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Realizing Our Aspirations to Global Citizenship

By Nicoletta Pireddu

February 22, 2024

In Response to Why the Georgetown Global Dialogues?

I welcome the Georgetown Global Dialogues (GGD) as a valuable opportunity to reflect upon the challenges of our aspirations to global citizenship and as an invitation to promote diversity.

Besides its unquestionable centrality to moral and social justice, diversity is also a crucial antidote to the homogenizing effects of globalization, insofar as differences in perspectives, skills, and experience provide essential tools to complex problem-solving that no single individual could tackle successfully. Hence, commitment to diversity is not only an ethical imperative but, ultimately, even a choice beneficial to the community and the world.

Yet, fostering a culture of dialogue and encounter to support diversity also means addressing the question of borders. In an era of globalization, we are facing a double challenge: on the one hand, the need to tear down the walls of particularisms without getting to the other extreme, namely, a leveling indistinction; on the other hand, the need to erect borders to protect fundamental principles that have been recognized as a lowest common denominator of our shared humanity, such as the equality of all persons regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or physical conditions. Or, more recently, as Pankaj Mishra highlighted in his compelling opening talk “What the Global South Can Teach Us,” the care for the environment as a transcendental human value.

However, how can we come to terms with situations in which—with the aim of defending these allegedly inalienable (hence, we assume, democratic) principles—humans act in ways that, instead of promoting equality and justice, end up reinstating narcissistic, self-referential positions, at the micro or macro level? And can this allegedly sharable ethical compass be accepted as universal even if it comes from particular cultural histories? The multisided, international GGD will allow us to address these and related issues, as they feature intellectuals from non-Western backgrounds participating in Western cultural spaces, who, from different epicenters and focal points, will transcend the problematic binarism of centers and peripheries.

The Global Dialogues have been defined as “an experiment grounded in hope,” which speaks to my own scholarly interpretation of another concept at the heart of the dialogues, namely, “cosmopolitanism.” Cosmopolitanism, I argue, should be reconceived not as a totalizing project but as a creative interaction animated by constant self-interrogation and solidarity. As the GGD imply, it can become a new way of thinking and acting that offers critical tools to undermine an ontology of distinction, separation, and exclusion. Cosmopolitanism rejects mental endogamy in the name of a shared ideal of coexistence based on reciprocal comparison. By striving for equality within diversity, cosmopolitan hope nourishes what I have elsewhere discussed as “a political sense of justice always to come.”

This aspirational thrust may sound utopian—and, in a sense, it is—but in a constructive way, if we rethink utopia not so much as wishful thinking but as willfulness, an intentional vision that promotes engagement, the determination to make things happen. Ultimately, it is a call to imagination, commitment, and responsibility.

Nicoletta Pireddu is the inaugural director of the Georgetown Humanities Initiative and director of Georgetown University’s Global and Comparative Literature Program.