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Political Science$

Pradip Kumar Datta, Sanjay Palshikar, and Achin Vanaik

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780198082224

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198082224.001.0001


A Review of Literature in Indian Political Thought

(p.150) 5 Cosmopolitanism
Political Science

Mohinder Singh

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the limitations of ‘universalist’ cosmopolitanism and offers an alternative in the form of a so-called postcolonial cosmopolitanism. It also considers a novel form of comparativism where the Western and the non-Western texts and ideas will be equal partners in intellectual search. This chapter also highlights the importance of cosmopolitanism studies in providing a better understanding of how the intellectual, cultural, and economic contests between the powerful and the subaltern inflect and are inflected by alternative spatial frames.

Keywords:   Indian political thought, universalist cosmopolitanism, postcolonial cosmopolitanism, comparativism, intellectual search, economic contests

The recent cosmopolitan turn in social and political theory along with globality and globalization has been described as a revolution in social sciences (Beck 2002). The current enthusiasm for these themes refers not only to the already immense popularity of globalization studies and the growing popularity of cosmopolitanism across humanities and social science disciplines, it also indicates a serious shift in the conceptual framework of these disciplines. While the idea of cosmopolitanism is quite old in human history—not only in the West but in other parts of the world as well—what is new about the contemporary invocations of cosmopolitanism is that the idea is now aligned with what has been called the ‘cosmopolitanism of reality’ (Fine 2007). ‘Cosmopolitanism of reality’ refers to the current global situation which is a product of the processes of globalization of the last three decades: the growing global networks created by the world market; media and internet; migrations; cross-cultural encounters; proliferation of transnational human rights organizations; rise of global cities; emergence of hybrid cultures; and large scale and relatively freer travels across the world.

One of the major problems in the elaboration of the concept of cosmopolitanism is the multiple uses made of it by its supporters, practitioners, and opponents in the academic debates of the last two decades. Albeit at the risk of some simplification, it is still possible to classify these usages under two broad senses. As an idea, cosmopolitanism refers to a normative orientation, or an ethics, (p.151) or an ethical attitude. Craig Calhoun, for instance, has described cosmopolitanism as an ‘ethics for globalization’ (2008: 429). In this sense, cosmopolitanism definitely refers to an orientation of thinking beyond nationalism, without necessarily involving giving up the claims of nationalism and nation on people’s sense of belongingness and identity. Parenthetically, it may be noted that some positions, like the one promoted by Martha Nussbaum, seek to do precisely that by arguing that ‘artificial’ boundaries such as those of the nation are ‘morally arbitrary’ (Nussbaum 1994). But beyond this point about thinking beyond national horizons, there is no agreement among the users of the concept of cosmopolitanism as an ethics. In one version, cosmopolitanism is continuous with old Eurocentric universalism. An important strand of the universalistic notion of moral cosmopolitanism still remains vibrant and is supported by a large number of scholars and activists around the world: cosmopolitanism of human rights or political cosmopolitanism (Appiah 1997). Cosmopolitanism of human rights is also central to the debates in political philosophy around the notions of global justice or ‘justice without borders’ promoted in the works of David Held, Habermas, and Thomas Pogge (Kok-Chor Tan 2004). But the Eurocentric notions of cosmopolitanism have been criticized for their association with imperialisms, old and new. Many versions of contemporary cosmopolitanism, particularly the postcolonial ones, argue in favour of moving beyond both nationalism and Eurocentric universalism (Mehta 1999; Breckenridge et al. 2002; Van der Veer 2002b).

In the second sense, the concept of cosmopolitanism is used as a description of cosmopolitan practices: cosmopolitan styles of certain artistic, literary, and architectural practices; practices linked to cosmopolitan travellers; and the practices of cultural exchange resulting from the global movements of diasporas and migrants from all parts of the world. By destabilizing the earlier senses of spatiality and belonging, in the national or local sense, these practices open up possibilities of new, cosmopolitan ways of thinking about both. In both senses of the term, cosmopolitanism is also a thesis about both identity and belongingness and refers to an orientation of the ‘self’. This usage of the term cosmopolitanism informs much of the work on cosmopolitanism in social theory as well as literary and art criticisms.

In conceptual terms, the rise of the concept of cosmopolitanism is explained by the fact that the old association between nation and (p.152) state has come under a great stress, and nationalism itself, as Pheng Cheah writes, seems to be ‘out of favor in academia’ (Cheah 2006). There has been a disruption in the close identity between nation as a cultural entity and state as its political manifestation since more and more states are recognizing the fact of cultural diversity within their boundaries, and recognizing their multicultural/multinational dimensions. In this historical predicament, the concept of cosmopolitanism has come to perform two functions and conveys the two meanings just discussed. It is in this historical context that cosmopolitanism as a theme has become relevant for the study of Indian political thought.

As a consequence, the tradition of political thinking in India is being explored with a new perspective, and the new perspective is bringing to light hitherto unknown or relatively less known dimensions of political thought in India, colonial, pre-colonial, and postcolonial. The category ‘political thought’ in India has been conventionally understood to refer to the study of great thinkers. There is a need to move beyond this conventional ‘major thinker’-centric understanding of political thought to include the ideas–notions–concepts informing the practices of cosmopolitan communities. It is also necessary for a meaningful study of cosmopolitanism in Indian thought, particularly its contemporary versions, to include the practices and ideas of cosmopolitanism prevailing outside the geographical boundaries of India, for example, the studies of Indian diaspora. Thus, this review of recent literature on cosmopolitanism in Indian political thought conducted in this chapter will not be limited by the conventional idea of this academic field.

Contemporary Cosmopolitanisms: Universalistic Positions and Postcolonial Critiques

One of the major methodological implications of cosmopolitanism is that it indicates a move from a ‘national to a human frame of reference’ (Fine 2007: ix). In other words, it is a move from methodological nationalism to methodological cosmopolitanism. Martha Nussbaum’s (1994) article, ‘Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism’, seems to have been the take-off moment for the already emerging theoretical debate on cosmopolitanism, as most of the later writers refer to this article. In this article, Nussbaum develops a critique of Richard Rorty’s (p.153) argument in favour of nationalism against the ‘politics of difference’ and multiculturalism. She argues that there is not a great deal of distance between the substances of the two forms of politics. Nussbaum’s focus in this article is to argue for a cosmopolitan system of education in the United States (US), where, in her view, education is too narrowly focused on nationalism. Nussbaum advances four arguments in defence of her position. She argues that: (a) it is important to know what is local and what is broadly or deeply shared in our practices; (b) some major problems of the contemporary world happen to be shared ones, which in turn require global cooperation and action; (c) it is not entirely desirable and is narrow minded to limit our concerns only to sheer private or family concerns; and (d) most importantly, for a democratic deliberation of certain basic human values, the boundaries of the nation are ‘morally arbitrary’. Referring to Rorty’s position, she asks rhetorically, why should our concern for basic human values lose steam ‘when they get to the borders of the nation’ (Nussbaum [1994]: 6)? She also points out an inconsistency in the nationalist position on the ground that a basic idea of human personhood is indispensable for their position, but that idea would eventually transcend national boundaries (ibid.).

In order to develop her theoretical position on cosmopolitanism, she takes recourse to two philosophical positions, those of the Stoics, who think of themselves as citizens of the world, kosmo polites, and of Immanuel Kant’s notion of cosmopolitanism. From the Stoics, she borrows the idea of the concentric circles of human affiliations. The concentric circles begin with the smallest, drawn around the self, and end with the largest one, that of humanity, going through various intermediary circles. The cosmopolitan task, Nussbaum says, is to give special attention to the circle of humanity by drawing it towards the centre, without, however, weakening our intermediary affiliations and identifications. However, the force of Nussbaum’s arguments, in this article, goes in favour of promoting the cosmopolitan ideal as she writes bluntly: ‘Cosmopolitanism offers no such refuge; it offers only reason and the love of humanity, which may seem at times less colorful than other sources of belonging.’ (ibid.: 6–7). Using an old trope of political philosophy, she argues that the cosmopolitan ideal can be promoted only if people considered the other intermediary affiliations as parts of the whole, ‘the whole’ being humanity here. With this move, Nussbaum seeks to bring the self in closer connection with (p.154) the widest circle of humanity by shifting from other intermediary affiliations, such as nation, region, religion, and cultural community, in relative terms.

