Ulrich Beck pp 169-187 | Cite as

We Do Not Live in an Age of Cosmopolitanism but in an Age of Cosmopolitization: TheGlobal Otheris in Our Midst

  • Ulrich BeckEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice book series (BRIEFSPIONEER, volume 18)


The collapse of a world order is often a moment for reflection on the dominant social theory and research of the time, but surprisingly this is not the case today. Mainstream social theory still floats loftily above the lowlands of epochal transformations (climate change, financial crisis, nation-states) in a condition of universalistic superiority and instinctive certainty. This universalistic social theory, whether structuralist, interactionist, Marxist, critical or systems-theory, is now both out of date and provincial.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Shadow Economy Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Risk Society Global Inequality 
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The collapse of a world order is often a moment for reflection on the dominant social theory and research of the time, but surprisingly this is not the case today.1 Mainstream social theory still floats loftily above the lowlands of epochal transformations (climate change, financial crisis, nation-states) in a condition of universalistic superiority and instinctive certainty. This universalistic social theory, whether structuralist, interactionist, Marxist, critical or systems-theory, is now both out of date and provincial. Out of date because it excludes a priori what can be observed empirically: a fundamental transformation of society and politics within modernity (from first to second modernity)2; provincial because it mistakenly absolutizes the trajectory, the historical experience and future expectation of Western, i.e. predominantly European or North American, modernization and thereby also fails to see its own particularity.

This is why we need a cosmopolitan turn in social and political theory and research (Beck/Grande 2010a). How can social and political theory be opened up, theoretically, empirically as well as methodologically and normatively, to historically new, entangled modernities which threaten their own foundations? How can it account for the fundamental fragility and mutability of societal dynamics of domination and power shaped, as they are, by the globalization of capital and risks at the beginning of the twenty-first century? What theoretical and methodological problems arise and how can they be addressed in empirical research? Here I want to discuss these questions in five steps.

First, I will call into question one of the most powerful convictions about society and politics, one which binds both social actors and social scientists: methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism equates modern society with society organized in territorially limited nation-states. Second, I propose to draw an essential distinction between cosmopolitanism in a normative philosophical sense and cosmopolitization as a social scientific research programme. Third, I am going to illustrate this paradigm shift by re-mapping social inequalities; and, fourth, by discussing world risk society and its political dynamics. Fifth and finally, I will pick up the question: what does a ‘cosmopolitan vision’ imply for the social sciences and humanities at the beginning of the twenty-first century?

14.1 Critique of Methodological Nationalism

Twenty-five years ago in my book Risk Society (1986), I argue that there is an epochal shift from industrial to risk societies. The former were based upon industry and social class, upon welfare states and upon the distribution of various goods (as opposed to bads) organized and distributed through the state, especially of good health, extensive education, and equitable forms of social welfare. There were state-organized societies, there was a national community of fate, and there were large-scale political movements especially based upon industrial class divisions that fought over the distribution of their various goods. In the post-Second World War period in Western Europe, there was a welfare state settlement in such industrial societies based upon achieving a fairer distribution of such goods.

By contrast, the concept of risk society is based on the importance of bads. Risk societies involve the distribution of bads that flow within and across various territories and are not confined within the borders of a single society. Nuclear radiation is a key example of this, but also financial risks, global warming, SARS3 and so forth. These risks cannot be confined to any scientific space nor to any current sector of time. Such risks thus cannot be insured against. They are uncontrolled and the consequences are incalculable. This argument about the borderlessness of the risk society has (together with the writings of many others) developed the analysis of globalization implications for sociology. Since then, I have given particular attention to the nature and limitation of methodological nationalism. What does this mean and what is wrong with it?

In brief: methodological nationalism assumes that the nation, state and society are the natural social and political forms of the modern world. Where social actors subscribe to this belief, I talk of a national outlook; where it determines the perspective of the social scientific observer, I talk of methodological nationalism. The distinction between the perspective of the social actor and that of the social scientist is crucial, because there is only a historical connection between the two, not a logical one. This historical connection—between social actors and social scientists—alone gives rise to the axiomatics of methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism is neither a superficial problem nor a minor error. It involves both the routines of data collection and production as well as the basic concepts of modern sociology and political science—concepts such as society, social class, state, family, democracy, international relations etc.

