Methodological cosmopolitanism involves challenges to all levels of social research: to theory, in terms of conceptualizing the social forces and effects of cosmopolitization; to comparative methods, in terms of specifying new units of research beyond and below the nation; to data generation, in terms of novel transnational forms of research organization; and to normative self-reflection, in terms of thinking through questions of cosmopolitical agency. By studying the political, economic, and socio-cultural dynamics of climate change, this research project will work simultaneously on all four dimensions, thereby generating the tools needed for a cosmopolitan social science. Working iteratively between theoretical reflection and empirical investigation, this approach promises to generate new knowledge on a pressing real-world problem (i.e. climate change), while at the same time elaborating and testing a general model for renewing the social sciences in the age of cosmopolitization.

a). Theory: varieties of cosmopolitization in world risk society

To counter the strong tendencies of Euro-centrism in social theory, this research project starts from the assumption – to be empirically substantiated via cross-regional comparative work in Europe and East Asia – that ‘world risk society’ is not everywhere the same (e.g. Han & Shim 2010). In this sense, methodological cosmopolitanism will have to take into account different varieties of cosmopolitization in second modernity (e.g. Wagner 2008). This highlights that cosmopolitization does not imply global homogenization but rather the intermingling of convergences and divergences, integration and conflict, cosmopolitan solidarities and re-nationalisations. The question is: how can social theory and its key terms – power, inequality, community etc. – be transformed into a new conceptual architecture of cosmopolitan social theory which takes into account the different paths, experiences, and mixtures of pre-modern, first, and second modernization processes shaping responses to contemporary global risks?

b). Comparative methods: new units of research

In the era of methodological nationalism, the nation-state provided the all-embracing ‘container’ for studying socio-political processes and structures, both in the social sciences and in dominant forms of political reflection. With the turn to methodological cosmopolitanism, however, new reference points for social analysis will have to be defined, capable of anchoring new comparative knowledge on the many dimensions of cosmopolitization. Even though the ‘cosmopolitized nation’ will remain a legitimate research focus, the question thus becomes: how can we find and define new research units beyond methodological nationalism which will allow us to understand processes of cosmopolitization and compare varieties of second modernization processes around the world?

c). Empirical data: transnational research organization

As noted, methodological nationalism is built into standard routines of data collection and analysis in the social sciences; and this holds true for quantitative statistical procedures as well as for qualitative ethnographic work. The question is: how best to organize a new set of cosmopolitan data collaboration, allowing us to research socio-political transformations on the world scale, in accordance with standards of social science rigour? For the empirical studies, data generation will be carefully organized in dialogical processes of mutual coordination and calibration, in ways that will ensure comparable outcomes across European and East Asian contexts. This will be done using both qualitative and quantitative methods, according to the specific unit of empirical analysis. Hence, depending on the questions at hand, research will rely on combinations of: policy document analysis; media analysis; surveys (existing and new); qualitative interviews (elite and non-elite); and ethnographic observation.

d). Normative self-reflection: cosmopolitical agency

In this research project, we ultimately address pressing socio-political questions: how can global risks be successfully dealt with under conditions of multiple competing modernities (Europe/East Asia) with their different normative models, material interests and political power constellations? In particular, we explore the extent to which the idealism of philosophical cosmopolitanism is nowadays turning into a novel ‘cosmopolitical realpolitik’: in the domain of climate change, the prospect of civilizational catastrophes raises a stark imperative for more transnational cooperation. To methodological cosmopolitanism, the question becomes: what are the cosmopolitical actor constellations, alternatives and visions now opening up – and how realistic are they? Once again, climate change is a ‘laboratory’ for researching these crucial questions for and of the future of the planet.

Methodological Cosmopolitanism

In the Laboratory of Climate Change

Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München Institute für Soziologie European Research Council