Since the publication of the article, Nussbaum’s universalist position has been criticized by both the defenders as well as the critics of the idea of cosmopolitanism. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s criticism of Nussbaum’s position holds her responsible for confirming the image of cosmopolitans as rootless people, which, he thinks, is not necessarily or always true. In ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’, he develops a theoretical position which he calls ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ or ‘cosmopolitan patriotism’ (Appiah 1997: 618). He develops this position by arguing against Nussbaum’s contention that the nation is a morally arbitrary or irrelevant category. At the outset, he also differentiates between patriotism and nationalism: ‘Cosmopolitanism and patriotism, unlike nationalism, are both sentiments more than ideologies’ (ibid.: 619). Cosmopolitans are attached to their own cultural particularities, but they ‘take pleasure’ in knowing about other cultures and places and relating to them. Against the approach taken by Nussbaum, the main burden of Appiah’s argument is that the lover of humanity can be a lover of patria also (ibid.: 620). On this point, he attempts to show why nations matter morally and why they are not morally arbitrary entities. He begins his argument by taking recourse to a more general maxim: ‘Humans live best on smaller scale’ and a ‘citizen of a cosmopolis’ is a figurative term and not a literal one (ibid.: 624). A morally relevant unit of human action is always an entity smaller than humanity.

One of the most significant academic developments in the last decade has been a powerful postcolonial critique of Eurocentric universalism. In contrast to Appiah’s liberal combining of patriotism and cosmopolitanism, most postcolonial critics seek to move beyond Eurocentric and liberal notions of cosmopolitanism as they find that the cosmopolitan visions based on Enlightenment universalism are governed by the ‘will to control and homogenize’ (Mignolo 2002: 159). Such visions are considered domineering. In the postcolonial approach, Eurocentric notions are understood as part of the story of modernity that is entangled in the stories of colonialism seen as the ‘darker side of modernity’ (ibid.: 159). Along these lines, Uday Mehta (1999), in Liberalism and Empire, also develops a powerful critique of the cosmopolitanism grounded in liberal universalism by showing its historical nexus with imperialism.

(p.155) In the book, Mehta contrasts between ‘cosmopolitanism of reason’ and ‘cosmopolitanism of sentiments’. ‘Cosmopolitanism of reason’ refers to the epistemological practice of liberalism, which is shown to be coeval with imperialism and which informed its practices of governance also. In its epistemological practice, nineteenth-century liberalism creates a ‘familiar structure of generality’ that is then supposed to interpret all the data from the empirical world and also assimilate those data politically (Mehta 1999: 20). In this practice, what is strange and different is treated in terms of what is already known, that is, the ‘other’ of the liberal reason. Instead of treating the other cultural forms as instances of other forms of rationality, that is, in their own ‘unique singularity’ and in their own terms, liberal reason reduces them to particular instances of the general form of irrationality, which is its epistemological and historical ‘other’.

The epistemological and historical are intimately linked in the world of the nineteenth-century liberalism as the liberal universalist epistemological stance guarantees a ‘teleologically significant world’, a threat of the loss of which haunts the liberals in their colonial situations (ibid.). This structure of generality is followed by all the major English liberals of the nineteenth century, such as Bentham, Macaulay, and the Mills, both father and son. In his argument, Mehta shows that nineteenth-century liberal cosmopolitanism is grounded in these generalities:

These generalities constitute the ground of a cosmopolitanism because in a single glance and without having experienced any of it, they make it possible to compare and classify the world. But that glance is braided with the urge to dominate the world, because the language of those comparisons is not neutral and cannot avoid notions of superiority and inferiority, backward and progressive, and higher and lower. (ibid.: 20; emphasis added)

The ‘cosmopolitanism of reason’ leaves out the archaic, the religious, the pre-modern, and the world of sentiments, feelings, sense of location, and forms of life. It seeks to integrate them into the ‘teleologies of imperial and liberal imperatives’ on its own terms, a task that cannot be accomplished without a fundamental transformation of those forms of life (ibid.: 21). Such places get identified in the Enlightenment liberal epistemological paradigm as past points on the scale of progress and civilization and get treated as empty places amenable for transformation through colonization.

(p.156) Mehta develops an argument in favour of another kind of cosmopolitanism, which he derives by focusing on the conditions of possibility of experience. Mehta argues that the integrity of experience is tied to ‘locality and finitude’, the bases of Gadamer’s epistemic category of ‘prejudice’, because experience has a strong psychological dimension. To develop his notion of experience, Mehta takes recourse to thinkers like Burke, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein, who are willing to take the ‘risk of encounter’ without predefining them in their own terms, a risk refused by liberalism which prefers to settle such risks ‘in advance of the encounter’ (Mehta 1999: 21–2). Following the lead of these thinkers, Mehta conceptualizes the ‘local’ and the spatially limited as providing the conditions of possibility of experience because all forms of life and their corresponding experiences are ‘constituted by their unavoidable engagement with the local’ (ibid.: 40–1). Mehta’s ‘cosmopolitanism of sentiments’ is based on the dialogue and a conversation between two strangers, a dialogue that doesn’t foreclose the outcome in terms of the world view of the one.

This approach too is cosmopolitan in Mehta’s view because ‘it holds out the possibility, and even the hope, that through the conversation, which has its purpose the understanding of the sentiments that give meaning to people’s lives, wider bonds of sympathy can be forged’ (ibid.: 22). Despite its risks, in the ‘cosmopolitanism of sentiment’ lie the possibilities of understanding, recognition, and influence, which are mutual and not one-way. Even if none of this is guaranteed, it remains a ‘tragic fact about the world’: ‘To contain those differences or to mediate them through a prior sentiment that fixes on reason, freedom, ethics, internationalism, multiculturalism, the universality of rights, or even democracy, is to deny “the occult”, “the parochial”, “the traditional”, in short the unfamiliar, the very possibility of articulating the meaning and agentiality of their own experiences’ (ibid.: 23). The true challenge of cosmopolitanism then is to recognize all life forms as ‘contemporaneous ways of being in the world’ (ibid.: 41). Mehta promotes this version of cosmopolitanism, as it is better able to facilitate an ‘openness to the world, to its unavoidable contingencies, surprises, and ambivalences’ (ibid.: 42).

In continuity with Uday Mehta’s arguments about a cosmopolitanism based on open, albeit risky conversations, some postcolonial critics argue that thinking about cosmopolitanism is a task of exploration rather than that of realization of an already available idea. (p.157) Against Nussbaum’s position, they argue that cosmopolitanism is not an entirely known entity with a clear genealogy from the Stoics to Immanuel Kant and beyond. According to these critics, cosmopolitanism should instead be understood as a project whose ‘conceptual content and pragmatic character’ are yet not clear and specified (Mehta 1999: 1). Thus, both theory and practice of cosmopolitanism are matters to be explored; defining and ‘specifying cosmopolitanism positively and definitely is an uncosmopolitan thing to do’ (Breckenridge et al. 2002: 1). This approach is pursued in a book, Cosmopolitanism, edited by Carole A. Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. In this book, cosmopolitanism as a historical category appears as ‘entirely open’ and not ‘pregiven or foreclosed’ by any definition of a particular society or discourse. The task of exploring cosmopolitanisms is linked to the debates on alternative and multiple modernities: ‘In this way, the components of the linked academic–political activity of cosmopolitanism become mutually reinforcing: new descriptions of cosmopolitanism as a historical phenomenon and theoretical object may suggest new practices, even as better practices may offer a better understanding of the theory and history of cosmopolitanism’ (ibid.).

According to the approach outlined here, the contemporary moment, the moment of appearance of cosmopolitanism on the horizons, is the time of the ‘twilight of Transition’ rather than a ‘dawn of millenium transformation’ (ibid.: 4). They point out a double game at the heart of the contemporary discourse of cosmopolitanism: ‘…where a genuine desire for equality as a universal norm is tethered to a tenacious ethnocentric provincialism in matters of cultural judgment and recognition’ (ibid.: 5). The editors in the introductory essay, ‘Cosmopolitanisms’, criticize the neo-liberal varieties of cosmopolitanism that entail a conformism to the extent that they have a very fixed sense of what it means to be ‘a person as an abstract unit of cultural exchange’, that is, a person emptied of all experiential differences. It is this abstract personhood of the ‘old humanism’ that has been revived in the contemporary discourse of human rights, so central to the dominant, liberal versions of cosmopolitanisms (ibid.). The problem with the liberal, universalist models of cosmopolitanism, these authors point out, is that all of them are ‘framed by the ideal of national sovereignty because nationhood is the social form that renders modernity self-conscious—conscious of (p.158) being contemporary—so that the cosmopolitan spirit may inhabit a world that is ethically synchronous and politically symmetrical (Breckenridge et al. 2002: 6).