Moreover, sociologists tended to generalize from ‘their’ particular society to a claim about how ‘society’ in general is organized. (This holds also for my book Risk Society). American sociology, in particular, developed in this way, presuming that all societies were more or less like that of the USA, just poorer! It was perfectly possible to study that particular society and then to generalize as though all, or at least most, other societies (at least those that mattered!) were much the same. This led to debates about the general nature of order or of conflict within ‘society’ based upon the distinct US pattern. Order and conflict theories were to be ‘tested’ within the USA and it was presumed that these conclusions could then be generalized to all societies or, at least, to all rich industrial societies. For decades it was simply how sociology worked; it was a taken-for-granted way of doing sociology—then ‘global studies’ marched in.

14.2 How to Research ‘Really Existing Cosmopolitization’?

We can distinguish three phases in the way the word ‘globalization’ has been used in the social sciences: first, denial, second, conceptual refinement and empirical research, third, ‘cosmopolitization’. The initial denial is over because the theoretical and empirical refinement revealed a new social landscape in the making (see for many Held et al. 1999). Its dominant features include interconnectedness, which means dependency and interdependency of people across the globe. Virtually the entire span of human experiences and practices is in one way or another influenced by the overwhelming interconnectivity of the world. (This should not be confused with world system and dependency theories.)

The third phase uncovers the core unseen and unwanted consequence of this global interconnectivity: really existing cosmopolitization—the end of the ‘global other’. The global other is here in our midst. This is precisely my point: to clearly distinguish between philosophical cosmopolitanism and social scientific cosmopolitization.

Ulrich Beck, pioneer of cosmopolitan sociology, summarizes the results of the congress “Futures of Modernity”, in Munich in 2009

Cosmopolitanism in Immanuel Kant’s (1957 [1795]) and Jürgen Habermas’s (1997) philosophical sense means something active, a task, a conscious and voluntary choice, clearly the affair of an elite, a top-down issue. In reality today, however, a ‘banal’, ‘coercive’ and ‘impure’ cosmopolitization unfolds unwanted, unseen—powerful and confrontational beneath the surface or behind the façade of persisting national spaces, jurisdictions and labels. It extends from the top of the society down to everyday life in families, work situations and individual biographies—even as national flags continue to be raised and even if national attitudes, identities and consciousness are strongly being reaffirmed. Let us go into more detail:

14.2.1 Cuisine

Banal cosmopolitization is, for example, seen in the huge array of foodstuff and cuisines routinely available in most towns and cities across the world. It is possible with enough money to ‘eat the world’.

14.2.2 Migration

Migrants organize a kind of ‘upward mobility beyond national border’ for themselves and their families. This way they are becoming border artists. Describing ‘trans-migrants’ as a political security risk, as socially marginal, and as an exception to the rule of territorial confinement, mainstream migration studies have mirrored and affirmed the nationalist image of normal life (e.g. Wimmer/Glick Schiller 2003).

14.2.3 Work and Workers

Transnational corporations, looking for cheap labour, are outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. In first modernity, national borders have reduced international competition between all types of workers of different nationality. In second modernity, outsourcing capitalism induces competition between domestic and foreign labour of many categories (same qualifications, less income). Here you have a coercive cosmopolitization unfolding unwanted, often unseen beneath the surface of national spaces which has a tremendous impact. This cosmopolitization of labour does not imply cosmopolitanism, but is the background for renationalization, mostly in the old centre of the world.

14.2.4 Love

Can a cosmopolitization of love be observed? Sure, it can. The belief in the Either/Or, which was once taken as self-evident fact—either we or they, either here or there—seems to be on the wane or has actually disappeared from the horizon of love. Nothing now seems to separate human beings any more in any absolute way, neither skin colour, nor national hostility, neither religious differences nor the distance between continents, and so forth. On the contrary, people are susceptible to the attractions, the lure even, of the unlimited possibilities in the global other, in those who are far away: long-distance love (Beck/Beck-Gernsheim 2014). This spells the disappearance of unbridgeable chasms for, since they now appear bridgeable, they turn out therefore to be in the process of being bridged.

The vantage point that enables us to gauge the dimensions of the new landscapes opening up for love and the family is as follows: the unity of language, passport, skin colour and household which had seemingly prevailed as the national model of the family since the beginning of time is now breaking down.

Long-distance love and global families are no longer marginal phenomena; they have long since taken up a position at the heart of the ‘majority society’. ‘The global other is in our midst’ acquires here a literal, intimate, family connotation. One’s brother-in-law now has a wife from Thailand. A woman from Poland has been hired to look after grandpa. One’s godchild has recently started living with a theologian from Togo. Where is Togo, actually? How come he is here? Is he here for the sake of a residence permit or out of ‘genuine love’?

