Obama the first cosmopolitan politician

Will Obama be the first cosmopolitan elected official? Everything points to an affirmative answer — on both counts. Surely, he is the first ever to be so multicultural with a Kenyan father, a US citizen mother, born in Hawaii, raised in Jakarta. He is also the first to make campaign abroad, the first who understands that we live in a globalised but unequal world, where one country’s decisions affect millions of other lives in other countries. He is the first to address other audiences than the American one, and to proclaim solemnly being a ‘citizen of the world’.

Of course, America’s power is in decline. Its economy is in recession and triggered a financial crisis that is affecting the whole world, except countries too poor to be part of the financial market, but which will suffer more harshly than the riches nonetheless.Bush and his administration did much harm to one of America’s most fundamental pillar of foreign policy: being a beacon for democracy and liberty in the world. The jails of  Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the most representative examples. Consequently, America’s ‘soft power’ — to take Joseph Nye’s expression — is in decline as well. Everything points to a decline of its military power also, not only because of financial constraints in the budget, but also because of severe limitations within the inside and the outside to America’s future involvements in military actions — at least unilateral ones.

On the other side, we can see growing forces that tend to signify the beginning of a new era in world politics, which experts are calling ‘a-polarity’. A-polarity because several countries or entities will be in a position of power, without having the possibility to impose its power. There will thus not be multipolarity — in which there is some stability — but a-polarity — where instability prevails. Russia and China — and to a lesser extent India — are developing worrying patterns of neo-nineteenth-century-nationalism. The sneaky planned intervention in Georgia and South Ossetia, and the relaxed nationalist diatribes to reinstall a great Russia by military means are worrying for a secure world order. Similarly and on the politics of symbolism and in political economy, China’s nationalist ambitions to restore a great China for the sole sake of nationalist pride is equally worrying.

Therefore, in these troubled times to come, knowing that a man shows so clear understanding of the need to co-operate, the need to take multilateral actions, the need to take into considerations other citizens in the world who will be affected by USA’s actions, is a hope that is not negligible. Never has the need for hope and change from the United States of America been so great. Never a man has gathered so vastly opinions in the world for a local election. Never have I, and everyone else in the world, expressed so much interest in a local election. Never a man has made it almost the first global democratic election. And this is because we, citizens of this world, need change. And all together — not the USA alone, not Europe alone, not anyone else in this world by themselves — all together, ‘yes, we can’, change the world for the better.

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Rousseau et le paradoxe d’une pensée cosmopolitique anti-cosmopolite

Dans la pensée de Rousseau, il y a un paradoxe sur lequel on se penche de plus en plus. Une certaine acrimonie face aux cosmopolites, alors que Rousseau exprime une pensée cosmopolitique en reprenant le grand projet de Saint-Pierre d’une paix universelle et perpétuelle. Projet raillé par un truculent Voltaire il est vrai, dans son Rescrit de l’Empereur de Chine, parce qu’il semble ne concerner que l’Europe. Ce paradoxe a été longtemps occulté par une lecture nationaliste de la pensée de Rousseau. En ce sens Rousseau apparaît comme le penseur de l’Etat-nation au sens contemporain du terme. Cependant, il faudrait apporter une lecture qui remettrait Rousseau dans le vocabulaire et la pensée de l’époque et arrêter cette vision d’un Rousseau précurseur du romantisme, anti-chambre du dix-neuvième siècle. Cette vision est celle d’une relecture de cette période, selon un vocabulaire différent. Mais revenons-en à ce paradoxe qui découle de cette relecture de Rousseau dans son époque.

En ce qui concerne l’acrimonie de Rousseau, je suis en train de travailler sur un article — histoire de me faire une publication — à ce sujet. Ma perception est qu’il faut séparer le concept du cosmopolite et celui de cosmopolitisme. Il y a une philosophie que l’on peut appeler « cosmopolitique » à l’époque, même si le mot « cosmopolitisme » n’apparaît que plus tard, fin 19e siècle. Et puis en parallèle, il y a des « cosmopolites », et un certain rejet de plus en plus général de ces « cosmopolites ». Ces cosmopolites sont des voyageurs. La raison pour laquelle j’avance cette affirmation est l’existence dans les dictionnaires de deux acceptations du terme, une grammaticale et une philosophique. C’est pour cela que je pense que le rejet de l’acceptation grammaticale du cosmopolite — le voyageur sans attaches fixes — conduit lentement à un rejet par sémantique du cosmopolite philosophique — perception stoïcienne politique.

Rousseau est, je pense un cosmopolite dans le sens philosophique du terme comme en témoignent beaucoup d’écrits, notamment sa révérence faite à une des grandes références en philosophie politique du siècle : l’abbé de Saint-Pierre et son projet de paix universelle et perpétuelle. Rousseau pense comme tant d’autres – on l’oublie trop souvent — qu’il faut œuvrer à la création d’une société commune de l’humanité. Cependant, il cherche à se démarquer des grands penseurs (qui sont à l’époque Grotius, Locke que l’on accepte et Hobbes que l’on rejette). Ainsi, il avance la thèse selon laquelle il faut d’abord construire des sociétés particulières avant la grande société des sociétés. Il avance aussi les hypothèses selon lesquelles une telle société doit être fondée sur l’amour des lois et de la « patrie », comme Montesquieu.

Le cosmopolite, au sens grammatical, devient l’anti-patriote, car comment peut-on savoir qu’il va aimer les lois et la patrie puisqu’il change de pays comme de chemise ? Ce cosmopolite là est aussi identifié avec les philosophes qui voyagent et promeuvent l’idée de l’existence d’une société naturelle que la société sociale doit respecter. Cette pensée est issue de la théorie du droit naturel, qui pose problème politiquement parlant : le souverain est Dieu qui a décidé des lois naturelles ; or comment politiquement transcrire un souverain métaphysique, et comment et qui peut décider de définir ces lois ? Face à ce discours métaphysique existe un discours physique, comme par exemple Holbach qui lui aussi s’insurge contre l’inexistence de toute société dite naturelle avant une société humaine :
“L’homme, fruit d’une Société contractée entre un mâle et une femelle de son espèce, fut toujours en Société” (La politique naturelle).

Rousseau est un penseur si important, à mon sens, parce qu’il apporte une réponse concrète au problème philosophique du souverain légitime. La réponse selon laquelle le souverain légitime serait le peuple ne va pas de soi, si l’on considère le paradigme philosophique selon lequel l’homme est né libre et égal en droit. En effet, un penseur méconnu de la révolution française, Anacharsis Cloots, souligne tout à fait cette contradiction : pourquoi tel peuple déciderait de fractionner le pouvoir politique ? Et où cette fraction peut-elle s’arrêter ? Pourquoi tel village ne déciderait-il pas de devenir souverain ? Des questions éminemment actuelles à l’heure des séparatismes nationalistes de toute sorte. Sa solution n’en est pas moins une source de nombreux autres problèmes : le souverain est le genre humain qui doit être réuni dans une république universelle.

