What is it about?

Cosmopolitanism tends to be seen as closely associated with liberalist individualism and cosmopolitan identities are defined as expressions of selfhood characterised by openness and transcendence of national identity, culture and community. This article challenges these assumptions based on an in-depth ethnographic study of a group of international professionals who are part of a diverse ‘expat’ community in Amsterdam where they work in headquarters of multinational companies. These expats belong to the educated middle classes for whom global mobility and pursuit of professional careers across national boundaries has increasingly become an option. The study shows how they construct a new identity and sense of belonging they call a ‘non-nationality’. This cosmopolitan group identity functions both as a basis for community and solidarity amongst them as well as a basis of exclusion. They identify as open, cosmopolitan ‘non-nationals’, but this does not mean they are rootless, individualist ‘citizens of nowhere’. They embrace the idea of transcending national and cultural attachments, but they also become embedded in a local community somewhere – typically in global city environments that are diverse and international. Furthermore, they maintain their national identities, but as part of a broader cosmopolitan sense of community. The article illuminates that cosmopolitan identity formation cannot be assumed to presuppose individualisation or imply an escape (or exile) from community and belonging and the notion of openness that defines it will always be bounded in some way. Openness is a cultural value constituted in specific contexts with corresponding social norms and expectations. The article argues that cosmopolitan identities are no less cultural and collective than national, ethnic or ethno-religious identities and embracing such an identity is also about community and belonging. As such a cosmopolitan identity is also bounded and characterised by its own specific kind of insularity – despite being imagined as the opposite.

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This page is a summary of: Imagining ‘non-nationality’: Cosmopolitanism as a source of identity and belonging, Human Relations, September 2017, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/0018726717714042.
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