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Temporalities and Spaces of Cosmopolitanism

20-21 October 2016

London, UK

 Cosmopolitanism is often called upon as an antidote to conflict, strife, and division. Whether addressing racialised enmity, ethnonationalism, bigotry, or intolerance, cosmopolitanism is invoked as a means of rising above difference and calling upon identities as humans, as planetary citizens. Very often, this entails a kind of romanticism, or the creation of a public memory of a past in which society was not fractured or was seen as a time when people co-existed without evident conflict. At the very same time, a more optimistic future is often called forth, hoping in particular that young people can create a new kind of future. Cosmopolitanism, it seems, is called upon to do a great deal of work.

As the above paragraph might suggest, cosmopolitanism often serves as an umbrella under which several allied concepts are collected. These include: public culture, social cohesion, tolerance, care, hospitality, transnationalism, peace, civility, justice and reconciliation. To actualise these concepts and to enable cosmopolitanism in practice, it is often necessary to create spaces and to stretch and shrink temporalities in which new ways of being together can be enacted.

 The efforts to create new spaces and temporalities are evident in the work of organisations (NGOs, international organisations) in many places that have been divided or conflicted in one way or another. They can also be seen in governmental policies related to formal and informal educational programs that attempt to teach citizens to relate to each other differently and to rise above division. But new forms and expressions of cosmopolitanism, as well as new sites in which it is enacted, can also be seen in the grounded, quotidian acts of people living in their communities. These efforts might include acts of solidarity that cross borders, the refusal to accept racist, bigoted, or intolerant politics, through acts of hospitality and care, and through acts drawing from faith or spirituality. In all cases, however, cosmopolitanism embeds paradoxes and tensions. It is through these paradoxes that the politics of cosmopolitanism can be enacted and experienced.

Yet in attempting to create these new possibilities, it is important to ask: what is enabled, what is disabled, for whom and under what circumstances? What, for instance, are the implications of promoting some elements of a public memory of conflict, while suppressing others? Why is it that an international system organised around states would promote cosmopolitanism, in which states might play a lessor role? How is it that young people become responsible for enacting a new identity when the communities in which they live and learn remain divided? Is cosmopolitanism just another means by which marginalisation and oppression are overlooked – and so made unremarkable – in the name of promoting inclusion and commonality? And what kinds of spaces are required to enable cosmopolitanism or that shape its manifestations? In short, what are the politics of cosmopolitanism? This two day workshop explores these questions.

 In this workshop, we invite participants to consider the tensions, paradoxes, and potentials of cosmopolitanism in diverse settings and from diverse perspectives. In so doing, however, we ask participants to consider the spatialities of cosmopolitanism, its reliance on particular temporalities, and the politics that emerge in and through its performance.

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Durham University, Department of Geography
Lower Mountjoy, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
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