Rousseau est aussi important pour la pensée cosmopolitique parce qu’il est celui qui, avant Kant et qui l’inspira, fait entrer le cosmopolitisme dans la pensée politique. Malheureusement, il fustige les « cosmopolites », associés aux philosophes, et je pense que c’est de là que vient notre lecture de Rousseau comme à « contre-temps » de son époque et déjà dans le dix-neuvième nationaliste. C’est une erreur. Je pense que Rousseau fustige simplement ces voyageurs qui sont apatrides par choix, parce qu’il pense que tout système politique pour être bien ordonné et pacifique doit reposer sur un ensemble de sociétés républicaines, qui ne peuvent être stable et fonctionner que si les citoyens sont respectueux des lois et du droit. La patrie dans le vocabulaire du dix-huitième siècle n’est pas celle du dix-neuvième que nous semblons toujours avoir aujourd’hui. La patrie est le lieu ou se rencontre les hommes libres et égaux en droit et le souverain. C’est ainsi qu’il n’y a pas de patrie selon l’Encyclopédie Diderot et d’Alembert là où il y a un tyran comme souverain. Un patriote est donc celui qui défend la liberté et l’égalité, les droits de l’homme, en opposition aux absolutistes monarchistes ou tyrans. C’est en ce sens que les guerres révolutionnaires ont éclaté, c’est en ce sens qu’il faut comprendre la « Marseillaise » comme chant de guerre aux tyrans et à l’oppression et non comme chant de guerre tout court. La nation est aussi définie comme peuple d’Hommes libres et égaux, détenant chacun et chacune une part de la souveraineté.

Rousseau est donc un penseur cosmopolitique mais anti cosmopolites dans le sens des apatrides par rejet à participer à tout projet politique. Comme penseur cosmopolitique il a apporté des solutions, mais ces solutions posent problèmes au projet cosmopolitique : le souverain populaire où s’arrête-t-il ? Qui décide du fractionnement de la souveraineté et comment ? Mais d’un autre côté, l’idée selon laquelle il n’existerait qu’un seul souverain, le genre humain, qu’avancent Cloots et aussi Robespierre pose encore plus de problèmes et n’est toujours pas résolu philosophiquement et bien sûr encore moins politiquement parlant.

Il faudrait d’abord réussir ce tour de force de concilier Rousseau et Cloots, avant de pouvoir imaginer des solutions politiques à l’instauration d’un projet cosmopolitique d’un monde ou tous les êtres humains pourraient vivre libres et égaux en droits, dans le respect de la dignité, et avec les mêmes chances à vivre une vie selon leurs capacités.

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Cosmopolite, cosmopolitain, cosmopolitisme: définitions et problèmes

Que faut-il comprendre aujourd’hui des mots cosmopolite, cosmopolitisme ? D’abord si l’on reprend ‘histoire de l’apparition de ces mots, il faut bien se rendre à l’évidence que notre conception actuelle est liée au paradigme dominant du nationalisme qui nous pousse à y voir une opposition entre cosmopolitisme et nationalisme. J’avance la thèse, en fait, que cela ne va pas de soi, et même plus, que le concept de cosmopolitisme a créé, avant même l’apparition du mot, le concept de nation (je dis bien nation et pas nationalisme). Il faut séparer les notions de nation et nationalisme, ainsi que cosmopolite et cosmopolitisme. En effet, si le mot cosmopolite apparaît à la fin du seizième siècle, celui de cosmopolitisme ne fait son apparition qu’à la fin du dix-neuvième, au moment ou le nationalisme prend son essor dans les sociétés européennes, selon Gellner.

Le mot cosmopolite apparaît en 1560 dans la langue française 1560 dans De la République des Turcs et, là où l’occasion s’offrera, des mœurs et des lois de tous muhamedistes, par Guillaume Postel, cosmopolite. Il s’agit alors d’expliquer une culture au roi de France ; Guillaume Postel étudie et explique la culture de ce pays pour mieux faire valoir que la compréhension de l’autre doit conduire à la paix universelle. C’est un usage du « cosmopolite » qui est en accord avec sa racine grecque, telle que développée par Socrate et Diogène de Synope, et à la suite des cyniques, les stoïciens romains. « Kosmos », l’univers et l’ordre, « polis », la cité ou se prennent les décisions publiques.

Antoine Watteau, "L'Embarkation de Cythère", 1717

Antoine Watteau,

Mais au dix-huitième siècle se développe une culture aristocratique et bourgeoise du voyage. Tout le monde se doit de faire son « tour d’Europe. » Pour une raison qui m’est inconnue encore, le mot cosmopolite se met à désigner ces gens à l’habitat non fixe. Trévoux dans son dictionnaire de 1721 définit à l’article « cosmopolitain, cosmopolitaine »:

« On dit quelquefois en badinant, pour signifier un homme qui n’a pas de demeure fixe, ou bien un homme qui nulle part n’est étranger. » Il ajoute par ailleurs que “On dit ordinairement cosmopolite; et comme on dit néapolitain et constantinopolitain, l’analogie demanderait qu’on dît cosmopolitain. »

Ainsi on est cosmopolitain comme on est napolitain ou romain, ou cosmopolite comme on serait troglodyte. Evidemment, l’Etat-nation moderne n’existait pas encore, la possibilité d’une création identitaire individuelle est encore possible, tout comme n’existent pas, les protections qu’entraîne la citoyenneté-nationalité. Au dix-huitième se développe donc le mot « cosmopolite » indépendamment du concept stoïcien et cynique. Il devient synonyme de ce que l’on désigne aujourd’hui par « transnational. » Par exemple dans Lemercier de la Rivière Ordre naturel et essentiel des libertés politiques (1762): « Ce décroissement sera d’autant plus prompt, que l’industrie est cosmopolite » (t. II, p. 518).

Ainsi, des auteurs, célèbres à l’époque, peuvent écrire des romans traitant de « cosmopolites » voyageurs au milieu du 18e siècle, mêlant le genre du journal de voyage à celui de roman et de critique sociale. Je pense à Fougeret de Monbron et son Le cosmopolite ou le citoyen du monde ou, pour l’Angleterre, Oliver Goldsmith et The Citizen of the World.

C’est vers la fin de ce siècle qu’apparaît une nouvelle expression formée sur le cosmopolite, le « cosmopolisme » avec L’Anglois à Paris. Le Cosmopolisme, publié à Londres… (1770) par V. D. Musset Pathay. Mais c’est surtout Louis-Sébastein Mercier, Victor Hugo du 18e siècle, qui en donne la définition dans Néologie, ou vocabulaire des mots nouveaux, a renouveler, ou pris dans des acceptions nouvelles, an IX (1801):

« Cosmopolisme. Il faut aimer un lieu; l’oiseau lui-même, qui a en partage le domaine des airs, affectionne tel creux d’arbre ou de rocher. Celui qui est atteint de cosmopolisme est privé des plus doux sentiments qui appartiennent au cœur de l’homme.
Qui croirait que l’on peut exercer à Paris le Cosmopolisme, encore mieux que dans le reste de l’univers ? »

Et une nouvelle expression encore, « Cosmopoliter. Parcourir l’univers ». Expression désuète, et c’est bien dommage car elle est bien mignonette : cosmopoliter, le cosmopolitage. Pourtant, dans l’esprit de la fin du siècle il s’agit d’une perte potentielle de repères et d’identité. On dirait presque une maladie dont souffriraient les globe-trotters, le « cosmopolisme ». On peut être « atteint de cosmopolisme » comme on est atteint de paludisme.

