Cosmopolitanism is always embodied. It exists in specific locations and is embedded rather than abstract and de-situated. This raises the question of the subject of cosmopolitanism and brings the dimensions of corporeality, affects, genders and sexualities to the debate.
For some theorists, the body – if only in its precariousness and vulnerability – is a vital foundation for human commonality. In such approaches, corporeality serves to ground cosmopolitanism in common human traits and aspirations. However, unless the body itself is conceptualised as subject to cultural framing, attentiveness to the corporeal dimension of the cosmopolitan may reintroduce precisely the notion of a ‘thin’ cosmopolitanism against which the project of minor cosmopolitanisms is pitted.
This is especially important in light of dominant elite cosmopolitanism, which expands its abstract and normative ideology onto the sphere of the corporeal by defining and governing bodies held to be non-cosmopolitan, thus denying them cosmopolitan citizenship. In sharp contrast to such exclusory regimes, minor cosmopolitanisms are invested in the extrapolation of plural forms of embodying the cosmopolitan.
Questions of interest for the RTG minor cosmopolitanisms might include: How do ‘non-elite’ bodies such as the immobilised, the ethnically marked or the veiled female body relate to the idea of minor cosmopolitanisms? Which other forms of minor cosmopolitanisms such as Muslimwoman, Queer or Black cosmopolitanism contribute to a ‘body-politics of knowledge’?
Historically, cosmopolitanism in its major and minor modes has been understood as relating exclusively to the social realm. The traditions of decolonial theory and postcolonial studies within which the RTG firmly situates itself have similarly often dismissed studies of the non-human world – of ecologies, animals or the environment, for instance – and critical accounts of the boundary between “nature” and “culture” for fear that they might detract attention from their political project. Seeking to redress a long history of withholding the status of full human subjectivity from the world’s many minors, work in these traditions remains cautious of all associations with the non-human world, i.e. with animals (to reject, for instance, the standard tropes of racism and antisemitism) or with ‘nature’ at large (to reject, among others, the standard tropes of misogyny or the exoticisation of indigeneity).
In recent years, however, post-human theorising is increasingly made productive in minor cosmopolitan contexts to address, for instance, the joint emergence of ‘sacrificial places and people’ under neo-colonial global capitalism (Naomi Klein) or the worldly ‘environmentalism of the poor’ (Rob Nixon). At the same time, the concept of environmentalism is itself criticized for its occidentalist entanglement with (neo-)colonial projects that not only work towards securing and exploiting ‘natural resources’ in favour of hegemonic interests (Shalini Randeria) but altogether neglect ‘other’ ecologies.
Critics like Donna Haraway, Deborah Bird Rose or Val Plumwood propose we consider the non-human world as actant in challenging occidentalist and anthropocentric universalisms and in co-producing worldly configurations. Climate change and large-scale species extinction, major nuclear threats, or the hole in the Ozone layer, all work to engender new global imaginaries and continue to elicit significant minor cosmopolitan responses, such as the activism of the Indigenous Climate Action Organisation or the Pacific Climate Warriors.
Research within the RTG might look at the planetary imaginary of contemporary Anthropocene fiction; it could enquire into the entangled human/non-human animal histories of colonial settlements; or trace the increasing weight attributed to indigenous ecologies in climate change discourse.
The seemingly paradoxical enjoining of ‘cosmopolitanism’ and ‘indigeneity’ wishes to critically (re)articulate each term in light of the other. While commitment to place remains a central concept of many indigenous self-positionings, the notion of an ‘indigenous cosmopolitanism’ has served to denote the often hybridized, mobile, and diversified manifestations of indigeneity. Several indigenous scholars have highlighted histories of indigenous mobility, travel, exchange, and exploration. In a similar vein, the concept of ‘transindigenism’ advocates a multiplicity of global indigenous-to-indigenous interactions.
In settler colonial contexts, indigenous theories of resurgence posit conceptions of community, polity, and governance that not only challenge the legitimacy of settler nations but also move beyond the idea of the nation-state as the primary category of global political organization and belonging. Moreover, indigenous worldmaking has crucially influenced debates on eco-cosmopolitanism via notions of a ‘pluriverse’ that includes other-than-human life into conceptions of world citizenship.
In contrast to the universalist assumptions of ‘major’ cosmopolitanisms which tend to occlude their speaking position, however, indigenous cosmopolitanisms center accountability and belonging. Such concerns may include the advocacy of an ‘indigenous nationalism’ that is rooted in indigenous epistemologies and resists gestures of reconciliation with settler states but is open to exchange and interaction with other communities and polities in the effort of decolonization.
Areas of interest for integrating questions of indigeneity in the RTG minor cosmopolitanisms might include: How do various indigenous positions on sovereignty/nationhood relate to the idea of thinking beyond the nation? How is minor cosmopolitanism compatible with indigenous agendas of decolonization?
Although research on social inequalities on the one hand and (minor) cosmopolitanisms on the other hand have for the most part been developed in separate academic fields, recent findings in both strands show convergences.
By departing from its original focus on national units of analysis, inequality research has increasingly emphasized the entangled character of social inequalities, which refers to their multidimensionality including socio-economic, power, ecological, and epistemological asymmetries. It also refers to local, national and global factors as well as historical processes, which concur in shaping current inequalities. Finally, entangled approaches address the interplay of different social categorizations in terms of class, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship for defining individual and group positions in existing hierarchies.
Scholarship on minor cosmopolitanisms rejects abstract notions of universalism in favor of situated forms of cosmopolitan thought and practice (e.g.: “cosmopolitanism from below”, “cosmopolitanism of the poor”). Following this perspective, recent scholarship in this field focuses on contextualizing cosmopolitan experiences and positionalities in global and local webs of power.
By integrating social inequality scholarship into the debates on cosmopolitanism, the RTG minor cosmopolitanisms intends to create a space for discussing questions not yet addressed by cosmopolitanism scholars. Examples for such questions could be: Taking into account the global character of existing inequalities, what is the transformative power of minor cosmopolitan experiences at the local level? Do minor cosmopolitan experiences and interactions have a positive correlation with underprivileged positions in the local and global social structure? Can and do minor cosmopolitan solidarities transcend lines of difference, and if so, how?
In the wake of such impulses as postcolonial studies, indigenous studies, intercultural philosophy and comparative political theory, among others, academic research has slowly begun to register that there are multiple cosmopolitanisms, and that not all of these have their points of origin in the European mainstream. The RTG aims at broadening our access to the multiple minor cosmopolitanisms beyond the liberal Western tradition. While some of these cosmopolitanisms have persisted to this very day, others have been submerged in the process of the European expansion and the concomitant global modernization of the West.
The RTG proceeds from the assumption that a truly worldly (hence, cosmopolitan) perspective will have to account for the actual pluralism and heterogeneity of manifold cosmopolitan projects both past and present. These include, e.g., the Chinese debate on Tianxia (“all under the sun”), Islamic notions of the umma, or Amerindian perspectivism that escapes common Western oppositions of nature and culture, humans and animals, or universalism and relativism. But even within Europe itself, alternative genealogies of minor cosmopolitanisms persist, including feminist, communist as well as Jewish transnational perspectives. The RTG acknowledges these traditions and aims to critically discuss them; it reflects, moreover, on the epistemological impasses that arise when we address practices of world-making that, as is the case with many minor cosmopolitanisms, have been obliterated completely by the monoculture of the mind that Western domination has imposed on the world.
RTG Minor Cosmopolitanisms
University of Potsdam
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