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8 - Indigenizing Cosmopolitanism: Shifting Metropolitan Subjectivities in Twentieth-century Colombo

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 December 2020

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Summary

Abstract

During the first half of the twentieth century, pressured by political transformations, metropolitan loyalties gradually shifted across colonial and nationalist ideological lines, wartime alliances and Cold-War dialectic. In early postcolonial Asia, and more specifically in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, definitions of cosmopolitanism were accordingly transformed from a studied mimicry of colonial habits to new strategies for indigenizing the colonial legacy. In architecture, these transformations were captured in the institutional architecture of the era: those produced to gain legitimacy, the patronizingly Indic styles of the colonial Public Works Department, and the new nationalist architecture. In each of these stylistic phases, particular attributes of cosmopolitanism were advanced or erased, while indigenous motifs were applied as embellishments. These processes involved a range of reformers, who drew on European artistic developments and Indic architectural styles. These cosmopolitan interactions eventually produced late colonial experimentation with vernacular aesthetics and subsequent movements for indigenization.

Renewed attention to theories of cosmopolitanism at the start of the new millennium, in the works of Bruce Robbins and Pheng Cheah, Craig Calhoun, Anthony Appiah, David Harvey, and others, responded to what we might describe as the post-national and neo-liberal tenor of political and economic life at the end of the Cold War. The failure of idealized liberal agendas and their histories of violence posed new challenges for strategies of governance. These authors referenced nineteenth-century nationalist ideologies of regionalism and cosmopolitanism that underwrote twentieth-century hostilities and offered cautionary insights into what decentralization, porous boundaries, and immigrant labour flows may mean for human-rights discourse. They exposed the human cost of economic liberalization against the celebratory advance of marketization.

Whereas these discussions occurred against the backdrop of European unification, postcolonial scholars like Carol Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi Bhabha, and Dipesh Chakrabarty, alerted us to cosmopolitanisms occurring elsewhere, at the margins of Europe and America, reminding us of colonial and nationalist histories of like phenomena. Whereas ideas of cosmopolitanism were typically associated with the activities of a comprador class, produced by colonial education, the first generation of nationalist leaders emerged from within their ranks. The struggle for independence and the parallel processes of decolonization occurring as they did at the height of Cold-War hostilities lent a regionalist tenor to national politics, adversarial to ‘Western’ cosmopolitan values.

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Eurasian Encounters
Museums, Missions, Modernities
, pp. 179 - 206
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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