Center for Global Studies and the Humanities

Duke University


(De) Colonial Cosmopolitanism

(Political Economy, Religion & International Relations) : An International Workshop


Between 2001 and 2004 the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities (CGSH) held a faculty and graduate student research seminar around the topic “Dialogical Ethics and Critical Cosmpolitanism.” The seminar was put together and coordinated by Rom Coles (Political Sciences) and Walter Mignolo (Literature, Romance Studies and Cultural Anthropology). The title reflected the interests of both coordinators expressed in recent publications: Rom Coles just published his book Rethinking Generosity (2000) and Walter Mignolo his article “The Many-Faces of Cosmo-Polis.”

After the end of the cycle, the CGSH started a new project under the title of Shifting the Geography and the Biography of Knowledge. The title thus combined the defining theme of the Caribbean Philosophical Association, found in 2002 under the leadership of Lewis Gordon, and a related concern of Walter Mignolo articulated in his article “The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference” published in South Atlantic Quarterly, 2002.

This workshop is the fifth in the series Shifting the Geography and Biography of Knowledge.

A summary of previous workshops in the Shifting the Geography and Biography of Knowledge series can be found here, and a summary of Dialogical Ethics and Critical Cosmopolitanism can be found here.

“Cosmopolitanism” was a buzz word in the late nineties and continues to be in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Why such wide spread interests in “cosmopolitanism?”

I see four main motivations:

1) One was the wide spread limits of “national thinking.” Nationalism was what cosmopolitanism was trying to overcome. Cross-cultural and planetary dialogues were argued as ways toward the future, instead of leaping to defend and enclose the borders of the nations. Immigration contributed to the surge of cosmopolitanism. Nationalist saw immigration as a problem; cosmopolitan as an opening toward global futures;

2) The second motivation was the need to build arguments that, moving away from nationalism, did not fall in the hands of neo-liberal, and economic globalization. That global world was not what cosmopolitans liked to support at the end of the twentieth century. Thus, one of the strands of cosmopolitan thinking, confronting globalization, was caught in between honest liberalism opposed to neo-liberal globalization and a renovated Marxism that saw new global players invited to think cosmopolitanism beyond the international proletarian revolution;

3) A third motivation, related to the first two, was to move away from closed and monocultural conceptions of identity supporting State designs to control the population by celebrating multiculturalism. At this level, cosmopolitanism focused on the individual: the person was invited to see herself as an open citizen of the world, embodying several “identities.” In a word, it was a liberal conception of cosmopolitanism, born in the nineteenth century, and now translated into an ideal of flexible and open cultural citizenship;

4) The fourth motivation, compatible but also distinct from the second, was the legal proposal putting on the agenda “cosmopolitanism from below,” that was eventually connected with the agenda of the World Social Forum;

This workshop takes all the above into account at the same time that it departs from all previous concerns. The workshop is programmed to investigate two interrelated levels around three geo-political spaces of the social. Briefly, the workshop will be organized around two axes:

a) One of the axes presupposes that “cosmopolitanism” is part of the imperial/colonial ideology that sustained the formation of the modern/colonial world. From Francisco de Vitoria jus gentium to Immanuel Kant perpetual peace, there is a clear orientation (theological in Vitoria, secular in Kant) to organize and control the world; and inter-national law (both inter-national within Western Christendom/Europe and inter-national between Europe and the places of the earth Europeans were invading and appropriating).

If then, “cosmopolitanism” is ingrained in the formation of the modern/colonial world, what would the task of de-colonizing cosmopolitanism look like? If “cosmopolitanism” presupposes uni-versality, can we think of cosmopolitanism as pluri-versal? And if “we” (in this workshop as well as the “we” referring to many projects and proposals around the world today and in thefuture going in a compatible direction) can, then what are the next steps for thinking and acting cosmopolitanism de-colonially?

b) The second axis presupposes that de-colonial cosmopolitanism creates and enacts geo-political and body-political displacements that cannot be managed and controlled by uni-versal principles of law implied in Vitoria’s and Kant’s visions of a global order were the hospitality is taken as a right every human being has not as a favor that one gives and the other receives.

Based on these two axes, the seminar will explore (De) Colonial Cosmopolitanism in disciplinary practices as well as social domains identified as religion, political economy and international relations. In these explorations we aim to bring to the foreground invisible meanings and taken for granted assumptions that, currently, get in the way of many good intents of working toward a more just and equitable world while, on the other hand, hidden and invisible meanings makes easier for the “controllers of the world” to justify their imperial designs disguised as beneficial for the entire humanity.


Time: Thursday, February 26, 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday, February 27, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday, February 28, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Location: Duke University - Ernestine Friedl Building (old Art Museum), East Campus