Media and Cosmopolitanism

by Aybige Yilmaz (Volume editor) Ruxandra Trandafoiu (Volume editor) Aris Mousoutzanis (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection VI, 284 Pages


This collection of essays examines the relationship between the media and cosmopolitanism in an increasingly fragmented and globalizing world. This relationship is presented from multiple perspectives and the essays cover, amongst other themes, cosmopolitanization in everyday life, the mediation of suffering, trauma studies, and researching cosmopolitanism from a non-Western perspective.
Some of the essays explore existing research and theory about cosmopolitanism and apply it to specific case studies; others attempt to extend this theoretical framework and engage in a dialogue with the broader disciplines of media and cultural studies. Overall, this variety of approaches generates valuable insights into the central issue of the book: the role played by the media, in its various forms, in either encouraging or discouraging cosmopolitanist identifications among its audiences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • ‘The World on a Plate’: Transformed Cosmopolitan Utopia in Food Blog Culture
  • Potential Cosmopolitan Sensibilities in Feminized and Mediated Remembrance
  • ‘Welcome Europe!’ The Eurovision Song Contest as a Continuum for Cosmopolitanism
  • The Cosmopolitan City: Music and Mediation During the European Capital of Culture Event
  • The Local Relevance of Global Suffering: Articulations of Identities and Cosmopolitanism in Television News Discourses on Distant Suffering
  • AIDS, Africa and Popular Culture: Mediated Cosmopolitanism in a Neoliberal Era
  • Encountering Distant Others? Reconsidering the Appearance of International Coverage for the Study of Mediated Cosmopolitanism
  • The Simulation of Suffering: Armchair Tragedy Tourism and International Memorials in Second Life
  • Cosmopolitan Vision, Global Responsibility and Local Reporting in Ukraine
  • ‘Not’ Mediating Cosmopolitanism: Media Ethics, Morality and Media Freedom a la Turca
  • Trauma, Mediation, Global Crisis
  • Conclusion: Cosmopolitanism Now
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index



In an article about the role of cosmopolitanism in the modern social imaginary, Craig Calhoun (2008b) discusses how being a ‘cosmopolitan’ has become more and more desirable among an urban, upwardly mobile, social group. In popular culture, he points out, cosmopolitanism has become a label that indicates a way of life, an openness to the world, being a citizen of the world, transcending the national, having the taste and capacity to appreciate the diversity of cuisines, cultural products and touristic locations we encounter on a daily basis in modern society. Among his various examples, one is particularly amusing: in the unday Times of India, ‘cosmopolitan’ apparently is the first category in the advertisements posted by would-be husbands seeking brides (and vice versa).

While gaining currency on matchmaking sites is often not a reliable indicator for the popularity of a concept in academic research, it is evident that for the past two decades there has been an accelerated interest in cosmopolitanism among academics. Beyond its pop cultural evocations of openness, the concept has now been debated and interpreted by writers from various disciplines and fields in social sciences, ranging from law to political science, from anthropology to philosophy, making the concept not only popular but also very hard to define (see Pollock et al. 2002). Even within the same field, say in political science, positions vary as much as the definitions.

It is not our aim to review the extensive literature on cosmopolitanism, nor clarify its meanings once and for all (is it a political project? a form of governance? a state of mind?). Not only is such a review not directly relevant for this book, but it is next to impossible: this is a much contested concept and there are just as many discourses about cosmopolitanism as there are about nations and nationalism in popular as well as academic ← 1 | 2 → discourse. Vertovec and Cohen (2002), for example, identified six different categories, while Holton (2009) has drawn up a list of more than sixteen different types. Our focus is rather on how the concept expanded into media studies, and on the growing literature on the mediation of cosmopolitanism by cultural industries and communication technologies. The following sections therefore engage with the literature on cosmopolitanism from media-specific perspectives. When reviewing this literature, our aim is to map out the emerging areas, arguments and themes of interest, rather than the specific research projects conducted.

