Monday, 31 October 2011

Cosmopolitics and Globalisation

I've recently returned from a conference that was held in Bucharest on the theme of "Cosmopolitanism and Philosophy in a Cosmopolitan Sense" that was held at the New Europe College there and which Aron Zsolt Telegdi-Csetri and I co-organised. I normally try, subsequently to attending conferences, to offer outlines of the main papers given so that those who were not able to attend have some sense of what the conference covered. However, on this occasion, I think it is better to think through a central issue that was raised by the event and how this connects to some of the papers that were given.

The question I have in mind was raised by someone in a round table that was held towards the conclusion of the event and concerned the relationship between cosmopolitics and globalisation. Whilst I gave at the round table my own response to this question and will likely conclude this posting by repeating it, I also wanted to indicate how some of the speeches given here touched on this matter as the relationship between these terms strikes me as an important one.

The opening speech at this event was given by Garry Robson (Jagiellonian University Krakow) whose talk was a sociological analysis of the manifestations of globalisation here in the UK during the period of the last New Labour government. Robson's analysis revealed the growth of new forms of speech in London due to the presence there of an extremely large number of discrete language groups and also mentioned how, in 2006, there had been record levels of both immigration and emigration from the UK. Robson's analysis suggested that the New Labour government had been engaged in a kind of "top-down" process of social change of the country, something that could be thought of as supported by recent comments of ex-Premier Tony Blair. Robson's own view of the changes that apparent large movements of population have produced was less clear though the focus on the riots in the UK this summer suggested a view to the effect that these changes have some elements that are less than positive though little in Robson's paper indicated focus on the distinction between the contribution of migrants to the labour market (particularly migrants from Eastern Europe) by comparison with the flourishing of youth subcultures that may well be tapping into social discontent without necessarily themselves being causal agents of it.

Robson's paper was the first of the conference and focused clearly on a conception of "globalisation" though it also implied that questions of multi-culturalism and concerns around migration were in some way related to elite presentations of a notion of "cosmopolitics". A paper that was cast in similar vein to Robson's was that of Elena Trubina (Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg) who focused on a similar kind of argument concerning the Russian Federation. Trubina's contribution appeared to fall into two parts, the first of which outlined a view of cosmopolitics derived from Martha Nussbaum and indicated some general problems it could be argued to have prior to moving into what appeared to be her real target, an analysis of social changes in Russia that she presented as forms of "neo-liberalism". Trubina spoke of how "zones" of prosperity and focused investment were being undertaken and how, within the privileged zones, a kind of rhetoric of "cosmopolitics" was used that enabled the elevation of some at the expense of others (with these others dubbed, by contrast, "parochial"). As with Robson, but, in a way, more strikingly, there appeared an easy conflation in Trubina's paper of concerns about effects of globalisation and responses to normative cosmopolitan notions.

Quite in contrast to these presentations was the one given by Garrett Brown (University of Sheffield). Brown's speech was a contribution from international political theory rather than the more sociological or socio-philosophical tones of Trubina and Robson. Brown summarised the ways in which the cosmopolitan model of reasoning within IR theory has come under pressure from a revival of realism and certain internal tensions of the theory itself. Reporting on joint research undertaken with David Held Brown articulated the case for the continuing relevance of cosmopolitan models of analysis to IR theory and suggested that there remain no real viable alternative models to it. If the contributions of Trubina and Robson raised problems about conflation of cosmopolitics and globalisation it remained somewhat unclear, at least to me, how the various sources of cosmopolitical thinking within the terms of IR theory come together and whether the combinations they produce are sufficient for a stable synthetic approach to the subject area. Nonetheless this contribution, quite unlike those of Trubina and Robson, took seriously the sense that there is a distinct space for normative contributions to political analysis.

Similar in this respect to Brown's paper was the contribution of Speranta Dumitru (Universite Paris Descartes) who suggested a basic problem with viewing global equality of opportunity as reasonably curtailed by focus on entitlements granted to national citizens. Tilting forcefully against the tendencies of the sociological contributions earlier Dumitru suggested that viewing it as correct that social entitlements should be grounded on national citizenship entailed that we viewed distinct persons as "separate but equal". Dumitru argued that such a view endorsed an unreflective bias for what she termed a "sederantist" view of persons in which those who remained in one place where granted privilege over those who moved around. In articulating a case for a global view of equality of opportunity Dumitru strikingly advanced a particular conception of cosmopolitical theory.

A specific session devoted to Kant's cosmopolitical ideal was the place where my own contribution to the conference was made. I gave a paper that focused specifically on Kant's conception of "cosmopolitan right" articulating a place for this notion within his overall theory of right. I disagreed with the view of Elizabeth Ellis that the conception of cosmopolitan right could be justified just by reference to the idea of provisional right that Kant mentions in the Doctrine of Right though I also suggested that provisional right is best understood in relation to the standard provided by the universal principle of right. The main point of my paper was to indicate, however, that the notion of cosmopolitan right is best seen as an alternative way of addressing international problems to those that arise within the province of international right and that it does this by means of a double-edged right to hospitality, a right that imposes serious constraints both on visitors to other lands and on the reception of such visitors. The paper concluded by articulating the view that it is the standard of enlightened reason that enables a Kantian riposte to colonialism.

By contrast Sorin Baiasu (Keele University) looked at a very specific question in Kant's treatment of cosmopolitan themes, namely his presentation of perpetual peace as the "highest political good". Baiasu advanced the importance of the distinction between two conceptions of the highest good, a view of it founded on the notion of the "complete" good by contrast to one founded only on the "supreme" good and suggested that many commentators by taking perpetual peace to be a "complete" good fundamentally misunderstood its place in Kant's theory. If viewed only as a "supreme" good it fitted better with the general intention of Kant's contribution and argued for a more modest understanding of Kant's teleological argument concerning nature than would arise from viewing it as a "complete" good.

In addition to these plenary contributions there were a number of shorter papers that addressed a range of themes from an account of aesthetic questions of assimilating different types of musical taste to analysis of the place of port cities as centres of cosmopolitan endeavour and papers that opened questions about the extent to which state sovereignty can be defended.

The recurrence of the contrast between cosmopolitics and globalisation in the round table session with which the conference concluded indicated an unresolved tension that was wider than a simple contrast between philosophical and non-philosophical contributions advanced. The analysis of "globalisation", I suggested in the round table discussion, is part of a socio-historical understanding that requires tools derived from economics, history, sociology and political theory. The processes that we name under its heading I would want to argue, are quite distinct from those that we should categorise under the heading of "cosmopolitics" and the reason I think this is that the latter names a distinctive notion of normative theory. It is true that there are many projects that pass themselves off as cosmopolitical and there is much to argue about concerning the relationship between these. However, what is common to them is that they are distinctly theoretical events, not, at least not in the first instance, descriptions of on-going empirical social processes. In this respect cosmopolitical theories are intended to guide events and articulate how they should develop according to the notions of the kinds of normative considerations they advance. By contrast, theories of globalisation describe empirical social events, often critically, but without necessarily having new normative guide-lines by which they can advance views of what should take place. The distinction between these notions is important and, in many respects, the tensions between the different contributions to this event, helped to focus on its importance.

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