Ce que je pense, c’est qu’une certaine notion d’identité nationale a commencé à se former à la période de la révolution, fondée sur l’amour de la patrie et des lois. Certes, il ne s’agit pas de la « nation » telle que la formation de masse que connait la seconde moitié du 19e. Mais le concept de « nation » a lui aussi changé à ce moment, notamment du fait de la nécessité qu’imposait l’influence de la doctrine du droit naturel à trouver un souverain légitime, autre que le tyran, de plus en plus identifié en la personne du roi monarque absolu. Ce glissement ferait l’objet d’une autre étude, mais je pense qu’il est important et lié à la perception que l’on se fait alors du « cosmopolite ». En effet, la pensée politique cherche ce juste souverain, et la république devient un élément important face à la tyrannie. Or, comme le montre si bien Montesquieu, la république entraîne nécessairement le respect de valeurs et morales nécessaires à son bon fonctionnement démocratique. C’est ainsi qu’apparaissent les notions de patriotisme, de patriote, qui ne sont pas nécessairement opposés au cosmopolitisme, mais qui le deviennent au fur et à mesure que se développe la révolution et les ennemis, c’est-à-dire les tyrans et leurs alliés, qui viennent de l’extérieur. L’amour de la patrie et des lois sont les vertus cardinales pour Montesquieu et tous les philosophes du siècle pour que fonctionne une république. Il faut bien comprendre, cela dit en passant, que la patrie désigne l’espace ou le citoyen est libre et non pas le pays où l’on est né.
Evidemment, un cosmopolite changeant de patrie selon son bon vouloir apparaît immanquablement comme un élément perturbateur de cette république : quelle patrie aime-t-il/elle ? quelles lois ? Y en a-t-il seulement une ? C’est je pense, la raison pour laquelle Rousseau apparaît contradictoire dans ces écrits sur les cosmopolites. D’une part il loue ces « grandes âmes » cosmopolites qui se chargent de penser au respect des lois pour le bien commun de l’humanité (Discours sur l’origine et le fondement de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, 1754, Discours sur l’économie politique, 1755), d’autre part il fustige ces cosmopolites qui prétendent aimer tout le monde « pour avoir droit de n’aimer personne » et ne comprennent pas que l’on est d’abord homme en tant que citoyen dans une république avant de l’être dans la grande république de l’humanité (première version du Contrat social, 1887).

En résumé, je pense qu’il faut se méfier du concept qui nous est donné de « cosmopolitisme » et de son lien au « cosmopolite ». Les deux mots n’ont pas existé au même moment car le mot cosmopolitisme n’apparaît que dans la seconde moitié du 19e siècle, curieusement — et je ne pense pas que cela soit fortuit — au même moment que celui de nationalisme. L’acception selon laquelle le cosmopolite est un voyageur est aussi une conception moderne issue du siècle des Lumières. L’idée de cosmopolitisme, si l’on veut penser qu’il s’agit de la doctrine politique incluant toute l’humanité dans une même unité politique afin de favoriser la paix universelle, n’est pas très éloignée du concept de patrie et de nation qui se sont développé, du moins en France, sur ces mêmes prémisses issues du droit naturel. L’essentiel dans le cosmopolitisme est de maintenir l’esprit d’une fondamentale liberté individuelle sur tout, et la nécessaire cohabitation de cette liberté individuelle avec tous, y compris et surtout par rapport aux structures étatiques nationales — qui, je le pense, même si elles permettent le développement de cette liberté par une protection juridique, économique et sociale, sont aussi très structurantes dans l’imposition d’une identité supposée « nationale » sur l’individu. Il y a là, entre cette liberté individuelle fondamentale et cette structure d’organisation pacifique universelle, tout un champ immense d’exploration.

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Scandinavian literary weekend

This weekend was under the sign of cosmopolitan literature.

First of all, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio received the Nobel Prize in literature: ‘author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.’ This was the occasion for me to deepen my acquaintance with Le Clézio’s works. I started reading his first novel, Le Procès-Verbal, for which he obtained at the age of 23 the Renaudot Prize — a prestigious French literary prize, awarded by journalists and critiques.

In Paris, where I currently resides, is organised yearly a literary event called ‘Lire en fête’ or ‘Party for reading’. This was the occasion to attend to two events with a Danish and a Swedish writer, very different the one from the other.

Jan Sonnergård, born 1963, became famous in Denmark with the publication of a short novels collection entitled Radiator published in 1997, to which succeded Sidste Søndag i Oktober (last Sunday in October) in 2000, and Jeg er stadig bange for Caspar Michael Petersen (I am still afraid of Caspar Michael Petersen), 2003. The name ‘Radiator’ was chosen because one of his literature professor declared that it was not possible to imagine ever using this word in a novel. This trilogy describes three classes of people in their meaningless existence in Denmark during the nineties. The language is extremely provoking, as the title ‘Radiator’ was meant to be. The first short novel Jan read, from Radiator, is written in a language close to a techno beat, and was uttered just as fast by a reader wearing an agressive blue and red Spiderman shirt. A group of young underprivileged have decided it was ‘payback time’ as they are going to loot a discount supermarket of its best products, and walk a rampage tour in an aggressive and nihilist cynicism, attacking anyone on the way. Another one told the story of a middle-class couple, leaving the most hypocritical life in their knowledge of the wife’s affairs with other men. The last one, told the story of a young drug addict from the upper class. These short-novels represent for me exactly the Copenhagen I experienced during my years 2001-2006, as I read his short-novels at this time, and as I was experiencing a different kind of life in Copenhagen.

Jan read three short novels, cut with jazz music interpreted by a trio tenor sax, bass, guitar led by the Danish saxophonist Martin Jacobsen. They were soothing the harsh tone of Jan’s stories, perhaps to remind of the higher value, the ideal of perfection that humankind is also capable of aspiring to in its unquenchable thirst for eternity.

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, born 1978 in Sweden, is a writer of Tunisian descent who explores the relation of language and power, and questions identity through language-plays in his two novels. He was in Paris to present and talk about his last novel recently translated into French. French was for him a ‘family language’, to which he declares having a vocabulary related to those things. Still, he displayed a good command of the language and was able to introduce to the audience a very vivid understanding of his world views in the novel Montecore-En unik tiger (Montecore: a unique Tiger), which won the Swedish P O Enquist literary Prize in 2006. It is not possible to translate such a book, and especially in French, since French is part of the book in Swedish. In the French translation, Lucile Clauss and Max Stadler decided to imagine a different character than the Swedish one, more accessible to French readers, by transforming him into a Tunisian man whose use of French is transformed into a reverence to what is perceived as high culture, and hence using formal language.

It is possible to read an interesting Chat in Le Monde with Jonas, in which he explains his relation to language and identity.

I have thought a lot on identity, language, globalisation and cosmopolitanism this weekend, from a literary perspective. Every language is tightly related to a country, or a society more specifically, and at the same time, it is completely autonomous of it. Jan used today’s street language to describe in the same violent and aggressive way some of today’s capitalist conditions. The focus is very tight, and the limits set to today’s Copenhagen. How to translate such conditions and languages? In French the academy is still impregnating minds with an idea of extreme reverence to French. To the point that in such a way, French is a dead language. French writers are also respecting the language very much. Jonas is inventing expressions creating verbs from words, imagining a new language to stick to a character who is a writer born in Sweden, but from a Tunisian father speaking French, and of course globe trotter in the world where English is the new lingua franca.

