||Liberal Education, Summer 2003
Peripheral Visions: Towards a Geoethics of
Eve Walsh Stoddard & Grant H. Cornwell
One of the distinguishing features of liberal education in
the U.S. has been its commitment to preparing students to
be citizens. This aspect of our mission is based on the notion
that citizens in a democracy need to have the necessary information
and both critical and deliberative reasoning skills in order
to make good decisions as members of their societies. As we
argued in Globalizing Knowledge, the present conditions of
life on our planet have made it impossible to separate being
a member of American society from being a citizen of the world
(Cornwell and Stoddard 1999).
To emphasize globality is not to say that local relations
do not matter. All people live, speak, work, vote, and shop
in economic and political localities that, while linked and
situated globally, are instantiated and governed locally.
The civic mandate of liberal education is to develop in students
the deepest knowledge base and the highest degree of critical
independence possible to undergird informed, socially responsible
judgments as voters, parents, consumers, professionals.
The ideal of global citizenship as a goal of liberal education
has been advocated by the philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, in
two books, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism
(1996), and Cultivating Humanity (1997). Illustrated by case
studies of various colleges and universities, Cultivating
Humanity is an extended argument for the responsibility of
liberal education to educate students who are sufficiently
experienced in the ways of diverse cultures that they can
bracket their own frames of identity and belief enough to
be comfortable with multiple perspectives. Nussbaum believes
strongly that local or national identities should not be held
with blind commitment, but subject to critical, rational evaluation
and comparison with the loyalties and needs of others. Part
of what we will do in this essay is examine some refinements
on Nussbaum's concept of cosmopolitanism, as we make a case
for a praxis sufficient to the claims of global citizenship.1
By the title "Peripheral Visions" we mean to invoke a cluster
of related commitments. "Visions" alludes on a very concrete
level to the need for knowledge on which to base judgments
and actions. But it also suggests the more visionary or prophetic
side of knowledge, called for as the world becomes both more
dispersed and more interconnected, more visible and more mystified
through the rapid, global circulation of news, images, commodities,
capital, and labor. "Visions" also suggests the perspectival
element of knowledge, the way things look completely different
from different locations or different points of view.
"Peripheral" carries further the role of multiple perspectives,
continuing the metaphor of physical sight, with attention
to what happens at the margins. The metaphor functions doubly
by alluding to the language of empire and world systems, which
map global locations into center or core versus periphery
or margins. The overdeveloped, powerful, wealthy nations of
the world are the center while the poor, dispossessed, underdeveloped
nations are at the periphery of the global capitalist system.
Under contemporary globalization, the distinction between
core and periphery operates within as well as between nations.
For example, Native Americans are an internal periphery within
the center that is the United States.
In this essay we will be exploring competing notions of citizenship
and belonging. We will be talking about the interdependence
of epistemology and ethics, knowledge and responsibility,
in practicing the art of citizenship. We will be arguing that
the conditions associated with the contemporary form of "globalization"
operate according to a logic of dispersal that makes informed
judgment both necessary and difficult to achieve. Furthermore,
the geo-social location of the knower shapes what appear as
Competing notions of cosmopolitanism
Even the ideal of cosmopolitanism itself looks different
from different geo-political locations. Martha Nussbaum's
concept of cosmopolitanism is essentially philosophical; we
will label it "ethical cosmopolitanism." It represents what
the philosopher Immanuel Kant would call a "Regulative Ideal,"
a governing principle that holds up an absolute standard of
the good, but at the same time recognizes that this can only
be an [ideal], an aspiration never achieved.
For Nussbaum, a cosmopolitan subjectivity would be one that
sees a world full of equally valuable human persons, all of
whom have a claim on our sense of moral obligations. This
is in large part a question of knowing, of knowing that these
people exist around the world and knowing that we should care
about whether they are starving or being exploited. But once
we become fully aware of their value and their existence,
we need to act at least to influence political policies that
have an impact on people's lives. Most importantly we should
not be able to dismiss the deaths or sufferings of those halfway
around the globe as insignificant and unrelated to us. Nussbaum
believes that education and literature are means to help us
imagine the realities of distant peoples, but she also recognizes
that we will feel stronger responsibility for those closest
While Nussbaum's concept of cosmopolitanism should apply
equally to all people, it is particularly focused on the mindset
of Americans, who as a people belong to an incredibly uncontested
global power and who as a whole enjoy an immensely high standard
of living. Americans in general are known for their ignorance
of geography, the history of those outside the West, foreign
languages, and the events occurring in distant countries.
