Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
Transnational Mobilities and Digital Communication
As previously stated, the subversive potential of the multitude will be made most apparent in the fictions of Mitchell, where individuals and communities find themselves directly at odds with destructive globalising processes and the forces of a metaphorical ‘Empire’. It will also be argued that the inclusion of digital forms of migrancy and non-elite workforces in the fiction of Kunzru strengthen this reconfiguration of Western hegemonic structures. Hardt and Negri position the internet as a prime ‘model for the multitude because, first, the various nodes remain different but are all connected in the Web, and, second, the external boundaries ofthe network are open such that new nodes and new relationships can always be added’ (2004: xv). After all, globalisation concerns ‘the creation of new circuits of cooperation and collaboration that stretch across nations and continents and allow an unlimited number of encounters’ (2004: xiii). Such networked collaboration does not lead to a state of homogeneity, but rather ‘provides the possibility that, while remaining different, we discover the commonality that enables us to communicate and act together’ (2004: xiii). Hardt and Negri emphasise that it is not enough to merely resist the worst excesses of globalising forces, but rather ‘to reorganize them and redirect them toward new ends’ (2000: xv).
Undoubtedly, one of the main factors in establishing and fostering cultural attachments is the rise in transnational mobilities as a direct consequence of globalisation. Vertovec defines transnationalism as ‘the existence of communication and interactions of many kinds linking people and institutions across the borders of nation-states and, indeed, around the world’, thereby problematising the overlapping relationship that exists between transnationalism, globalisation and cosmopolitanism (2003: 312). Cosmopolitanism should be distinguished from transnationalism as the presence of transnational communities does not suggest that ethical ideals are practised or promoted; it is merely a state of cultural movement. Similarly, exposure to otherness and diversity through mobility is not an inevitable precursor to ethical engagement. There is instead a valid argument that transnational mobility merely results in the emergence of superficial cultural engagement, based on Western aesthetic spectatorship. We can term such actions ‘faux-cosmopolitanism’, to be grouped with the growth in tourism and business travel, merely expressing ‘a kind of ersatz benevolence’ by ‘superimposing a wider, allegedly global culture on more local cultural practices’ (van Hooft 2009: 11). Cosmopolitanism is also often conflated with mere multiculturalism, yet Annemarie Bodaar correctly differentiates the terms by suggesting that multiculturalism denotes rigid ‘adherence to the culture of the group’ whereas cosmopolitanism concerns the formation of ‘loose and multiple’ socio-cultural ties that exceed the fixed boundaries associated with ethnicity alone (2006: 171). While multiculturalism implies a form ofhomogeneity at the group level, cosmopolitanism explores heterogeneous forms of belonging that arise through acts of individual ethical agency. Further, it will be argued that cosmopolitan outlooks are not the result of an allegiance to one territorial space, nor are they necessarily based on the idea of nomadism, because such a view neglects the relevance and impact of belonging and place and suggests a privileged view from nowhere in particular. The issues, then, are not whether individuals are increasingly transnationally mobile, but whether such mobility is a catalyst in the formation of new connectivities and ethical subjectivities towards others, and the position the novels implicitly (or explicitly) take on this issue.
Another key distinguishing feature of contemporary cosmopolitan theory is the rapid acceleration of digital communicative technologies. The speed and immediacy with which digital technology now links the wider world forges dialogues and connectivities that have no precedent. Such technologies reformulate global relations and lead to the construction of new virtual communities that are founded on non-corporeal connections and override geographical or cultural divides. Gavin Kendall, Ian Woodward and Zlatko Skrbis support this claim, arguing that contemporary forms of cosmopolitanism differ from classical models because technology ‘enables a vital dimension of the cosmopolitan experience - to move beyond the cosmopolitan imagination to enable active, direct engagement with other cultures’ (2005: 1). Proponents of digital communication regard the internet as the means of promoting cultural understanding and awareness of otherness, forging connections between global citizens who will never meet face-to-face. Through an analysis of Eggers and Kunzru’s work, however, it will be argued that the globalising flows of digital connectivity simultaneously function as a new form of cultural imperialism, strengthening rather than reducing the global inequalities of twenty-first century life.
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