Language seems to be the country for Le Clézio, in all his travels, and also for Jonas, who is extending the limits of language beyond the borders. Jan, in a different way, limits even more the language to fake internal limits, in order to better denounce them in a violent super-realism. Still, it is very difficult to find proper ways to communicate such new ways, since translations work inside the nationalist paradigm, and intend to interpret for a supposed “national” audience, pieces of work which are transnational, supranationa, or infranational. The solution would be the creation of a succesful literary theory to transcend these problems. A cosmopolitan literary theory?

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Thesis graded

My thesis has been graded and I received the best grade possible in the Danish system: 12. That makes it an A in the ECTS system. Plus an excellent assessment of my work by my supervisor and my ‘censor’. I am very happy and very proud. Still, it does not give me a relevant job in London.

Now I sincerely hope to be able to continue the research project in a PhD dissertation. The natural place that comes to my mind for such a multi-disciplinary and transcultural research project is the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

My MA thesis is an original contribution to answer an important contemporary question: ‘What is cosmopolitanism?’ It focuses on answering ‘how the discourse of cosmopolitanism entered Western political thought?’ The prefered area and time of study in the thesis is the French Enlightenment.

In my PdD research project I would like to expand the research to England and Scotland, and (what is now) Germany. I wish to investigate more the relation of natural law theory, and the metaphysics behind theories of human rights that are at play in cosmopolitanism. Another alternative would be to expand to nineteenth century political thought. In the best of all possible worlds I would do both, but I am afraid that some focus must be put in this study on either a diachronic or synchronic analysis.

I see the project as an important bridge between the history of ideas and political theory. I hope to be able to make a contribution to put forth some solutions to issues that globalisation entails, by clearing up this obscure concept we call cosmopolitanism.

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Looking for a job in London

Yes, it's me.

I am currently unable to find some time to post more on cosmopolitanism. I am dividing my time between my current part-time job, and my job search as I am moving to London on 1 October. I am also looking for an accommodation. As soon as my situation is stabilised, I shall be able to post again. For the moment being, all my energy is drained by this constant invisible competition that I face each time I am writing a new job application and re-tuning my CV. Tough to join the workforce.

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The state of the Iranian state

Ghostvillage in Kurdistan/Iran 2006

Ghostvillage in Kurdistan/Iran 2006

My Armenian Iranian friends tell me a lot about the state of the Iranian state — or the lack thereof. I was surprised to hear that there are no taxes in Iran, neither direct or indirect. Sounds like paradise for neo-liberals — besides the absence of liberal rights. And in return for the 0% tax rate, citizens are entitled to zero service. No social security, no social benefit, no retirement fund, no health care, nothing. All is dealt with a little hustling and help from the friends.

So where does the state gets its money from if not from tax revenues one may ask? Well, the state gets the money from state-owned companies in the industrial sector extracting oil, minerals — especially uranium — or in the primary sector. Basically the state does not care a monkey’s about the economy and how people are doing with business. What the government is interested in is what is in people’s minds and how to control it. The economy is left entirely to the private sector.

Before 1979, the situation was not so bad for Armenians and other minorities. It is only since the revolution that the new authority installed a one way type of thought and educated the people into believing in these types of dichotomies: faithful/unfaithful Muslim/non-Muslim, friend/enemy, us/them. Of course the average Joe (or in that case the average Hossein) just follows the movement and gets full of hatred without understanding much why. It is a shame I am told, since Iranians are naturally very hospitable and polite people. Not anymore since the 1979 revolution. Only educated and intelligent people are able to distance themselves from the social pressure imposed. Of course they all fly from the country as soon as possible, unfortunately. There is thus an amazing brain-drain from the country. In the long run, it will only be a piece of land inhabited by uneducated peasants, led by self-‘educated’ theologian fanatics.

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Master’s thesis submited

Today I submitted my master’s thesis; three copies by snail mail — I had to choose airmail for the shortest possible delay. I guess that makes it the less environmental-friendly thesis of all. Now I am crossing my fingers for the best mark, so that I can proudly send it as a writing sample to Ph.D. applications. It was a difficult moment to let it go. The past month I just spent my time re-reading and re-reading, re-editing and re-editing my thesis in order to make sure everything was just perfect. Of course, Microsoft Office was there to screw perfection up. I had to correct plenty of small details, compatibility issues, and sloppy automated functions. After printing I still noticed a little mistake. It’s nothing really but enough to annoy the hell out of me, because it is a mistake done by a software that is clearly not as perfectionist as I am. Of course it is my own fault that I chose Ms Word to write my thesis with. I should have known better. At the beginning of the writing process I considered giving LaTeX a try, but then I figured that it would take too long to learn how to properly use it. Now, I have plenty of time, and I am definitely investing this time into digging all sorts of productivity softwares: LyX, LaTeX, BibTeX, time management tools, Linux OS, wiki, blog, web 2.0, etc.

Letting it go was a painful moment. Now I have a huge void in my daily routine. I don’t have the pleasure to sit at my computer and work on this piece of intellectual achievement. My only wish now is that this coming year passes as swiftly as possible and that I get accepted for a Ph.D. at a great university (my two best choices right now are Cambridge and the European University Institute) to continue this thesis into a dissertation. My primary concern now is to build up a convincing and competitive CV for my Ph.D. application. It is a little bit frightening because I don’t really know what truly matters for Ph.D. and grants applications. I have to get a good job in London for one year, possibly related to research for experience. I wonder if I should send some parts of my thesis as article to peer-reviewed journals. If anyone has any words of advice to give me, they will be very much appreciated.

Posted in MA thesis, NICTs for academics | 7 Comments

Link to RSF’s advice for foreign journalists covering human rights situation during Beijing Games

\'La censure.\'

Georges Lafosse: 'La censure.'

So it seems that the next Olympic games will be a tremendous communication-information-sign-warfare. In this communication battle that history showed totalitarian regimes always win — although they do not win the war — democratic countries are most probably going to lose. Simple: most of the Western wishful-thinking amateur human rights organisations are more interested in protesting for the sake of good conscience than to actually change the situation in China and improve their lives; anyway they are powerless in this respect and all they can do is to prevent from giving the Chinese authorities any levy to control their communication about the ‘imperial West’ and boost Chinese nationalistic pride by showing e.g. images of extremists desperately trying to jump on a woman in a wheelchair to turn off the Olympic torch. On the other end, governments have decided to participate and be present, and they are very unlikely to make any action that would have a communication impact directed towards the people, which could breach the carefully planned Chinese communication. The Chinese authorities can easily cut any uncomfortable speech, as long as they have images of world leaders assisting the ceremony to show to the Chinese masses. What would be difficult to censor would be any visible sign that world leaders would wear, a bit like a big T-shirt or something protesting against human rights abuses. But this is unlikely to happen. The battle for communication with the Chinese people is lost in advance, but at least ‘we’ should have the right to know and not be the victims of censorship of ‘our’ journalists in China.