The cosmopolitanisms (always in plural) promoted in this book are ‘minoritarian cosmopolitanisms’, which are produced by the victims of modernity and capitalism, through their ideas and practices. The victims who are ‘…failed by capitalism’s upward mobility, and bereft of those comforts and customs of national belonging. Refugees, peoples of the diaspora, and migrants and exiles represent the spirit of the cosmopolitical community’ (ibid.: 6). The modernity of the victims of modernity, the ‘minoritarian modernity’, becomes, in this perspective, an important source of cosmopolitan thinking. The ‘minoritarian cosmopolitanisms’ are to be found in the plurality of modes and histories that comprise contemporary cosmopolitan theory and practice.

Such ‘minoritarian cosmopolitanisms’ are to be found in the histories and archives of ideas and practices of the people living in the conditions of ‘minoritarian modernity’ outside the ‘purview of the self-limiting cosmopolitanism of western political thought’, in:

…the archive of architecture and housing in Asia. Studying the multitudes and fates of pavement dwellers in Bombay/Mumbai, a city crowded with empty buildings, would enable us to grasp a new kind of endangered cosmopolitanism already coded in the recent rectification of names signaled by that brutal forward slash; just as an analysis of the twinned or inverted histories of Shanghai and Hong Kong might complexify our categories by offering two very different yet equally cosmopolitan formations. If postcolonial Africa is off the cosmopolitan map for Kant or the Stoics, consider what could be learned (both in terms of the possibilities and tensions of cosmopolitanism) from the biography of a rural Senegalese Muslim brotherhood and its transformation into one of the most remarkable global trading networks of the contemporary world; or from the recent history of the photographed and aestheticized body in Senegal, and its negotiation with trans-African, Islamicate, and cosmopolitan norms of eros—especially eros that sells. (ibid.: 10)

Dipesh Chakrabarty (2002), in ‘Universalism and Belonging in the Logic of Capital’, differentiates between universalism and cosmopolitanism and argues that cosmopolitanism seeks to find a middle ground between universalism and various versions of relativism in a manner similar to that of notions of ‘strategic essentialism’ associated (p.159) with Gayatri Spivak and of ‘hybridity’ developed by Homi Bhabha. Analysing the conceptual origins of the universalism of Marx, and indeed of Marxists, Chakrabarty poses the question: how does Marx’s universal category ‘capital’ negotiate the question of historical difference (Chakrabarty 2002)? Through the analysis of this issue in Marx, Chakrabarty seeks to address the larger question, that is also central to the contemporary debates on cosmopolitanism, ‘the question of human belonging in a globe increasingly made one by the technologies of capital’ (ibid.: 83).

In this essay, Chakrabarty carries out a rigorous analysis of Marx’s concept of ‘abstract labour’ because it is through the performative abstracting of labour in actual historical practices that the logic of capital sublates historical differences into itself (ibid.: 83). The performative abstracting of labour happens through state violence (laws) and through factory disciplines and time management. Through this analysis of the concept of abstract labour, Chakrabarty is able to pose both the questions of universalism as well as those of historical and indeed cultural difference. Abstract labour is universal because it is a category with which historical differences of peoples and histories could be made commensurable with each other in terms of homogeneous unit for measuring human activity (ibid.). But at the same time, actual living workers, whose labour is to be made abstract performatively through the practices of time discipline, belong to historical and culturally different social conditions, thus denying to capital its potential universality. Both these conditions belong to the histories of world capitalism, but they have to be understood differently. Chakrabarty calls these History 1 and History 2 respectively.

Both History 1 and History 2 refer to the ‘antecedents’ to capital and they are ‘posited by capital itself’ and can only be studied retrospectively as pasts posited by capital itself. But the crucial difference between the two histories is that in case of History 1, the past posited by capital refers to its preconditions, whereas in case of History 2, the pasts do not ‘lend themselves to the reproduction of the logic of capital’ (ibid.: 98–9). It is through History 2 that Chakrabarty posits the question of historical and cultural differences. Chakrabarty also points out very clearly that History 2 is not ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ capital, rather it refers to ‘pasts that inhere in capital and yet interrupt and punctuate the run of capital’s own logic’ (ibid.: 99). Chakrabarty’s main point is: albeit the disciplinary processes of capitalism always try to subjugate (p.160) History 2 (the ‘remnants of vanished social formations’) to History 1, but they are potentially unconquerable as they do not constitute the ‘dialectical other of the necessary logic of History 1 (Chakrabarty 2002: 100–1). To think thus would be to subsume History 2 to History 1. History 2 is better thought of as a category charged with the negative function of constantly interrupting the totalizing thrusts of History 1’ (ibid.: 101). Thus, Chakrabarty invites us to think of the question of historical and cultural difference along with the problematic of universalism and not as separate from or opposed to it.

Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Cosmopolitanism as a Methodology

Traditions of political thought in India, both pre-colonial as well as colonial, are being explored by historians and political theorists with the new perspectives that emerge from these debates around the concept of cosmopolitanism. The debates also have methodological implications for the academic field of political thought all around the world. The journal, The Review of Politics, devoted its Summer 1997 issue to the exploration of non-Western political thought. In the introductory article, ‘Toward a Comparative Political Theory’, Fred Dallmayr writes that the field of ‘comparative political theory’ or ‘comparative political philosophy’ is either non-existent, or fledgling, or embryonic in the contemporary academia (Dallmayr 1997). He also notices that in the turn of the century situation of the emergence of the ‘global village’, political thoughts from the non-Western parts of the world are no longer the concerns of the ‘area-studies’ but are in the global arena. The new, emerging field of comparative political theory transgresses and unsettles the established field of ‘comparative politics’, which is basically empirical, descriptive, and governed by formal models of analysis. Even the idea of comparison has to be thought differently for comparative political theory. Most practitioners of ‘comparative politics’ usually assume the stance of a neutral and universal observer in order to assess the distance or closeness of the given society–polity to the standard global model. For the comparative political theorists, on the other hand, the pretensions of neutrality, objectivity, and spectatorship should be shunned and they should adopt a ‘more modest stance of co-participant(s) in search for truth…’ (ibid.: 422). Dallmayr special advice to the (p.161) Western practitioners of political theory/philosophy is that they should ‘relinquish the role of the “universal teacher (buttressed by Western hegemony)” and be content with role of a fellow student in a cross-cultural learning experience’ (Dallmayr 1997: 422). In another article, ‘Beyond Monologue: For a Comparative Political Theory’, Dallmayr (2004) supports a political vision for a comparative political theory that supports ‘global democratic cooperation over oligarchic or imperial control and dialogical interaction over hegemonic unilateralism and monologue’ (ibid.: 254).

Continuing with the theme of a new approach to comparison, Farah Godrej’s (2009) article, ‘Towards a Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Hermeneutic of Interpreting the Other’, published in Polity, argues in favour of a cosmopolitan political thought. This task involves, according to Godrej, nothing less than reconstituting the field of political thought in a ‘truly cosmopolitan manner’ (ibid.: 135). It will involve rethinking the questions of approach and methodology of interpreting non-Western texts. Establishing a link between cosmopolitanism and political theory, this article envisions a new comparative political theory wherein Western and non-Western texts are compared on equal footing’ (ibid.:137). Godrej further argues that achieving a genuine turn towards cosmopolitanism in political theory involves more than simply the mandate to read beyond the Western canon. It calls upon the comparative political theorists to develop an approach to non-Western texts that is both comparative and non-Eurocentric.

Elaborating upon a distinction between cosmopolitanism and a cosmopolitan political thought, Godrej writes:

The former is a body of literature within political theory with a particular normative set of claims about structuring our moral commitments and/or our political, legal, or institutional structures; the latter would be a way of thinking about the practice of our political theorizing itself. In contrast to the cosmopolitanisms [discussed earlier] cosmopolitan political theorists would grapple with the discomfort of encountering alterity, engaging with it existentially and struggling with the demands of bringing its insights into the discourse of familiar theoretical conversations, precisely so that they may challenge the very self-understandings that define these discourses. (ibid.: 158)

However, the distinction made by Godrej between cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan political theory does not seem to hold in the light (p.162) of many of the positions on cosmopolitanisms discussed in this essay so far. The definition of cosmopolitanism offered by Godrej, in this way, refers to only the universalist versions of cosmopolitanism and ends up excluding many other important positions in contemporary debates.

