Essay Assignment 4
“[W]hen it comes to change, what moves people is often not an argument from a principle, not a long discussion about values, but just a gradually acquired new way of seeing things” (22). Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Kwame Anthony Appiah uses the term “cosmopolitanism” to describe an ability for people who come from very different backgrounds to get along with one another in a globalized and deeply connected world, an ability he likens to having conversations. Appiah also discusses cosmopolitanism as a rubric for social change, where the practice of people getting along together, conversing, is a more effective agent for change than reason or arguments. He writes that such “Conversations across boundaries of identity—whether national, religious, or something else—begin with the sort of imaginative engagement you get when you read a novel or watch a movie or attend to a work of art that speaks from some place other than your own” (Appiah 29).
For this assignment, you’ll want to identify an online arena in which people are engaging in an ongoing conversation “across boundaries of identity” about something that genuinely interests you. Next, you will need to follow the conversation that takes place in this arena, that is, to act as an objective observer. You’ll also have to create a record of the conversation, whether by taking notes, saving a series of online links, or another format (You’ll turn this in). Keep in mind that you’re describing the conversation to an audience who may be unfamiliar with the arena you have chosen.
In the process, you will want to ask yourself whether, and in what ways, Appiah’s ideas about cosmopolitanism help you “read” the conversation you are following. You will want to pay special attention to (and write about) places where you see people expressing their values and beliefs, and watch how others respond to such expressions: That is, look for their rhetorical behaviors, and write about your sense of their importance. At the same time, Appiah argues, discourse about values, per se, is not where social understanding really occurs.
Finally, you will want to think (and write about) whether the people engaged in the conversation you have observed exhibit traits of Appiah’s cosmopolitanism. Making such an argument asks you to be both reflective and reciprocal: that is, your understanding of cosmopolitanism should help you understand the conversation, while at the same time, your reading of the conversation should help you deepen your critical questioning of Appiah’s ideas.