Cosmopolitans and Locals

Cosmopolitans and locals “If there were only locals in the world, world culture would be no more than the sum of its separate parts”. Hannerz 1990:249 Ulf Hannerz (1990) argues that the world culture is created through the increasing interconnectedness of varied local cultures where people connect in different ways. He uses Robert Merton’s cosmopolitan-local distinctions in a global context, to describe how people identify themselves with the global or not.

The term `cosmopolitan’ is often used rather loosely to describe just about anybody who moves around in the world. But of such people, Hannerz argue some would seem more cosmopolitans than others and others again hardly cosmopolitans at all. He describes a genuine cosmopolitanism as first of all an orientation – a willingness to engage with the other. The willingness to become involved with the other, and the concern with achieving competence in cultures, which are initially alien, is central.

Being on the move is not enough to turn into a cosmopolitan. Due to this Hannerz ask a crucial question: Are tourists, exiles, business people and labour migrants cosmopolitans? And if not: Why? A contemporary writer, Paul Theroux (1986), comments that many people travel for the purpose of `home plus’. They seem cosmopolitans but are really locals at heart. Spain is home plus sunshine, India is home plus servants etc. For business people travel is ideally home plus more and better business.

The `plus’ has often nothing to do with alien systems of meaning, and a lot to do with facts of nature, such as nice beaches or sunshine. The exiles are often no real cosmopolitan either, because their involvement with an alien culture is something that has been forced on them. At best, life in another country is home plus safety or home plus freedom. For labour migrants going away may be home plus higher income and their involvement with another culture is a necessary cost to be kept as low as possible (Hannerz 1990).

Transnational cultures today tend to be occupational cultures (and are often tied to transnational job markets). Konrad (1984) emphasises the transnational culture of intellectuals for instance. “The global flow of information proceeds on many different technical and institutional levels, but on all levels the intellectuals are the ones who know most about one another across the frontiers, who keep in touch with one another, and who feel that they are one another’s allies… ” Konrad 1984: 208

Hannerz add that there are transnational occupational cultures also of bureaucrats, politicians, business people, journalists and diplomats, and various others. These people shift their bases for longer periods within their lives and wherever they go they’ll find others who will interact with them in the terms of specialised but collectively held understandings. Hannerz argue that because of the transnational cultures, a large number of people are nowadays systematically and directly involved with more than one culture.

The transnational and territorial cultures of the world are entangled with one another in manifold ways. Some transnational cultures are more insulated from local practises than others and the transnational cultures are also as wholes usually more marked by some territorial culture than by others. However, most of them are in different ways extensions or transformations of the culture of Western Europe and North America.

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