What do I mean by ‘global families’? Global families embody the contradictions of the world and these contradictions are worked out in them. Not all families embody all the contradictions, but some embody some of them. For example, there are marriages, parents, and couples with dual-nationality and they may embody the tensions between two countries or between the majority and minority communities in those countries, while immigrant families may incorporate the tensions between the centre and the periphery. Global families and long-distance relationships mirror a state of ignorance that has been nationally programmed and embodied in law. It follows that love and the family become the setting in which the ‘cultural wounds’, the rage and the anger that global inequalities and their imperial history continue to generate in the souls of the living to this day, are endured and fought out.

Global families, then, are not families with global power, nor families with global horizons; nor are they one-World families or families of World citizens. We might rather call them families embodying world conflicts, families ripe for world adventures or even families seeking their fortunes in the world, families attempting to turn poverty and conflict into ‘gold’. But what they demonstrate is that the universal image of the ‘good family’ that we have always taken for granted is now fundamentally in flux—a development that bears some responsibility for fundamentalist reactions and counter-movements.

And there is a cosmopolitization of motherhood as well. Medically assisted reproduction opens a brave new world of options (we have no words for it!): the ‘egg donor mother’ or the ‘surrogate mother’; to put it into a formula: ‘My mother was a Spanish egg donor’ or ‘my mother was an Indian surrogate mother’. Thus by bio-scientific manipulation, global inequality is being incorporated into the human body and identity.

14.2.5 Kidneys

The victory of medical transplantation (and not its crisis!) has swept away its own ethical foundations and opened the floodgates to an occult shadow economy supplying the world market with ‘fresh’ organs. In the radically unequal world there is obviously no shortage of desperate individuals willing to sell a kidney, a portion of their liver, a lung, an eye, or even a testicle for a pittance. The fates of desperate patients waiting for organs have become obscurely embroiled with the fates of no less desperate poor people, as each group struggles to find a solution to basic problems of survival. This is what the Age of And creates: an impure, really existing cosmopolitanism of deprivation.

In a fascinating case study, the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes (2005) has shown how the excluded of the world, the economically and politically dispossessed—refugees, the homeless, street children, undocumented workers, prisoners, ageing prostitutes, cigarette smugglers, and petty thieves—are lured into selling their organs and this way becoming physically, morally, and economically ‘embodied’ in mortally thick bodies and in persons who are rich enough to buy and ‘incorporate’ the organs of the poor global others.

In the name of the neo-liberal ideology of the free market and a basic democratic right to unlimited choice, fundamental values of modernity—the sovereignty of the body, the human being and the meaning of life and death—are being eliminated without anyone noticing, let alone recognizing this for what it is: a process that symbolizes our age.

We live in the Age of And but think in categories of Either/Or. The notion of ‘And’ is not intended to convey the shallow political message that ‘we are all connected’; nor does it refer to the ‘inclusive’ or ‘synthesizing’ And that normalizes imperialism and existing power relations by pointing to the life-saving ‘spare’ organs of ‘the global others’. The notion of the discontinuous, contradictory both/and that I have in mind stands for ‘impure’ cosmopolitanism and commerce, consent and coercion, gift and theft, science and sorcery, care and human sacrifice. This impure, banal, coercive, dirty, bloody cosmopolitanism of ‘living kidneys’ has ‘bridged’ the Either/Or between North and South, core and periphery, haves and have-nots, unbounded freedom and commodity fetishism.

In the individualized bodyscapes of And, continents, races, classes, nations and religions all become fused. Muslim kidneys purify Christian blood. White racists breathe with the aid of one or more black lungs. The blonde manager gazes out at the world through the eye of an African street urchin. A secular millionaire survives thanks to the liver carved from a Protestant prostitute living in a Brazilian favela. The bodies of the wealthy are transformed into patchwork rugs. Poor people, in contrast, have been mutilated into actually or potentially one-eyed, one-kidneyed spare-parts depots, and this has occurred ‘by their own free will’, and ‘for their own good’, as the affluent sick constantly reassure themselves. The piecemeal sale of their organs is their life insurance. At the other end of the process, the bio-political ‘citizen of the world’ emerges—a white, male body, fit or fat, with the addition of an Indian kidney or a Muslim eye, and so forth. In general, the circulation of living kidneys follows the established routes of capital from South to North, from poor to more affluent bodies, from black and brown bodies to white ones, and from females to males, or from poor males to more affluent ones. Women are rarely the beneficiaries of purchased organs anywhere in the world. From this it follows that the Age of And is divided and recombined into organ-selling nations versus organ-buying ones.

