The Cosmopolitan Standard of Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Elite Belonging Inside the Indian Foreign Service

This article asks what it takes to belong among the “cosmopolitan elite” in international society.
With a reflexive sociological sensibility, it examines the ways in which diplomats of the Indian
Foreign Service have sought to secure recognition and equal standing in international society by
inhabiting a cosmopolitan habitus. Instead of analysing cosmopolitanism in the conventional
register of political theory as an egalitarian international ethic, the article considers “actually
existing cosmopolitanism” as a transnational elite aesthetic. It suggests that the demands of a
cosmopolitan habitus themselves constitute a new standard of civilization, imposed on Indian
diplomats not by Western fiat but through a process of cultural self-policing. In this process,
dominant upper-class and upper-caste members of the Foreign Service impose this standard
against internal Others, including those of lower class and caste status. The performance of the
cosmopolitan habitus serves a social function in international society – it is a social strategy by
which Indian diplomats seek to find parity inside the global diplomatic club. As such, the
performance lays bare the unequal rules of elite belonging in a supposedly pluralistic but
ultimately deeply socially stratified international society. Ultimately, the exclusionary social logics
of “actually existing cosmopolitanism” also signify the political failure of a postcolonial project of
solidarity, democratization, and diversity