9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN03 Biographical Perspectives on European Societies

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 European Biographies, Art, Performance and Methodology Building II, C2.02

Becoming Cosmopolitanisms in Europe - A Symbolic Interactionist Approach

Cosmopolitanism has resurfaced within social science as a framework to conceptualise and research the dynamics of contemporary social change. European social theorists discussing the potential of this framework, not solely as a critique to methodological nationalism, argue it enables a clearer understanding of Europe from both within and beyond its borders.

With no clear consensus upon what constitutes cosmopolitanism and how it is embodied at an individual level through certain values or capacities, a method was designed to explore and if possible draw out any common cosmopolitan denominators in young European's enumerative biographies. The method is based upon two theoretical premises from Symbolic Interactionism, firstly selves are social and contextual where individuality arises through Whom we interact with, What we do and When and Where these social activities take place. Secondly values or capacities are socially learned in interaction, a constant process whereby the self at any time point is a reflection of its accumulated experiences and future aspirations.

The data generation design draws upon writings on cosmopolitanism and contemporary research on friendship. The Stoic philosophers suggested we think of our selves surrounded by a series of concentric circles; with the first representing close family out to fellow countrymen and beyond, ultimately to humanity as a whole. The cosmopolitan objective is to draw the outer circle towards the centre (Nussbaum 1994). Spencer & Pahl (2006) applied a similar visualisation on researching personal communities, with the circles representing diminishing relational closeness. Instead using self-ascribed "critical moments" or turning points in young Europeans transitional biographies to construct personal communities (Henderson et al. 2007), a methodological discussion with particular focus upon the researcher's own background in the data generation process is exemplified from interviews carried out with young British and Spanish adults residing in Madrid and Manchester.

The paper argues that any investigation into the embodiment of cosmopolitanism, its biographical becoming needs to generate data upon the Whom, What, When and Where of individuals social interactions, experiences and aspirations. And that the Symbolic Interactionist perspective is well placed to contribute, methodologically and theoretically to examine becoming cosmopolitanisms in Europe.