In his works on the global age Ulrich Beck developed a new critical theory with cosmopolitan intent. The theory is conceptualized as an antidote to methodological nationalism on the one hand and to sociologically naïve philosophy on the other hand. The sociological perspective developed throughout his works on cosmopolitization charts the emergence of a new social reality in which socio-political activities and their attendant risks transcend national borders. Beck distinguished the age of the ‘first modernity’, built around the logic that draws sharp distinctions between people and things, which is evolving into the age of the ‘second modernity’, where this simple logic gives way to one that emphasizes complexity, ambiguity and reflexivity. As social reality becomes more cosmopolitan, he argued, it is imperative that we need new conceptual and methodological resources beyond methodological nationalism for understanding the world that is undergoing a radical meta-change, a metamorphosis (Beck 2016). In his rationale for a cosmopolitan turn in sociology Beck explored a new set of ways to see the world beyond methodological nationalism that equates modern society with society organized in territorially limited nation-states.

Critique of the national outlook

Rejecting nation-based ways of thinking gave Beck’s project its critical impetus. Beck criticized the core belief of the national outlook that politics and society can only be organized along the lines of the nation-states. For him the ideas and concept of the nation constitute a kind of ‘Epochenillusion’ – an ‘epochal disillusion’ – that distorts the dominant view of the world.

The cosmopolitan turn

The flipside of Beck’s critique of the national outlook is his positive elaboration of the cosmopolitan alternative. Beck introduces in his book The Cosmopolitan Vision (2006) the crucial distinction between ‘philosophical cosmopolitanism’ and ‘social scientific cosmopolitanism’. The former refers to the normative dimension of cosmopolitanism, while the latter entails a descriptive analytical approach which liberates itself from national categories. The key innovation of Beck’s argument is the conceptualization of cosmopolitanism as a sociological research program. In this perspective, Beck’s idea of ‘(enforced) cosmopolitization’ is essential to describe the transition from the first to the second age of modernity. “Cosmopolit[an]ization is a non-linear, dialectical process in which the universal and particular, the similar and the dissimilar, the global and the local are to be conceived, not as cultural polarities but as interconnected and reciprocally interpenetrating principles. The experience of global interdependence and global risks alter the social and political character of societies within nation-states”
(Beck 2006: 72-73)

Beck, Ulrich (2006): The Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge, UK/Malden, MA: Polity Press

Beck, Ulrich (2016): The Metamorphosis of the World. Cambridge, UK/Malden, MA: Polity Press

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