Cosmopolitanized Nations: Reimagining Collectivity in World Risk Society

Working paper d'Ulrich Beck et Daniel Levy

Cosmopolitan sociology has tackled broad themes like risk, family, religion, power, war, inequality, memory, and civil society movements exploring their reconfiguration in the global age. Tellingly, the concept of the national is often perceived, both in public and scientific discourse as the central obstacle for the realization of cosmopolitan orientations. Consequently, debates about the nation tend to revolve around its persistence or its demise. We depart from this either-or perspective by investigating the formation of the cosmopolitanized nations' as a facet of world risk society. This re-imagination of nationhood evolves, among other things, in the context of global norms (e.g. human rights), globalized markets, transnational migrations and embeddedness in international organizations. Here we focus on a mechanism involving the promulgation of 'risk societies'. Modern collectivities are increasingly preoccupied with debating, preventing and managing risks. However, unlike earlier manifestations of risk characterized by daring actions or predictability models, global risks cannot be calculated or forecast anymore. Accordingly, more influence accrues to the perception of risk, largely constructed by media representations of disasters. In a first step we distinguish between a normative cosmopolitanism and analytic cosmopolitization processes. The cosmopolitanized nations, we argue, reflect a new mode of collective identification, whereby we differentiate between presumptions of thick belonging and the actual proliferation of cosmopolitan affiliations. This leads to a gradual distinction between a conventional (and naturalized) view of the national and an emerging figuration of cosmopolitan nationhood. In a second step we overcome the territorial fixation of the social sciences by shifting our attention to temporal dimensions, with a particular focus on competing conceptions of the future. Our findings suggest that cosmopolitanized nations are reimagined through the anticipation of endangered futures. In a third step we demonstrate how these cosmopolitan transformations of nationhood are taking place in the context of the emergence of a world risk society regime that marshalls a set of cosmopolitan imperatives situating the global other in our midst. In a fourth step we illustrate these developments by exploring how the mediatization of risk, and concomitant notions of the future contribute to the re-imagination of cosmopolitan risk collectivities.

The authors

Ulrich Beck is Professor for Sociology at the University of Munich, and has been the British Journal of Sociology LSE Centennial Professor in the Department of Sociology since 1997. He has received Honorary Doctorates from several European universities. [January 2015] After he motivated the Chair "Cosmopolitan risk communities" at the Collège d'études mondiales during 3 years, Ulrich Beck passed away on the first of January 2015. Michel Wievorka paid homage to him in a text published on this website. (link : dans un texte publié sur ce site).

Daniel Levy is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is a specialist on issues relating to globalization, collective memory studies, and comparative historical sociology. Among his recent books : Human Rights and Memory (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010) with Natan Sznaider; The Collective Memory Reader (Oxford University Press, 2011) with Jeffrey K. Olick and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi.



Ulrich Beck, Daniel Levy. Cosmopolitanized Nations: Reimagining Collectivity in World Risk Society. FMSH-WP-2013-27. 2012.

Published at 27 February 2013