MSAS Seminar: TT22, wk 4: The Cosmopolitan Standard of Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Elite Belonging among Indian Diplomats

Convener: Nayanika Mathur

Speaker: Kira Huju (DPIR)


This talk asks what it takes to belong among the “cosmopolitan elite” in international society. With a reflexive sociological sensibility, it examines the ways in which the career diplomats of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) have sought to secure recognition and equal standing in international society by inhabiting a cosmopolitan habitus. Instead of analysing cosmopolitanism in the conventional register of political theory, as an egalitarian ethic, the article considers “actually existing cosmopolitanism” as an elite aesthetic. It suggests that the demands of an elite-defined cosmopolitan habitus constitute a new cosmopolitan standard of civilization, imposed on Indian diplomats not by Western fiat but through a process of cultural self-policing. In this process, dominant upper-class and upper-caste members of the IFS uphold a socially performed cosmopolitan standard of civilization against internal Others, including those of lower class and caste status. The performance of the cosmopolitan habitus serves a social function in international society – it is a social strategy by which Indian diplomats seek to find parity inside the global club of cosmopolitans. As such, the performance of the cosmopolitan habitus exposes the unequal rules of elite belonging in a formally pluralistic but socially stratified international society. Ultimately, the exclusionary social logics of “actually existing cosmopolitanism” among Indian diplomats also signify the political failure of cosmopolitanism as an egalitarian ideal. 

Kira Huju is a Departmental Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Her research interests include cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitans, post-Western order, international political sociology, and India. Most recently, she has published an article in International Affairs on the Indian Foreign Service under Hindu nationalist rule. She obtained her doctorate in International Relations from the University of Oxford in 2021 and is in the process of developing her DPhil thesis into a monograph. This monograph on cosmopolitan elites adopts a critical sociological sensibility to interrogate how Indian diplomats have sought to navigate their place in a Western-dominated global order. 


All are welcome!



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The South Asia Seminar is co-funded by the Ashmolean Museum, the Asian Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, the Department for International Development and Faculty of History and the Faculty of Oriental Studies.