Cosmopolitanism in Indian Political Thought

The contemporary search for non-Western notions of cosmopolitanisms have led some scholars to think in terms of the category of Asian thought as an alternative location. The idea of an Asian continent as a source of non-Western universalism makes possible a move beyond both Eurocentric notions as well narrow nationalist notions of cosmopolitanism and authenticity. In this regard, the works of two thinkers have received attention in recent literature, Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin. In the book, Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin, Rustom Bharucha (2006) sharply critiques some versions of contemporary cosmopolitanism. One of them is what Bharucha calls ‘subaltern cosmopolitanism’. Bharucha singles out James Clifford’s article on ‘traveling cultures’ where he promotes the idea of subaltern cosmopolitanism. Subaltern cosmopolitans refer to those travellers across international borders, particularly non-Europeans, who travel in their capacity as servants or employees of elite cosmopolitan travellers. They include: ‘servants, helpers, companions, guides, native informants, translators: indeed all those marginalized individuals who may have serviced the narratives of cosmopolitanism, but who remained on the periphery, rendered invisible under different conditions of coercion, humiliation, economic exploitation, if not political oppression’ (ibid.: 119).

Bharucha questions this strategy of de-nativizing the hierarchies and the gesture of democratization entailed in a unproblematic application of the same category of cosmopolitanism for different groups of travellers. He finds this strategy specious ‘in the absence of any dialogue or empirical evidence to suggest that the erstwhile “natives” would like to be considered “cosmopolitan”’ (ibid.: 119). Bharucha also questions whether it is possible for the subaltern companions of the rich masters or employers ‘to imagine any identity other than that marked by their country of origin, religion, community, class, economic subordination’ (ibid.: 119). Bharucha argues that (p.163) they definitely imagine better future for themselves, only the ‘future is not cosmopolitan’ (Bharucha 2006: 120). Bharucha describes the life of one such subaltern: a Japanese landscape gardener employed at the ancestral house of the Tagores at Jarasanko in Calcutta. In all the sources that contain some information about the gardener, written by members of the elite employers’ family (Abanindranath Tagore’s diaries), Bharucha finds the gardener nameless. Bharucha shows that during the visit of Okakura Tenshin to Calcutta, where he is hosted by the Tagore family, the relationship between the gardener and Okakura remains as it would be in Japan, that is, extremely feudal. Bharucha cites a description of the gardener from Abanindranath’s diaries:

The man came up to the door, hesitated, peeped in, but didn’t venture to announce himself. He would not come in even when I asked him to. He was standing near the door, rubbing his hands in awkward silence when Okakura’s glance fell on him and he raised his right forefinger as a sign of recognition of his presence and permission for him to enter. The man at once knelt down and entered his presence walking on his knees, his head moving up and down in unison with his movement. Okakura spoke a few words in his own language and the interview was at an end. The exit was in the same fashion as the entrance. (ibid.: 120)

When asked about his behaviour, the gardener responds by saying: ‘Oh sir, he is considered as a divine person in our country’ (ibid.: 121).

Bharucha argues that Tagore, Okakura, and the Japanese gardener are all world travellers, but they travel in significantly different ways and for different purposes. In the global cosmopolitan field of travel, employment, and multiple identities, there are disparities, rifts, and hierarchies. He calls these cosmopolitanisms ‘discrepant’ cosmopolitanisms. Bharucha further raises the question of coercion and choice in case of the subaltern travellers. He argues that being cosmopolitan or cosmopolitan identity is not a question of choice for the subaltern travellers, such a situation is thrust upon him. It is also not easy for such individuals to choose their exit from such a predicament. Methodologically, the most important question here is the difficulty of finding the subaltern voice itself. On the other hand, reflecting on the cosmopolitan experiences of transnational travel and living abroad in the case of Okakura and Tagore, Bharucha finds that such cosmopolitan practices exist along with a deep sense (p.164) of longing for the native land. He is able to find such sense of longing in both Tagore and Okakura. Finally, Bharucha doesn’t accept Tagore as a cosmopolitan. He writes: ‘If I had to be pushed into defining Tagore’s sense of being in the world, I would be compelled to evoke it in terms of universality rather than cosmopolitanism’, as cosmopolitanism is not as philosophically ambitious as the word universalism (Bharucha 2006: 136).

Rabindranath Tagore’s thought has drawn a great deal of attention from scholars looking for cosmopolitanism in his ideas and life. In a recent article, Louise Blakeney Williams (2006) compares the cosmopolitanisms of Tagore and W.B. Yeats by linking the questions of cosmopolitanism and authenticity. One of the common elements in the cosmopolitan stances of the two poets is their powerful critiques of nationalism of their respective countries. But at the same time their cosmopolitanisms differed, according to Blakeney Williams, from the universalistic cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century that entailed homogeneity through the minimization of cultural differences. The cosmopolitan stances of the two poets amounted to a new kind of openness towards the other and an openness to forms of cultural hybridization. Both friends sought to avoid both the ‘colourless vagueness’ of universalistic cosmopolitanism and the ‘self-idolatory of nation-worship’ (ibid.:71).

Like Bharucha, Blakeney Williams also places a lot of emphasis on their travels across nations and the contribution of these travels towards the making of their cosmopolitan stances and orientations. Blakeney Williams argues that both Yeats and Tagore were able to think in terms of patriotisms and cosmopolitanisms, which were however at a great distance from their mainstream and dominant versions, because of which both of them were criticized by the nationalists of their respective countries, and eventually got isolated from the dominant nationalist discourses. This was not the case with Okakura, who was, as Bharucha shows, quite at home in the world of Japanese nationalism. Bharucha also traces the elements of Japanese imperialism in his promotion of the notions of Asian civilization to be created through the unity of India, China, and Japan (Bharucha 2006).

Ramchandra Guha’s recent essay (2011), ‘Travelling with Tagore’, also explores Tagore’s cosmopolitanism by focusing on his writings, speeches, and letters during his travels to Japan, the US, China, Europe, Persia, and Soviet Union. Guha’s essay traces the origins (p.165) of Tagore’s critique of nationalism in his disillusionment with the Swadeshi movement in Bengal in the first decade of the twentieth century. In his speeches in Japan and in the US during the second decade, he criticizes the creeds of nationalism and warns both the nations against its pitfalls. His speeches, particularly his criticism of nationalism, were received with a great deal of hostility in the press in both the countries. Another important issue dealt with by Guha in this essay is the theme of the relationship between the East and the West. Going back to the fascinating Gandhi–Tagore debate on this question, and on the question of cultural interaction between civilizations generally, Guha argues that out of this debate, both came out well, but ‘Tagore slightly better, perhaps. He stood his ground, whereas Gandhi shifted his somewhat. Pressed and challenged by Tagore, he broadened his nationalism to allow winds from all parts of the world’ (Guha 2011: 167).

Pradip K. Datta’s (2011) work, ‘Tagore and the Production of Critical Cosmopolitanism’, throws light on Tagore’s cosmopolitanism from a very different perspective that links much more closely his critique of nationalism and his articulation of an alternative, ‘critical’ cosmopolitanism. Nationalism, in this interpretation of Tagore, is understood as ‘a negative mode of cosmopolitanism’ and deeper connections are shown to exist between the two (ibid.: 41). At the outset, Datta shows why Nussbaum’s use of Tagore in support of her conception of cosmopolitanism does not give a true picture of the thinker’s own notion of it as it does not quite fit into the binary of local/national and global (ibid.). Tagore’s perspective on cosmopolitanism is shown to possess much closer affinities with Sheldon Pollock’s multiple cosmopolitanisms of the West and the East than with the Nussbaum’s universalist version. Similar to the line of argument pursued in the essay on cosmopolitanisms by Breckenridge et al. (2002), the central concern of the essay is to show deeper connections between nationalism and capitalist forms of globalism, including certain forms of cosmopolitanism. In this work, Tagore’s cosmopolitanism is shown to be full of complexities since his critique of nationalism also involves a critique of certain modes of production of the global. Capitalist forms of globality are produced through the principle of competition, that is, competition among nations. It is this principle, which Datta (2011) shows through his analysis of Tagore’s works across a period of three decades, that is criticized. Tagore finds the combination of this principle with colonial greed (p.166) as the real force behind the ideology and the mission of civilization (Dutta 2011). There is indeed a cosmopolitanism in Tagore’s thought but it is not to be found as the binary opposite of nationalism, but in an alternative principle: a principle that privileges one’s relationship with the ‘other’. This principle, which is at the heart of Tagore’s ethical and critical cosmopolitanism, has its origins in the specificities of its colonial location and in the transnational ‘solidarities with the victims of colonialism’ (ibid.: 39).