And American mainstream news reports are notoriously self-centered,
focusing almost all stories around what the potential impact
of an event is on the U.S. Nussbaum believes higher education
needs to counter American nationalism by providing students
with an ideal of cosmopolitanism that will help them liberate
themselves from the kind of patriotism that says "My country,
right or wrong." Since Nussbaum sparked a debate over cosmopolitanism
in For Love of Country, a rich body of scholarship has arisen
on the subject. Before discussing the kind of epistemology
necessary for global citizenship, we will summarize a few
major permutations on Nussbaum's philosophical approach.
One modification on Nussbaum's view is described by Anthony
Appiah as "rooted cosmopolitanism." Appiah addresses the idealistic
and abstract aspects of Nussbaum's view to take account of
the fact that we each have a location in the world, a place,
a family, a region, a nation-state. We can exercise a cosmopolitan
perspective only from that location. In some sense rootedness
is the very antithesis of Nussbaum's neo-Stoic idea of cosmopolitanism.
The Stoics believed that they should not be at home in Rome
or their place of birth, but be literally citizens of the
world. Their identification with their own country should
be loosened up to the point that it would be harmonious with
their imagined relation to all other locations in the world.
In thinking about rooted cosmopolitanism, it is important
to understand location as not merely spatial, but also socio-political
Thus, two American citizens, living in Manhattan and sharing
the same general location as Americans and New Yorkers, may
bring entirely different identities and histories to their
views on global events. For example, a white stockbroker of
English descent and a Mexican-American teacher may share the
same reactions to the attacks on the World Trade towers, but
they may have very different attitudes toward U.S. immigration
policies following 9/11. The roots of these two people are
both in New York in a literal sense, but in another sense
they diverge through very different historical relations to
the U.S. nation-state.
With crucial attention to class, Homi Bhabha brings a postcolonial
perspective to bear on cosmopolitanism. He advocates neither
the universalist cosmopolitanism of Nussbaum nor the rooted
cosmopolitanism of Appiah, but rather a "vernacular cosmopolitanism"
that sees from the margins, from the peripheries of global
centers of power and wealth. Bhabha wants to see the world
from the bottom up, from the vantage point of peripheries.
And he sees the creation of a cosmopolitan episteme, or set
of knowledges that construct the world for us, not as an ongoing
process of selecting what is cool and interesting from all
the world's traditions, but rather as a montage of overlapping
perspectives, experiences, and cultures brought into contact
by global migrations of refugees, guest workers, and other
subaltern populations. Bhabha's version of cosmopolitanism
replaces the Enlightenment universalism of Nussbaum's version
with a model of overlapping consensus.
Thus writers like Appiah and Bhabha revise Nussbaum's moral
imperative for cosmopolitanism with attention to the non-elite
travelers of the world. These are migrants and travelers who
enter an enlarged sense of consciousness about how one can
be human in the world not through all-expense-paid business
trips or study abroad or international conferences, but, rather,
through the struggle to survive and find a workable life,
people who have to give up a great deal to gain their enlarged
grasp of humanity's many forms of being-in-the-world, and
who perhaps through their struggles may develop a greater
sense of compassion for the sufferings of others.
While we have been sketching various alternative cosmopolitanisms
based on location and class, there are a whole other set of
concerns about cosmopolitanism that are more practical and
structural (see Cheah and Robbins 1998). These ask whether
there can be global citizenship if there is no global society,
no mechanisms for global governance? As an advocate for the
view that national sovereignty has broken down in many ways,
recognizing that transnational corporations are not contained
by national laws, David Held (1997) writes a great deal about
a more concrete vision of global governance that we might
call constitutional or legal cosmopolitanism. While Held's
advocacy for a transnational set of institutions is fundamentally
based on the same philosophical humanism as Nussbaum's, a
commitment to social justice for all regardless of national
citizenship, he is concerned about the practical execution
of global governance. He is an advocate for institutions like
the International Criminal Court. Interestingly, the U.S.
government's refusal to sign onto the ICC is based on the
same argument that Held uses in support of the court--that
it places American citizens on a level playing field with
those of other nations, holding U.S. citizens to the same
law as all other citizens.
Epistemic challenges of globalization
Citizens of any polity have an obligation to assert their
views, to influence their representatives in their legislative
actions. Those of us who are U.S. citizens have an especially
strong responsibility because we live in a country that has
extraordinary, almost unlimited global power, wealth, and
technological potential. The main institution that is supposed
to inform us is the free press--newspapers, magazines, TV,
the radio, the Internet. But even setting aside the problems
of corporate ownership of the media, the dispersal of globalized
phenomena along with the massive availability of information
presents dramatically new kinds of epistemological challenges
for the potential critical thinker and responsible citizen.
