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The Need For Cosmopolitanism In Multicultural Societies


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“Culture is a slippery concept. There is a difference between multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism in the sense that you can have an area where people from all kinds of backgrounds live together but don’t necessarily get on, whereas cosmopolitanism means you are more open-minded and accepting of different cultures and ways of living.” –  Dr. Ayona Datta in Yorkshire Evening Post 

In today’s society there is a much needed urban cultural shift from just being a multicultural society to be able to adapt to a more cosmopolitan mind-set, particularly in western societies where people have greater access to both interact in a multicultural manner and therefore gain an opportunity towards being cosmopolitan. As this article states “Cosmopolitanism is a sign of a strong society. It reflects the presence of a dominant group that can tolerate the presence of the un-acclimatized and newcomers.” This claim is supported by Gustavo Lins Ribeiro in his paper What Is Cosmopolitanism? where he writes: “Cosmopolitanism is a western notion that epitomizes the need social agents have to conceive of a political and cultural entity, larger than their own homeland, that would encompass all human beings on a global scale.” Cosmopolitanism involves acquiring a global mindset and bridging the gap between groups following their own specific culture.

Migration and acceptance of diversity is a critical concept that is embedded in a cosmopolitan society. It is where people of different ethnicity and groups are tolerant of each other’s individuality and make an effort to successfully form relationships regardless of ethnic backgrounds. Although a multicultural society might tolerate migration and constitute different cultures, people in a multicultural society tend to preserve inherent differences, through the form of ‘othering’, rather than bridging these differences – which is a primary requirement for a cosmopolitan society. This is not to say that cosmopolitanism completely eradicates homogeneity but it is about co-existing and appreciating cultural differences consequently promoting heterogeneity among human groups.

However, cosmopolitanism is a goal many societies are yet to achieve. As Donald Cuccioletta, quoted below states, gaining a cultural awareness of ‘other’ groups and appreciating our “little Italies” or “China Town” although paves a way for cosmopolitanism, still largely promotes homogeneity within the ethnic groups.

“The recognition that modern societies are no longer monolithic, that the imaginary social space has mushroomed into a multitude of identities has propelled us into a realization that we are in an era where interculturality transculturalism and the eventual prospect of identifying a cosmopolitan citizenship can become a reality. However we still remain circumscribed byour Little Italies, our China Towns etc., which beyond thepleasures of experiencing culinary delights, nevertheless create a self illusion that we have attained a level of cultural awareness of the other.” - Donald Cuccioletta

Gaining an awereness of other cultural groups does not necessarily mean a person is cosmopolitan. People need to be willing to take further initiative to understand differences in order to eliminate cultural boundaries thereby promoting the idea of living as “one” rather than a combination of different hegemonies.  There have been many contemporary thinkers and activists promoting cosmopolitanism, such as The Venus Project by Jacque Fresco, Judith Butler, Kwame Anthony Appiah (Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers) to name a few thought leaders.

Advances of globalisation have promoted a cosmopolitan view of the world, where travel, access to people of divergent cultures and diversity have largely risen throughout the world but a cosmopolitan society to some extent is a vision that has still not been attained or fulfilled in most societies.

What are your thoughts? Does your society promote multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism or both? Are you a ‘cosmopolite’? Express your opinions in the comment section below.