Even the hellish fantasies of Hieronymus Bosch, the clairvoyant nightmare visions of Francisco de Goya with their motto ‘The sleep of raison brings forth monsters,’ or the image of modern war in Picasso’s Guernica still acknowledge, for all their negativity, the moral world order of Heaven and Hell, reason and madness, war and peace. But this world order disintegrates in the weird cosmopolitanism of ‘fresh’ kidneys in our time.

14.2.6 Villages

Virtually in every East Asian country the biggest loser of ‘compressed modernization’ has been peasant communities. On a sketchy glance, most East Asian villages may appear rather stable and affluent, but they have been subjected to an unprecedented exodus of residents—young women in particular. Thus, paradoxically, rural emptying has created the fundamental new reality and category of a ‘cosmopolitan village’ (Shim/Han 2010; Chang 2010a). Just as with the overnight arrival of the American and Japanese colonizers in Korean villages in the early twentieth century, the sudden appearance of Asian brides has exposed villagers to a range of new experiences associated with dissimilar languages, looks, values, and foods of their family members: the global other is in our midst!

This formula, of course, entails very different meanings: transnational migration, transnational competition between workers, bi-national couples, domestic migrant workers, medical tourism, cuisines, the new bodyscapes, global risk, art, global cultural conflicts (for example, about the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2008). Cosmopolitization first of all effects intermediate institutions like family, work, occupation, education, mass media, internet and so forth. So the new volcanic landscapes of ‘societies’ and ‘politics’, private and public spheres, us and them have to be re-mapped through communication, interaction, work, love, intimacy, the human body and, indeed, all such social and political practices.

14.2.7 Nation

But the same is true for the macro level as well. Like climate change, most of the main impetuses for social and economic transformations in the new century do not differentially or exclusively apply to certain limited groups of nations. Consider the following: global free trade and financialization, corporate deterritorialization and transnationalized production, globalized policy consulting and formulation (coerced by the International Monetary Fund, etc.), and, last but not least, globally financed and managed regional wars (Chang 2010b: 444–445).

There are no permanent systematic hierarchies, sequences or selectivities by which different groups of nations—whether at different levels of development, in different regions or of different ethnicities and religions—are exposed to these new civilizational forces in mutually exclusive ways. Wanted or not, they are every nation’s and every person’s concern because they are structurally enmeshed with the new civilization process which I call ‘(reflexive) cosmopolitization’; and the civilizational condition thereby shared across the globe is ‘(reflexive or) second modernity’.

14.2.8 Cooperate or Fail!

Recent world history seems to dictate that surviving, let alone benefiting from, these new civilizational forces requires every nation to actively internalize them and one another. Again: the global other is in our midst!

Isolationist efforts—whether spoken of in terms of trade protectionism, religious fundamentalism, national fundamentalism, media and internet control or whatever else—are readily subjected to international moral condemnations (and, to some extent, ineffective). In fact, accepting or refusing these forces remains beyond willful political or social choices because they are globally reflexive—that is, compulsively occurring through the cosmopolitan imperative: cooperate or fail!

There is an increasing unease, nourished not least by the hesitant responses to the global financial crisis, the European currency crisis, and the poor results of the last global climate conference at Copenhagen in 2009, that these institutions are proving unable to address the challenges they were created to meet. Similar developments can be observed at the national level, regarding, for example, democratic institutions, welfare systems, families, and so forth. Can the World Bank solve the global problem of poverty? Can the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) solve a global food crisis? Can the World Trade Organization effectively regulate global trade? It seems as if these institutions do not constitute a sufficient basis for managing or controlling the global risks and crises created by the global victory of industrial capitalism.

14.2.9 Reflexivity and Normativity4

The age of cosmopolitization finally means that the great questions of life have to be addressed and understood—in opposition to the main trends in sociology and art, albeit from a novel point of view: in the distant other who is also very close we recognize ourselves.

