‘Life is individual’: outline of a cosmopolitan civility and its anthropology

Nigel Julian Rapport*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cosmopolitanism concerns the relation between the most general and the most particular aspects of the human condition. On the one hand there is the human species, representing the universals of human life or ‘cosmos’. On the other hand, there is the human individual, embodying all that is unique in time and space: ‘polis’. To comprehend the human, according to cosmopolitanism is to see these polar realities always in relation. The human species is only and ever embodied in its individual exemplars; the human individual is to be known always by way of capabilities and liabilities that are species-wide. (Between individual and species there may exist a host of classificatory associations – societies, ethnicities, communities, nations, religions, classes – but these are symbolic constructs only, matters of rhetoric and imagination, epiphenomenal upon the concrete realities of individual and species.) What, then, is the cosmopolitan project of anthropology? I present an outline. Of key importance is validating human life as a form of movement towards the future and away from conventional cultural categories and collectivities. Futurity might be defined as an individual’s birthright: the right continually to author an identity. It is the cosmopolitan project to work out an accommodation between universal individual aspirations and local structures of hospitality and politeness.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalAnthropological Forum
VolumeLatest Articles
Early online date16 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Aug 2023


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Love
  • Politesse
  • Individuality
  • Humanity


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