Cosmopolitanism, Media and Everyday Life

There are a number of core arguments and definitions from social and cultural inquiry that have shaped cosmopolitanism and media research. First is the argument that cosmopolitanism is a consequence of globalization. As it is repeatedly argued in globalization literature, the intensification of transcultural flows has left the boundaries of the nation-state much more porous, and the world much more interconnected. Our everyday actions are continuously caught in and shaped by the globality of networks and connections, whether we want it or not. As a result, our cultural experiences have been rescued from the limitations of locality and dramatically transformed in the globalized world. Lately, the focus has turned on cosmopolitanism’s ability to produce a systematic critique of globalization, a cosmopolitanism with a moral concern (see Bayart 2007, Calloway-Thomas 2010, Delanty 2009, among others), which argues for a post-Western view and highlights the dangers of continuing to reproduce old colonial hierarchies behind the mask of universalistic concerns. We will return to the issue of morality in the second part of this introduction. For now we need to turn our attention to the way cosmopolitanism is enabled through globalized media.

The ubiquity of new media technologies in everyday life has a lot to do with the transformation forced upon our point of view. As Silverstone says (2006: 10), globalization as such is inconceivable without the media, which ← 2 | 3 → provide the technological and cultural framework for global connections. Of particular importance is the role of the media in shaping this global imagination, which has been examined in a number of writings (Hannerz 2001 and 2002, Meskimmon 2010, Orgad 2012). Already two decades ago, Appadurai (1996) flagged up the role of the media in stretching our imagination beyond the local/national. Extending Benedict Anderson’s argument, Appadurai argued that today many people live not just in the imagined communities of the nation state but in imagined worlds, which could become either instruments of resistance or could subvert locality. The building blocks of Appadurai’s (1990) imagined worlds are the five dimensions of global flows: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes and ideoscapes. Among these, mediascapes provide readily available and pervasive images and narratives of the world beyond the local.

In a similar line of thought, Szerszynski and Urry (2002) have argued that the mediation of global images, symbols and narratives form a banal globalism that encourages us to imagine our communities beyond national borders. Following Billig’s work on banal nationalism (1995), these authors argue that just like nationalism is reproduced through the mundane habits of everyday life, awareness of the globe is reproduced through circulating global images of ‘various iconic places, peoples and animals’ on television (2002: 467). These cause repeated encounters with distant others turning the global into a ‘backcloth to a world of exceptional co-presence’ (2002: 467).

All of these mediations have cosmopolitanizing consequences, often in the absence of cosmopolitan intents or the will to become a cosmopolitan, according to Beck (2006). This is why he chooses to refer to these processes as ‘latent cosmopolitanism’, ‘unconscious cosmopolitanism’ or ‘passive cosmopolitanism’, and argues that this resulting cosmopolitanism is simply ‘a function of coerced choices or a side effect of unconscious decisions’ (2006: 19), it is an ‘everyday experience of cosmopolitan interdependence’ (2006: 23). As a result, the concept is thus released from its philosophical origins and cosmopolitanization becomes a defining condition of our contemporary era, since ‘the human condition itself has become cosmopolitan’ (2006: 2). Beck makes a deliberate choice of referring to this process as cosmopolitanization and not globalization – a paradigm he associates with a restrictive nation-centric focus in empirical research, and wishes to avoid.

← 3 | 4 → Whether we choose to call these processes latent cosmopolitanization or a form of globalization, there are two common arguments emerging from this literature. Firstly, these processes form some of the preconditions for the cosmopolitan outlook. This outlook, in Hannerz’s much cited definition, is a ‘willingness to engage with the other […] an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness towards divergent cultural experiences’ (Hannerz 1990: 239). Secondly, this willingness can be translated into action, because it cultivates ‘a state of readiness, a personal ability to make one’s way into other cultures, through listening, intuiting and reflecting’ (Hannerz 1990: 239). Cosmopolitanism’s civic obligations are the result of a ‘historically alert, reflexive awareness’, according to Beck (2006: 3), and while this awareness enables the possibility to shape one’s life and social relations in the new context, it is ‘simultaneously a sceptical, disillusioned, self-critical outlook’ Beck (2006: 3). The new cosmopolitan imagination and the skills and competencies to engage with others from a cosmopolitan point of view release us from the nation-state framing of our imagination, which was brought about by capitalism, vernacular language and print media (packaged under the banner of nationalism). Beck’s ‘reflexive awareness’ also prepares the ground for the moral questioning that now permeates cosmopolitan discourse, discussed in the second part of this introduction.