Every epoch has its own epistemological and moral Sisyphus-questions: what is a ‘good life’? What is a ‘good government’? What goes towards making a ‘good society’, a ‘good family’ (a ‘good woman’, a ‘good man’, a ‘good child’, etc.)? All social and moral orders hitherto had, implicitly at least, answers befitting their own age or aspiring to universal validity. Reflexive cosmopolitization casts doubt on these claims in two ways: on the one hand, the regime of the Either/Or had traditionally set territorial limits to the contradictions of particular universalist claims to a ‘good life’, a ‘good society’, and a ‘good religion’ and in so doing, defused them. In the age of cosmopolitization, this world of clear distinctions and classifications now disappears. It follows that today in the everyday encounters between world religions the claims to universal validity of the two major cultures of Europe—the culture of Christianity and the culture of secular modernity—no longer hold water. The same may be said of the particularist universalist claims of other religions, such as Islamist universalism (‘Ummah’). Thus it is not just the case that religious differences become sources of conflict; over and above that, in the cosmopolitan constellation, we are witnessing the implosion of contextually defined universalisms and national and ethical certitudes along with them. Hence the outburst of neo-nationalism and the emergence of a democratic racism in the midst of societies everywhere.

On the other hand, a second consequence of this change is that we are witnessing the opening of a horizon in which new, existential Sisyphus questions become visible for which traditional social and political systems hold no answers. These questions concern the possibility of what Joshua J. Yates (2009) calls ‘the good world’, as the solution to a civilization at risk of self-destruction. They ask whether a modernity without limits (unlimited freedom, unlimited capitalism, unlimited research into human genetics, reproductive medicine, nanotechnology, etc.) needs ‘reflexive taboos’ (Beck/Sznaider 2011) to protect its most sacred values from itself. Is this the explanation for the absolutely unquenchable thirst for limits that is convulsing the global community?

This is exactly what the transformative dynamics of the second, cosmopolitan modernity is about! Isn’t there a gulf of centuries between the threats, opportunities and conflict dynamics of border-transcending, radicalized modernization in the twenty-first century and the ideas, institutions and structures of industrial capitalism and national state authority rooted in the nineteenth century?

It has become a commonplace that national institutions alone are unable to cope with the challenges of regulating global capitalism and responding to new global risks (Beck 1999, 2009). It is no less obvious that there is no global state or international organization capable of regulating global capital and risk in a way comparable to the role played by the European welfare national state in first modernity. In my Munich research centre (Institute for the Study of Reflexive Modernization), Edgar Grande in particular is concentrating on ‘risk regime’. There are platforms of cosmopolitan cooperation between representatives of transnational capital, national governments, global civil society groups and EU experts—trying to find answers to all kind of risk problems and conflicts which can later be implemented in national spaces. And, of course, regional powers become important: Cosmopolitan Europe (and maybe in the future a Cosmopolitan Asia, a Cosmopolitan South America, a Cosmopolitan Africa as well).

14.3 Re-mapping Social Inequality Beyond Methodological Nationalism

Studying the cosmopolitization of social inequality—and, indeed, across the globe inequalities seem to have increased—it is less clear that social class is the principal unit of analysis and investigation. I rather provocatively developed the argument that ‘social class’ is too soft a category to study social inequalities in the twenty-first century.

I developed three points here: first, the world of second modernity is a world of unbelievable contradictions and contrasts. There are ‘super modern castles’ or citadels constructed next to scenes of Apocalypse Now (as with the now destroyed World Trade Center in New York with thousands of beggars living in the subway below). Class hardly captures such shimmering inequality.

Second, the major movements of change have little to do with class, even that responsible for the most stunning transformation of the past three decades, such as the financial crisis of 2008, ‘9/11’ and the dramatic and unpredicted bringing down of the Soviet empire by various rights-based social networks.

Third, the national outlook on social inequality is inward orientated. It stops at the borders of the nation-state. Social inequalities may blossom and flourish on the other side of the national garden fence, which is, at best cause for moral outrage, but politically irrelevant.

A clear distinction must be made, therefore, between the reality of social inequality and the political problem of social inequality. National boundaries draw a sharp distinction between politically relevant and irrelevant inequality. Inequalities within national societies are enormously magnified in perception; at the same time inequalities between national societies are faded out. The ‘legitimation’ of global inequalities is based on an institutionalized ‘looking the other way’. The national gaze is ‘freed’ from looking at the misery of the world. It operates by way of a double exclusion: it excludes the excluded. And the social science of inequality, which equates inequality with nation-state inequality, is unreflectively party to that. It is indeed astonishing how firmly global inequalities are ‘legitimated’ on the basis of tacit agreement between nation-state government and nation-state sociology—a sociology programmed to work on a nation-state basis and claiming to be value-free!

