Comments on contemporary relevance of a Critical Cosmopolitanism

In our contemporary world, the rise of populist simplifications, neo-authoritarianism, acute and symbolic violent xenophobia and shocking forms of atavistic fights for identity, be it race, religion, ethnicity, or culture, manifest very unwise reactions pre-shadowing further social and cultural upheavals and calamities.

Facing current developments here in Europe and world-wide we are observing reviving chauvinistic, nationalistic and neo-conservative orientations in an increasingly globalized world.

Considering this messy and dangerous state of affairs and a ‘monopolitian’ fundamentalism on the rise with rampant  fear of the Other, there are good reasons to engage and enact a critical cosmopolitan approach.

Challenging attachments to the local state, nationhood, parochially shared cultures, Cosmopolitanism sees that all human beings, independent of their ethnic background, cultural orientation or political affiliations are or can be citizens in a pluralistic community, they are ‘kosmopolitês’ ‘citizen of the world’, who are offering a hospitality for others.

Being a cosmopolite requires consciousness instead of blood and genes, s/he multiplies her or his attachments and affiliations.

This cosmopolitanism is critical not only in the sense of being opposed to an affirmative view of current realities. Rather, a critical cosmopolitanism offers also a historically informed account of economic, social and political realities that searches to identify the transformational within the present for a more sustainable future to come. As part of the unfolding genesis of a post-traditional and post-national conception and enactment of culture, a cosmopolitan sense of civilization would be a post-universal one. As such it integrates a dialogue of cultures in the spirit of a deliberative communication while interfacing the local and the global as well as one in the other.

Such cosmopolitanism manifests a condition of openness to the world and entails self and societal as well as inter-cultural transformations while encountering ‘Others’. In other words, a cosmopolitan imagination (Delanty, 2009) sees the socio-cultural world in terms of its immanent possibilities for (self-)transformation, i.e. an immanent transcendence.

Importantly, this cosmopolitanism refers to a specific kind of reality and is not merely a normative or interpretative approach. Ontologically it describes an empirical configuration of a relational nexus of embodied Selves, Others and World (Merleau-Ponty). Accordingly, it makes sense to see dispositions, attitudes or values of cosmopolitanism in the context of particular kinds of relationships, embodied and shaped by cultural forms.

In relation to (self-)identity an cosmopolitan relationship would be disposed towards an orientation characterized by tolerance of diversity, recognition of interconnectness and a general openness to others.

With regard to relationships to Others cosmopolitan citizen take political and ethical commitments of inclusion and responsibility, while analyzing concrete social struggles, problems and issues, for example concerning migration, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

  • What does it mean to see these immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers as incarnations on the limit or ‘limit concepts’ that radically call into question the fundamental categories of the nation–state, including rights, norms and citizenship, thus disturbing the borders and orders as they up-set state legitimacy and exposes the fictions of sovereign power?
  • How can we learn to acknowledge them not ‘only’ as disempowered masses escaping from the tyranny of sovereign nation–states and regimes, but as a media for social and political transformation towards a cosmopolitan citizenship?
  • Can they help us to recognize that the stranger is also in each of us and in our ‘we’, as much as ‘they’? How to articulate a politics of differentiation and integration while “strangeness” is already unevenly distributed (Ahmed, 2005)?
  • How can ‘humanitarian’ arguments and acts of ‘recognition’ can become aware of their own shortcomings and as proto-oppressive privileges complicit with racism and colonialism?
  • What does it mean that essential civil liberties can and might be suspended in times of an actual and probable arriving of a social, cultural and/or ecological crisis threatening not only the ‘bios’ (political life), but also ‘zo?’ (biological naked life)? What would a bio-poetics of ‘life-as-meaning’ (Weber, 2013: 29, 65) mean from a post-anthropocentric, critical cosmopolitan perspective that relates to life in its felt sense including the whole animated Earth as planetary body of humans and more-than humans, i.e. non-dual “humanimality”?
  • Accordingly: What would critique of globalization mean from the perspective of a critical cosmopolitanism? What does then a „glocal“ civil society mean in terms of sharing live-worlds, and developing more just economic, inter-legal (plurality of legal sources) and institutional arrangements that serve a cosmopolitan practice and learning?

