Cosmopolitanism and an Ethics of Sacrifice

  • Scott Schaffer


Since the coming to the fore of cosmopolitan social thought in the wake of the decline of postmodernisms, a variety of scholars have attempted to develop notions of ‘cosmopolitan social thought’, organising them in terms of the varieties of projects they deal with, ranging from the development of cultural competencies enabling equitable treatment of all peoples, to the creation of transnational governance mechanisms, to the establishment of international social movements and forums. Still others have critiqued these theoretical offerings, noting their basis in a particular set of material resources that go unacknowledged or the failure of cosmopolitan ethical positions to impact on the material inequalities in the world today. Yet, no one has to date observed the core of the problem of cosmopolitanism as a lived, resistant practice: namely, that cosmopolitanism social thought must address both the ethical and cultural part of the equation and the material inequities in the world.

This chapter works to lay out the foundations for thinking of cosmopolitan social thought as needing to address both material and superstructural inequalities in the world. It starts by examining the organising principles used by many scholars for understanding the variety of cosmopolitanisms and the common critiques levelled against those theoretical positions. It then examines the core thematic concerns raised by cosmopolitan theorists, working to unify them into a material and ideational model of cosmopolitanism. Finally, the chapter utilises the notions of sacrifice produced by Jean-Paul Sartre in his Rome Lectures and George Bataille in The Accursed Share to begin thinking through the process of making sacrifice serve cosmopolitanism, of making cosmopolitanism serve humankind as a whole, and of making cosmopolitanism into a real, practical, resisting ethics. In part, the ultimate recommendation is that cosmopolitanism as a theoretical and epistemological position must sacrifice its ontological superiority and begin to be open to ‘cosmopolitanisms from below’, and it simultaneously must be committed to the sacrifice of material resources in the name of distributive justice.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott Schaffer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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