My point is that while the performance principle legitimates national inequality, the nation-state principle legitimates global inequality (in another form). How? The inequalities between countries, regions and states are accounted politically incomparable. In a perspective bounded by the nation-state, politically relevant comparisons can only be played out within the nation-state, never between states. Such comparisons, which make inequality politically explosive, assume national norms of equality.

Paradox: even de-creasing global inequalities and in-creasing global norms of equality make global inequalities socially and politically explosive. Why? Because nation-state borders lose their function to legitimate global inequalities.

Yet that is precisely what the national gaze fades out: the more norms of equality spread worldwide, the more global inequality is stripped of the legitimation basis of institutionalized looking away. The wealthy democracies carry the banner of human rights to the furthest corners of the earth, without noticing that the national border defences, with which they want to repel the streams of migrants, thereby lose their legitimation. Many migrants take seriously the proclaimed human right of equality of mobility and encounter countries and states which—not least under the impact of increasing internal inequalities—want the norm of equality to stop short at their fortified borders. Put in other words, that means: the conception of social class, based on principles of nationality and statehood, misleads analysis. Most theorists of class, including Bourdieu (1984), who thought so extensively about globalization in his final years, identify class society with the nation-state. The same is true of Wallerstein (1974/1980/1989), Goldthorpe (2002) and, incidentally, also of my individualization thesis.

14.4 World Risk Society and Its Political Dynamics

Why is the concept of ‘(world) risk society’ so important in order to understand the social and political dynamics and transformations at the beginning of the twenty-first century? (Beck 2009). It is the accumulation of risks—ecological, financial, military, terrorist, biochemical and informational—that has an overwhelming presence in our world today. To the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy and transformation. The first is largely inscribed in modern culture, but ignores the political risk of denial; the second gives way to a nihilistic strain in postmodernism; the third marks the issue the theory on world risk society raises: how does the anticipation of a multiplicity of man-made futures and its risky consequences affect and transform the perceptions, living conditions and institutions of modern societies?

In order to answer this question, we first have to distinguish between risk and catastrophe. Risk does not mean catastrophe. Risk means the anticipation of catastrophe. Risks are about staging the future in the present, whereas the future of future catastrophes is in principle unknown. Without techniques of visualization, without symbolic forms, without mass media, without art, risks are nothing at all. The sociological point is: if destruction and disaster are anticipated, this might produce a compulsion to act. The social construction of a ‘real’ anticipation of future catastrophes in the present (like climate change, or financial crisis) can become a political force, which transforms the world (to the better or the worse).

In a second step, we then have to distinguish between three types of future uncertainties: threats, risks and manufactured uncertainties. The risk society thesis always encounters the objection: have not endangerment and insecurity belonged to human existence from its beginnings, in earlier ages seemingly more so then today (sickness, short life expectancies, wars, and epidemics)? This is true, but according to a conventionally agreed distinction, this is not ‘risk’, but ‘threat’. Again, we have to make the following distinction: ‘risk’ is a modern concept, risk presupposes human decisions, humanly made futures (probability, technology, modernization). This first modern concept of risk has to be distinguished from ‘manufactured uncertainties’ (second modernity).

Typically today, communication and conflict flare up around this particular type of new manufactured risk. Neither natural disasters—threats—coming from the outside and thus attributable to God or nature, such as prevailed in the pre-modern period, have this effect any longer (they do in religious cultures). Nor do the specific calculable uncertainties—risks—that are determinable with actuarial precision in terms of a probability calculus backed up by insurance and monetary compensation, such as were typical of first modern industrial society, fall in this category. At the centre of risk societies are manufactured uncertainties. They are distinguished by the fact that they are dependent on human decisions, created by society itself, immanent to society and thus not externalizable, collectively imposed and thus individually unavoidable; their perceptions break with the past, break with experienced risks and institutionalized routines.

Threat, risk and manufactured uncertainty can be differentiated in ideal-typical terms as outlined here, but in reality they intersect and co-mingle. In fact, the problems of drawing hard and fast distinctions between these politically very differently valued aspects of future uncertainty comprise a decisive focus and motor of risk conflicts.

These are some elements of the European model of world risk society. How has this model to be modified examining various types of risks associated with East Asian ‘compressed modernity’? The Korean sociologists Han and Shim (2010: 474) even conclude that ‘the concept of risk society is more relevant to East Asia than to Western societies’—but it has to be redefined.

