Interdependence, Cosmopolitanism, and Global Thinking

Big Question: How are we interdependent, and how might cosmopolitical thinking help us grapple with that? 

Time Commitment: 60 minutes

In this cyanotype, artist Lia Halloran quotes Walt Whitman: Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Art by Lia Halloran for The Universe in Verse.

Personal Reflection: 

Who are you, and how are you a product of interdependence? Time yourself for a ten-minute free-write on this question. Think about the histories, cultures, communities, places, and people who formed you and your identity while responding to the question: who are you? Keep this free-write in a spot where you can return to themes relating to these modules. That could be an actual journal or an electronic file. But make sure you keep these reflections in one location. 

Why This Matters:

Activists and scholars who are co-creating a world more in accord with justice employ different lenses when they look at the world. This module introduces you to lenses that consider our location through personal identity, local particularities, and global and historical structures. Thinking through critical questions with a global lens and an identity that embraces rather than attempts to deny interdependence is central to efforts to advance just, inclusive, sustainable communities. 

Diving In, Part 1:

Ananya Roy is Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare, and Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her thinking challenges us to look locally and internationally, to think about ourselves and the broader structures of interdependence, while we consider social challenges. This kind of thinking is core to enabling our capacities to respond thoughtfully and critically from wherever we’re located. To begin, we consider a video developed by Professor Roy and one of her students, Abby VanMuijen: Can your point of View Change the World? (9 minutes, 31 seconds, completed when they were at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley). 

There are many things we love about this video. The way it was made and the narrative that it employs demonstrate a commitment we share: knowledge comes from all places in a landscape. In this case, a student emerges as a key, generative and insightful contributor to a next stage in knowledge organization and mobilization. In the modules to come, we will share systematic approaches to models of inquiry that recognize the vibrant knowledges that exist in communities and with civil society actors – students, workers, parents, children – all around the world. Part of the challenge of navigating ethical action in a diverse and interdependent world is working to understand what knowledges and methods are relevant for what reasons and when.  

This kind of uncertainty requires a great deal of humility, a topic engaged in our next reading. Yet this humility is engaged in tension with a clear need, as Professor Roy reminds us, “to critique the world.” Even as  “no surefire efforts exist,” you must, “find your space of action.” This is what Quaker thinker Parker Palmer has called the dance between humility and chutzpah

Diving In, Part 2:

NYU Professor of Philosophy Kwame Anthony Appiah takes up the challenge of understanding interdependent identity with humility and clarity on specific principles and values in a magazine article, The Case for Contamination (7,200+ words = 23+ minute read).  

Reflection Questions: 

Appiah makes a number of important moves in The Case for Contamination, including: 

  • Asserting, “Cosmopolitans believe in universal truth, too, though we are less certain that we already have all of it. It is not skepticism about the very idea of truth that guides us; it is realism about how hard the truth is to find. One tenet we hold to, however, is that every human being has obligations to every other. Everybody matters: that is our central idea. And again, it sharply limits the scope of our tolerance.” 
    • This is clearly complex terrain, and Appiah admits, “liberty and diversity may well be at odds, and the tensions between them aren’t always easily resolved.” His central assertion, however, “that every human being has obligations to every other,” is core to our understandings of interdependence. How does that assertion sit with you?
  • Taking individuals as the proper object of moral concern, and implying or demonstrating that individuals often have the capacity to choose. What other ways might we understand “the proper object of moral concern”? Do individuals always have full capacity to choose the products they wear on their bodies or bring into their homes? What systems or structures might Appiah be under-emphasizing? 

Diving In, Part 3:

The global citizenship definition offered below comes from Chapter 2 in Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad, a volume written and inspired by many of the individuals involved in the creation of the modules you’re working through here. As you’ll see, the definition draws our attention directly to critical reflection and humility. Around the world and in individual classrooms and communities, as we destroy the false narratives that have driven us apart, and embrace deeper understandings of interdependence, our understandings of and capacities to articulate our interdependent identities will only improve. Throughout these modules, we ask you to consider your identity and obligations as they relate to interdependence. 

Embracing interdependence and behaving as an ethical and critical global citizen does not require going anywhere. Nor does it require an embrace of monoculture. Critical global citizenship embraces polyvocality (many voices, many cultures, many knowledges, many approaches, and many ways of being).  

Our operational definition of global citizenship is: 

  • a commitment to fundamental human dignity, couched in a critically reflective understanding of historic and contemporary systems of oppression, along with acknowledgment of positionality within those systems; it connects with values, reflection, and action. A critical global citizenship calls us all to humble, careful, and continuous effort to build a world that better acknowledges every individual’s basic human dignity. – p. 27 in Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad

Pair-Share or Small Group Discussion: 

How does this definition of global citizenship support our capacities to ethically navigate interdependence? What concerns regarding ethical interdependent living might that definition leave out?

On the pages to come, we will consider some examples of how global citizenship 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: 

  • The orientation we’ll be taking throughout these modules, which is represented well by Professor Roy’s “Can your point of view change the world?” video and its co-authored construction. 
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • A critical approach to global citizenship and global thinking 

Flash Forward: A Peek at What’s To Come

There are two key implications in the thinkers reviewed here: structural analysis matters AND you have a role in change-making. In the words of the great novelist James Baldwin, 

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also so much more than that. So are we all.”

In this black and white image, sitting at a desk of a library with a lit cigarette in right hand, James Baldwin gestures left hand towards the camera.
Photo of James Baldwin: Ted Thai/Getty Images

The concept of structural violence helps us understand and analyze the role historic and contemporary structures of exploitation, marginalization, and privilege play across social and environmental issues. Critically informed civic action helps us reimagine and rebuild the structures that constrain or enable human and ecological flourishing. We’ll continue to investigate both of these themes throughout the modules to come. 

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

Citation for this page: Hartman, E. (2020). How are we interdependent, and how might cosmopolitical thinking help us grapple with that? 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, "Territories of Power: Rethinking North and South" by Ananya Roy.
This image is of a book cover, "Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers" by Kwame Anthony Appiah.
This image is of a book cover, "Community-Based Global Learning: The Theory and Practice of Ethical Engagement at Home and Abroad," by Eric Hartman, by Eric Hartman, Richard C. Kiely, Christopher Boettcher, Jessica Friedrichs, and Rafia Zakaria.


Appiah, K. A. (2006, January). The case for contamination. The New York Times Magazine, p. 30+.

Hartman, E., Kiely, R., Boettcher, C., & Friedrichs, J. (2018). Community-based global learning: The theory and practice of ethical engagement at home and abroad. Sterling: VA: Stylus Publishing.

Parker, P.J. (2016, February 3). Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America. Retrieved from

Video and pieces cited within the video: 

Roy, A., & VanMuijen, A. (2014, May 29). The #GlobalPOV Project: “Can Your Point of View Change the World?”. Retrieved from