Under the methods of reasoning that prevailed in Western
culture from the seventeenth- century scientific revolution
through at least the mid-twentieth century, one would seek
factual knowledge by seeking to understand a chain of causes
and effects. Furthermore, spatial location was understood
as relatively static and bounded. But with contemporary globalization,
the mechanistic chain of causes and effects has become so
dispersed that it is extremely difficult to isolate single
To illustrate what globalization means for achieving the
kind of knowledge needed for informed decision making, we
want to contrast briefly the often-compared attacks on Pearl
Harbor and September 11. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the
context was well-known: Japan was involved in an imperialist
war and now was attacking U.S. ships docked at its colonial
possession in the Pacific. Ethical and political judgments
must be based on knowledge of the relevant situation, and
in the case of Pearl Harbor, the facts were reasonably clear.
The ethical response entailed by the facts still admitted
of different opinions; for example, those Americans committed
to pacifism might object to retaliation. But for those who
believed that self-defense was in order, the enemy was a clearly
defined nation-state, Japan, the agent in the attack on Pearl
Harbor. The war took on a global dimension because Japan was
allied with Germany in Europe, pursuing its own aggressive
war, internally against Jews and other marginal groups, and
externally against other nation-states. The actors were all
nation-states with leaders and capitals and armed forces that
could be located on maps.
As is well-known, the situation after September 11 was entirely
different. It was a network of individuals that attacked the
United States, not a locatable state. It was not necessarily
clear that it was an attack on the U.S. as a state. The symbolism
of the World Trade Center was such that the attack could have
been aimed at global capitalism, epitomized by the U.S. but
not identical with it. The attack on the Pentagon was more
suggestive of an attack on the U.S. as a military power. So
President Bush declared war not on a nation-state, but on
an abstract concept, "terror."2
Al-Qaeda is not the kind of so-called terrorist organization
that the world has seen throughout the twentieth century,
like the IRA or the PLO, groups fighting for spatially located
projects of national liberation, nations fighting to gain
a state. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, is a loose network of cells,
supposedly located in ninety-four out of the approximately
200 countries in the world, including the U.S.
Networks are the paradigm used by Manuel Castells (2000)
to represent globalization and global processes. Like computer
networks, they operate through dispersed connections, in what
we call metaphorically "cyberspace." They pass bits of information
around the world instantaneously and in many directions at
once. While each Web page is located on a server with a definite
spatio-temporal location, confiscating the server will not
recapture information that has already circulated around the
world and been downloaded and saved in multiple places. Al-Qaeda,
like these electronic networks, exemplifies transnational
dispersal, paralleling the labor and production processes
used in global capitalism and making good use of global information
systems, global travel networks, and global financial systems.
The epistemic challenges presented by this network are immense,
and, unfortunately, inertia tends to foster a reshaping of
the situation into a scenario from the past, a binary way
of thinking with which people are comfortable. There is a
strong temptation in the government and in some theorists
to try to place Al-Qaeda into the kind of binary dynamic that
governed the Cold War. Written prior to the hijackings, Samuel
Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations essentially paves
the way for a new binary world order made up of us and them,
the West versus the Muslim world. The conflict is characterized
as one of culture rather than political and economic systems,
but informing it is the old orientalist division of the world
into West and East: progress, technology, reason, liberal
governance by law in the West and exoticism, irrationality,
sensuality, autocracy, authoritarian governance in the East.
In contrast to these tendencies to revert to binary thinking,
a cosmopolitan citizen has to maintain a commitment to complexity,
to consulting multiple perspectives. While there is an overwhelming
amount of information available from the Internet and the
news media, sorting through it has become a daunting challenge,
made even more complex by the fact that all sources are located
and perspectival. Thus after the initial outpourings of sympathy
from around the world, it has become increasingly clear that
neither September 11 nor the war on Iraq looks like the same
thing to people in different spatial locations, from different
power positions in the world, with different kinds of relations
to the U.S. and its projects for the world. We want to suggest
that multi-perspectivalism assumes that all knowers are situated;
globalization is a complex of phenomena each of which looks
very different depending on one's point of view--here meant
very literally as the geo-political location of the knower.
On ethics and epistemology
The debates on citizenship and cosmopolitanism raise fundamental
questions on the relation between epistemology and ethics,
between facts and values, between narratives of what is the
case and moral evaluation of responsibility, culpability,
By "peripheral visions" we mean to suggest not that alternative
views need to be seen as competing, each vying for the status
of achieving hegemony as the single truth, but that the multiplicity
of points of view makes truth a collaborative project. As
Plato, Nietzsche, Marx, Fanon, Foucault, Spivak and others
have noted, power interacts with knowledge to bolster the
dominant narrative accepted in a particular time and place
as truth. In the era of global capitalism, the network of
Western media, markets, and policy forcefully speaks one narrative.
