Cultural Anthropology is excited to present six essays that it has published in recent years as part of its third virtual issue for 2010 on the theme of Cosmopolitanism. From belly-dancing in contemporary Istanbul to blood donation among Gujaratis in Houston; from the “Ghost Worlds” of Bollywood to the creation and maintenance of “Recursive Publics” by internet geeks; from indigenous struggles in the Andes to the rise of the “Green Wave” in Iranian politics – these essays present an array of geographically dispersed, empirically dense, theoretically inflected, and methodologically innovative accounts of ways in which people are conceiving of - and indeed performing - themselves and the worlds that they inhabit. Together, these essays push us to ask: What are the politics and ethics of being and belonging under contemporary conditions of globalization? How do people make sense of the ever-shifting grounds that they tread on? What are the technologies of self-making available to them?
The politics and ethics of worldly belonging and recognition is an obvious theme that connects the essays presented here. Juxtaposing different frameworks in which blood is transacted – from human bodies to vials to scientific laboratories – Deepa Reddy describes how “bioethics” comes to make sense on different registers – as a set of constraints under which scientists operate, but equally as narratives about good gifts, good science, and good commodities. The deployment of abstract narratives of idealized goods (“the good of humanity”), Reddy argues, is what greases these frames and brings them into temporary alignment with minimal friction. While Reddy directs our attention to the politics of recognition, Marisol de la Cadena prompts us to “slow down reasoning,” and reconsider - indeed unlearn - a singular ontology of politics that takes the world as a given and simply excludes entities and beliefs that cannot be translated into familiar terms. Through her engagements with indigenous peoples, Cadena argues that recent developments in Andean politics - marked by the visibility of other-than-humans - call for a pluriversal politics; they call for the transformation of the very concept of politics from “one that conceives politics as power disputes within a singular world to another one that includes the possibility of adversarial relations among worlds” [added emphasis].
Cultural performances constitute another register on which these essays resonate. David Novak, for example, traces the complex - and often contradictory – transnational trajectories that media forms such as Bollywood song-and-dance clips follow. Building on Bolter & Grusin’s notion of “remediation,” Novak argues for thinking about cosmopolitanism not just as a form of identification, but also as a form of mediation that not only represents, but also produces, cosmopolitan subjects. Using belly-dancing praxis as an ethnochoreographic lens, Potuoğlu-Cook traces how ideas of space, female honor, gender, class, and religion are negotiated on an everyday basis as Istanbul gets increasingly incorporated into the global economy - she argues for a performance-sensitive critique of political-economy. Michael Fischer also concerns himself with aesthetics - of Iranian politics and ways in which they play upon available means of expression and recognition in Iranian civil society. As Elif Babul succinctly summarizes on our supplemental page, "Fischer illustrates how the Green Wave made active use of existing repertoires such as the Shiite paradigm of struggle for social justice, ritual cycles of the Islamic calendar, slogans of the 1979 Islamic revolution, as well as the technical infrastructure of the Iranian civil society and public sphere to articulate its demands for political change. Fischer's account illuminates how "repetition with difference" of political formations opens a way for the next movement - such as the Green Wave - and how these "rhythmic beats" of revolutionary demands in Iran are an utmost challenge to the state's monopoly control over interpretation of Islamic terms and symbols."
Importantly, the essays draw out the social, technical, and politico-legal infrastructures that enable and constrain articulations of cosmopolitanism. Michael Fischer highlights the key role played by cell phones and new media in Iran’s democratic movements. The capacity to instantly circulate information through networked technologies, Fischer argues, has rendered struggles over means of communication as key sites of contestation in Iranian politics. The stakes of developing and maintaining infrastructures of open communication are starkly visible in Fischer’s essay. It is in this vein, that Chris Kelty reads the Internet as a contest “whose outcome will structure the very meaning and instantiation of old and new values.” “Structures of communication,” he argues, “are not inevitable, given, or neutral.” For any public to be viable in a highly technically mediated society, Kelty argues that it must be recursive – i.e. it must be actively invested in maintaining the infrastructures that make its existence possible. The issue of creating and maintaining appropriate infrastructures, of course, assumes particular salience in light of ongoing discussions that bring to fore our own predicaments over the future of scholarly publishing and its implications for anthropology.
In a world rife with rhetorics of tolerance, but with realities of violence against difference, the essays presented here highlight the stakes in reinvigorating discussions over cosmopolitanism, indeed over cosmopolitics – in spaces, both real and virtual. At stake are civic imaginaries of the “greater good;” at stake are the aesthetic imaginaries of globalization and cultural difference; at stake are the complex dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in a neoliberal world order; at stake are rights of indigenous peoples and their struggles to be taken seriously in/on their own terms; at stake are the means of our communication and association; at stake is the world itself. Indeed, taken together, these essays impress upon us not just the awesome multiplicity of peoples and their practices, but also of the very worlds that they inhabit.