Disciplining cosmopolitanism

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Using recent writing on cosmopolitanism as a springboard, this essay explores the disciplinary grounding of, as well as substantive themes in, the thinking and praxis of contemporary cosmopolitanism. Beginning with David Harvey's view of geography and anthropology as propaedeutic to philosophical enquiry, it is argued that Rawlsian-style contractarian efforts to devise principles of global justice cannot legitimately claim to be universalistic unless they operate not only beneath a veil of ignorance of contracting parties' interests but also with the benefit of substantial empirical knowledge of the lives of subaltern others. The essay then explores the liberatory potentials of the more sophisticated deployments of geographical concepts such as space, place and environment suggested by Harvey, in the context of contemporary struggles for human rights. Taking the view that geography and anthropology can assist with the articulation of cosmopolitan conceptions of justice that could more legitimately claim to be universalistic, the essay argues that the implementation of such claims within the world as it is currently constituted necessitates an engagement with the international state system and the discipline of international relations. In considering the relationship between international relations and cosmopolitanism, it intervenes in a long-running discussion on moral and institutional cosmopolitanism. Gillian Brock's work is discussed as a valuable effort to remedy the relative neglect of institutional cosmopolitanism, but also as unwittingly demonstrating its pitfalls. Notably, despite its attempt to accommodate nationalism, Brock's approach fails to recognise the role that nationalism might play in disciplining institutional cosmopolitanism. It is suggested in conclusion that progressive global politics will be constituted by the dialectical relationship between institutional cosmopolitanism and nationalist contestations thereof.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393–420
JournalTransnational Legal Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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