What does citizenship—an institution that has historically linked identity to place—mean in an age of globalization? This is the question that Atossa Araxia Abrahamian investigates in her planet-sprawling book The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen (Columbia Global Reports, 2015). One way Abrahamian answers that question is by examining elites shopping for passports in a global marketplace. But the question also pulls her deep into a grim passports-in-bulk scheme that offloaded stateless people in the oil-rich Persian Gulf to an impoverished island-state off the coast of East Africa (not every cosmopolite was so by choice). Abrahamian also finds an answer in the various ways activists have chipped away at the exclusions of citizenship and have striven for a more egalitarian, connected world.
The Cosmopolites is an astute inquiry into how the rules of the interstate system—the assignment of citizenship by place of birth; border regimes that restrict the movement of people—produce strange, sometimes Kafkaesque realities and how different actors have tried to bend those rules. And Abrahamian, a journalist and senior editor at The Nation whose beat is truly global, is well-suited for this endeavor. We talk about the book, her case for studying small states as a way to understanding the world order, and her methodology. I hope you enjoy our interview!
Dexter Fergie is a doctoral student in US and global history at Northwestern University. His research examines the history of ideas, infrastructure, and international organizations.