Literary and Critical Theory Cosmopolitanism
Moriah Maresh
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0105


Cosmopolitanism is the ideology that all people are “citizens of the world” (Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, under General Overviews) and can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, with the addition of the Egyptian pharaoh, Akhanoton (“The Greek Origins of the Idea of Cosmopolitanism,” cited under Influence and Origins). With increasing global interconnectedness thanks to technological advancements, the ideology of cosmopolitanism is perhaps now more relevant than ever before. Thanks to thinkers and writers such as Immanuel Kant, Francisco de Vitoria, Anthony Kwame Appiah, and Martha Nussbaum, to name a few, cosmopolitanism and its implications continue to influence theoretical visions of society, politics, economics, education, literature, and art.

General Overviews

This section serves as an introduction to cosmopolitanism. Appiah 2006 offers a conversational presentation of cosmopolitanism’s history and influence. Cavallar 2011, Guibernau 2013, and Morris 2012 investigate various cosmopolitan approaches and forms throughout history and in the present day. Delanty 2019 illustrates the range of cosmopolitan thought while covering contemporary topics. Nussbaum 2019 addresses the dilemmas created by cosmopolitan ideologies. Robbins and Horta 2017 illustrates various types of cosmopolitanism and explores how these views are shaped. All sources discuss cosmopolitanism’s development to varying degrees.

  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

    This book illustrates cosmopolitanism’s vast history, from ancient Greece to beyond the Enlightenment, as well as those values shared by all humankind. With his conversational tone and sharing of personal experiences, Appiah revives the idea of being “citizens of the world.”

  • Cavallar, Georg. Imperfect Cosmopolis?: Studies in the History of International Legal Theory and Cosmopolitan Ideas. Cardiff, UK?: University of Wales Press, 2011.

    This book analyzes the various forms of cosmopolitanism, such as moral, economic, and political, and those figures involved in its growth, like Vitoria, Wolff, and Kant, through the lenses of history and legal theory. Through this analysis, Cavallar highlights the flaws in cosmopolitan approaches throughout history.

  • Delanty, Gerard, ed. Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2019.

    This book is a strong resource for anyone interested in exploring the vast range of cosmopolitan thought. This second edition is broken into four parts and contains fifty chapters that cover prominent topics ranging from sexuality to Kant to the Internet age.

  • Guibernau, Montserrat. “Nationalism versus Cosmopolitanism: A Comparative Approach.” Journal of Catalan Intellectual History 5 (2013): 13–34.

    DOI: 10.2436/20.3001.02.71

    This article analyzes instances in which nationalism and cosmopolitanism could potentially be compatible. The paper details the concepts and history of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, compares democratic and non-democratic forms of nationalism, and utilizes historical examples to illustrate times which exemplified the merger of national and cosmopolitan concerns.

  • Morris, Lydia. “Cosmopolitanism—beyond the ‘Beautiful Idea.’” Irish Journal of Sociology 20.2 (2012): 51–67.

    DOI: 10.7227/IJS.20.2.4

    This article discusses the “big idea” of cosmopolitanism and addresses various countervailing forces. The article then argues that social processes linking the idea and manifestations of cosmopolitanism be studied with both conceptual elaboration and empirical observation. It is a short yet well-researched and well-written resource.

  • Nussbaum, Martha. The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674242975

    This book studies the development of cosmopolitanism throughout history and then addresses the numerous tensions and quandaries the ideal presents. Some areas of focus are people with disabilities, those seeking asylum, and the rights of the natural world.

  • Robbins, Bruce, and Paulo Lemos Horta, eds. Cosmopolitanisms. New York: New York University Press, 2017.

    This collection of essays studies the origins and varying types of cosmopolitanism. Major thinkers, including Homi Bhabha, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Leelah Gandhi, offer a discourse of how different cosmopolitanisms overlap and are shaped by modes of life, thought, and commitment.

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