Ulrich Beck ERC Advanced Grant ‘Methodological Cosmopolitanism – In the Laboratory of Climate Change’
In 2012 the European Research Council (ERC) approved an advanced grant for Ulrich Beck’s project ‘Methodological Cosmopolitanism – In the Laboratory of Climate Change’. In this project Beck put the relationship between global climate change and attendant dramatic changes in society and politics into sharp relief. Architecture and theme of the proposal were the nexus and overlap of climate change and cosmopolitization. The central questions were: How can a cosmopolitan perspective contribute to our understanding of the radical transformations global climate change induces in social and political terms? Put more succinctly: What actually makes global climate change so interesting for a sociological-cosmopolitan perspective? According to Ulrich Beck what has been overlooked for the most part is the fact that global climate change is closely linked with profound worldwide and national-local transformations in terms of inequality, class relations and modes of domination.
From methodological nationalism towards methodological cosmopolitanism
With this project Ulrich Beck thus intended to introduce cosmopolitization as research program in the social sciences and to develop a social scientific conceptual framework for global climate change, one of the most pressing themes of the present times, which so far has primarily been explored from natural-scientific and economic perspectives. Decisive for Beck’s social-scientific perspective were two complementary sets of questions: To what extent does climate change set a global transformation of power and inequality in motion? And to what extent can global climate change, as a global phenomenon of a self-endangering modernity, simultaneously create a path for cosmopolitan risk communities among people who are geographically and socially separated from each other? To answer these questions Ulrich Beck presupposed a paradigm change: from the prevailing ‘methodological nationalism’, equating nation, territory, society and culture, towards ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’. Ulrich Beck’s endeavor was to establish a cosmopolitan-comparative research agenda which no longer takes the nation-state, as binding unit of analysis, for granted. To this end Ulrich Beck focused on world cities in East Asia (Japan, China and South Korea) and Europe, exploring whether and how they were networked. And the extent to which the anticipation of climate catastrophes and their social and political consequences and side-effects harbor the potential for the emergence of novel risk communities.
Age of cosmopolitization
Opening the social sciences for the cosmopolitan age was an important objective of the research project. New theoretical, methodological and empirical tools were to be developed and tested. Of special concern was to elaborate how a sociology of climate change would contribute to a critical engagement with four central modern dualisms: 1) We and the others (sociology), 2) Nature and Culture (ontology), 3) Past and future (epistemology) and 4) Local and Global (geography).