By invoking peripheral visions, we are advocating an epistemology
that seeks out narratives generated from other points of view.
We are urging an epistemology that pays special attention
to stories told from the margins, because in the U.S. the
volume of the dominant narrative is turned up so high, one
has to listen with very focused attention to hear other voices.
What are we to do with the resulting multiplicity of narratives?
There will be two kinds of problems. First, there will be
problems of contradiction. Stories will be told of the same
event, and employing the same explanatory framework, that
meet head-on in their claims--for example, whether Saddam
Hussein was an immediate threat to the United States. Another
example is the debates over global warming. For a while, scientists
were looking at the same sets of data, and some saw conclusive
evidence of global warming while others denied this conclusion.
We are suggesting that power and interests intercede in the
interpretive act; the data do not speak their own conclusion.
The problem is not necessarily one of dishonesty. Rather,
power and interests intervene in the act of seeing, such that
differently situated observers actually see different realities.
Second, there will be problems of incommensurability. When
accounts are incommensurable, it is not that they disagree,
but that the explanatory frameworks are so utterly different
that they can't be reconciled. For example, if one scrutinizes
the concept of human rights, it turns out to contain some
very basic assumptions about the metaphysics of the person.
If a Christian and a Confucian cannot find common ground about
human rights, it is not because their beliefs clash, but that
they slide right past one another. Difference in such cases
is not disagreement, at least on the surface issue; points
of view that are incommensurable are different in the very
frameworks of explanation.
A methodology for cosmopolitan judgment
How does one begin to circumvent the dilemmas of relativism
on the one hand and a hegemonic domination masquerading as
universalism on the other hand? Clearly, the first step is
gathering as much information as possible. If one is dealing
with political situations like the conflict in the Middle
East or the treatment of women in Islam where the flow of
information to the U.S. is heavily skewed by U.S. interests
and cultural biases, this is a gargantuan task in and of itself.
Nonetheless, in global debates over human rights, the notion
of "overlapping consensus" has emerged as an alternative to
universalism or relativism. This consensus avoids epistemological
and metaphysical rationales and works toward pragmatic agreements
about what kinds of rights inhere in humanity as such, or
more realistically, which kinds of abuses will not be tolerated.
By a geoethics of citizenship we are suggesting a project
of seeking understanding quite literally through the triangulation
of different points of view.3
We want to use a GPS, short for Global Positioning System,
as a model for this methodology. A GPS is a piece of technology
that locates a place on earth, literally plotting its coordinates
by receiving signals from orbiting satellites. It is used
by hikers and sailors for navigation. It is available in rental
cars now for street navigation. A GPS is not reliable when
it is trying to position one on the globe through information
from only one satellite. In fact, a GPS determines one's position
by reconciling information from multiple sources; it works
on an epistemology of triangulation. The more satellites used
as sources of information, the more certain the location is.
This serves as a model for the way one needs to collect perspectives
from differently situated knowers and citizens around the
world in order to be able to make informed judgments, to have
a sufficient basis for knowledge.
The relevance of this locating device for geo-citizens, particularly
those who live in the more powerful nations, is that they
need to perceive their socio-political locations as others
see them. This builds on the insight of Edward Said in Orientalism
(1985) that the West has typically constructed itself as perceiving
subject with the East as object, on the other side of an absolute
divide. The East, or the Other, in multicultural discourses,
is the reified projection of all that the subject is not.
The two are defined relationally by what the West wants to
see itself as. Those who are the knowers need to see themselves
also as the known. And this goes beyond a kind of self-reflexivity
to reception of others' perceptions of oneself as agent and
subject. But it also goes beyond the model of dialogue between
two subjects. Many of the most intransigent conflicts in the
world are between two nations, like Palestine and Israel.
They have incommensurate narratives of their history. On the
GPS model, they need many more perspectives, both from within
their own nations and from without.
Geocitizens need to work in the same way. They cannot be
confident that they are on solid ground if they are taking
their information from only one or even two perspectives.
They need to seek points of view globally; hence, critical
thinking becomes the project of triangulating the sources,
clearly identifying the contradictions and incommensurabilities,
building a reconciled narrative to the extent possible. This
last point is key. The Internet and cable/satellite television
offer different points of view on shows like Crossfire, but
those are different points of view screaming past each other,
or piling up many voices as personal opinions, while the voice
of authority becomes more and more monolithic. They are not
trying to piece together and layer multiple perspectives toward
some kind of agreed upon description of phenomena.