Here is a link to advices for journalists in Beijing for bypassing Chinese control of information and possible censorship to ‘our’ right of information:

http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27991

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Ulrich Beck: A New Cosmopolitanism is in the Air

Here is a link to an article by German sociologist Ulrich Beck published in November 2007, which is a translation of the original into English:

http://www.signandsight.com/features/1603.html

It is quite summing up the arguments developed in his three last books on cosmopolitanism — Power in the Global Age: A New Political Economy (2002/2006); Cosmopolitan Vision (2004/2006); ; Cosmopolitan Europe (2007) — from a sociological perspective — i.e. replacing ‘methodological nationalism’ with ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’ in order to study the ‘cosmopolitanisation’ of societies and the global relations of power at stake. This theoretical approach is based on the meta-theory of ‘reflexive modernisation’ or ‘second modernisation’ in which we live in, developed in Risk society and extended in World Risk Society: On the Search for Lost Security (1999): we have moved from industrial society and nation-states thought in the paradigm of modern rationality, to a service-based society and undefined political entities in a paradigm of reflexiv identities, socially constructed.

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Todorov: La conquête de l’Amérique, La question de l’autre

La conquête de l'Amérique

Todorov: La conquête de l'Amérique

Todorov, Tzvetan. La conquête de l’Amérique : la question de l’autre. Paris: Seuil, 1982.

In this book, Tzvetan Todorov, renowned Franco-Bulgarian writer and director of research at the Centre National de Recherches (CNRS) in Paris, investigates the Spanish conquest of Central America (the Caribbean and Mexico) during the sixteenth century. His research topic is the perception of the ‘Indians’ by the Spaniards. What Todorov wants to investigate is ‘how to behave towards the other?’ The Spanish conquest, which is responsible of the death of 40-70 million people, is a good example of behaviour in front of otherness, since 1492 marks the date ‘our’ medieval minds enter modernity through the discovery of a new world. How did Europeans behave towards people who may have seemed to be from a different planet? Todorov sketches different types of behaviour, based on historical actors of the conquest.

Todorov sums up his study of various historical writings with his own ‘Typologies of relationships with others’, which constitutes an axis of research of the different levels on which behaviours towards otherness is based:
1. Axiologic plan: value judgement (good/bad, love/hate).
2. Praxeologic plan: closeness or foreignness (identification/ignorance, assimilation/rejection)
3. Epistemic plan: acknowledgement or indifference.

On these levels, Todorov studied the following historical figures:

Cristobal Colon

Cristobal Colón

Colombus: no identification, no knowledge, negative attitude. Christopher Colombus was primarily moved by his fanatic religious faith. He did not want to discover a new route to the Indies for his own glory, for gold, nor for the Queen of Spain. What motivated him was the celebration of God’s glory. Indians were just as the lands newly discovered, a blank sheet ready to be written upon by the Spaniards for their own benefit. He painted an idyllic portrait of the Indians upon his arrival, based on his own fantasies more than reality: beautiful people in the inside on the outside, good-hearted and kind, generous and indifferent to money, but cowards and fragile — easy to conquer. He wants Indians to be like him, and in that he is a naive assimilationist. His project is to Christianise the Indians, and in that he sees things the way he pleases by observing that the Indians already bare Christian characteristics. In doing so, Colombus becomes a pro-slaver and from the principle of Christian equality he unconsciously considers Indians to be inferior in order to be exploited materially and colonised spiritually. The propagation of faith and the submission to slavery are two sides of the same coin for Colombus. Even outside this project, Indians are considered as innate objects for his own ‘ethnological’ studies: he denies them to possess individual will. For Todorov thus, ‘Colombus discovered America, not the Americans’ (p. 54).

Bartolome de las Casas

Bartolome de las Casas

Las Casas: no knowledge, love for ‘Indians.’ Las Casas was touched by the massacres committed towards the ‘Indians’ and decided to attempt at protecting them. He did not however developed a great knowledge of them nor did he learn their language. He even attempted to justify the human sacrifices they were committing through arguing about ‘natural reason’ and that it is their way to adore God, by giving the greatest sacrifice of all: human life. According to Las Casas, thus there is a universal love of God, but all religious expressions of this love are culturally specific, and as such relative. As a consequence, Christianity is not the only nor the best way to God. Barbarism is a relative notion as well. One is always a barbarian to others, and vice versa as long as one does not recognise the language being spoken. Whereas for some the Christian principle of the equality of men ensues the assimilation of ‘Indians’ because they are similar to us, Las Casas deduces the perspectivism of it. Las Casas’ political solution to the ‘Indians’ is to maintain previous states with their Kings and governors, with catholic preaches but without the military, and if the Kings express this wish, to establish a sort of federation presided by the King of Spain. They must be given their original freedom back and be reinstated in their sovereignty.

Vasco de Quiroga

Vasco de Quiroga

Vasco de Quirioga: no knowledge of ‘Indians’ and no identification, but a positive attitude. For him, Spaniards are a declining culture, whereas Indians constitute a rising civilisation in history. However, they are not perfect and must be worked upon. Instead of asking kings, Vasco de Quirioga acts directly upon Indians, and is inspired in this by Thomas Moore’s Utopia. He organised two utopian villages around Mexico.  He is an assimilationist.

Gonzalo Guerrero

Gonzalo Guerrero

Gonzalo Guerrero: After a shipwreck, he was the one of the survivors who reached the Mexican shores in 1511. He was taken by the Indians and sold as a slave. He learned the language and managed to acquire a high social status by teaching war, and winning quite a few of them. He married a woman from the nobility and painted himself in the manner of the Indians, let his hair grow and pierced his ears. Having established his life with the Indians, he transformed himself into a complete identification. He even fought against the Spaniards during which battle he lost his life.

Cortes

Hernán Cortés

Cortés: great knowledge, negative attitude. Cortés wants primarily to understand, and in that he differs from other conquistadores in that he has a historical and political consciousness of his actions. In that, his first difficulty is to find an interpreter. During one conquest, a woman is given to the Spaniards, named Malintzin — the frequent name given being La Malinche. Her talent for languages places her as interpreter to Cortés, and also her lover from whom he will have a kid, one of the first mixed child. He will use all the information gathered to his advantage in conquering the Indians. He will have a deep understanding of the Indians’ use of signs and exploit them to his advantage in order to inspire fear and appear as a hero. The Indians would even ask Cortés to act on their favour to fight their own enemies. Cortés’ principal preoccupation is what the Indians will interpret from his actions and speeches. The message he wants to give is strategically planned — it is an information warfare, one could say. He wants to control all details of communication, and even regarding the image of his army. Indian tells confirms the success of Cortés’ communication warfare: the Aztec King, Moctezuma, believed that Cortés was the return of Quetzalcoatl to take his empire. This communication warfare will extend beyond Cortés in the imposition by the Spaniards of Nahuatl as the official Mexican language at first, and then the Hispanic of the country through the study of local languages, and the teaching of Spanish. The first Grammar book of a European language would be produce at that time: Spanish grammar by Antonio de Nebrija who wrote in his introduction: ‘… siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio…’

La Malinche

La Malinche

La Malinche: complete identification with the Spaniards and assimilation to their culture. Worked as a translator to Cortés and a bridge between the two cultures. As such she acquired a high status in the Indian collective mind. She exemplifies mixture, melting rather than purity. She studies Spanish culture in order to also better understand her own — even if it is to destroy it. She became essential to Cortés’ business, and also acquired a particular place in Indians’ myths, which is testified by all the cartoons drawn of her in a central place in between Indians and Spaniards.

