Let me start by explaining my choice to start with the topic of the cosmopolitan mind-set on a blog that focusses on intercultural (mis)communication.  Don’t worry, over time I will share plenty of daily examples of awkward situations where various cultures come together and total miscommunication and chaos arises. For a start though I think it might be valuable to explain different views on citizenship, a subject in the matter of intercultural communication that is closely linked to cosmopolitanism.

The term “cosmopolitan” itself actually comes from the ancient Greek kosmopolites. This means “citizen of the world”. The term first showed up about 2500 years ago. Not much has changed though, up until now the idea of cosmopolitanism appears to soothe the cravings for a better world.

Most researchers that focus on this topic see global awareness as a key factor of cosmopolitanism. Describing cosmopolitans as people interested in many parts of the world borrowing ideas from different cultures and using reason and intellect to reach an informed decisions. Critics however say that cosmopolitanism has a socially exclusive nature that reinstates a white, liberal worldview rather than any genuine engagement with those who do not meet these criteria (Savage, 2005: 181). With this in mind, four different approaches to cosmopolitanism can be distinguished (Calhoun, 2003: 8-15). The first one focusses on the ethical obligations of individuals, the obligation to humanity as a whole. This approach tends to substitute ethics for politics, and is sometimes referred to as “extreme cosmopolitanism” a moderate alternative is to say that in addition to one’s relationships and affiliations with particular individuals and groups, one also stands in an ethically significant relation to other human beings in general. The second approach starts with rights instead of obligations. It is based on a more democratic theory that says wherever people are joined in significant social relations; they have a collective right to share control of these rights. This means that people are citizen of their immediate political communities, and of the wider regional and global networks that influence their lives. The third approach derives from the notion of diversity as a core value. It is about openness and the strength of the individual personality. It is not related to a membership, to any specific culture, or the mix of several cultural traditions. Finally the fourth approach focusses more on the participation, it is the only approach that incorporates ethnicity, rather than only tolerates it. It gives a sense of being connected to the world as a whole. It might not be a surprise that in a society where people reach a certain level of global awareness the third and fourth approach are preferred. This is where we can link the term to citizenship.

Pollock came up with a way to distinguishing the four versions of cosmopolitanism by considering how each approach looks at the idea of citizenship. In this case the first form asserts that citizenship of the world is direct and unmediated and is fundamental and unqualified. The second, more moderate approach values citizenship of the world, but also citizenship in a variety of intermediate associations of different kinds, including corporations and other institutions as well as territorially based populations; it sees world citizenship as at least in part mediated through these other forms of association. The third approach sees a strong tradition of locating citizenship in cities/urbanise (rather than nations), but there is an ideal of citizenship focused on the virtue of citizens rather than their belonging to any group. The fourth approach questions whether the notion of citizenship is ‘a necessary common frame to be shared universally’ and worries that exalting the ideal of citizen typically depends on certain notions of public life (and restriction of intimacy to the private sphere), and on the idea of the individual – and especially autonomous interest-bearing individuals – as the subjects of citizenship (Pollock et al., 2000: 584). The question remains, in an inclusive society, after becoming a so called ‘cosmopolitan’, is a person ever really home again the way locals are? Perhaps there is still a feeling of detachment or irritation towards those committed to the local common sense and unaware of its arbitrariness. This is where the aspect of intercultural communication starts to play a role.

Ultimately is the mind-set that defines the cosmopolitan. A mind-set is a combination of believes, leading to thoughts, leading to actions, leading to results. It is an on-going cycle that can be based on either a fixed mind-set or a growth mind-set. A fixed mind-set assumes that intelligence is static. A growth mind-set assumes that intelligence can be developed. A mind-set often relates to shared communities. These communities can be based on ethical, political, legal, social or cultural standpoints. The mind-set itself can be translated in concepts, competence and connections closely related to these standpoints. Having the latest knowledge and ideas, being able to operate at the highest standards of any place anywhere; and having the best relationships, will provide access to the resources of other people and organizations around the world (Halsall, 2009:6). By using these three intangible C’s (concepts, competence, connections) in their advantage cosmopolitans create and become part of a more universal culture that transcends the particularities of place (Halsall, 2009:7). Living abroad may also expose people to new interpersonal social relationships that become influences on which they depend. These experiences may also fuel a kind of personal transformation, which involves a greater openness to the “other” and a move towards cosmopolitanism (Kennedy, 2010).  Calhoun’s research (2003) shows that when cosmopolitan appeals to humanity as a whole are presented in individualistic terms, they seem to privilege those with the most capacity to get what they want by individual action.

So far, the brief introduction to the cosmopolitan mind-set. Next week I will write some more on the subject, relating citizenship to the concept of “being at home in the world”. Are there an specific topics you would love to see covered? Please do share your thoughts! For more of Dialogue with the Dutch, follow me on Facebook:, look me up on Instagram: or email me:



Beck, U., & Cronin, C. (2008). The cosmopolitan vision. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Calhoun, C. (2003). “Belonging” in the Cosmopolitan Imaginary. Ethnicities, 3(4), 531-553.

Halsall, R. (2009). The Discourse of Corporate Cosmopolitanism, British Journal of Management, 20, 136–148.

Kennedy, P. (2009). Mobility, Flexible Lifestyles and Cosmopolitanism: EU Postgraduates in Manchester. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(3), 465-482.

Pollock, S., Bhabha, H.K., Breckenridge, C.A., Chakrabarty, D. (2000). Cosmopolitanisms, Public Culture 12(3): 577–590.

Savage, M., Bagnall, G., & Longhurst, B. (2005). Globalization and belonging. London: SA.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash