Global Citizenship, Local Actions, and Community-building

Big Question: What does global citizenship have to do with local actions and community-building?

Time Commitment: 60 minutes

Personal Reflection: What opportunities do you have, everyday, to increase or advance the extent to which our campuses, communities, countries, and world actually embrace the cosmopolitan ideal that “every human being has obligations to every other”?

Why This Matters:

The ideals of global citizenship are made real through personal behaviors, consumer choices, and political action close to home. Most people have the greatest leverage in the communities where they’re most familiar.

Diving In, Part 1:

In the overview, we mentioned the assertion, “every human being has obligations to every other,” is part of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s approach to cosmopolitanism. As a central tenet of cosmopolitan thinking – it also informs the writing of John Cameron, an Associate Professor in the Department of International Development Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. In a chapter contribution to Globetrotting or Global Citizenship, Cameron begins by pointing out that some understandings of global citizenship do not contribute to global justice.

What we’re interested in is global justice, and Cameron’s writing helps us think about the relationships among how we identify, interdependence, and local actions. Plenty of people fly across borders. Here’s a 1-minute time lapse of 24-hours worth of large airplane travel in 2016, for instance:

While American Author Mark Twain is often quoted asserting, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and it is true that travel can reduce stereotypes, it is also clear that the mere act of crossing a border does not dispose a person to collaborative, ethical, and informed capacities to co-create more just, inclusive, sustainable communities.

The pursuit or rejection of cosmopolitanism, however, does not require travel. All around the world, people spend extraordinary time, energy, and grief excluding other people from their communities and countries. Sometimes this occurs through explicit racism, sexism, and nationalism; more often exclusion occurs through slightly more sophisticated discourses of needing security, fairness, or respect for the rule of law. In all cases, the challenge of cosmopolitanism draws us back to the right question in an unmistakably interdependent world: what obligations do we have to one another? Answering that question is a continuously developing effort in a continuously evolving world, so for now we’ll just learn some of the key points in Cameron’s chapter.

Drawing on significant research in political science, political theory, and international development, Cameron writes,

Cosmopolitanism is not a unified body of thought but it is characterized by certain core principles. First, at the heart of cosmopolitanism is the conviction that by virtue of simply being human all human beings have certain moral  obligations toward all other human beings… The focus of cosmopolitan thought is thus on the duties of individual humans towards one another regardless of their citizenship in particular nation-states or memberships in particular ethnic, religious, or other communities of shared identity. Second, the search to identify such a universal set of duties is based on impartial reasoning – meaning that the principles underlying cosmopolitan obligations must be ones on which all people could agree and act. Testing the universality of moral obligations requires what Seyla Benhabib referred to as, “reasoning from the point of view of others.” 

Diving In, Part 2: Cameron identifies four contributions from cosmopolitan thinking:

  1. It pushes beyond voluntary choices to moral obligation.
  2. It emphasizes not just positive moral obligations, but also negative obligations to not cause harm, not benefit from harm, and to work to prevent harm. (It is often not as much about “doing good” as it is about reimagining and restructuring systems to reduce harm).
  3. It is about the responsibilities of all humans to all other humans (not some merit badge to be earned by privileged folks who work among marginalized folks).
  4. Cosmopolitanism puts heavy emphasis on the personal responsibility of all humans to be aware of the consequences of their actions on other humans.

Diving In, Part 3: Cosmopolitical Social Action – Migrant Rights in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania

Have a look at this NationSwell video about Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit organization that promotes the health and wellness of Philadelphia’s rapidly growing Latinx immigrant population through high-quality health care, innovative educational programs, and community building.

As you watch, consider how the work of Puentes moves health care access from a market-based question to a moral obligation. Puentes offers opportunities to volunteer and to give locally, to support increased access to healthcare among a community that is systematically marginalized, enacting commitments beyond the narrow confines of national identity in the Philadelphia region.

Diving In, Part 4: Resisting Unjust Laws

We need to look beyond Puentes to consider the negative obligations that Cameron discusses. Documented individuals in the United States enjoy a range of privileges because of the systematic marginalization of people who do not have documents in the United States. Marginalization and inequity keep food costs down, for instance, as almost 20 percent of food processing workers and more than 36 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented. Undocumented workers are less likely to receive worker protections and benefits, and less likely to demand higher wages.

Organizers, activists, and everyday folks are regularly working against that system as we know it. In Pennsylvania, artist-organizer Michelle Angela Ortiz developed a documentary film to raise awareness about children and families indefinitely detained at the Berks Family Detention Center due to migration violations, and a range of organizations continue to advance the effort to Shut Down Berks.

Pair-Share or Small Group Discussion: 

Could you see yourself being involved with the programs or initiatives mentioned above? What kinds of activities that advance just, inclusion, and sustainability locally might appeal to you?

On the pages to come, we will identify the structure through which global citizenship commitments are frequently advanced – civil society – and provide additional examples of how such commitments are made real, locally and internationally. 

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • Cosmopolitanism and global citizenship
  • How the ideals of global citizenship are implemented locally

Please share feedback on this page by taking this brief survey. Thank you!

Next: Civil society and additional examples of advancing cosmopolitan values.

Citation for this page: Hartman, E. (2020). What does global citizenship have to do with local actions and community-building? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from

Further Reading

This image is of a book cover, "Globetrotting Or Global Citizenship? Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning," by Rebecca Tiessen and Robert Huish (Editors).
This image is of a book cover, "Another Cosmopolitanism," by  Seyla Benhabib.
This image is of a book cover, "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit," by Barry Estabrook.
This image is of a book cover, "Beyond the Borderlands," by Debra Lattanzi Shutika.


Benhabib, S. (1992). Situating the Self (1st ed., Vol. 1). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Cameron, J. (2014). Grounding Experiential Learning in Thick Conceptions of Global Citizenship. In Tiessen, R., & Huish, R. (Eds.), Globetrotting or Global Citizenship?: Perils and Potential of International Experiential Learning (1st ed., Vol. 1). Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division.

Gammage, J. (2020, February 20). ‘Shut down Berks!’: Philly allies of detained migrant families say it’s time for Pa. center to close. Retrieved from

Krauze, L. (2020, April 13). Undocumented immigrants, essential to the U.S. economy, deserve federal help too. Retrieved from

Stanlick, S. (2018, February 2). Global Citizenship, Ignorance, and the Power of Travel. Retrieved from

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

57 Squared. (2009, May 21). World Air Traffic 24 Hour Period [Video file]. Retrieved from

michelle angela. (2019, April 23). TRAILER- “Las Madres de Berks” Documentary. Retrieved from

NationSwell. (2016, January 27). A Bridge to Better Health. Retrieved from