As we hear again and again, the media remain at the core of this development. The media can endow people with the necessary skills and predispositions to develop the cosmopolitan outlook by the mobilities they offer – these include mobility of information and images, as well as mobility of people, through real and virtual travel. Media and communication technologies help to inhabit the world from a distance (Szerszynski and Urry 2006), by encouraging the formation of new virtual imaginaries and symbolic geographies. By speaking of ‘what is distant’, the media can make ‘just about everybody a little more cosmopolitan […] without going away at all’ (Hannerz 1990: 249). Urry’s work on the role of television in engendering cosmopolitanism though imaginary travel (2000) also offers the foundations for subsequent work on the topic from Chouliaraki (2006, 2008) and Robertson (2010), whose focus nevertheless shifts towards the ethical implications of mediated travel, as discussed in the latter part of the introduction. While cosmopolitan attitudes are not a direct and natural ← 4 | 5 →result of mediated flows and mobilities, the media do bring ‘the world’ closer and do encourage an awareness of interdependence and of difference (Szerszynski and Urry 2006: 117).

The affinity between travel, real and imagined, and cosmopolitanism has been equally discussed in the literature on diasporas and transnational cultures and also in the context of pop cosmopolitanism. The ability of disaporic media to create cosmopolitan spaces of imagination focuses on two perspectives: the perspective of the migrant’s use of media and technologies that enable the journey of migration and settlement, on the one hand, and the critical discussion of the white middle-class consumer, in search of difference and exoticism, on the other. As to the first, social media in particular have been credited with enabling information transmission, symbolic capital accumulation and socialization, leading to an implied openness and multiplicity, which is cosmopolitan in character (Culic 2010, Dekker and Engbersen 2012, Hiller and Franz 2004, Trandafoiu 2013).

As for the second perspective, the media have a vital role in nurturing cosmopolitan openness within everyday rituals and practices. An example is Henry Jenkins’ discussion of ‘pop cosmopolitanism’. According to Jenkins, media convergence and the consequent transcultural flows of popular culture are giving rise to this new (pop) cosmopolitanism expressed by ‘new forms of global consciousness and cultural competency.’ (2006: 156). Following Hannerz’s work (1990), Jenkins argues that young Americans willingly enter the broader sphere of cultural experiences offered by Japanese anime and manga, Bollywood films and Bhangra music, as well as Hong Kong action movies. In doing so they open themselves up to cultural difference and break the tight bounds of their local communities.

This move nevertheless has to be problematized from the perspective of consumer cosmopolitanism. As the ‘other’ is increasingly consumed, it moves into the mainstream. As a result, the hipster cosmopolitan in search of ‘difference’ thus needs to look and travel further afield. This is, at least, the implication of Roberts’ (2009) analysis of ‘hipster cosmopolitans’ (he mentions Jonathan Ross and Anthony Bourdain, among others), the white, middle-class urban travellers, who are busy bringing exotic coolness to Western mainstream pop culture. In this view, cosmopolitanism becomes simple performance or projection based on the appropriation of ← 5 | 6 → non-white capital. In this same context, the label ‘world’, now associated with at least music, cinema and literature, introduces a new re-ordering system that facilitates consumption under the guise of cosmopolitanization. As Stacey relevantly argues, ‘the global is reproduced through a process of reverse synecdoche: dropping the “third” from “third world”, “world” products place their claim on the global by drawing on non-western practices and ingredients that are commodified for the western consumer’ (2000: 101–103). One can become a ‘citizen of the world’ by simply stocking up on ‘world music’ CDs, writing a bucket list of the world’s top writers or reading ‘world cinema’ reviews. If this is a case of ‘staged’ cosmopolitanism, in accordance with Western canons, there remains the question whether this new cosmopolitan consumer can also grow into a cosmopolitan reflexive subject. Several authors seem optimistic.

Beck agrees that consumer society is the truly global society and that cosmopolitanism itself has become a commodity – after all, ‘the glitter of cultural difference sells well’ (2006: 40). He calls the intersection of consumer society and cosmopolitanism ‘banal cosmopolitanism’ and argues that this can help to form a new reflexivity. In his view, elements from many different countries and cultures are continually compared, rejected, combined and remixed, which results in ‘a whole network of everyday practices and skills to deal with a high degree of interdependence and globality’ (Beck 2006: 41–42). For Jenkins, one argument is that such consumerist practices have the potential to open up consumers to alternative cultural practices and enable feelings of ‘semiotic solidarity’ with others worldwide, on the basis of shared tastes and interests (Hills in Jenkins 2006: 156). Similarly, Hannerz (2006) is also optimistic that such engagements can eventually energize politically oriented notions of cosmopolitanism, just like banal forms of nationalism, including consumer habits, feed into the project of the nation-state.