What would a flourishing “good life” in a Cosmo-politan world mean as being s inherently related to mindfulness and practical wisdom, individually and collectively?

With Arendt, Agamben Foucault (and others) me need to ask: How can we develop an understanding of ‘states’, public spheres and a democracy that are not bound up with the principle of territoriality and Nationhood? What would a ‘diasporic’ mode of existence and more flexible citizenship mean in terms of bonds of communities other than blood or soil? What role would digital communication and new forms of community via internet play for this?

What we need is an embodied and transformative politics and pragmatic of “inter-affection” (Küpers, 2014) that is also altering the political life of sensation through a redistribution of the share of the sensible (in sensu Ranciere). This redistribution of sensible shares is a field of the possible and capacities of what can be seen, heard, thought or said, preserving and opening up the possible as possible for interrogating and negotiating alter-natives that are ‘‘other-birthly’’ more sustainable forms of existing, entailing socio-cultural, political, ethical and aesthetic dimensions.

It is foreseeable that enacting the practical wisdom of a (non-hegemonic) cosmopolitan and cosmopolitical integration is and will be more urgently needed…

Hopefully a critical cosmopolitanism as outlined here can play a supportive role for the emerging planetary phase of civilization as an unfolding “Interbe(com)ing”  of which we are all a part of and can work on together co-creatively.

Practically, the Karls-Community showed itself to be critically cosmopolitan, in the recent initiative organized by the StuV (Studierendenvertretung) of supporting refugees and their accommodation at „Kriegsstraße 200“.

Furthermore, our international and cultural orientation and particularly the new study programs ‘International Relation’, ‘Politics, Philosophy and Economics’ as well as ‘International Sustainability Management’ all manifest our role as a university in the cultivation and reflection of what a Critical Cosmopolitanism means.



Ahmed, S. (2005). The skin of the community: Affect and boundary formation. In T. Chanter & E. Plonowska Zierek (Eds.), Revolt, affect, collectivity: The unstable boundaries of Kristeva’s polis (pp. 95–111). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Delanty, G. (2009). The Cosmopolitan Imagination: The Renewal of Critical Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Küpers, W. (2014). Embodied, Inter-Affection in and beyond Organisational Life-Worlds, Cultural Horizon – a journal of philosophy and social theory, Vol. 15(2), 150-178.

Weber, A. (2013). ‘Enlivenment: Towards a Fundamental Shift in the Concepts of Nature, Culture and Politics’. Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2013. 15 October 2013


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  1. Dear Wendelin,

    Thank you for addressing this topic. Against the backdrop of the recent regional elections in Germany and the decided take-off of the right-populist wing within the political spectrum, it is absolutely vital to talk about this.
    I just would like to make one or two precisions, in order to outline differences from banal cosmopolitanism, so that naïve conclusions about what does mean to be a “citizen of the world” can be avoided.
    The most important one is that critical cosmopolitanism means to be able to hold an ambivalent perspective. Appiah (2006) says: “Cosmopolitanism (…) is universalistic. It believes that every human being matters, and that we have shared obligations to care for one another. But what distinguishes it from other forms of universalist philosophy is that it also accepts a wide range of legitimate human diversity”.
    A corollary of the ambivalent perception would be first the recognition of simultaneous equality and difference, and second the awareness of simultaneous conflict and empathy. Therefore, this post-traditional, post-national and post-universal world would not be and will never be a place of peaceful dialog of happy world citizens who feel everywhere at home because they don’t experience territorial and national boundaries anymore. The opposite is true as the perception of being part of (and the commitment to) a global society happens according to Beck (2004) following a melange-principle: local, national, ethnic, religious AND cosmopolitan cultures pervade each other.
    A last comment is related to the programmes of the Karlshochschule that you mention. Let me add the BA Intercultural Management and Communication as well as the Master specialisation in Human Resources and Diversity. We have also there a lot of reflection (and also practice) on the critical cosmopolitan view.

    Muchos saludos cosmopolitas ;-)


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