SAPT seminar: TT21 wk 5: The Cosmopolitan Standard of Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Elite Belonging Inside the Indian Foreign Service

Conveners: Pratinav Anil, Pratim Ghosal, Benjamin Graham

Speaker: Kira Huju (Departmental Lecturer in the International Relations of South Asia, OSGA and DPIR, University of Oxford)


This article asks what it takes to belong among the “cosmopolitan elite” in international society. With a reflexive sociological sensibility, it examines the ways in which diplomats of the Indian Foreign Service 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 international ethic, the article considers “actually existing cosmopolitanism” as a transnational elite aesthetic. It suggests that the demands of a cosmopolitan habitus themselves constitute a new 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 Foreign Service impose this standard 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 diplomatic club. As such, the performance lays bare the unequal rules of elite belonging in a supposedly pluralistic but ultimately deeply socially stratified international society. Ultimately, the exclusionary social logics of “actually existing cosmopolitanism” also signify the political failure of a postcolonial project of solidarity, democratization, and diversity.

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