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca: This conquistador was forced to live with the Indians after a shipwreck. In order to survive he practised two professions: trade, and shaman or doctor. In doing so he imitates the local healers, and adds some catholic prayers. He adopts their trades, customs, clothing, but never forgets his identity. As soon as he found his way, he took the first ship back to Spain, and ‘civilisation.’ He helds the Indians with great esteem and does not want to do them harm. The evangelisation must be conducted without violence. He acquires a precise knowledge of their way of life, in order to act upon them for their conversion, and also to pass this knowledge to other conquistadors who will use it to sumbit them. His identification is thus deep but without implication. He wrote Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan a great historical monument on Mayas’ past, but he also decided the autodafe of all Mayan books. There is however no contradiction as he was an assimilationist in Yucatan and burned books, and wrote this historical book in Spain as a scholar in order to defend himself of his acts in a court of law.

Durán Codex

Durán Codex

Durán: Also known as the ‘Durán Codex,’ The History of the Indies of New Spain was published c. 1581. Durán also wrote Book of the Gods and Rites (1574-1576), and Ancient Calendar, (c. 1579). He gathered a great and deep knowledge of the Indians for the purpose of imposing Catholic religion and erase all traces of pagan rites. ‘Know thy enemy’ seems to be his motto. In this quest he is radical in the elimination of all idolatry: confession of the dreams, prevention of religious syncretism, destruction of all related monuments. All ancient customs must disappear. However, Durán tries to explain the Mexican realities to the Europeans through analogies and comparisons. Some Mexican religious customs are compared to the Christian ones. In Durán’s mind this comparison serves to argue that the Indians are indeed Christians. The Aztec are thus a lost tribe of Israel. So this religious syncretism that he tries so hard to eradicate, he practices it with his gaze upon the Indians. He shares the Indian way of life in order to understand them, he understands both cultures, and as such, his work is enlightening. Throughout his books he clearly separates the Aztec point of view from his own, but at some point he is losing this separation and claims the point of view of the historian telling the tale of heroes and the glory of Mexico. In other words, he loses these two identities (Spanish and Aztec) and creates the very first new Mexican identity. With La Malinche he is one of the first Mexicans.

Sahagun

Sahagun

Sahagun: Franciscan ‘linguist’, not part of the aristocracy or high ranked religious — who dispised having to lower themselves to learning Indian culture and language, so he learned the language — Nahuatl — and learned to live together with the ‘indians.’ He was professor of Latin grammar in the Franciscan college of Tlatelolco dedicated to forming the Mexican elite from the former nobility. In order to propagate better Christianism he projected to write the history of the ancient Mexican religion. His Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España would occupy him for forty years. However, his project was also dedicated to develop knowledge of and preserve the Nahuatl culture. In order to do so, he chose to report faithfully the testimonies he collected with a translation, instead of replacing them by it.This translation constitutes more an interpretation
from the original text. His interventions in the text are not only rare, but clearly separated from the rest. They are characterised by an intention to avoid moral judgements and attempt to explain from other known civilisations such as Ancient Rome. Obviously, however, the knowledge is organised in a European way through answers to a European-made questionnaire. Sahagun saw the terrible consequences of the replacement of the Aztec civilisation by the Spaniards. He dreamt of the creation of an ideal state that would be Mexican and Christian — a city of God.

From Historia General de las cosas de Nueva España

Todorov categorises Sahagun in his ‘typology of relationships to otherness’ as a believer of the Christian doctrine of equality between men. However, even if he learns the language and the culture of the ‘Indians,’ he maintains his identity, and even idealise the ‘Indians.’ What is interesting in his work for Todorov, is the massive knowledge that he accumulated without perpetrating any qualitative judgement. His work can be qualified as ‘ethnography’ as he is just collecting information without interpretation, and making only a timid comparison with Ancient Rome, but without being comparative. For him, cultures cannot be hybrid nor should they be; cultures stay in their own rights untouched. Nonetheless, Todorov sees there the embryo to any future dialogue between civilisations that we today experience.

Todorov’s book is highly recommandable for an introduction to reflexion on our behaviour towards other people in early modernity. In our world of reflexiv modernity, these have changed very much. The question of identity is not fixed but flexible, the question of hybridisation is not an impossible thought but a daily reality. This is the heart of all problems for cosmopolitan theory: how to form universal standards if all standards are by definition locally situated? Even if one is fluent in two or three or more cultures, it cannot possibly encompass all of them to grasp some commonality or acceptable form of universality for all. The debate is currently set on human rights as the smallest common denominator, but even they are Western-based. Of course, human rights are a good thing, but they mean a Western imposition nonetheless, even if for the greater good.’ Are ‘we’ ready to accept other forms of imposition on ‘our’ mentality if they are potentially ‘good’ for humankind? After all, one should reflect upon the fact that in all our exchanges with ‘foreigners’ we are acting in a historical manner, even if playing a tiny part as a tourist.

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Armenian Iranian refugees in Vienna

In Vienna I have been living in a student hall of residence for two years. Not all rooms are rented to students. Some are also rented to Iranian refugees of Armenian decent — the most important Christian minority in Iran. The manager of the house is Armenian himself. But apparently there is no philanthropy there, these refugees even have to pay a higher price than we do. They are a non-Muslim minority in Iran, they speak Armenian, and it is for them incredibly difficult to live there because of social and economical discriminations, not to mention the very strict Shi’a-Muslim way of life that they must follow. They all go to the USA, and have been doing so for decades now, with the blessing of the Iranian authorities of course.

Until now I have been caught up in my studies and my work and have not gotten time to exchange much with any of them. I have seen them coming and going, some rather swiftly, others waiting longer. However I am on holidays now and all the students are gone, being replaced by tourists. I am living in one room only with a couple of other floor mates, and two rooms occupied by four Armenians, two girls and two guys. They are very kind and open people and as we are often in the kitchen together we are talking, although their English is not always too good yet (but mine is not that perfect either). We form a little community by our immediate proximity and common use of the kitchen. I began to think then in terms of international relations, and wondered about the application of different frames of thinking. The kitchen is then the geopolitical zone of interaction, we have a common interest in keeping it clean and functional for the benefit of all. It is also the place where we exchange by using it: communicating, cooking, observing each others.

I am thus learning something about a group of peoples I did not even know existed. I am interrogating them a lot about Iran, life conditions there, the refugee process etc. I hope they do not see me as a policeman of some kind. Armenian Iranians mostly live in Tehran. But then again most Iranians do: 15 million people inhabit this over-polluted city! Forget everything about Beijing. The smog of pollution is so dense there you need to decrease your speed by half when you are walking and use a GPS.  I find it very worrying this automatic granting of asylum to them. Of course it is much better for them, they are off to a country that will allow them to reach their capabilities fully, and where they will not suffer from discriminations and be imposed certain restricting rules in their daily life. But the country is also slowly emptying itself of this age-old minority. It is a kind of asylum ethnic cleansing. Dreadful. And there is no hope for change. Even if the Muslim youth is despising the regime and aspire to more liberal rules and relaxed social , they too are quitting the sinking boat to live a more fulfilling life abroad. So only people without resource, members of the establishment, or sympathetic elite stay in the country.