The chief epistemological virtue here is the capacity to
listen for and across differences. Second in line is a disposition
not to meet differences with a desire to win, to have one's
own point of view triumph over others, but instead to meet
differences as a project, a sign that power and point of view
are likely in play. Intercultural communication skills emerge
by this analysis not simply as useful in getting by in a diverse
world, but as capacities essential to build a complex account
of what is the case and what it is important to do. Filling
out the meaning of responsible global citizenship is necessarily
a collaborative process, and the more points of view that
are brought into triangulation, the more confidence one can
have about where one is standing.
The premise of this essay is that being a patriotic American
entails being a citizen of the world. If one supports the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it would be difficult
to defend the position that all Americans are entitled to
freedom and equality, while non-Americans are not. Being a
cosmopolitan entails knowing how the actions of one's government
and oneself affect the global balance of wealth, power, and
quality of life. It means pursuing intercultural skills and
the capacity to imagine multiple points of reference in assessing
a situation. Finding those triangulated reference points is
a huge challenge, but there is no other alternative.
Ultimately, this need for multiple perspectives is the most
basic argument for diversity in liberal education. One step
in this direction is teaching a curriculum that represents
diverse points of view, but that is not enough. Precisely
because the world looks different from different vantage points,
the students and faculty who comprise a campus need to have
different life experiences and different social locations
that they can bring to the table in a collaborative project
of creating knowledge, ultimately forming an "overlapping
consensus" on ethics of global citizenship.
Eve Walsh Stoddard is professor of English and chair
of the global studies department, and Grant H. Cornwell is
vice president of the university and dean of academic affairs
at St. Lawrence University.
- The ideas in this essay have evolved out of collaborations
with colleagues, within and beyond the borders of the U.S.
We want to acknowledge the funders and thank the participants
in St. Lawrence's Ford Foundation Crossing Borders project,
Interconnecting Diasporas: Globalizing Area Studies, and
in the AAC&U FIPSE grant, Liberal Education and
Global Citizenship: The Arts of Democracy.
- For an excellent discussion of this mobile concept of
war, see Ross Glover's essay in Collateral Language,
edited by John Collins and Ross Glover, 2002.
- In the field of education, researchers use a method they
also call "triangulation." It is most often defined as combining
several different research methods in one study, for example,
focus groups, surveys, and interviews, in order to avoid
the pitfalls of any one method, but it has been expanded
to include other ways of incorporating multiple sets of
data. While it similarly seeks to put together multiple
sets of data, it is not related to the kinds of socio-cultural-geographical
kinds of location we are concerned with here. Our notion
of triangulation is posited on the claim that events and
facts in the world look radically different when viewed
from different socio-political or cultural or gendered locations.
This means that even from a particular house, say in Saudi
Arabia, the embedded knowledge and the perspectives of the
male head of household, his daughter, and his chauffeur,
may be as different and even irreconcilable from each other
as from those of their counterparts in Missouri.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 1996. Cosmopolitan patriots. In Martha
Nussbaum. For love of country, Joshua Cohen, ed.
Boston: Beacon Press.
Bhabha, Homi. 2001. Unsatisfied: Notes on vernacular cosmopolitanism.
In Gregory Castle, ed. Postcolonial discourses: An anthology.
Castells, Manuel. 2000. The network society. In David Held
and Anthony McGrew, eds. The global transformations reader.
Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Cheah, Pheng and Bruce Robbins, eds. 1998. Cosmopolitics:
Thinking and feeling beyond the nation. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
Collins, John and Ross Glover, eds. 2002. Collateral
language: A user's guide to America's new war. New York:
Cornwell, Grant and Eve Walsh Stoddard. 1999. Globalizing
knowledge: Connecting international and intercultural studies.
Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Held, David. 1997. Cosmopolitan democracy and the global
order: A new agenda. In James Bohman and Matthias Lutz-Bachmann,
eds. Perpetual peace: Essays on Kant's cosmopolitan ideal.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Huntington, Samuel. 1996.The clash of civilizations.
NY: Simon and Schuster.
Kant, Immanuel. 1965. The critique of pure reason.
Norman Kemp Smith, ed. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Nussbaum, Martha. 1997. Cultivating humanity: A classical
defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Nussbaum, Martha. 1996. For love of country: Debating
the limits of patriotism. Joshua Cohen, ed. Boston: Beacon
Said, Edward. 1985. Orientalism. London: Penguin
U.S.A. Patriot Act. www.criminaljustice.org.
To respond to this article, e-mail: email@example.com,
with author's name on the subject line.