Book Manuscript: Toward a Transnational Cosmopolitanism
(under contract with Cambridge University Press)
Two related questions motivate this book: why is cosmopolitan political theory so un-cosmopolitan in its mode of inquiry? Why, despite the world-encompassing character of its project, has this literature failed to reach outside the canon—most prominently, Immanuel Kant’s work—to theorize the social, political, and economic complexity of the cosmopolitan project today?
In this book I build upon W. E. B. Du Bois's political writings and activism after the First World War to construct a notion of transnational cosmopolitanism. In particular, I argue that engaging with a wider variety of writings and with political activism allows for the proper theorization of equal concern in cosmopolitan projects. It is theoretically important to engage with the way in which subjects understand their predicament, reconstruct the forms of oppression that they face, and engage in political practices to counter them. In other words, incorporating a Duboisian orientation into the theorization of cosmopolitanism makes clear that equal concern for subjects regardless of membership and affiliation need not mean concern with unaffiliated abstract individuals. Instead, it implies the serious theoretical consideration of what concern with differently affiliated subjects entails, and the need to make sense of the relationship between these affiliations and the normative and political character of cosmopolitanism.
The first part of the manuscript engages with both Kant and neo-Kantian scholars of cosmopolitanism to reconstruct modes of hierarchy prominent in the former and their echoes in the latter. I then examine the efforts to theorize the transnational by these theorists and suggest that certain contextual features of Kant's engagement restrict the otherwise promising concepts of hospitality and complementarity.
The second part of the book examines Du Bois’s post-First World War thought. In this period, Du Bois finds the US political realm increasingly confining, and turns toward the experience and political action of colonial subjects for mutual identification and concerted action. Through these identifications, subjects acquire novel layers of identity and are able to develop robust forms of political subjectivity to engage in solidaristic, emancipatory action. This transformative experience builds upon hospitable exchanges between African Americans and colonial subjects that transfigure the Kantian notion of hospitality, which serves merely to regulate exchange between already constituted realms. A transfigured hospitality instead inaugurates a new, transnational, realm of politics constituted by those excluded from the domestic and international political arenas. This transnational sphere inaugurated an anti-colonial counterpublic that relied on common temporalities and overlapping networks of solidarity to pose a genuine challenge to the narrowness of the domestic and international spheres.