Conceptual Cluster: Cosmopolitanism and Cosmopolitics (own choice)

by idasandstrom

­the arrival
Illustration from ‘The Arrival’, by Shaun Tan

The concept of cosmopolitanism includes everyone who defines themselves as a citizen of ‘the cosmos’ rather than of one particular state, religion, family or profession. The concept goes back to Kant’s idea of a cosmopolitan law (introduced in Perpetual Peace, 1795) based on the principle of universal hospitality. The cosmopolitical proposal, as presented by Isabelle Stengers denies any relationship with the Kantian notion of cosmopolitanism. She does not address ‘a good common world’, but seeks on the contrary to slow down the construction of ‘the common’, by creating a space for hesitation – an interstice where concepts such as ‘good’ and ‘common’ can be examined and redefined. Stengers explains: “The cosmos, as I hope to explain it, bears little relation to the world in which citizens of antiquity asserted themselves everywhere on their home ground or to an Earth finally united, in which everyone is a citizen. On the other hand, the cosmopolitical proposal may well have affinities with a conceptual character that philosopher Gilles Deleuze allowed to exist with a force that struck me: the idiot” (Stengers 2005 p. 994).

 The idiot is a conceptual character borrowed by Deleuze from Dostoyevsky, describing someone who slows others down by resisting the consensual way in which a situation is presented and action is mobilized. He does so not because he believes the presentation to be false, but because he senses that ‘there is something more important’ (Stengers 2005 p. 994). The idiot, who cannot discuss the situation, as he does not know himself what is more important, becomes – in his inability to contribute to the solution – a producer of interstice. The cosmopolitical proposal is ‘idiotic’ in so far as it addresses those who reject the consensual, without presenting an alternative. Where as advocates for ‘a good common world’ take cosmopolitanism as a vehicle of tolerance, Stengers referes to cosmopolitics as the cure for what she calls ‘the malady of tolerance’ (Stengers 1997 citied in Latour 2004 p. 454). Stengers constructs the concept of cosmopolitics by combining what Latour refers to as “the strongest meaning of cosmos and the strongest meaning of politics” (Latour 2004 p.454). Stengers refers to cosmos as “the unknown constituted by these multiple divergent worlds and to the articulation of which they could eventually be capable” (Stengers 2005 p. 995). The presence of cosmos in cosmopolitics resists the reduction of politics to mean only the transactions between humans. The presence of politics in cosmopolitics resists the tendency of cosmos to stop at a limited list of entities that must be taken into account, or in Latour’s words: “Cosmos protects against the premature closure of politics, and politics against the premature closure of cosmos” (Latour 2004 p. 454).

Latour and Stengers both reject the idea of a common world already in existence. The question we must address is one of composition – what world do we want to compose, and with what entities? The world is not naturally one, a common world – if there will ever be one – “is something we will have to build, tooth and nail together.” (Latour 2004 p. 455). Latour’s choice of words is an invitation to return to the realm of architecture. To what extent will an all-embracing design such as Superkilen (se previous post) contribute to construction of the common? If it is true, as declared by Latour, that we have to choose between cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics, the spatial consequences cannot be ignored when advocating one over the other. Therefor the closing question becomes one of matter and intention; What spaces does the cosmopolitic proposal produce, and how do they differ from those produced by the cosmopolitan idea of one ‘good common world’?

Hellström Reimer Maria, ‘Incomplete geographies and Cosmopolitical Drifts – Mobility and Migration in Tania Ruiz Gutierrez ’ Elsewhere / Annorstäders / Ailleurs’ (Draft 2013)

Latour Bruno, ‘Whose Cosmos, Which Cosmopolitics? – Comments on the Peace Terms of Ulrich Beck’, in Common Knowledge 10:3 (2004)

Latour Bruno, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Thing Public’ in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel (2005)

Stengers Isabelle, ‘The Cosmopolitical Proposal’ in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel (2005)