academic research, business, management, education, health, culture, politics, diplomacy, development, and others- have realized just how important intercultural communication is for their everyday work. Fast travel, international media, and the Internet have made it easy for us to communicate with people all over the world. The process of economic globalization means that we cannot function in isolation but must interact with the rest of the world for survival. The global nature of many widely diverse modern problems and issues such as the environment, governance of the Internet, poverty and international terrorism call for cooperation between nations. Intercultural communication is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Because important decisions in business, politics, education, health, and culture these days usually affect citizens of more than one nation, the question of whether communication between people of different nations is effective and whether all parties emerge with the same understanding is of crucial importance. Individuals who deal with people from other cultures want to learn how to improve their performance through improving their communication skills. Numerous resources have sprung up to meet this emerging market in the business, academic, education and international relations communities: leading authors have written books and articles on the topic; business services provide consultation for improving the conduct of international business; universities and other educational institutions offer programs or degrees in Intercultural Communication and Cosmopolitism; and researchers have established international journals and academic societies specializing in research on intercultural communication. In fact, intercultural communication has become a business in itself. Following is just an example: Richard Lewis Communications is a company owned by the author of the popular When Cultures Collide: Managing Successfully Across Cultures. They offer business consultancy, run “cross-cultural training” courses and workshops, publish papers and workbooks, and develop software for intercultural communication. Richard Lewis provides a truly global and practical guide to working and communicating across cultures: ”Working in a global team and dealing with business partners or customers across cultures raises challenges and demands new attitudes and skills. Our experience shows that without the right approach, cultural differences greatly reduce effectiveness in the early stages of a relationship. But active management of the internationalization process and a conscious effort to acquire new skills will release fresh sources of competitive advantage. Lack of knowledge of another culture can lead, at the best, to embarrassing or amusing mistakes in communication. At the worst, such mistakes may confuse or even offend the people we wish to communicate with, making the conclusion of business deals or international agreements difficult or impossible.”

Through the exploration of other cultural identities opportunities are provided to recognize points of similarity between cultures that may be hidden from view or not immediately apparent. The focus is on exploring where cultures meet and developing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that enable interaction and negotiation between cultures. This process of coming to an understanding of others requires self-reflection and the confrontation and deconstruction of sometimes deeply embedded stereotypical views. It challenges both students and faculty to understand how views are constructed and to appreciate that views about oneself are constructed in relation to how we see each other.

Multicultural education is an interdisciplinary, cross-curricular education that contributes to the preparation for students to live and work in a diverse environment. As cross-cultural appreciation and respect become increasingly important in a globalized, interdependent world, it is imperative that students develop an understanding of cultures outside of their own. Multicultural education provides an avenue for schools to develop cultural awareness among their student bodies. Intercultural/ Multicultural education is about developing an understanding of and valuing others and about understanding of and valuing self. It provides opportunities to gain an insight into one’s own knowledge, limits, doubts and attitudes by confronting, interacting and negotiating with other cultures. This requires developing an understanding of why we see the world in the way we do. It allows students to break through their prejudices and get to know something of the actual person behind the stereotype. These types of educational programmers help young people recognize the sensitivity of talking about strongly held beliefs, and the consequences of not handling them with care, particularly the problems that occur when disagreement escalates into conflict or violence.

Perhaps the most common invocations of the label ‘cosmopolitan’ in recent philosophical literature have been in the disputes over cultural cosmopolitanism. Especially with disputes over multiculturalism in educational curricula and with resurgent nationalisms, cultural claims and counter-claims have received much attention. The cosmopolitan position in both of these kinds of disputes rejects exclusive attachments to parochial culture. So on the one hand, the cosmopolitan encourages cultural diversity and appreciates a multicultural blend, and on the other hand, the cosmopolitan rejects a strong nationalism. In staking out these claims, the cosmopolitan must be cautious about very strong ‘rights to culture,’ respecting the rights of minority cultures while rebuffing the right to unconditional national self-determination. Hence, recent advocates of ‘liberal nationalism’ (e.g., Margalit and Raz,) or of the rights of minority cultures (e.g., Kymlicka) generally seem to be anti-cosmopolitan. But the cosmopolitan’s wariness towards very strong rights to culture and towards national self-determination need not be grounded in a wholesale skepticism about the importance of parochial cultural attachments. Cosmopolitanism can acknowledge the importance of (at least some kinds of) cultural attachments for the good human life (at least within certain limits), while denying that this implies that a person’s cultural identity should be defined by any bounded or homogeneous subset of the cultural resources available in the world (e.g., Waldron).

Cosmopolitan cultural identity is introduced across the global and the local, encompassing questions of cultural mastery, mobility, traveling, tourism, and home and nation-state attachments. Cosmopolitanism, containing but also furthering the notion of interculturalism, could constitute an alternative to or complement for ‘cross-cultural education’ in theory or practice, especially via its element of ‘multiculturalism’. The explicit reference of cosmopolitanism to the development of the individual, in contrast to institutionalized frameworks, opens up further usefulness for intercultural education. The cosmopolitanism with the concept “to be concerned for another as I am concerned for myself” — is integral in nature: it contains the conceptual agenda that is common to most cosmopolitan perceptions; it allows them to exist alongside one another; and it encourages a normative, systematic outlook in man – the concern for another for the “good of the whole” – since people are essentials in one connected human system.

This approach is pragmatic in that it suggests a practical solution not only to interpersonal challenges but also to intercultural challenges. The “vision of the good” that overwhelms society demands treatment first before structural changes. A suitable response requires an educational, moral and conscious shift among the citizens of the world. Each person must recognize that his destiny is dependent on his relations with others, meaning anyone outside himself. When openness and concern are placed for others at the top of society’s agenda, when that will be the defining principle for curriculum at the university, there will be immediate progress in the society. People will form an open approach to the world within themselves – a kind of cosmopolitan prism through which they can judge their actions toward fellow people – and it will bring about the change in spheres such as economy, migration, environment, communication, security and more. The cosmopolitan integral education can provide an alternative to the various private affairs. This is a massive mission, that is obligating citizens of the world to engage in mutually beneficial relationships rather than relationships of advantage and distance. Today, even from the most egoistic perspective it is worthwhile to be concerned for the public since future is dependent upon people of the world. (Kapstein & Rosenthal 2009)

Susie Michailidis Ph.D. Professor is Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Indianapolis, Athens.


- Benhabib, Seyla. The Claims of Culture: 
Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton University Press 2002

- Kapstein, E. B., & Rosenthal, J. H.Ethics and International Relations. Farnham, Ashgate, 2009

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- Waldron, J. “Minority Cultures and the Cosmopolitan Alternative,” in The Rights of Minority Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.



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