In 2016, the UK Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May gave a speech at a Conservative party conference. One quote from her talk attracted a huge media interest, and Theresa May was accused of rejecting the Enlightenment values and suffocating the exchange of knowledge between the UK and ‘outer world’. Mrs. May is not alone with her opinion; a number of other politicians around the world have joined her in criticizing the spirit of cosmopolitanism, and rootless, internationally mobile people.

What’s the problem? Cosmopolitans usually refer to ‘free spirits’, individuals who feel at home everywhere and value multiculturalism, mobility and disengagement from national and local anchors. For them, the world is one big, boundless space, where geography, place, countries, and other traditional location-based characteristics do not limit the way they perceive their opportunities to live, work, experience, and learn. Digitalisation, technological development, and globalisation gear the mindset of younger generations towards a cosmopolitan disposition. These individuals possess competences, which are needed in the multicultural and constantly shape-shifting global playground.

Mrs May’s concerns emerges from multiple issues. To start with, from the viewpoint of a politician, a diluting national identity is a threat. Unfortunately, Mrs May and other politicians do not seem to be aware of the fact that a person can have multiple identities. In fact, there are studies confirming that a strong European identity, for example, can co-exist with a strong national identity. Another worry is that cosmopolitanism is linked with international mobility; an issue which has caused a long-term headache for many politicians. Statistics verify that young, highly-educated people leave Finland and do not return. At the same time, climate change and armed conflicts force millions to abandon their homes and start an endless journey to find a place where they would be welcomed. While these drivers of migration differ dramatically, they constitute parts of one phenomenon: The whole world seems to be on the move, and politicians dislike the fact that they are not able to control it.

As scholars, we have been very interested in this new, more dynamic world and its reflections on the future of work. Additionally, we feel that as neutral observers we might also act as mediators. The media keeps up a heated debate on values, identities and immigration, and there is a clear division at the heart of contemporary politics. The anti-cosmopolitan statements of politicians have raised a countermovement with media coverage, badges and t-shirts for “Citizens of nowhere”. We hope that improved understanding of cosmopolitans would facilitate the co-existence of diverse identities, smoothen the dialogue between the different fronts and hopefully bring the currently conflicting views closer to each other – both in cases of voluntary and involuntary migration. This is the key motivator of our new research project COSMO.


Niina Nummela & the COSMO team