Another approach to ‘ethical cosmopolitanism’ in Indian political thought is to be found in Uday Mehta’s reading (1999) of Mahatma Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj. Just like the liberal notion of cosmopolitanism is tied to its notion of civilization, Gandhi’s alternative, ethical cosmopolitanism, is connected to his alternative definition of civilization in Hind Swaraj, under the name of ‘true civilization’. For Gandhi, civilization has moral and ethical meaning and refers to a person’s ‘mode of conduct’ that points to ‘a path of duty’ (Sharma and Suhrud 2010: 56). Mehta argues that in contrast to the liberal notion, Gandhi’s usage doesn’t link civilization to history, politics, or to a dependence of one community on another for guidance. His notion of civilization is ‘purely individualistic’ (Mehta 1999: 113). But Mehta also argues, somewhat inconsistently, that Gandhi’s ‘purely individualistic’ notion of civilization helps in boosting the claims of Indian nationalism to independence and self-government and fails to capture Gandhi’s own nationalistic assumptions that govern his definition of civilization as he also uses phrases like ‘our civilization’ or ‘Indian civilization’ (ibid.).

The emergence of global and cosmopolitan perspectives has also influenced the field of historiography. In historical research in the last two decades, shift is from nation (state)-based perspective towards transnational, inter-regional, and global connections. As a result, new fields of research have emerged, among which is the search for cosmopolitanisms in thought and practices. The journal, Modern Intellectual History, brought out an issue in 2007, devoted to Indian intellectual history. Most of the essays in this issue attempt to move beyond the narrow nation-centred frameworks in their approach to intellectual history of modern India. Christopher Bayly’s essay in this issue on Rammohan Roy and liberalism attempts to show the prevalence of liberal ideas in different parts of the world, Western and non-Western, in the early nineteenth century. He puts a distinct (p.167) emphasis on the simultaneous emergence of modern political ideas in different parts of the world after the American and French revolutions (Bayly 2007). Rammohan’s liberal ideas are placed in the context of Iberian and Latin American constitutional revolutions on the one hand, and the movement for free trade and parliamentary reform on the other.

Bayly calls early nineteenth century as India’s ‘constitutional liberal moment’ (ibid.: 41). Roy is seen as the Indian representative of the ‘trans-national quest of humanity for self-realization’ (ibid.: 40) According to Bayly, the early nineteenth century saw the emergence of ‘international public sphere’, wherein the main agenda was a transnational imagining of constitutional liberty and a struggle against the ‘international unholy alliance’ of the despotic forms of government represented by the Bourbon, the Ottomans, and the Czar (ibid.: 28). Bayly argues in favour of placing Roy’s political thought in this context of global imagining of constitutional liberty. Bayly also insists that Roy should be considered a liberal but not a prophet of Indian secularism or a cosmopolitan. But this point is not elaborated in this essay, although he shows Roy as embracing Hindu, Muslim, and Western notions of virtue. Bayly also does not consider Roy’s letter to the French Foreign Minister, on his denial of entry into France because of lack of necessary papers, in which he decries the restrictions on travels by the creation of national boundaries. An interesting fact about this letter is that it emerges at the same time when national boundaries are becoming more rigid.

Rammohan Roy’s thought has also been analysed in a recent essay by Tanika Sarkar (2008), ‘How to Think Universalism from Colonial and Post Colonial Locations: Some Indian Efforts’. Sarkar begins by critiquing ‘postcolonial critiques of universalism’, wherein Lata Mani’s celebrated work on ‘sati’ is singled out. Sarkar argues that Mani’s analysis of Roy’s discourse on sati as an instance of progressive discourse generally overlooks ‘the colonial legal framework on personal laws which made it obligatory for all reformers to refer to scriptural citations in defence of social change’ (ibid.: 249). Further, it also takes into account the fact that Roy’s tract on sati, particularly the one written in response to the conservatives’ articulation of their position, is able to move beyond the quibbling over scriptural issues. In this work, Sarkar argues, a new moral ‘counter norm’ emerges which is ‘unmoored from the particularities of a religio-cultural tradition’ (p.168) and this ‘counter norm’ is ‘made compatible with a universal human condition and its moral resolution’ (Sarkar 2008: 249).

Further, implicitly critiquing Lata Mani’s position that various discourses on sati turn woman as a mere site of the constitution of authentic tradition based on the authority of the scriptures, Sarkar tries to show that in Roy’s discourse, it is possible to observe a ‘horizon of new gender values beyond the Hindu moral universe or ethical concerns’ (ibid.: 250). In this way, he is also able to disturb commonly acclaimed notions of reasonableness among Hindus, and also to devalue established hierarchies (ibid.). Sarkar calls Roy’s universalism ‘argumentative universalism’, which Roy is able to develop by drawing upon the resources of various religious traditions. But more importantly, Sarkar argues, Roy was able to confront and contradict these by bringing these traditions into confrontation and contradiction with each other, without submitting to the authority of any one of them. Thus, Roy’s ‘argumentative universalism’ was a ‘universalism that was playful and mischievous, deconstructive of grand narratives and truth claims, rather than appearing as the repository of an absolute truth’ (ibid.: 247).

An essay by Ayesha Jalal (2007) on Maulana Azad continues the theme of transnationalism and shows, contrary to his representations in the statist narratives of ‘secularist nationalist’ historiography, the transnational import of his theory of jihad. Jalal shows how Azad, in his speeches and writings, is able to combine an ‘emotive affinity’ with the Muslim umma with the regional patriotic sentiments through his reinterpretation of the doctrine of jihad (ibid.). It was perfectly compatible, for Azad, to combine religiously informed identity with regional patriotisms as such a combination was largely in evidence in the late pre-colonial and early colonial periods of Indian history. Azad’s politics of Hindu–Muslim unity was grounded, according to Jalal, in his anti-colonial politics based on Islamic universalism, and not on any doctrine of secularism (ibid.). The context of the invocation of the classical doctrine of jihad in the modern period is the erosion of Muslim sovereignty, and its function was largely to legitimize anti-colonial struggles.

Azad used the doctrine of jihad in the context of growing anti-colonial struggle in India and gave it a new edge through his interpretation. Jalal argues strongly against the ‘secular nationalist’ historiography that seeks to conceal the fact that religious sensibility (p.169) ‘was part and parcel of nationalism in colonies as far apart as India and Ireland’ (Jalal 2007: 96). Azad, in Jalal’s reading, emerges as an influential intellectual politician who is able to combine the politics of Islamic universalism with a vision of anti-colonialism. Jalal places Azad’s universalist vision in the transnational context of the emergence of the Islamic universalism at the same time in other parts of the world such as Egypt and Iran. Azad’s Islamic universalism is grounded in the Quranic doctrine of justice. The Khilafat movement in India became the ground for the application of the Islamic universalist ideas of Azad. Like Tagore and Gandhi, Azad disparaged European claims of superiority of civilization by showing catastrophes caused in the wake of the recent history of colonialism (ibid.).

Andrew Sartori’s (2007) essay, ‘Beyond Culture Contact and Colonial Discourse: “Germanism” in Colonial Bengal’, shows the transnational context of even the formation of nationalist discourse in India towards the end of the nineteenth century. During this period, ‘Germanism’ and ‘Germany’ had acquired an important status in the nationalist thought in Bengal. But the ‘Germany’ referred to here is not the actual nation state by that name but an ‘intellectual construct’ that had become equally central in the philosophical–intellectual life of Victorian Britain during the same period, and the Indian reception of Germanism was actually mediated through Britain. ‘Germanism’ and ‘Germany’ as intellectual constructs refer to a romantic–idealist reaction, represented by figures like S.T. Coleridge and Mathew Arnold, against a more cosmopolitan, materialist, and utilitarian ideology identified with British global hegemony. This idealist turn was also a turn against the universalist visions of civilization and progress and towards more ‘authentic’ notions of culture and nationhood.

As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the modern notion of culture-based nationhood had its origins in the German idealist reaction against the Franco-British emphasis on civilization. The latter was understood as superficial and materialist, and represented an inauthentic orientation of the self (Elias 1998). The claims of authenticity for the national culture were based, in turn, on the claims of its purity and antiquity, expressed in the notion of the ‘classical’. As the classical Greek antiquity—representing the pure and unalloyed culture, as against the derivative and eclectic Romans—was claimed by the Germans as the origin of Western culture, the classical gets tied to (p.170) an organic conception of nationhood (Sartori 2007). The Bengali intellectuals, beginning with Rajendralal Mitra in the 1870s, too made a claim to the classical antiquity of India and linked it to the historiography of an organic nationalism. In this way, India became ‘Asia’s Germany’ (ibid.).

