Cosmopolitanism: Uses of the Idea


Zlatko Skrbiš & Ian Woodward

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  • Theory, Culture and Society

    Theory, Culture and Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It also publishes theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

    EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, Nottingham Trent University


    Roy Boyne, University of Durham

    Nicholas Gane, University of York

    Scott Lash, Goldsmiths College, University of London

    Roland Robertson, University of Aberdeen

    Couze Venn, Nottingham Trent University


    The Theory, Culture and Society book series, the journals Theory, Culture and Society and Body and Society, and related conference, seminar and postgraduate programmes operate from the TCS Centre at Nottingham Trent University. For further details of the TCS Centre's activities please contact:

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    The Body and Social Theory 3e

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    Immaterial Bodies

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    French Post-War Social Theory

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    The Domestic Economy of The Soul

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    Peer to Peer and The Music Industry

    Matthew David


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    About the Authors

    Zlatko Skrbiš is Professor of Sociology and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Research Training) at Monash University, Australia. He is the author of Long-distance Nationalism (1999), Constructing Singapore (2008, with Michael Barr) and The Sociology of Cosmopolitanism (with G. Kendall and I. Woodward, 2009). His articles have appeared in various journals, including the Sociological Review, British Journal of Sociology Nations and Nationalism, Theory, Culture and Society, Ethnic and Racial Studies and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. In addition to his interest in culture, theory and migration, he also has an extensive portfolio of empirical research. One of his major ongoing projects involves a longitudinal study of young people in Queensland and exploration of their aspirations around education, employment, articulation of their political and cultural attitudes.

    Ian Woodward is Associate Professor in Sociology in the School of Humanities and Deputy Director of the Centre for Cultural Research, both at Griffith University, Australia. His research on material culture, consumption, taste and performativity is widely published. His reconstruction of the field of consumption studies, Understanding Material Culture, was published by Sage in 2007. Woodward also researches dimensions and practices of cultural openness and his research on cosmopolitanism (most of which is co-authored with Zlatko Skrbiš and Gavin Kendall) has been published in journals such as Theory, Culture and Society, The Sociological Review, Journal of Sociology and The British Journal of Sociology. Their collaborative research in this area, which connects classical sociological theory to ideas on mobility, hospitality, technology and community, The Sociology of Cosmopolitanism, was published by Palgrave in 2009. With a group of Griffith colleagues and an international team of authors, he is a co-author of the book Cultural Sociology: An Introduction, published by Blackwell (2012). Woodward has served on the Executive Board of The Australian Sociological Association. He is a board member on the new journal outlet, the American Journal of Cultural Sociology, and an Editor of The Journal of Sociology. In 2010-2011 he was a Fellow of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg, University of Konstanz, Germany.


    This book would never have been written without the invitation and encouragement of Professor Chris Rojek from SAGE. He continued to support this project throughout its rather long gestation period, kept his faith and allowed us some flexibility when required – and for this we are extremely grateful. The person who almost singlehandedly ensured that the book managed to get to the finishing line is Dr Indigo Willing from The University of Queensland. Indigo has worked with us for a number of months and provided assistance when needed. Her job was made particularly difficult due to our frequent travel commitments in which she represented the Archimedean point when we were often divided by continents. We wish to acknowledge Indigo's remarkable competency and commitment and give full and unreserved credit for her input and support.

    Zlatko would like to express specific thanks for the generous support of Manchester University for the Simon Hallsworth Fellowship during which much of the thinking for this book took place. The University of Queensland provided the circumstances which allowed him to continue this writing project despite a change in his job description. Ian Woodward, a friend and a colleague, deserves special mention for the continuing and long-term intellectual and professional partnership. As always, unreserved gratitude goes to Marta, Matija and Zala who endured his absences during the write-up. Like much of this writing which happened while travelling, he wants to specifically acknowledge Marta's support during the final stages of writing of this book which happened in Mykonos and Munich – a great testimony that nothing can dampen our holiday spirit.

    Ian would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg, at the University of Konstanz, and particularly Konstanz's Center of Excellence ‘Cultural Foundations of Cultural Integration’, where he spent eight months over 2010-11. The Institute of Advanced Study at Konstanz is indeed a model place of cosmopolitan hospitality, and the perfect place to work on the deep questions this topic stirs. Here, Ian would like to express particular thanks to his distinguished colleague Professor Bernhard Giesen, and to the Institute's staff, including Mr Fred Girod and Ms Ana Mujan. Ongoing intellectual engagement with colleagues has provided much opportunity and nourishment for our collaborative work in this field, and Ian would specifically like to thank Zlatko Skrbiš for his longstanding professional and personal friendship. As well, a number of other colleagues have provided valuable advice, interest, encouragement and ideas, including Vincenzo Cicchelli, Gerard Delanty, David Ellison, Philip Smith, Jodie Taylor and Indigo Willing. Finally, Ian acknowledges the love and support provided by his partner, Leanne.

    Munich and Brisbane, 2012


    G.W.F. Hegel famously suffered from procrastination whenever starting the argument in a book. He would write distinctly long prefaces and introductions and in each of them he spent a great deal of effort explaining why neither prefaces nor introductions should be necessary. His point was that the author really should just start with the argument itself. We concur.

    Cosmopolitanism is an exciting area of research to work in. There has been an almost exponential growth of scholarship on cosmopolitanism in the last two decades. To a large extent this trend has been prompted by an acceleration of processes perceived to create opportunities for the blossoming of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan encounters: increased mobility, the bringing-in-contact of different cultures at a scale not imaginable even few decades ago, and innovative experimentation at the level of global governance and in the context of supra-national initiatives. All these developments and the concomitant interest in cosmopolitanism are without doubt promising and exciting – after all, cosmopolitanism is often a subject picked by those who argue in favour of a productive engagement with difference. As a corollary, the growth of literature on cosmopolitanism also means that the field itself is becoming crowded and often difficult to navigate. The normativism of cosmopolitanism as a concept is often exaggerated and implicitly idealised, which makes it difficult to appreciate the analytical value of the concept. The aim of this book is to address this tension and hopefully make a small contribution to the clarity of the concept while also extending it in numerous innovative and illuminating directions.

    There are probably two overarching sentiments which should characterise the idea of cosmopolitanism and give character to cosmopolitanism research. The first is that whilst cosmopolitanism is a big idea, it ought to be found in small things. We need to continue to look for the manifestations and possibilities of cosmopolitanism in everyday people and humble, ordinary encounters. The second, and one which we could not resist stating on several occasions in this book, is the need to understand cosmopolitanism as something other than an end point, a hallelujah moment for social scientists trying to conceptualise a better society. Instead, we see cosmopolitanism as a process which allows us to move ever closer to the possible cosmopolitan ideal. There are failures and challenges on this road, but these should not be an excuse for nihilism and pessimism. Cosmopolitanism may be our dream, but the journey requires doing and engaging, not dreaming.

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