Narratives from North and South Europe

Narratives from North and South Europe

Monday, 27 March 2017

L'amateur cosmopolite

I participated to a very interesting international seminar “New Generations and the Reinvention of the Social” (University of Genoa, School of Social Science), organized by Andrea Pirni and Luca Raffini (chair: Mauro Palumbo).  Here I've been one of the discussants to the presentation of the book by Vincenzo Cicchelli and Sylvie Octobre L'amateur cosmopolite. As Cicchelli puts it (2012), an experience abroad might foster an education to alterity, a sort of cosmopolitan socialization or Bildung. He questions whether this praxis is oriented more towards aesthetic, cultural, ethical or political forms of cosmopolitanism. Adopting this clarifying grid, we may affirm that several scholars construct a hierarchical scale where aesthetic orientations constitute the lower and most superficial step for the development of cosmopolitan spirit, and the political orientation represents the highest. This hierarchy within cosmopolitanism’s dimensions (Gemann Molz 2011) opposes an authentic form of cosmopolitan openness to another that is more superficial (Cicchelli, Octobre, & Riegel 2016). Basically, the awareness of different cultures channeled by aesthetic and cultural cosmopolitanism is often considered “superficial and cosmetic” (Sassatelli 2012, 235).
The Swedish anthropologist Ulf Hannerz pointed out the Two Faces of Cosmopolitanism: one more cultural and one more political. The latter, he argued, is “often a cosmopolitanism with a worried face, trying to come to grips with very large problems”, whereas in its cultural dimension may be a cosmopolitanism happily “enjoying new sights, sounds and tastes, new people”: “And in combination, and merging with one another, they may be that thick form of cosmopolitanism, where experience and symbolism can motivate identification and a will to action.” (Hannerz 2005, 204).
Hannerz’s invitation is to pay attention to “on the ground” cosmopolitanism, where people engage in everyday cultural activities (Cicchelli and Octobre 2015). In some liminal public spaces the cosmopolitan “simulacrum” can become a “canopy”. These are everyday life stages that allow people from different backgrounds “to slow down and indulge themselves, observing, pondering, and in effect, doing their own folk ethnography, testing or substantiating stereotypes and prejudices or, rarely, acknowledging something fundamentally new about the other.” (Anderson 2004, 25) These spaces, at home or abroad, can foster “a kind of confidence, and a code of civility”: “Expanding out of the neighborhood to take in more of the world, is not to be underestimated. A kind of modest bottom-up cosmopolitics may at least be a matter of maintaining a certain immunity to extreme antagonisms, of hatred or of fear” (Hannerz 2005, 212, emphasis added).
Hannerz notes that in the decades after the fall of the Berlin wall there has been a renewed interest in cosmopolitanism among social scientists, while headlines and storylines portray new wars, human wrongs, things falling apart. “Yet those may again be the kinds of things that go most readily precisely into headlines and storylines. It may be worth looking more closely for the small signs of banal, or quotidian, or vernacular, or low-intensity cosmopolitanism.” (Hannerz 2005, 27).

Anderson, E. (2004) “The Cosmopolitan Canopy” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595(1): 14-31.
Cicchelli, V.  (2012) L’esprit cosmopolite: Voyages de formation des jeunes en Europe. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.
Cicchelli, V., Octobre, S.  (2015) “Sur le Cosmopolitisme Esthetique des Jeunes” Le Débat 183: 101-9.
Cicchelli, V., Octobre, S., & Riegel, V. (2016) “After the Omnivore, the Cosmopolitan Amateur: Reflections about Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism” Global Studies Journal, 9(1): 55-69.
Gemann Molz, J. (2011) “Cosmopolitanism and Consumption” in M. Rovisco and M. Nowicka (eds.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Cosmopolitanism, 33-52. Farnham: Ashgate
Hannerz, U. (2005) “Two faces of cosmopolitanism: culture and politics” Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift, 107(3): 199-213.
Sassatelli, M. (2012) “Festivals, Museums, Exhibitions: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism in the Cultural Public Sphere” in G. Delanty (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitan Studies, 232-44. London: Routledge.