Sociology Cosmopolitanism
Gerard Delanty, Špela Močnik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0133


The term cosmopolitanism derives from the Greek word kosmopolites, meaning “a citizen of the world.” It was first used by the Cynics and later the Stoics, who used it to identify people as belonging to two distinct communities: the local and the wider “common.” This understanding of cosmopolitanism denotes only one of its meanings. Its conception nowadays is broad, and no single definition is sufficient to embrace all its meanings. A distinction can be drawn between moral and political cosmopolitanism; cosmopolitanism can be understood as a perspective on global justice and as a concept within which the discourse on human rights and theory of justice takes place. Cosmopolitanism can also be understood as an ethical stance, in which individuals engage with others in dialogue and understanding in order to move beyond parochialism. It is also increasingly seen as expressed in cultural phenomena, as in lifestyles and identities. Cosmopolitanism is a normative viewpoint from which one experiences, understands, and judges the world, and it is also a condition in which laws, institutions, and practices defined as such are being established.

General Overviews

A number of works provide general overviews of cosmopolitanism, including its practices, theorizing, and interpretations of issues in contemporary political and social theory. The books examine the idea of cosmopolitanism—what it is and what it entails and its role in addressing global issues. Skrbiš and Woodward 2013 explores the empirical and everyday aspects of cosmopolitanism and different types and meanings of cosmopolitanism. Beck 2006 discusses cosmopolitanism as a form of methodological outlook. Braidotti, et al. 2012 outlines new definitions and practices of cosmopolitanism; while Breckenridge, et al. 2002 addresses the politics of cosmopolitanism. Some works focus on cosmopolitanism more broadly conceived. Vertovec and Cohen 2002 offers a general overview of cosmopolitanism; Rovisco and Nowicka 2011 offers a review of current research across the social sciences and the humanities; and Delanty 2012 focuses on cosmopolitan theoretical debates, including sociological, cultural, and political topics. Other works focus more on its political aspect. Brown and Held 2010, for example, covers legal, civic, and political cosmopolitanism.

  • Beck, Ulrich. 2006. The cosmopolitan vision. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    The author explores the ideas of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan outlook, methodologically understood. The cosmopolitan outlook is a skeptical, self-critical outlook, and its world is “a glass world”—boundaries that separate us from others have become transparent. The author argues that differences and boundaries must be redefined on the basis of an awareness of the sameness, in principle, of others.

  • Braidotti, Rosi, Patrick Hanafin, and Bolette Blaagaard, eds. 2012. After cosmopolitanism. New York: Routledge.

    This volume examines the “usefulness” of cosmopolitanism in the wake of severe criticism in the 20th century, and the author endeavors to outline its new definitions and practices. The explorations are multidisciplinary, ranging from sociology to legal and political theory to culture, among others. It argues for a “cosmopolitics” of affective interdependence.

  • Breckenridge, Carol A., Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha, and Dipesh Chakrabarty, eds. 2002. Cosmopolitanism. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822383383

    This volume critically investigates the concept of cosmopolitanism and three concepts that are closely related to it: nationalism, globalization, and multiculturalism. It ranges across various disciplines, including language, literature, critical intellectual history, architecture, political philosophy, and art history. The essays address the politics of cosmopolitanism and seek to expand the archives, geographies, histories, and other sources that are connected to cosmopolitanism.

  • Brown, Garrett Wallace, and David Held, eds. 2010. The cosmopolitanism reader. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    This volume consists of twenty-five essays that are mostly political in nature. It deals with subjects such as Kantian contemporary cosmopolitanism, global justice, governance, cosmopolitan law and order, and global issues. Legal, civic, and political cosmopolitanism are scrutinized in the first five parts, while the last part of the volume focuses on a critique of the concept, in which cosmopolitanism’s endeavors are critically examined.

  • Delanty, Gerard, ed. 2012. Routledge handbook of cosmopolitanism studies. London: Routledge.

    This volume synthesizes much interdisciplinary research on cosmopolitan theoretical debates, culture, and politics, and treats the diversity of world cosmopolitanisms. It brings together recent research from a variety of fields, such as sociology, philosophy, history, international relations, communications studies, anthropology, and literary theory. Its interdisciplinarity reflects the broad reception of cosmopolitan thought in these various fields of study.

  • Rovisco, Maria, and Magdalena Nowicka, eds. 2011. The Ashgate research companion to cosmopolitanism. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    This volume offers a wide-ranging review of relatively current research in cosmopolitanism studies across the social sciences and the humanities. The first part deals with the empirical aspects of cosmopolitanism and everyday experiences of individuals in different sociopolitical settings. The second part focuses on political aspects of cosmopolitanism, such as global justice, citizenship, human rights, and democracy. And the third part introduces intellectual discussions that address major polemics within cosmopolitanism.

  • Skrbiš, Zlatko, and Ian Woodward. 2013. Cosmopolitanism: Uses of the idea. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446288986

    This book is based on the idea that cosmopolitanism should be looked for in everyday, ordinary encounters. Cosmopolitanism is understood not as a final state but as a project that involves four substantive dimensions: cultural, political, ethical, and methodological. The authors apply cosmopolitan theory to different contexts, such as identity, ethics, networks, and digital societies, among others.

  • Vertovec, Steven, and Robin Cohen, eds. 2002. Conceiving cosmopolitanism: Theory, context and practice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This volume offers a general overview of global, international, national, social, and personal levels of cosmopolitan analysis. It stresses the multilayered character of cosmopolitanism and identifies its six perspectives: sociocultural condition, a philosophy or worldview, political project (transnational institutions), political project (multiple subjects), an attitude or disposition, and a practice or competence.

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