The Cosmopolitan Play: A Biographical Network Approach

  • Neil Armitage

Student thesis: Phd


The ´Cosmopolitan Play´ is used as a metaphor to reflect the multiple contexts and ways that people act and play with the ´other´ in the contemporary global era. The study expands the cosmopolitan perspective by questioning a widely held assumption in much of the existing literature that cosmopolitanism and a ´cosmopolitan stance´ (Hannerz 1990) - an openness and willingness to engage with the ´other´ - is associated with mobile people. This assumption has led to three dimensions being mainly ignored in the literature, these are: 1) a ´middle group´ of movers that are neither mobile elites nor displaced people, 2) the significance of non-movers, and 3) temporality. Rather than defining the cosmopolitan stance as an elite identity, in this study it is seen as the reflexive contestation of essentialised identities formed around social boundaries such as those based on nationality, social class, ethnicity, religion and so forth (Jones 2007). Hence, the overarching research question posed is how may someone evolve a cosmopolitan stance? To answer this, a biographical network approach was developed to analyse in tandem the life stories and ego-networks of 28 non-elite young (aged 23 - 35) British and Spanish movers and non-movers living in Madrid and Manchester in terms of their cosmopolitan conviviality - the extent and quality of personal relationships initiated and maintained through face-to-face social interaction with others that are objectively different. The approach follows three axes of investigation: convivial horizons (x), people´s social interactions across national boundaries; convivial depths (y), people´s social interactions across social class, ethnic, religious and other social boundaries, within and across national boundaries; and convivial paths (z), the wider biographical contexts of people's interactions. The study´s findings lend support to the critique of equating mobility with cosmopolitanism (Glick Schiller et al. 2011), yet they show that mobility inside and outside national boundaries together with subsequent settlement is influential for whether people not only transcend social boundaries, but also contest them. Additionally, while nationality, class, gender and so forth shape the parameters of people´s cosmopolitan conviviality and the articulation thereof, they were not seen as decisive in the openness and willingness of people to engage with the ´other´. Instead, a life path that demanded the negotiation of uncertainty and unfamiliarity from an early age due to either familial problems or difficulties of fitting in at school or the wider ´home´ environment was influential in the evolution of a more cosmopolitan convivial stance. The intersection of each axis culminates in a three dimensional view which shows how someone evolves one of four broad but distinctive convivial spheres and stances: national, metropolitan, trans-national and cosmopolitan. The theoretical underpinnings of the biographical network approach enable more complexity and detail of the cosmopolitan play to be captured, which in turn enhances the cosmopolitan perspective. The study illustrates how methods can be mixed in a qualitatively driven way (Mason 2006), and demonstrates the added value of combining qualitative and quantitative methods in network analysis (Crossley 2010, Edwards 2010, Hollstein 2011).
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Cutts (Supervisor) & Vanessa May (Supervisor)


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Biographical

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