The structure of modern democracy has long been centered on a crucial relationship of delegation and representation that binds the state and the citizenry. By a fundamental political contract, the citizenry delegate a considerable proportion of their decision-making powers to the state apparatus in exchange for representation by the state. Yet we know from examples ranging from unpopular governmental decisions on taxation and social security to the covert exercise of executive powers of surveillance and detention, that this political contract is a fiction. But rarely has this fiction been exposed as dramatically as in the recent upheavals manifest in various theaters of discontent across the globe, including Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, the US, and India. In each instance—whether the provocation came from popular frustration with oppressive regimes, the collapse of the neoliberal economy, or public anger at widespread corruption among the ruling elites—it was evident that the citizenry had withdrawn their consent from the political contract of delegation and representation tying them to the state. This negative gesture doubled itself in the positive one of asserting the rights of the citizen as insurgent to evolve new socialities, associations, and forms of representation that cut transversely across the definitions laid down and the boundaries sanctioned by state institutions.
I extrapolate on this logic of the insurgent citizen—a notion explored by anthropologist James Holston in the context of marginalized urban populations in Brazil—to frame and address the engagement of cultural producers with political and cultural predicaments in locations not “their own” if described from a narrowly territorial point of view. Such an empathetic releasement of self towards Other retrieves the ideal of cosmopolitanism in an active and critical, even insurgent mode (to adapt a proposal made by sociologist Bonaventura de Sousa Santos concerning the transnational organization of resistance to globalization’s asymmetries). On this account, cosmopolitanism is not simply a worldview that always already assumes an unproblematic world-citizenship that could nimbly be recovered from behind the barricades of nationalist or regionalist ideology; rather, it is a strategy that sets itself against the grain of sedimented indigenist attitudes, that works with the textures of particular situations while retaining the transcultural ability to imagine what art theorist Nikos Papastergiadis
describes in his 2012 book Cosmopolitanism and Culture as “a new model of co-existence in which rival claims could negotiate their local or regional differences without being confounded by nationalist categories … [leading us to address] the question: What is it to be human without any formal or fixed markers [of identity]?” We may also discern, within this preoccupation, the continuing presence of a revolutionary, even utopian hope of achieving solidarity among protagonists across predicaments through the act of identifying points of affinity, shared criticality, and common affirmation. Such a solidarity would, in effect, if not always explicitly, defy the logic of the hard edges of geopolitical blocs.
This current of FORMER WEST
: Documents, Constellations, Prospects offers a forum to cultural theorists and artists whose work addresses and performs the insurgent cosmopolitan condition.Ranjit Hoskote