De-orientalising Vernacular Cosmopolitanism: Towards a Local Cosmopolitan Ethics

  • Pnina Werbner


This chapter interrogates the validity of Wendy Brown’s apparently self-evident assertion in Regulating Aversion that “Tolerance as a political practice is always conferred by the dominant, it is always a certain expression of domination even as it offers protection or incorporation to the less powerful”. Tolerance, she argues, thus marks what is “civilised”, “conferring superiority on the West” (2008: 178). If ethical cosmopolitanism is defined by tolerance, toleration and reaching out to an Other or stranger, may we conclude, with Brown and other cosmosceptics, that cosmopolitanism is necessarily western and elitist, a discursive strategy that disguises and depoliticises relations of dominance? And if so, what room is there for a non-elitist, demotic, vernacular cosmopolitanism that is nevertheless moral and ethical? Can it be that the peoples anthropologists study beyond the West are incapable of being cosmopolitan? Against that view, I argue in this chapter that the habits and capacities associated with routine boundary crossings, physical, ethnic or religious, alongside the customary habits of hospitality and social exchange among strangers, are markers of vernacular cosmopolitanism. So too are ways of settling disputes, providing safe havens or making peace across borders, and of vernacular participatory cosmopolitanism by trade unionists in developing countries that are cosmopolitan despite their inferior class positioning.


Ethics Sufism Labour rights Religion Tolerance Strangerhood Popular culture 


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pnina Werbner
    • 1
  1. 1.Keele UniversityKeeleUK

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