Monday, September 28, 2009

Cosmopolitanism: Top-down or Bottom-up

Popular use of the term "cosmopolitan" brings with it connotations of privilege and mobility, which Robbins, in "Comparative Cosmopolitanisms" critique. Scholars such as Ulf Hannerz claim that cosmopolitanism is an elitist term that can only be used by those who have chosen to live abroad, and that such transnational occupations are limited to intellectuals. Robbins rejects this definition as self-serving, preferring Clifford's perspective of cosmopolitansm as inherently ambivalent and caught up in the struggle between global and local. Both Robbins' idea of "worlding" and Appadurai's conceptualization of the current globalized world as "-scapes" both focus on the re-imagining of national boundaries concurrent with increased transnational flows. Both also attempt to explain the simultaneous homogenization and heteroginization (ie the play between global and local) if the world around them.

Worlding" and "-scapes" represent broad ideas of the glob(c)alized world on a macro scale, while Clifford, in line with his training as an anthropologist, emphasizes the study of the local. To simplify, the former can be be viewed as "top-down" methods of studying cosmopolitanism, and the latter as "bottom-up". One can choose either to extrapolate the global from the local, or vice versa, to perceive the local from the global.

Taking Clifford a step further, editors Diane Singerman and Paul Amar propose a bottom-up approach to
cosmopolitanism in their book "Cairo Cosmopolitanism", a collection of articles describing different facets of Cairo and debating whether it is "cosmopolitan". Thematically, several deal with the urban geography of the city (urban core, suburbs, and peripheral industrial satellites) and tools of exclusivity and inclusivity (via malls and gated communities). In particular, one article explores how the lower classes reclaim public space at the Giza Zoo, The Giza Zoo represents a public space that has been re-appropriated by the popular classes, thus usurping the traditional role of enclosed garden spaces as the realm of the rich. As Mona Abaza noted in her article, public space is increasingly scarce as society is increasingly segregated; the Giza Zoo is a rare patch of green in a concrete jungle – an affordable, accessible place for families to gather on weekends and during festivals. What was once supposed to be a global space, housing animals from all over the world, catered towards the upper classes, has become the playground of the popular class. Singerman and Amar claim this as a type of cosmopolitanism, as it exemplifies the tensions between public and private, lower and upper classes as they attempt to negotiate space within an urban, globalized context. They argue that in order to comprehend cosmopolitanism, one must not only look at transnational flows, but intranational ones as well. Is the local a microcosm of the global? Is looking at the local enough to explain cosmopolitanism? After all, cosmopolitanism is a term grounded in a macroscopic view of the entire world.

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