14.5 A ‘Cosmopolitan Vision’ for the Social Sciences

What can a European social theory of reflexive modernization learn from the cosmopolitan turn? The first insight is that the progression from pre-modernity to the first modernity and second modernity is not universal, and cannot be generalized. On the contrary, this progression is a central feature of the particular European path to modernity. The false universalism implicit in sociological theories cannot be uncovered by looking at Europe from a European standpoint. It can only be ‘seen’ by looking at Europe from a non-European perspective, that is, with ‘Asian eyes’—in other words, by practising methodological cosmopolitanism! Methodological cosmopolitanism not only includes the other’s experiences of and perspectives on modernization, but corrects and redefines the self-understanding of European modernity.

It is a paradox that the very lively debates on cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitization are overwhelmingly Euro-American.5

‘They are about globalization, and about risks, rights, and responsibilities in an interconnected world, but they reflect disproportionately views from the old ‘core’ of the modern world system (and Western-educated elites from formerly colonial outposts). This is the source of at least four biases.

First, though an effort is made to include consideration of poor, developing or emerging economies, cosmopolitan theories reflect the perspective of the rich. Second, though an effort is made to be multicultural, cosmopolitan theories are rooted in the West. Third, the way in which most cosmopolitan theories try to escape cultural bias is by imaging an escape from culture into a realm of the universal (as though those who travel aren’t still shaped by their previous cultural contexts and as though there the global circuits themselves don’t provide new cultural contexts). Fourth, despite attention to social problems, because cosmopolitan theories are rooted in the (declining) core of the modern world system, they tend to imagine the world as more systematically and uniformly interconnected than it is’ (Calhoun 2010: 597–598).

Those biases are exactly what cosmopolitan sociology has to overcome.

Let me end by summarizing in ten theses what the cosmopolitan turn entails:
  1. 1.

    An earlier phase of modernity was organized primarily in terms of nation-states, which sought to manage many of the risks people faced, although markets and other phenomena did cross state boundaries.

  2. 2.

    Modern social and political theory grew with the dominance of nation-states and internalized the nation-state as the tacit model for the ideal-as-society—influenced by the actual power of nation-states, but also by the widespread aspiration to organize the world on the basis of nation-states.

  3. 3.

    An earlier philosophical cosmopolitanism developed in Europe in this context, calling on people ethically to transcend narrow nationalist views, as though the sociological conditions of their lives did not really matter.

  4. 4.

    Today we have to make a clear distinction between the norms of cosmopolitanism (which you find as a normative concept already in the sociology of Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim) and the facts of cosmopolitization which are a genuine issue of empirical-analytical social sciences. Cosmopolitan sociology neglects the Durkheim/Parsons model of ‘value integration’ of national society. It neglects also theories which declare the death of the social. But it emphasizes the transformation of the social and a new methodological cosmopolitanism to study the ambivalences of the cosmopolitization of intermediated institutions.

  5. 5.

    The same applies to the international level: consider global free trade and financialization, corporate deterritorialization and transnationalized production, globalized labour use, internet communication, globally orchestrated bio-scientific manipulation of life forms and, last but not least, globally financed and managed regional wars. As stated earlier, recent world history seems to dictate that surviving these new civilizational forces, let alone benefiting from them, requires every nation to actively internalize them and one another. This is what I call ‘(reflexive) cosmopolitization’; and the civilizational condition shared across the globe I call ‘reflexive’ or ‘second modernity’.

  6. 6.

    I do not see the nation-state as disappearing, but rather see it as only one of many actors in a global power game. The focus needs to be on that global power game and not on the nation-state. Importance could accrue to regional powers like ‘Cosmopolitan Europe’, (‘Cosmopolitan Asia’ etc.).

  7. 7.

    Such a shift in focus requires the restructuring of the social sciences not only conceptually, theoretically, and methodologically, but also in the very organization of research. All their fundamental concepts—especially those of social class, family, work and the nation-state—need to be re-examined. Many are ‘zombie concepts’ that continue to live on even though the world they related to at one time no longer exists.

  8. 8.

    Cosmopolitan sociology is just at its beginnings. It entails more questions than answers [British Journal of Sociology 2006, 57(1); 2010, 61(3); Soziale Welt 2010, 61(3–4)]. But it does involve a fundamental re-organization of the social sciences, and a dramatic shift in focus—from methodological nationalism to methodological cosmopolitanism. And it must also be critical in its orientation. One critical focus must be on the increasing inequality in the world and its social explosiveness. The focus on the nation-state has led to a shameful subordination of ‘objective’ and ‘value-free’ sociology to the imperatives of the nation-state which blinds even empirical sociology to the fundamental transnational transformations of domination and inequality.