The globality approach has also been used in recent historical scholarship to critique the postcolonial argument emphasizing historical difference and cultural autonomy, referring particularly to several arguments put forward by Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Andrew Sartori’s 2008 book on the history of the concept of culture in Bengal and some of Manu Goswami’s essays (for example, Goswami 2005) could be considered for this approach. These works situate the turn of the century political thought in India in the context of the global historical geography of capitalism. In ‘Autonomy and Comparability’, Goswami (2005) argues that the recent concern for cultural autonomy, historical difference, incommensurability, and finding a singular position of ‘otherness’ found in the works of postcolonial scholars echoes the similar emphases on autonomy and indigeneity in the thinkers of the Swadeshi movement, such as Tagore, Aurobindo, and Bipan Chandra Pal. Goswami accepts the subalternist historians critique and rejection of both modernization and orthodox Marxist paradigms informed by developmentalist historicism as they tend to replicate the ‘originary epistemic violence enacted by colonial pedagogy’ (ibid.: 203). But she provides a critique of the attempts to discard the historical analysis of global capitalism itself.

The position of radical heterogeneity and alterity sought by the postcolonial scholars, a position that could escape or exceed the modern representational frameworks, is untenable and unintelligible because ‘singularity as such’, Goswami contends, cannot be cognitively grasped, except in relational terms (ibid.: 209). Such claims ultimately lead to epistemological impasse. Goswami underscores the need to, once more, after the discursive turn in historiography, analyse historically the origins of such notions of indigeneity and cultural autonomy as found in the Swadeshi discourse.

A similar historico-geographical approach has been elaborated by Andrew Sartori (2008) in Bengal in Global Concept History. Sartori’s book is an attempt to analyse the emergence of the concept of culture in Swadeshi-era Bengal against the backdrop of global capitalism. (p.171) The ostensible objective of the book is to ‘grasp the global dimension of Bengali culturalism without effacing its specificity’ (Sartori 2008: 18). Sartori adopts a ‘critical Marxist’ approach wherein capitalism is not equated merely with market exchange but understood as an ‘epochally particular constellation of social practices’ (ibid.: 18). Sartori takes a socio-historical approach to the history of concept of culture in Bengal by grounding its analysis in the Marxist insights about the capitalist processes of reification and objectification of human social life. By adopting this ‘critical’ Marxist approach, Sartori, much in the same vein as Goswami, seeks to displace the ‘centrality of epistemic or symbolic violence’ that has dominated South Asian historiography for the past couple of decades (ibid.: 19). Instead, Sartori foregrounds the question of global dissemination of the concept of culture through the processes of conceptual innovation achieved by conceptual borrowing and appropriation. The forms of social abstraction created by global capitalism become the new object of thought for such conceptual innovations, in which the concept of culture acquires central place. Like Goswami, Sartori also denies that there can be any particularity or indigeneity that can be understood apart from its mediation by the formal structures of global capitalism.

The global dissemination of the modern concept of culture and the culturalist notions of autonomous human subjectivity should be understood as specific and differential responses to the reifying logic of global capitalism (ibid.: 66). This way, Sartori argues, the global concept of culture can be understood to possess what he calls ‘a multiform universality: a universality of meaning that is always qualified by the contextual contingency of sense’ (ibid.: 62). The post-Swadeshi period, from 1910s onwards, has been identified by Sartori as a period of intensification of the impulse to cosmopolitanism. The origins of this ‘parochial cosmopolitanism’, however, are not explained satisfactorily, except by saying that it was rooted in ‘regional social dynamics’ and that the ‘local/global dyad is always produced in each context of its articulation, and that the local specificity of Bengali culturalism therefore in no way negates its structural relationship to other equally specific forms of culturalism elsewhere’ (ibid.: 230–1).

Kris Manjapra’s book on M.N. Roy’s cosmopolitanism is set in the period beginning where Sartori’s book ends, that is, with the aftermath of Swadeshi nationalism providing the backdrop for the intellectual and political maturing of young Roy’s ideas (Manjapra 2010). (p.172) While Manjapra shares with Sartori and Goswami the critique of the dichotomy of authentic cultural and heteronomous global, the approach to the study of Roy’s cosmopolitanism is quite different as it seeks to place Roy’s thought in the ‘context of multiple, contingent, socially located conversations’ (Manjapra 2010: xix). Roy, as an activist thinker, is seen as ‘both the recipient and formulator of meaning’ in a series of ‘charged conversation zones’ across the world (ibid. xix). Thus, the book tries to highlight the role of travels across the world by various intellectuals and public figures in the beginning of the twentieth century that produces global intellectual entanglements and give rise to various variety of ‘parochial cosmopolitanisms’ that Sartori also writes about (ibid.: xiii–xxii).

Cosmopolitan Practices

Sheldon Pollock’s (2002) essay, ‘Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History’, compares two instances of cosmopolitanism in history. He writes about the ‘old cosmopolitanism’ of Sanskrit and compares it with Latin cosmopolitanism before the beginning of what he calls ‘vernacular millennium’. According to Pollock, the vernacular millennium begins ‘in southern Asia and Western Europe with remarkable simultaneity in the early second millennium and it developed with equally striking parallels over the following five centuries’ (ibid.: 16). The new vernaculars replaced ‘old translocalism’ and developed new ways of ‘making culture’ and basing local identities on them. While the pre-vernacular cosmopolitanism of Sanskrit and Latin literati had many similarities, the political logic of vernacularization led to different developments in Europe and in India. In Europe, vernacularization eventually led to the emergence of nations, while in India, it gave rise to ‘vernacular polity’, but in both places, vernacularization helped initiate an ‘early modern era’. According to Pollock, the vernacular age is finally coming to an end under the pressures of globalization, liberalization, Americanization, and so on (ibid.).

By cosmopolitanism and vernacularism, Pollock means sets of practices rather than philosophical ideas. Against the ‘coercive cosmopolitanism and a vernacularism of necessity of today’, Pollock finds in the Sanskrit and Latin literary cultures, ‘a voluntaristic cosmopolitanism and a vernacularism of accommodation, where very different principles are at work inviting affiliation to these cultural (p.173) political orders’ (Pollock 2002: 19). Beginning early in the first millennium, the geographical spread of Sanskrit literary culture covered an area that extended from today’s Afghanistan to Java and from Sri Lanka to Nepal: ‘There was nothing unusual about finding a Chinese traveler studying Sanskrit grammar in Sumatra in the seventh century, an intellectual from Sri Lanka writing Sanskrit literary theory in the northern Deccan in the tenth, or Khmer princes composing Sanskrit political poetry for the magnificent pillars of Mebon and Pre Rup in Angkor in the twelfth’ (ibid.: 23). Pollock shows many similarities between Sanskrit and Latin cosmopolitanisms. Both these literary cultures had an ‘unbounded spatio-temporal circulation’ and both maintained a certain kind of normativity in their literary and intellectual practices that sought to ensure circulation (ibid.: 24).

Sanskrit cosmopolitanism is an alternative form of cosmopolitanism ‘in which “here,” instead of being equated with “everywhere,” is equated with “nowhere in particular”’ (ibid.). The term that indicates the ‘Sanskrit cosmopolis’ is ‘the Way’ (marga). The Sanskrit cosmopolis was also created by action, and not through conquest, and the groups of society that made it possible were traders, literati, religious professionals, and freelance adventurers. What was not used in the making of this cosmopolitanism were things like coercion, co-optation, and juridical control. Although it was voluntary, yet it wasn’t a world of ‘absolute free will’: ‘In addition to everyday limits on life chances, traces of archaic ritual restrictions on participation in some dimension of Sanskrit culture (especially its liturgical side) were preserved far into the cosmopolitan period’ (ibid.: 26). There must have been caste restrictions in this cosmopolitanism as Pollock finds evidence of its existence in an apology to the contrary in a thirteenth-century anthology: ‘Caste is no constraint for those rendered pure by the Goddess of speech’ (ibid.: 26).

This cosmopolitanism was also beset by anxieties and fears of what is not known in the geographical knowledge of its practitioners as its borders were always haunted by the unknown and uncivilized. But Pollock claims that such anxieties about boundaries and cultural exclusions had ‘far less salience in action than what they might have had in representation’ (ibid.: 26). However, he does not give any evidence in support of his contention.