One of the guys I am discussing with the most, Arbi (who with his shaved head looks like Agassi, another American of Armenian Iranian descent), tells me that they all go to the USA rather than Europe because they already have a community and relatives there, and that they can. It is really a slow massive population displacement in a way — a community is being displaced from one location to another. I cannot help but think about the sadness of this process. Obviously it is a great gesture on the part of the USA to accept all these refugees.

They all go to California, mainly because of the weather and the already established community. They have nothing to do here in Vienna all day but to wait for the process to be processed. At some point they are simply bored — no money, no job, all the sightseeing done, nothing left to do. Apparently the process takes about two years, and I am told that the real difficulties first arrive in the USA as they have to run for about a month from one bureaucracy to the other to get all their papers and permits in order. Arbi, has a degree in bio-chemistry that he will have to pass again. But he says it does not matter, nothing of all the troubles he is going through by moving to a new country, filling tons of applications, red tapes, passing the same exams again, nothing is worse than the troubles they suffer by staying in Iran.

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Idea for a wiki project site on cosmopolitanism

Andrew Weldon

Illustration: Andrew Weldon

I am fairly new to the blogosphere, and I found a cool blog for academics, especially in the humanities, advising on the latest NICTs for educational purpose–academhack, which is listed in my blog links on the right navigation bar. There’s a post about some interesting research tools. Among them, a link to “the state of wikis in education” an interview of Stewart Mader who wrote two books and is dedicating this same blog to the use of wiki in education.

This way of teaching and interacting with students and researchers seems very promising. I have decided to build one of these for cosmopolitanism instead of just this blog, since it truly allows for interactivity and exchange. I have first to build a network and if I get a job as teaching assistant or something similar I will definitely put something together. I imagine that people could have separate projects to work on, assignments on themes, post some links, add to some articles and researches, etc. First, I have to learn about wikis.

This is an exciting way to approach knowledge and research. Organising a web site also allows me to think in terms of structures and framework to place how all the elements of research fit and connect to each other. I think that such a web site is much more appropriate to the teaching of knowledge, and in particular with such interconnected discourses as in the history of ideas. Why was I not taught with the use of these tools at university? Definitely worth developing and researching.

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Obama in Berlin: ich bin ein Weltbürger?

Senator Barack Obama was Thursday 24 July 2008 in Berlin where he delivered his much anticipated speech in front of a massive crowd. Of course the reference to “ich bin ein Berliner” was obvious and too easy to mention. He opened his speech toning down expectations, stating he was there as a simple US citizen, and a “citizen of the world.” Rhetorically he is leaving it up to the media coverage to make the link: “ich bin ein Weltbürger.”

To my knowledge, this must be one of the very first time a politician declares so openly a cosmopolitan ideal to be his. There is certainly much to celebrate for a cosmopolitan in this speech, but I would like to present a few remarks as to the alleged cosmopolitan nature of his commitment.

Barack Obama is strongly emphasising history. His narrative is mixing his own individual history with History, and the former influences the latter. For the first time, a politician takes it as a positive and self-promoting way to underline a transnational and transcontinental heritage: European, African, and North American. However, his own individual narrative is American, and hence his historical narrative is also emphasising an American view of the world. Obama thus retold Berlin’s past in the cold war. “People of the world – look at Berlin!” he asks. In fact, he asks them to look at how the USA has helped and fought the 20th century enemy – communism. For the 21st century the enemy is terrorism, and then other foes such as undemocratic regimes, nuclear threats, and global environmental challenges. For these reasons Europe and America must pass their differences and work together because “… the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.” Only through partnership and cooperation between Americans and Europeans is it possible “to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.”

I cannot but be enthusiastic about such a speech. Clearly a cosmopolitan agenda is on the making. However, I recall Dunn’s words about the role of intellectual history in politics: “Where the history of political theory remains of decisive significance … is in the clarification and assessment of political goals and in the appraisal of political action.” Since I am studying cosmopolitanism as a political doctrine, both epistemologically and ontologically, I feel compelled to a few remarks to America’s potential next president.

Perhaps it was just Lacanian to connect in the same sentence the idea of “common security” and “common humanity.” Whose humanity is that anyway? Clearly it is a Western security connected to a Western conception of “our humanity.” We know since Anderson’s book on nation, that these are imagined communities. As Robbins states it “worlds too are ‘imagined.'” Or as Pollock et al. argues, there are many versions of cosmopolitanism, many cosmopolitanisms and not just one. This means that when we reflect upon our common humanity we do so necessarily in our own rooted local discourse. For Obama, it is the American discourse, and more widely the Western discourse.

In the Western discourse of cosmopolitanism, the vision of a common humanity sharing a common world emerged as a dominant discourse during the Enlightenment. Inherited from the humanist reactions against the atrocities committed in the name of religion against the “Indians” in America and between protestants and catholics in Europe, enlightened philosophes started to state political and moral theories based on a vision of a common humankind. Doing so, they opened the possibility to place oneself as a subject speaking for humankind. This was rhetorically done through the concept of universal reason. Since reason is what defines humankind, one using reason is necessarily speaking for humankind. Thus, laws of morality could be induced from using reason and observing man: moral and political “sciences” were born.

Obviously the danger of this modern positivist account of cosmopolitanism is the absence of consideration that by speaking for humankind on the behalf of humankind, one is in fact speaking for the humankind one would like to see, and from one’s own local perception of it. Of course, fighting terrorism, promoting human rights, and cooperating to fight global warming are policies everyone should endorse because they are for the benefit of humankind. What I want to underline is that “we” (“Westerners”) should do so by understanding that “others” have a saying and should be included in discussing how and why to do so. Otherwise, it is pure imperialism or universalism, and not cosmopolitanism.

Of course I feel enthusiastic to be included as a potential political force of the 21st century: “It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.” However, I would like to warn presidential candidate Obama and “our generation” about making “our mark on the world”: we must learn to include others, listen and engage dialogues with the world, because “worlds too are imagined.” It is during the eighteenth century that the expression “citizen of the word” became fashionable; until some abused the word to pretend to philosophical truths and objectivity they did not possibly mean; until the French revolution attempted to export real kosmopolitik to Europe by claiming to fight for human rights; until the word “cosmopolitan” became associated with a uniform imperialism.

Works cited:

Anderson, Benedict.  Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991 rev. ed. [1983] .

Dunn, John. “The History of Political Theory.” In The History of Political Theory and Other Essays, by John Dunn, 11-38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Pollock, Sheldon, Homi K. Bhabha, Carol A. Breckenridge, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. “Cosmopolitanisms.” In Cosmopolitanism, edited by Carol A. Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha and Dipesh Chakrabarty, 1-14. Durham, NC & London: A Millennial Quartet Book, 2002.

Robbins, Bruce. “Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism.” In Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, edited by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, 1-19. Minneapolis, MN & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

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Foucault and the academe

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Personally I do not understand at all where most of the people who write about Foucault or use Foucault in their studies (particularly in the fields of sociology and philosophy) get their interpretation of Foucault from.