The biggest challenge facing research in this area is the fact that everyday cosmopolitanism is also the one most associated with discourses of consumerism and class. It is argued that not everyone is ideally positioned to experience the cosmopolitan outlook, it is not equally available to everyone, nor equally empowering (Calhoun 2008). Patterns of inequality are reproduced (Calhoun 2002, 2008), which can result in a cosmopolitanism of ← 6 | 7 → the privileged, or ‘frequent flyer cosmopolitanism’ (Calhoun 2002). It also makes it difficult to disentangle the cosmopolitan outlook from everyday consumer habits, cultivated by a consumer culture saturated with media texts. It may not be tempting to examine popular television programmes such as Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes or Gordon Ramsey’s culinary adventures in India from a cosmopolitanist perspective when such lifestyle shows are heavily permeated by consumerist discourses (see Franklin, Lury and Stacey 2000). Within such mediatizations lie the dangers of decontextualization, recontextualization and racial stereotyping (Flowers and Swan 2012, Hage 2000).

Because cosmopolitanism operates from the perspective of the mainstream, it implicitly re-proposes established hierarchies, while also building a cosmopolitan elite able to create layered fantasies of selfhood and otherness. ‘Cosmopolitanism without others’ is thus built upon an ‘otherness’ that is offered up for consumption. Hage calls this a case of ‘white multiculturalism’ or ‘cosmo-multiculturalism’ (Hage 1997: 99 and 2000: 201). The ‘ethnic’, the migrant or, more generally, the ‘other’, are accepted only as long as they contribute to shaping the status of the white multiculturalist or cosmopolitanist. Cosmopolitanism can be achieved by consuming the ‘other’ in the process of exposing ourselves to internationally mediated experiences. Thus we are acquiring cosmopolitan capital by consuming ‘diversity’, in a sad case of ‘stranger fetishism’ (Ahmed in Stacey 2000: 104). What Hage calls the ‘Anglo gaze’ (Hage 1997: 112), could be easily seen as the ‘white Western gaze’, turned upon distant others, which re-establishes old power relations, old Orientalist fantasies in the absence of ‘authentic’ encounters. The spectre of ‘inauthenticity’ and especially the inauthenticity of experience for audiences engaged in the process of ‘other’ mediation, appears in the recent work of both Chouliaraki (2008) and Robertson (2010), where stranger fetishism, as cultivated by television images, is linked to a necessary discourse on morality. Chouliaraki, for example, makes the point that most international news does not encourage viewers to transcend their Western anchoring. Viewers’ communitarian bonds ‘may transcend the national but do not encompass the global; they are resolutely Western’ (Chouliaraki 2008: 380). Although what Chouliaraki calls ‘emergency’ news may enable a transition from communitarian to cosmopolitan sensibilities, since they ← 7 | 8 → raise the spectre of possible action on behalf of others, the tension between universal responsibility and particular involvement with a specific cause, renders the spectator ‘fragile’. For Chouliaraki, this fragility is important in order to preserve cosmopolitanism as a necessity in contemporary life (2008: 383). We return to this discussion in the next section.

A second challenge affecting cosmopolitanism and consumer culture research concerns a more practical matter: cosmopolitanism defined as openness is not a clear category, which makes empirical research more difficult to conduct. ‘I still don’t know what “cosmopolitan” really means’, Beck says in an interview (Rantanen 2005: 257), referring to the openness and lack of a clear linear relationship between cosmopolitanization and becoming a cosmopolitan. Both in this interview and in his book (2006) Beck highlights the plurality of the concept, which sets limitations to empirical research. As openness and closure are relative terms, it is difficult to draw up a single definition of cosmopolitanism; it rather functions as an ‘empty signifier’ that acquires context-specific meanings (Szerszynski and Urry 2002: 469). For this reason, it has been suggested that we see cosmopolitanism as a complex discourse that has varieties and levels (Hannerz 1990: 146), operating on a spectrum with many intermediary positions in between openness and closure, combining elements from either end (Holton 2009: 114–115, Ong 2009). This difficulty of arriving at a clear definition makes cosmopolitan outlook, attitude and identities tricky to analyze empirically.

