Cosmopolitanism and Feminism in the Age of the War on Terror: A Twenty-First Century Reading of Virginia Woolf's 'Three Guineas'

Gillian Youngs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


Cosmopolitanism is fundamentally about the individual’s relationship to the world, his or her orientation to senses of connection with it, and mobilization of such connections in and through her or his identity. Cosmopolitanism essentially concerns questions of transcendence and, in common sense terms, what might be thought of as worldliness. As such, it is perhaps a controversial concept to revisit in times of the unilateral military hegemony of the US, the so-called ‘war on terror’ and Iraq war at the beginning of the new century. However, these conditions remind us that cosmopolitanism, often regarded as a Western or Eurocentric notion, should be considered not only in abstract philosophical terms, key as these are, but also in relation to power and the practices of power. The normative dimensions of ‘moral cosmopolitanism’ as discussed in the introduction indicate that it is as much about ideal aspiration as reality. War, conflict and many forms of violence, seem to counter its very possibility in practice. So as these are so characteristic of 20th and 21st century history so far it seems we live, at the very least, in compromised cosmopolitan times. ‘Political cosmopolitanism’, as the introduction goes on to explain, is located more firmly in the realm of practice, and so operates in more basic terms relating to equal and shared principles governing the behaviours of states to one another and their citizens, along the lines of international legal principles. However, ‘the might is right’ principle frequently comes into play to disrupt this picture, as in the current Iraq war for example. This reminds us that power relations do not necessarily sit comfortably alongside universally oriented frameworks such as cosmopolitanism. ‘Cultural cosmopolitanism’ is the softer side of such universalism, focusing on inter-cultural linkages and respect for cultural differences and their richness, as the introduction explains. This is the kind of cosmopolitanism that is most prevalent in everyday approaches to the world, particularly in the contemporary era of global travel, global brands and mass media advertising. There is an emphasis here on the mobility and consumption of cultures, both our own and others. The shared experience is often one defined by market activities as much as any other, and these developments have done much to democratize ideas associated with cosmopolitanism, which still carry a heavily elitist baggage.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCosmopolitanism in practice
EditorsM. Nowicka, M. Rovisco
Place of PublicationAldershot
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780754670490
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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