  9. 9.

    Another critical focus: problems of social inequalities and justice in first industrial nation-state modernity were once pursued and fought over as the ‘goods’ of modern society (things like incomes, jobs, social security etc.); in the cosmopolitical age, those ‘goods’ are off-set by conflicts over the ‘bads’. These include the very means by which many of the old goods were in fact attained. More pointedly, they involve the threatening and incalculable side effects and so-called ‘externalities’ produced by nuclear and chemical power, genetic research, the extraction of fossil fuels, and the overriding obsession with ensuring sustained economic growth. The social and psychic volatility wrought by cultural relativism, on the one hand, and recognition of risk, on the other, generate an enormous discontent, which in turn inspires various political and social movements for reform and resistance.

This might be the birth of a new world view because such projects are typically justified in the name of ‘humanity’ and ‘the planet’. The universality of such claims, moreover, is not conjured up out of thin air or by some utopian aspiration. Instead it presents itself in the form of globally available cultural models of protest and resentment, which, when enacted by activists and social movements, inspire new cycles of human agency and responsibility to change, save or otherwise repair the world in the name of ‘a different modernity’.
  1. 10.

    Reflexive cosmopolitization includes the caveat that our orientation to the world grows ever more critically reflexive. At the same time—and this is crucial—it grows more universalistic, interventionist, and prescriptive: the contradictions between the hegemonic universalism of the Western world picture (‘the American way of life’) and a new cosmopolitanism from below characterize open global conflicts about the ‘good world’ (Yates 2009)—and, of course, about who has the power to define it.


There are risks as well as opportunities in the cosmopolitan turn, but for now let us kiss the frog and then find out if the frog turns into a prince—one that begins to re-map the scapes, flows, new lines of conflict, actors and institutions of the cosmopolitan age. After all, kissing doesn’t hurt anybody, does it?


  1. 1.

    This text was first published as: Ulrich Beck: “We Do Not Live in an Age of Cosmopolitanism But in an Age of Cosmopolitisation: The ‘Global Other’ Is in Our Midst”, in: Irish Journal of Sociology, 19,1 (2011): 16–34. The permission to republish this text was granted for the Irish Journal of Sociology and for Manchester University Press by Email to Ulrich Beck.

  2. 2.

    Beck/Grande (2010a); and see below.

  3. 3.

    Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory disease in humans which is caused by the SARS corona virus.

  4. 4.

    For this see Strydom (2012).

  5. 5.

    Some of most important contributions to this debate include: Appiah (2006), Archibugi (2008), Baban (2006), Beck (2005, 2006, 2009), Beck/Grande (2007, 2010b), Beck/Sznaider (2006a, b, c, 2010), Beitz (2005), Benhabib (2007), Berry (2008), Boon/Fine (2007), Braeckman (2008), Brassett/Smith (2007), Bray (2009), Breckenridge/Pollock/Bhabha/Chakrabarty (2002), Brock/Brighouse (2005), Brown (2008), Calcutt/Woodward/Skribis (2009), Calhoun (2007a, b), Cheah (2006), Delanty (2009), Delanty/He (2008), Dobson (2006), Edwards (2008), Eriksen (2009), Featherstone/Patomäki/Tomlinson/Venn (2002), Fine (2007), Garsten (2003), Grande (2006), Hulme (2010), Hannerz (2004), Held (2010), Inglis (2009), Kendall/Woodward/Skribis (2009), Khagram/Levitt (2008), Kurasawa (2004), Levy/Heinlein/Breuer (2011), Levy/Sznaider (2010), Mau/Mewes/Zimmermann (2008), Meckled-Garcia (2008), Mendieta (2009), Nederveen Pieterse (2006), Nowicka/Rovisco (2009), Pichler (2008), Poferl/Sznaider (2004), Rapport (2007), Rumford (2007), Slaughter (2009), Todd (2007), Tyfield/Urry (2009), Vertovec/Cohen (2002), Werbner (2008), Wimmer/Glick Schiller (2002), Ypi (2008), see also Constellations (2003), Daedalus (2008), and The Hedgehog Review (2009).


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© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of SociologyLudwig Maximilian UniversityMunichGermany

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