This is not to say that there is little qualitative research on media and cosmopolitanism. Quite the contrary, there is a large number of publications that critically examine media images and narratives about cultural difference and otherness, especially when the others represented in the media are also vulnerable. This work shifts the focus from the cultural context, or ‘cultures of cosmopolitanism’, to cosmopolitanist ethics and morality. These writings, to use Hannerz’s words, are not so much about the happy face of cosmopolitanism, the one that is eager to experience different cultures, cuisines and places, meets with new people of different backgrounds and feels ‘at home in the world’. They are more about cosmopolitanism with a worried face, ‘trying to come to grips with very large problems’, a face that feels the burden of civic obligations (Hannerz 2006: 14).

← 8 | 9 → The following section reviews the growing literature on media and the ethical dimension of cosmopolitanism, beyond the optimistic welcoming of difference. This is also the area where most of the research on media and cosmopolitanism has so far concentrated and it is also the one that has attempted to produce most empirical findings.

Media, Morality and Cosmopolitanism

The preceding discussion has already alluded to the link between cosmopolitanism and imagination and the ability that the media and mobility have to create a cosmopolitan outlook (which, as we have seen, is not devoid of criticism), based on virtual imaginaries and symbolic geographies. In this section, we aim to expand on work that has responded to the call for more empirical proof in both cultural (Holton 2009) and media studies research (Ong 2009, Roberts 2009). These texts aim to provide proof of cosmopolitan reflexivity and as a result position cosmopolitanism in a critical tension with globalization.

Much of the literature on media, morality and cosmopolitanism quotes Boltanski’s key 1999 text, Distant Suffering. Although Boltanski does not mention cosmopolitanism specifically and prefers to talk about humanitarianism, altruism and universalism, his book provides an illuminating insight into the way the media represent the tension between abstract universalism and narrow communitarianism. The ‘politics of pity’ he repeatedly refers to stems from what he calls the ‘spectator’s dilemma’, which is not caused, but it is certainly ‘dramatised’, by the development of the modern media and especially television (1999: xiv–xv). The dilemma is further deepened by several uncertainties about the way spectators critically decipher and act upon the rhetoric of pity: the conflict of beliefs that inherently frame the spectator’s understanding, for example the conflict between Left and Right interpretations and solutions, the ambiguity of actors (who is the victim and who the persecutor?), media sensationalism which brings about a suspicion of inauthenticity and finally the difficulty of acting at a distance, ← 9 | 10 → when both cultural references and international politics are nationally bounded (Boltanski 1999: 154–170).

Boltanski’s analysis remains relevant, especially as we turn to Lilie Chouliaraki’s research (2006), which has become the blueprint for conducting critical discourse analysis of disaster or crisis news (see for example Joye 2010). Chouliaraki adopts Boltanski’s observations about tensions and dilemmas, to give them a new language, in which the same phenomena are discussed with reference to the communities of sameness and difference produced by mediating news.

Chouliaraki argues that media narratives about distant suffering show us how to orient ourselves in the world vis-à-vis others. They show us which communities we belong to, whom to care for, and what we, as individuals, can do for the others, but they also reproduce notions of sameness and difference, resulting in communitarian solidarities, and only rarely enabling genuine cosmopolitan positionings. According to Chouliaraki,

communitarianism suggests that spectators act on suffering that is proximal and relevant to the community to which they belong. Cosmopolitanism suggests that the spectators engage with distant suffering via a demand for action on ‘others’ who do not readily belong to their communities. (2006: 196)


VI, 284
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
everyday life trauma studies suffering
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VI, 284 pp., 12 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Aybige Yilmaz (Volume editor) Ruxandra Trandafoiu (Volume editor) Aris Mousoutzanis (Volume editor)

Aybige Yilmaz is Head of the Department of Film, TV and Media at Kingston University. Her areas of research and publication include gendered representations of national identity; gender, consumer culture and individualism; and globalization and cosmopolitanism. Ruxandra Trandafoiu is Reader in Communication at Edge Hill University. She is the author of Diaspora Online: Identity Politics and Romanian Migrants (2013) and co-editor of The Globalization of Musics in Transit: Music Migration and Tourism (2013). She also researches Roma rights in the European Union, European identity, media representations of the European Union, and the legal and symbolic relationship between diasporic communities and nation-states. Aris Mousoutzanis is Lecturer in Film and Screen Studies at the University of Brighton. His areas of research and publication include representations of trauma in literature, film and television; popular media genres (science fiction and the Gothic); and digital media and globalization. He is currently researching the relationship between trauma theory and media cultures.


Title: Media and Cosmopolitanism