As already discussed by referring to the works of Rustom Bharucha and to the postcolonial critique of certain forms of cosmopolitanism, (p.174) increasing attention is being paid to subaltern and ‘minoritarian’ forms of cosmopolitanisms. Recent studies focusing on subaltern diaspora and migrant labour in contemporary times, and in history, document such minoritarian forms of cosmopolitanisms. Tejaswini Niranjana’s (2006) book, Mobilizing India: Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad, is a useful illustration of this. The book is a study of Indian emigrants in Trinidad, focusing particularly on how gender issues get intertwined with the historical formation of identities in both Trinidad and in India. The book, at the very outset, places itself in the contemporary academic move to go beyond the nation-centric analysis of cultural and intellectual formations. Thus, the historical critique of nation is central to the transnational enterprise of Niranjana’s book (ibid.).

The book explores the transnational interconnections involved in the processes of identity formation among the Indians migrants to Trinidad. Through the study of the Trinidadian popular form of chutney-soca music, Niranjana shows the historical formation of normative Indian femininity, an essential aspect of identity formation in these communities. The chutney–soca hybrid musical form and the Afro-Trinidadian calypso music, through the figure of ‘promiscuous woman’, play an important role in the formation of ‘East Indian patriarchy’. Through the study of popular aesthetic forms and through exploring the questions of identity formation both in ‘West India’ and ‘East India’, Niranjana addresses the larger questions of cultural entanglements of geographically distant regions, the entanglements that have been made ‘invisible in the postcolonial present’:

One cannot, for example, talk about Trinidad without talking about India, over 40 percent of the island’s population being of subcontinental origin, the descendants of indentured laborers taken there between 1845 and 1917. The obverse, however, is clearly not true. One can talk endlessly about India without the Caribbean or most other Third World regions, including India’s closest neighbours, featuring in the conversation. What difference might it make to how we in India think about our past—and perhaps how we think about our present, as well—to reflect on that which binds India to a west that is not the West? (ibid.: 19)

She also asks an important question about the possibilities of carrying out a comparative research which is not governed by the impulse of representing or producing knowledge to govern or regulate. In other words, her question is: can there be an ‘alternative impulse’ (p.175) for comparative research? One of those impulses is that of the project of dismantling Eurocentrism that might help in the creation of ‘urgently needed new solidarities’ and possible shared futures (Niranjana 2006). Just like in the case of the search for a new framework for comparative political theory, Niranjana here is attempting to develop a framework for comparative social science research, which is universalist but not Eurocentric (ibid.: 12). These methodological developments seem to be the most far-reaching consequences of the contemporary cosmopolitan moment.

Continuing with the critique of colonial–modern forms of cosmopolitanism is Peter van der Veer’s recent work on this theme. He contrasts contemporary cosmopolitanisms that appear as ‘a trope of colonial and secular modernity’ with what he thinks as ‘genuine’ cosmopolitanism. The latter, in his view, is the one proposed by Ulf Hannerz, already mentioned earlier, according to which cosmopolitanism is first of all ‘an orientation, a willingness to engage with the Other’ (Van der Veer 2002b: 15). This latter cosmopolitan vision is contrasted by Van der Veer with what is local, chauvinist, ethnic, and the nationalist forms of narrow mental horizons (ibid.: 15–16). The most important question for Van der Veer, in the debates on cosmopolitanism, is the question of the terms on which the engagement with the others is to be undertaken. For Van der Veer, the origins of modern cosmopolitanism lie in the ‘Western engagement with the rest of the world and that engagement is a colonial one’ (ibid.: 16).

Like the approach developed in Pradip Datta’s (2011) work on Tagore, Van der Veer also does not consider cosmopolitanism and nationalism as alternatives but sees them as ‘poles in a dialectical relationship’ (Van der Veer 2002b: 16). In this context, he argues that the process of nation formation should be understood in connection with the formation of colonial empires. The colonial forms of cosmopolitanism are historically based on the possibility of encounter offered by the empire. One of the main features of imperial cosmopolitanisms is that it puts a great emphasis on secularity since its basic assumption is that religious beliefs necessarily give rise to intolerance and narrow mindedness. Thus, imperial cosmopolitanism always remains a cosmopolitanism with a pedagogical mission that seeks to bring improvement in the conquered cultures.

Van der Veer’s critique of imperial cosmopolitanism links it with the issue of translation across cultures. Since the foundational (p.176) assumption of the translation project is the inequality of languages, translation assumes the status which makes it synonymous with conversion:

The cosmopolitan person is not only a translator, but also a spy who commands more languages than the people he spies upon as well as the ability to translate their languages into the language of the rulers. It is the ultimate colonial fantasy, well expressed in Kipling’s writings, that the colonial hero has a perfect grasp of the language and the customs of the ‘natives,’ the ‘locals,’ but still in his crossing over remains true to himself and returns to his own world where he uses his acquired knowledge for the improvement of colonial rule. (Van der Veer 2002b: 18)

Following Talal Asad (1993), Van der Veer argues that in the historical process of cultural translation through dominance, what happens is that the supposed ‘weaker’ languages get forcibly transformed, as a result of which some, that is, dominant languages produce the desired knowledges more easily than the others. In the process, certain conceptual frameworks are transferred and universalized through the process of their ‘conversion’ from one language into another (Asad 1993; Van der Veer 2002a).

But Van der Veer believes that the universalization of Western modernity, along with the nineteenth-century project of bourgeois cosmopolitanism, has been a failure, a fact that makes possible the new imaginings of ‘cosmopolitan options’. He discusses two alternatives. First is the one proposed by Samuel Huntington (1996), which is rejected by Van der Veer: the cosmopolitanism of civilizational differences. Huntington argues for a new kind of cosmopolitanism that recognizes civilizational differences. He recognizes the lack of universally applicable standards and promotes the idea that civilizations have their own norms and standards of judgements. Thus, Huntington’s cosmopolitanism is non-interfering and is not a version of universalizing human rights-based cosmopolitanism. The second alternative or cosmopolitan option that Van der Veer finds viable is the cosmopolitanism that might be emerging in the migrant minorities in the global cities: a cosmopolitanism of global cities. Van der Veer is careful in emphasizing that the mere fact of migrations might not lead to cosmopolitanism, it might also not diminish phenomena like racism and xenophobia. On the contrary, it might intensify them. Van der Veer argues that a new kind of cosmopolitanism is emerging in the global cities and, interestingly, minority religious formations are (p.177) playing a crucial role in its emergence. He argues that transnational migration is giving rise to the possibility of transnational religions.

As the enclaves of locality and communal living are produced by global forces in the global cities, poor, displaced, and migrant workers have to cope with the conditions of migration, employment, etc. Through these struggles, new structures of solidarities emerge, in the making of which religious formations such as the Tablighi Jama’at play an important role. Van der Veer argues strongly against the continuation of the old assessment of such formations as closed, confined, confining, and provincial, as these communities have to engage with and come to terms with a variety of ‘Others’ in their own terms:

It is impossible to simply call these movements closed, confined and confining, provincial as against cosmopolitan. They carry cosmopolitan projects, that is they engage the Other, but they emerge from quite different histories than those of the European Enlightenment… Whether the new engagements and confrontations in the global cities of the world are called cosmopolitan, global, or transnational is less important than it is to understand that the new global cities are the location of a number of different projects of engagement with the Other—among them Islamic, Hindu, Pentecostalist, environmentalist, gay and feminist Others. (Van der Veer 2002b: 25–6)

Continuing with the possibility of exploring the theme of cosmopolitan cities is an essay by Ashis Nandy (2000), ‘Time Travel to a Possible Self: Searching for the Alternative Cosmopolitanism of Cochin’. Historically, Cochin has been a small cosmopolis as it has seen a conglomerate of communities living together: Syrian Christians, Konkanis, Chinese, Catholics, Black and White Jews, Eurasian Parangis, Tamils, Yemeni Arabs, and Saraswats. Many religious communities still live there and for the residents of Cochin, the city remains the ultimate symbol of cultural diversity and ethnic tolerance. Nandy finds that among the residents, cultural diversity is celebrated as a value in itself. The main question that informs Nandy’s multifaceted study of Cochin is about the sources that have sustained a long surviving culture of cosmopolitanism and cultural pluralism of Cochin. Nandy maintains that Cochin’s cosmopolitanism is not dependent on ‘secularism, rationalism, high literacy, the rudiments of welfare state, Indian nationalism’ (ibid.: 306), and so on, because it has been existing since the early medieval age. It was a part of the Indian Ocean world that thrived on the Malabar coast, where people from (p.178) West Asia, Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and China came together and produced a cosmopolitan culture (Nandy 2000).

