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Nigel Rapport

Professor of Anthropological & Philosophical Studies, University of St Andrews 

Nigel Rapport is Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.  His recent work has been to develop a ‘cosmopolitan’ anthropology. This is understood as an ontological project, seeking to define the human, its capacities and liabilities as universalities beyond the particular differences of sociocultural and historical condition; it is also a methodological project, finding ways best to approach and know the human; and it is a political project, hoping to nurture individual human expression over and above sociocultural contingencies and circumstance. His broader research interests include: social theory; phenomenology, identity, individuality and consciousness; literary anthropology and narrative; symbolic interactionism, community studies and conversation analysis; representation and aesthetics; globalization, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and anthropology as a moral pursuit.

Nigel Rapport has undertaken five pieces of ‘participant-observation’ fieldwork: among farmers and tourists in a rural English village (1980-1); among the transient population of a Newfoundland city and suburb (1984-5); among new immigrants in an Israeli development-town (1988-9); among health-care professionals and patients in a Scottish hospital (2000-1); and among the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham (2012-16).

Nigel Rapport has held a Chair at the University of St Andrews since 1996; he is Founding Director of the St Andrews Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies. His BA was from Cambridge (1978) and his PhD from Manchester (1983). Between 2004 and 2007 he held a Canada Research Chair in Globalization, Citizenship and Justice (at Concordia University of Montreal). He has been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, also of the Learned Society of Wales; he has won the Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Among Nigel Rapport’s books are: Talking Violence. An anthropological interpretation of conversation in the city (1987); Diverse World-Views in an English Village (1993); The Prose and the Passion: Anthropology, Literature and the Writing of E. M. Forster (1994); The Trouble with Community: Anthropological Reflections on Movement, Identity and Collectivity (2002); 'I am Dynamite': An Alternative Anthropology of Power (2003); Anyone, the Cosmopolitan Subject of Anthropology (2012); Distortion and Love: An Anthropological Reading of the Art and Life of Stanley Spencer (2016); and Cosmopolitan Love and Individuality: Ethical Engagement beyond Culture (2019).


ETHER Seminar Two Digital Provocation Abstract - Cosmopolitan politesse: Loving speech in the good society

Cosmopolitan politesse is an interactional code by which one addresses the common humanity and the distinct individuality of those one interacts with but classifies them in no more specific fashion. One presumes that in social interaction one is engaging with an individual human Other—‘Anyone’—rather than with a representative of some more substantive class: ‘a woman’, ‘a Scot’, ‘a Jew’, someone ‘working class’, ‘heterosexual’, or ‘pious’, and so on.

It is an ontological reality that a human being, Anyone, possesses an intrinsic identity by virtue of their unique and finite embodiment, giving rise to personal worldviews and life-projects. Cosmopolitan politesse seeks to accommodate the reality of human individuality and give it its proper recognition and respect, and so emancipate Anyone socially from the condition of being made subject to the arbitrary constructions, the ‘fictions’, of merely cultural, symbolic classes and categories.

The argument is made by reference to Immanuel Kant’s vision of the ‘cosmopolitan’, Iris Murdoch’s vision of a ‘good society’, Emanuel Levinas’s vision of the ‘radical otherness’ of individual being, and Luce Irigaray’s vision of ‘loving speech’.