Friday, July 4, 2008

Soft Cosmopolitanism

In "The Ambivalance of Ordinary Cosmopolitanism," (Sociological Review 55, 4, November 2007) authors Zlato Skribis and Ian Woodward studied the cosmopolitan ideas and practices of first world adults. Asked to reflect on their own cosmopolitan attitudes, respondents expressed positive sentiments by referring to "easily accepted opportunities" for travel, cuisine, and aesthetic pleasures (e.g., world music) associated with globalization. They did not, however, refer to the "more difficult aspects of cosmopolitan openness," such as showing hospitality to strangers or accepting the interests of humanity ahead of their own national and personal interests. Furthermore, the positive aspects of the cosmopolitan situation were counter-balanced by their fears of "culture loss" or "dilution of national culture".

The authors theorize that "cosmopolitanism is a set of structurally grounded discursive resources available to social actors, which is variably employed to deal with issues like cultural diversity, the global, and otherness." To put this in simple English, people in advantageous positions flip flop about cosmopolitan openness when the going gets rough.

Spiritual retreats, wth their glowing menues of trans-national philosophies and gurus, appear to be a prime site for soft cosmopolitanism.

The New York Times, in an article on Kripalu Institute in Massachusetts, "It’s Not Easy Picking a Path to Enlightenment," notes that the latest yoga super-stars invariably draw large (and well-paying) crowds, who tend to flock around them like groupies.

Even their relatives can rake it in. "If you’re not a celebrity, it helps to be related to one. Denise Barack, Kripalu's programming director, noted that the man leading the “Working With Your Angels” seminar was “the son of someone who’s well known for angel work."

Meanwhile, socially conscious programs such as “Conscious Kitchens” featuring the cookbook author and food activist Francis Moore LappĂ©, have been poorly attended. “Some of our more socially conscious programs tend not to draw as well,” Ila Sarley, Kripalu’s president, said. Other dud categories include aging (“People want to feel like they’ll be eternally youthful,” and organic gardening.

They want to feel youthful without working very hard.

1 comment:

Susan Laird said...

Angel work?! Your post made me laugh aloud in agreement.

But seriously, yoga CAN be hard work (not as a one-shot vacation, but as a daily discipline), at least in my experience, and it does have health value, especially for aging people like ourselves whose work is almost entirely sedentary and mental. Including it in school curriculum might not be a bad idea, either, because school is too sedentary too, even if often not mental enough. As you can see on the Tanglewood II website at, the study of world music need not just be easy hedonism for the idle rich, either; it CAN be intellectually disciplined, socially conscious, and integral even to programs like "Conscious Kitchens," just as protest music and healthy tasty food were both integral to the brilliantly courageous education for activism undertaken at Highlander Folk School and at Hull House. Food and music have always been central to "showing hospitality to strangers or accepting the interests of humanity ahead of . . . national and personal interests." Jane Addams theorized brilliantly on this point.

I really like your term "soft cosmopolitanism," which to me sounds like the contrary of "hard domesticity," clearly EPIDEMIC these days . . . a challenge that is hardest on children & that no vacation retreat can cure, though healthy disciplines & foods and good music might help if accompanied by critical thought & imagination and if access to them is not limited to the idle rich by reducing them to high-dollar commodities. Education at Hull House was hospitable to strangers because it was all about hard domesticity of the sort Upton Sinclair fictionalized in The Jungle. How can people unwilling or unable to care for their children & intimates even begin to comprehend hospitality to strangers or the interests of humanity?