Cosmopolitanism is the ideology of a shared human community built around an ethos of mutual openness and hospitality among all people. The term has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and is etymologically related to the Greek words kosmos (“world”) and polites (“citizen”). A person who follows the cosmopolitan idea can be called a cosmopolitan, or a citizen of the world. In modern philosophy, cosmopolitanism was advanced by Immanuel Kant as a universal principle that would sustain perpetual peace among the peoples and nations of the world. The relationship between cosmopolitanism and surveillance is ambivalent. On the one hand, the cosmopolitan ideology may motivate the implementation of surveillance. Inasmuch as surveillance has been integral to the building of modern nation-states, it has also been central for enabling safe and secure exchanges between citizens of different countries. On the other hand, surveillance of various kinds may circumscribe the possibilities for citizens to encounter the Other and gain broader cosmopolitan understandings of the world. This entry explains this interplay. First, it gives a principal view of how surveillance relates to the inbuilt tensions of cosmopolitanism. Second, it presents how new media and communication technologies accentuate these tensions in contemporary society.


The point of departure for cosmopolitanism is that all human beings are unique while also inhabiting a shared world. The Greek Stoics stated that individuals dwell on different levels, ranging from the family and local community to the unrestricted community of mankind. Even today this means that cosmopolitanism oscillates between respect for cultural (ultimately individual) differences and concern with the conditions of human life in general. Cosmopolitanism can be expressed through an invitational stance toward the Other, a willingness to take the other person’s perspective, as well as engagement with questions related to, for example, human rights and the global environment. This dualistic orientation implies that each human being must also be willing to put into question his or her own worldview in order to build a tolerant society where communication can occur between all individuals and groups on equal terms.

In social life, there are weaker and stronger forms of cosmopolitanism. Weaker forms are associated with a general curiosity about the Other and an inclination to explore cultural differences. In modern societies, marked by global mobility (e.g., migration, tourism, other forms of travel), international trade, and intensified mediatization, weaker or “banal” forms of cosmopolitanism are easily adopted by citizens. The willingness to learn about the Other can even be advanced as a required stance for handling the cultural complexity of a globalized society. Stronger forms of cosmopolitanism refer to active engagement with people in need and support for sustainable solutions to global challenges (e.g., diseases, climate change). Cosmopolitanism is then turned into political action played out at the level of everyday life or in the wider political arena.

From a cosmopolitan perspective, an important critique of surveillance is that surveillance systems tend to reinforce administrative and cultural boundaries that inhibit different groups from encountering and learning about one another. One example is the social sorting that occurs in relation to international travel, where surveillance systems enhance the mobility of certain citizens and privileged groups while making border crossing a more complicated matter for those without the appropriate resources. This includes not only primarily legal control systems such as passports and visa documents but also credit cards, club memberships, communication infrastructures, and other means of smooth transit. Social sorting thus underscores that cosmopolitan lifestyles, in the weaker sense of the term, are more available to certain groups than to others.

Digital Media and Communication Technologies

The expansion of digital media and communication technologies has accentuated this tendency. Within the realm of online media, most activities (e.g., social interaction, information seeking, geo-tagging, transactions) are automatically registered, aggregated, and processed through algorithms to generate profitable consumer segments and advertising environments. This is called datafication (or dataveillance), which according to its critics fosters social enclosure. Media users are led to reinforce already existing values, interests, social bonds, and mobility patterns rather than seek out new and foreign domains or problematize their own standpoints.

An associated line of critique is that new forms of interactive media, especially social media platforms, stimulate peer-to-peer monitoring and social control. Ordinary users become able and encouraged to regularly keep an eye on the activities of their peers and present themselves in socially sanctioned ways. This development, it is argued, goes against the ideology of cosmopolitanism and rather resonates with traditional forms of bounded sociality and solidarity. At the same time, research has shown that groups that hold cosmopolitan values tend to problematize the encapsulating and segregating forces of surveillance media to a greater extent than others. Whereas weaker forms of cosmopolitanism typically enter a symbiotic relationship with surveillance, stronger forms are thus marked by ethical and political resistance to the potentially anticosmopolitan consequences of surveillance.

André Jansson

See also Citizenship ; Communication Studies ; Corporate Surveillance ; Dataveillance ; Global Mobility ; Social Media ; Social Sorting

Further Readings

Appiah, Kwame Anthony.Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2006.

Beck, Ulrich. The Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2006.

Christensen, Miyase and André Jansson. Cosmopolitanism and the Media: Cartographies of Change. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Delanty, Gerard. The Cosmopolitan Imagination: The Renewal of Critical Social Theory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Derrida, Jaques. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. London, England: Routledge, 2001.

Giddens, Anthony. The Nation-State and Violence. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1985.

Hannerz, Ulf. “Cosmopolitans and Locals in a World Culture.” Theory, Culture and Society, v.7/2 (1990).

Held, David. Cosmopolitanism: Ideals, Realities and Deficits. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2010.

Kant, Immanuel. To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2003. (Original work published 1795)

Silverstone, Roger.Media and Morality: On the Rise of Mediapolis. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2007.