When I started to get interested in Foucault I had an odd reflex of getting my hand on secondary literature introducing Foucault to the dilettante that I wish I had not. The reason I did so was that I heard so much about how difficult his ideas were and how difficult he was to read. Actually the difficulty had perhaps more to do with the fact that I heard this in the Anglo-American literature, which has a tradition for concise prose and clearly structured books. Not only did I waste vastly my time trying to understand what they meant, but I also almost got a completely spoiled understanding of his work. Luckily, I decided to try to read him on my own. Looking back I realise that most of what people write about Foucault or using Foucault is really a lot of nonsense. I do not claim to be the only one who understands Foucault on this planet, but it seems to me that there is a big hype about his work, which is totally unjustified. I read Foucault in French, and I guess that it probably helps to understand better, since one is less conditioned by conventional political literature written in English (this concise and structured thing).

I think that the best way to introduce Foucault to students is to dedramatise the Foucault hype completely. One has to convince them that Foucault is not a difficult author, mysterious and impenetrable to the infidel. One must have a punk attitude and dare to confront one’s mind to any other one’s. However, it does take a while to read him, and one must be patient with his writing. But it does pay off in the end if one has taken careful notes on the readings of The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Discourse.

A great companion to read alongside Foucault is Using Foucault’s Methods by Gavin Kendal and Gary M. Wickham. The first two chapters at least can be very useful, especially the passages explaining the differences between archaeology and genealogy and the idea about “suspending second order judgements” in applying the method.

However, there is absolutely no better way to understand Foucault, and particularly his archaeological method (from which the rest is based on, especially genealogy, which merely adds power as an element of explanation), than applying his method concretely to the analysis of a discourse in history. I am strongly sceptical towards any other applications of Foucault’s “tools” to other fields than the history of ideas.

In order to do so, the students should first read the methods as described in The Archaeology of Knowledge, The Order of Discourse, and the short text “What is an Author?”. Bullet points, and definitions of Foucault’s key concepts are very important. Then attempting to apply them to historical “facts” or “monuments” is the most effective way to actually understand what Foucault meant by “discours”, “fonction énonciative”, “objet”, “concept”, “stratégie”, etc.

I would really love to teach Foucault my own way, since nobody taught me Foucault. I truly believe also that it is in Foucault’s spirit of approaching any research, like Kant’s enlightened vision of a lamp in the dark, to approach Foucault completely without judgements, with the brain as blank as an empty sheet of paper.

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MA thesis abstract

I have now finished writing my thesis, which only needs a very last light-editing touch. As a teaser, I publish here the abstract:

Cosmopolitanism is not a well-known entity in political theory. Therefore, a history of this political doctrine is needed. However, such epistemological enquiry faces an ontological conundrum. Not only is it difficult to identify cosmopolitanism, but doing so might prove to be an ‘uncosmopolitan thing to do.’ This thesis employs a contextualist archaeology — marrying Foucault with the ‘Cambridge school’ — in order to conciliate an epistemological approach with a fairly ontologically neutral status. Cosmopolitanism is thus envisaged as a located discourse in the West, problematising the local and the general, and squeezed in between (inter)nationalism and universalism. How did cosmopolitanism enter political thought alongside these two other doctrines? To contemporary cosmopolitanism, eighteenth-century French political thought constitutes a ‘return’ to the humanist foundations on which our modern political vocabulary got formed. Its study reveals that a hitherto-considered nationalist vocabulary — the nation, the patrie — was indeed formulated in cosmopolitan terms. It also reveals that the conception of humanity structured communautarian contractualist theories despite the universality of human rights. This thesis shows the common archive of these three discourses around a rediscovered and yet unanswered question in political thought: the proper sovereign authority to govern ‘universally free and equal’ humankind.

Everyone is very welcome to provide a feedback regarding the quality of the abstract in itself and/or the content.

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Deadline

I have a deadline to keep. I should be finished by the end of the month, i.e. Monday 30 June 2008. All I have left to do is some final round of editing, cutting 47,000 words to 35,000, proofreading, and printing three copies. But I still have my part-time job that is draining half of my energy out everyday.

Update:

Apparently the office is closed during June and July, so I will submit in August. When I am done with all that, I will have more time to post on my research themes and areas of interest on this blog.

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Encouraging words

I received on 9 June some very encouraging words from my academic supervisor,  who commented on the draft of my MA thesis I sent him, congratulating me for my “nice piece of work”, and also stating that he was “impressed by the standard of scholarship.”

My efforts are now all directed towards reducing my draft from 50,000 words to the required limit of 35,000 set by the University of Copenhagen regulations on MA theses. I am learning about editing the hard way, but I guess the only way.

I hope to be able to recycle the “rushes” in a future PhD dissertation, and that this experience will help me to write more focused on a first draft in order to limit such subsequently painful editing work overload.

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Setting up a new blog on my research activities

"Research" by Olin Warner, 1896

"Research" by Olin Warner, 1896

I have decided to set up a new weblog in order to publicise my research activities and personal research themes and projects. I hope to create a network of interest around my activities, make myself known, and get acquainted with other academic research activities on the same field or topic. This blog is also egoistically intended for personal use as a track keeper of my achievements or procrastinations.

I am currently giving the last hand on my Master’s thesis entitled ‘Element of an Archaeology of Cosmopolitanism in Western Political Thought’. I am waiting for some final comments from my academic supervisor. My MA thesis is combining Foucault’s archaeological “tool” of research with the ‘Cambridge school’ of contextualist history. I felt that the two branches of method in the history of ideas–roughly sketched as the Americans on the one side with e.g. Lovejoy and Strauss, and the ‘Cambridge school’ on the other, with e.g. Skinner, Dunn and Pocock–had weaknesses and strengths that Foucault could overcome and combine respectively.

The general topic of the thesis is cosmopolitanism as a political theory, primarily in Western political thought. It is as much a work of ontology–philosophy–as it is a work of epistemology–history. Since cosmopolitanism is not exactly a very well defined ontology, it is difficult to make its history. On the other had, it is difficult to make its ontology since we do not have a clear history. In my view, Foucault’s archaeology was a good tool to ‘deconstruct’ the doctrine into ‘unit ideas’, as a discourse composed of ‘objects’, ‘concepts’, ‘strategies’ and all glued together by ‘énoncés’ (or ‘announcements’). In this sense, it is providing the strength of Lovejoy’s and the US school of method in giving a constant to work with through time. However, one must take into account the critiques that the ‘Cambridge school’ provided to such an endeavour; i.e. the risk to run an anachronistic account on ‘perennial issues’ mainly set in contemporary terms. Foucault’s archaeology integrates such account for the context in which the objects, concepts, and strategies evolved inside a discourse, while the announcements are maintaining its stability through time for a historical analysis.

The research is then made easier. Instead of attempting to provide a definition of what cosmopolitanism is–and by that risking to compromise the ontology of cosmopolitanism–the thesis defines the contemporary discourse of Western cosmopolitanism. It then describes the archive of this discourse, choosing to focus on our early modern political vocabulary. I chose the Enlightenment period for the great influence it has on our poltical thought, and particularly France because of the influence it had in Europe.

My ambition is to pursue a PhD on this project where I would expand my theoretical method into something even more idiosyncratic and original, and also expand the research area to either include the nineteenth century or include other countries such as England and Germany, or both.

My final goal is to be able to publish a book in the next ten years on the history of modern Western cosmopolitanism. In the later run I would like to edit a more general opus on the complete history of cosmopolitanism since the Greek antiquity. There are very few historiographies on this political doctrine.

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