Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local?

“the rich have mobility and the poor have locality…the rich are global and the poor are local”(Terry Eagleton, After Theory 2003, p22)

elites are cosmopolitan, people are local” (Manuel Castells, the Network Society, 2000, p. 446)

These two (remarkably similar) quotes make some sense when you first encounter them. Castells is arguing that some people are able to travel more or less at will (along with capital and information) and that the poor resist this world of flows through embedding themselves in place. That place is all they have. The poor can practice what David Harvey calls “militant particularism”.

But on another level this insistence bothers me. I presume Eagleton and Castells are well travelled. Even if they only travel as much as I do – they are well travelled. They inhabit the skin of the cosmopolitan elite in some sense. I do this too. When I do it I encounter (for instance) taxi drivers from Ethiopia and Somalia (the last three times I have travelled to the US I have been taken to Heathrow by a Somalian and picked up in the US by someone from Ethiopia). When I am in my hotel room I cannot help but notice that the people cleaning the room for me are invariable eastern European or/and from South East Asia. They appear to speak multiple languages and have relatives in London. The poor/people seem to be pretty mobile and far more cosmopolitan than us – the kinetic elite. The English speaking academics and business people who flit around the world rarely speak the number of languages spoken by their supposedly immobile and non-cosmopolitan underlings who drive them places and clean their rooms. They may do more miles but in many ways they travel less. It is the different ways in which they move that need to be attended to.

1 thought on “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local?

  1. I’m loving your blog, Tim, and this entry especially. I liked a line in your last entry – “I am not sure if I am suffering from “discipline envy” –geography is fine by me”. Of course geography is fine by you, it just invades everyone else’s territory.
    Hope Beirut delivered the goods btw.

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