David T. Hansen on Cosmopolitanism

David T. Hansen

[Posted by M. Bogen, 4-1-13] Valued friend of the Center David T. Hansen of Teachers College, Columbia University, edited our 2007 multi-author book Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice. His most recent book is The Teacher and the World: A Study of Cosmopolitanism as Education (Routledge, 2011). I thought I would share some of his vision of cosmopolitanism as a mode of being an active participant in our ever-changing world. A little background: Cosmopolitanism as a philosophical orientation dates all the way back to the 4th century BC Greek Cynic Diogenes, who declared himself a "citizen of the world." Diogenes was prescient, as educators and others today often speak of global citizenship, which surely is a cause for celebration. But we might not always hear enough about how to succeed in that role. I'll quote Hansen at length here, as he makes some important distinctions.

Cosmopolitanism is not a synonym with universalism. Rather it signifies the capacity to be open reflectively to local concerns, commitments, and values. The idea arose millennia ago in tandem with globalization, itself a long-standing process which in recent centuries has accelerated and become unstoppable through mechanisms of trade, artistic and scientific exchange, migration, and communications technology. Cosmopolitanism is an orientation through which people can respond, rather than merely react, to the complex and sometimes intense pressures of globalization. A cosmopolitan outlook positions people to sustain their integrity and continuity through the vicissitudes of unpredictable change.

We are always being changed by the processes of globalization, so it's important that we take charge of how that change will happen, shaping influences to benefit ourselves, our communities and cultures, and our world. We get stuck or go astray when we cling to misguided notions of purity. Kwame Anthony Appiah goes so far as saying that cosmopolitans are always making a case for "contamination." Here's how Hansen explains it:

The cosmopolitan premise that individual and cultural purity is impossible suggests that influence from without is unceasing and that, given an increasingly crowded world, people would be well served to respond to it thoughtfully -– as contrasted to reacting to it passively or violently -– if they wish to retain individual and cultural integrity.

So it is integrity rather than purity that is our guiding principle, with integrity representing not static values but consciously chosen and directed metamorphosis. In this sense it seems that cosmopolitanism is quite consistent with John Dewey's notion of adjustment. Hansen also clarifies that cosmopolitanism is not monolithic, but plays out in four domains: political, economic, moral, and cultural. Educational cosmopolitanism, says Hansen, is mostly concerned with the latter two forms. Finally, Hansen tells us that cosmopolitanism has three particular virtues: it is supple, grounded not in ideology but in an "attentive" outlook on life; it is characterized by philosophical longevity, as opposed to the faddishness that tends to characterize contemporary trends in education; and it is hopeful, distinguished by a "sense of constraint and possibility that contrasts with both blind optimism and fatalistic pessimism."

Read an interview with Professor Hansen called "The Quest for Personhood."

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