Nandy rejects the already available social scientific explanations of the cultural pluralism of Cochin in terms of inter-community interdependence, common language, or literacy, arguing that communal disharmony and violence could still exist and did exist in many other parts of the country despite the presence of all these variables or one or two of them. So, it is not the case that the Cochin story is a story of unproblematic harmonious relations among communities. In their specific memories, all the communities have memories of past injustices and violence against each other. They all construct the images of self and others, wherein inevitably, the ‘others’ sometimes are painted in unfavourable terms. But such memories and constructs, Nandy tells us, do not lead to ‘impassioned hatred’ (ibid.: 296). He argues that there exist checks and counter-checks of low-key loves and hates among different communities in Cochin:

During the last few centuries, Cochin seems to have thrived on the checks and counter-checks provided by its low-key communal loves and hates. Having stereo-types and disliking other communities, yet granting them a place in the sun and even the right to dislike and keep distance from one’s own community, is obviously one of the building blocks of Cochin’s version of cultural plurality. (ibid.: 297)

Nandy argues that for understanding the ‘alternative cosmopolitanism’ of Cochin, one should use alternative modes of explanation and understanding, that is, alternative to social–scientific and historiographical explanations. Nandy claims that there exists a ‘secret self’ of each community living there. Through his research, conducted through the long interviews of the members of different communities, he tries to understand the nature of these secret selves of communities. The stories the interviewees tell mostly consist of mythic stories through which comes into view the existence of a ‘mythic Cochin’. This mythic Cochin also happens to be the shared common ground between the narratives of different communities. Nandy writes:

Only gradually does one realize that the mythic Cochin is at least as important as the historic Cochin if one wants to grasp the city’s culture today. In many respects, the former is the heart of Cochin, for Cochin’s traditional cosmopolitanism lives to the extent that the mythic Cochin lives. The city’s political culture is organized around (p.179) that city of the mind. The day that phantom city dies, one suspects, Cochin will also die and become like any other small South Asian city, trying desperately to become a standard metropolis. (Nandy 2000: 302)

Critiques of the Cosmopolitanism of Global Justice and Human Rights

One of versions of contemporary cosmopolitanisms is to be found in the political philosophy of global justice grounded in the notion of human rights. One of the better-known positions within political philosophy’s cosmopolitanism is Thomas Pogge’s arguments about global poverty. Neera Chandhoke has written a strong critique of Pogge’s (2002) book, World Poverty and Human Rights, focusing specially on his notion of ‘negative duties’, related to his position on global poverty. Although Pogge considers global poverty as a violation of human rights, he articulates the duties of the Western nations regarding global poverty in terms of the concept of negative duties. Generally speaking, negative duties entail a responsibility to not harm others in any way. Negative duties are correlative of human rights in specific ways. For example, a human right not to be enslaved would entail a negative duty on the part of everyone else, a duty not to enslave (Pogge 1992).

With his philosophical argument about global justice and world poverty, Pogge wants to construct a case for obligation of the citizens of the rich Western countries towards global poor. This obligation is worked out through the concept of negative duties. In the increasingly interdependent world, the decisions taken by global institutions affect the lives of people in all parts of the world. At the same time, as the global institutions are dominated by the rich countries of the developed world, they work to the advantage of these countries. It follows, according to Pogge, that the common citizens of the rich Western countries are harming the global poor ‘through participation in an unjust global order in which protectionist policies for agriculture, and anti-dumping measures in sectors in which the developing world is best able to compete such as agriculture, clothing, and textiles, lead to global poverty’ (Chandhoke 2010: 69). Pogge’s overall argument is that ‘an unjust global institutional order produces and reproduces deep poverty in the developing world’ (ibid.).

However, having established this connection, Pogge makes what the Western countries owe to the global poor dependent on some (p.180) causal connections. First of these causal connections is the one between actually existing poverty in some part of the world and the actual decisions of the global institutions; and second is the connection between such decisions and actual benefits accruing to the Western countries. In other words, argues Chandhoke, Pogge’s negative duties hold only when these connections can be established. And in case they cannot be established, such negative duties and corresponding obligations of the rich countries towards the global poor do not follow. Not even when severe poverty entails severe violation of human rights (Chandhoke 2010). Further, pointing out a major problem with this approach to the question of obligations, Chandhoke argues that it is always going to be a very difficult proposition to establish clear and conclusive causal origins of poverty in different parts of the world. Such phenomena usually are products of a number of factors. What if the decisions of the global institutions are one of the factors among many and not necessarily the determining one? Chandhoke argues that finding such connections is not ‘all that morally relevant’ (ibid.: 73). Such restrictions, according to Chandhoke, severely restrict the scope of Pogge’s conception of negative duties, and renders them more or less ineffective in reducing global poverty because negative duties work only in case where clear causality can be proved. Chandhoke’s argument concludes by showing that current cosmopolitan theories of global justice are concerned more about ‘negative duties of the citizens of wealthy countries than about the human rights of the global poor’ (ibid.: 81).

The cosmopolitanism of human rights and global justice, promoted by the post-national theorists like Juergen Habermas, David Held, and Daniele Archibugi, has also been criticized by Partha Chatterjee (2011) in ‘Empire and Nation Today’. Chatterjee asks the question whether the new forms of informal control that replaced the old ‘direct control’ colonialism in the wake of decolonization have come to an end during the period of end of the century globalization? He answers in the negative by claiming that empire is immanent in the modern nation states (ibid.: 247–52). Empire is immanent in the nation states as modern empires, through their civilizing and normalizing pedagogical missions that not only produced the normative models of political community, norms of governance, but also invented ‘the rule of colonial difference’ (ibid.: 250). The modern empires, Chatterjee argues, have always used the rule of colonial difference for declaring (p.181) exception to the universal norm. Thus, imperial prerogative is defined by Chatterjee as the ‘power to declare colonial exception’ (Chatterjee 2011: 250). This situation, Chatterjee claims, has not changed in the contemporary era of globalization beginning in the 1990s. Chatterjee gives examples as to how this prerogative has been used by the imperialist powers in the last two decades:

Everyone agrees that nuclear proliferation is dangerous and should be stopped. But who decides that India may be allowed to have nuclear weapons and also Israel, and maybe even Pakistan, but not North Korea or Iran? We all know that there are many brutally repressive regimes which are also sources of international terrorism, but who decides that it is not Saudi Arabia or Burma but the regime of Saddam Hussain in Iraq that must be overthrown by force? Those who claim to decide on the exception are indeed arrogating to themselves the imperial prerogative. (ibid.: 250–1)

Cosmopolitanism: Future Possibilities

Adam Webb’s (2008) essay, ‘Taking Back the Cosmopolis’, invokes the figures of both Tagore and Iqbal, along with other cosmopolitan figures from different parts of the world, such as T.S. Eliot, Ortega Gasset, and Liang Shuming. In this essay, Webb is seeking to recover a tradition of cosmopolitanism among those intellectuals who also combine with their cosmopolitanism, a critique of liberal modernity. Webb differentiated between two kinds of cosmopolitanism that prevail in the contemporary debates around this concept: cosmopolitanism of those who are at home in liberal modernity; and cosmopolitanism of the critics of liberal modernity. One of the points he wants to underscore by making this distinction is that a critic of liberal modernity doesn’t necessarily have to be a promoter of the local or the provincial.

Webb argues that the cosmopolitan critics of liberal modernity also inherit a universalism which he calls substantive universalism as against atomistic universalism of the liberalism. The main difference between the two is that while ‘atomistic universalism dissolves a society’s truths by exposing them to the truths claimed by other societies’ (ibid.: 122), substantive universalism, ‘by contrast, aims at refining truths when they meet. It wants a serious encounter of substance, a constructive engagement across diversity’ (ibid.: 122).

(p.182) The ancestry of both these universalist positions, Webb claims, goes back deep into the past, although substantive universalism has always been a project of the intellectual elite minority. In terms of Webb’s classification, the cosmopolitanisms of Sanskrit literati traced by Sheldon Pollock would qualify as substantively universalist. Many other examples of cosmopolitanism would qualify as examples of cosmopolitanisms that seek to provide alternatives to the universalistic cosmopolitanism of liberal modernity. Even the erstwhile nativist positions are searching for their own versions of cosmopolitanism. The nativist suspicion and hostility towards universal and universalizable categories does not seem to hold in the case of the notion of cosmopolitanism. The interesting scenario for the near future may be a case of the interaction and clash of various versions of cosmopolitanisms in the cosmopolitan public sphere.


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