Cosmopolitanism, whether major or minor, is embedded in material culture. Without the production, circulation and consumption of material forms inserted unequally and asymmetrically into trans-local circuits and trajectories, no cosmopolitan imaginary could have emerged. From the late 1980s onwards, material culture studies have researched the materiality of cultural practices. Rather than employing the familiar textual metaphor of ‘reading’ material objects that characterized the linguistic or cultural turn, material culture studies argue for the extension of ‘agency’ from humans to material things, and across the modern divide of culture, nature, and technology, whether understanding objects as fully agentive or as the ‘indexes’ of human agency to accommodate the role of non-humans. The focus on minor, material, cosmopolitanisms thus opens new perspectives on the thingness of the cosmopolitan beyond the humanist confines of major cosmopolitanism.
The RTG understands any cosmopolitan project, whether major or minor, per default as deeply embedded in the dynamics of medial exchanges. It is through the ubiquity of media practices across the globe – from orality to digital media – that various cosmopolitanisms are envisioned and revisioned, shared and disputed, and ultimately granted a social life. All research conducted within the RTG thus needs to attend to specific medialities. A minor perspective in this context demands to critically interrogate the global hegemony of particular media systems and questions of unequal distribution and access. Yet it also traces the multiple forms and strategies in which minoritised people and communities increasingly tap into the medial flows of global modernity to pursue their agendas and to forge new coalitions.
For the RTG the notion of ‘translation’ encompasses more than the mere transferral of verbal texts from one language into another. It more generally describes the processes through which concepts, ideas, styles, texts or artefacts are rendered intelligible for and within cross-cultural contexts of reception, adoption and appropriation. After all, it is through translation that cultural units become porous to each other and are enabled to ‘travel’. In a metaphorical sense, ‘translatedness’ serves as an apt designation for the existential condition of in-betweenness among diasporic and migrant individuals or communities. Processes of translation are thus a basic condition for the cosmopolitan to emerge. They are indispensable for the imagining of a heterogeneous, internally pluralised, creolised and as yet unrealised world culture. This utopian potential notwithstanding, the notion of a ‘translated world’ also requires to be critically assessed in terms of the inherent mechanisms of subsumption and exclusion it can underwrite, the former suggesting a homogenising comparability of everything with everything else, the latter excluding the untranslatable from the seemingly universal.
Cosmopolitanisms are generated and negotiated in and through aesthetic practices – the production, circulation and reception of (literary, filmic, visual, musical) texts – that foster a worldly imaginary. Works of art not only reflect but also enact and contribute to the historical situation in which they participate, and the aesthetic can therefore be seen as a dimension that not only responds to but indeed coproduces the cosmopolitan. The perspective of minor cosmopolitanisms implies a critique of the ‘major’, elitist value ascriptions that established institutions, including the academic mainstream, apply to the aesthetic, often reproducing the ‘standard’ of a Eurocentrically defined modernity. Beyond this important critique, the RTG enquires into the actually existing abundance of plural, ordinary and decentred aesthetic practices around the minor cosmopolitan world.
One thing holds true for major and minor cosmopolitans alike: They do not adhere to circumscribed imagined communities but inhabit “imagined worlds” (Appadurai). In other words, they situate themselves not (only) in one particular place but in the world at large. The world, however, is not a given, but a fact in the literal sense of that term as ‘something made’ (from the Latin verb, facere, ‘to make’): It is the outcome of manifold histories, itineraries, practices and decisions that human and non-human subjects make. The world’s essential materiality is as crucial for its facticity as are the various dimensions of subjective and inter-subjective meaning-making through acts of translation, mediation and aesthetics. From these dynamics emerges the concerted process of world-making. There is neither a master plan nor a consensus amongst those who are immersed in this process. Therefore, the “world of our making” (Onuf) is always contested, provisional, precarious, subject to change. Hence, even if the established hegemonic world of Eurocentric capitalist modernity appears irremovably entrenched, from a minor cosmopolitan perspective it turns out to be just one among many versions of the world, and a thoroughly unsustainable one at that. Historically, minor cosmopolitan practices, epistemologies and performatives of worlding have been violently marginalized or coercively coopted by the force of colonial modernity, so that the “colonizer’s model of the world” (Blaut) became synonymous with the world as such. All the same, alternative, indigenous, subaltern, creole, proletarian, feminist etc. modes of worlding, though relegated to the status of the ‘minor’, proved far more resilient and enduring than foreseen in the dominant Eurocentric world picture. It is the archive and the vibrant repertoire of these manifold minor ways of worlding that our RTG draws on in its endeavour to contribute to the decolonization of the mind, the imagination, and the field of praxis.