Introduction

Cosmopolitan politesse, continued

in Journal of Legal Anthropology

This issue’s forum continues a lively discussion of Nigel Rapport’s notion of ‘cosmopolitan politesse’ that was previously featured in these pages in the summer of 2018. Rapport has long proposed this sort of politesse as a ‘form of virtue’ and ‘good manners’ (2018: 93) premised on ‘the ontological reality of human individuality’, which in turn necessitates an ‘interactional code’ according to which we must presume both ‘common humanity’ but also ‘distinct individuality’ to the point where we ‘classif[y] the Other in no more substantive fashion than this’ (92). Given anthropology’s history of intricately taxonomising humans according to various criteria, this is indeed a challenging proposal – all the more so in the context of legal anthropology, where being subject to specific norms and laws is often taken to be constitutive of distinctive subjectivities, sensibilities and survival strategies. In this issue, Don Gardner responds, directing his critical attention towards the notion of personhood undergirding Rapport’s plea for a revitalised Kantian liberalism in an era of resurgent xenophobia and ethnonationalism. In the process, we see two accomplished scholars taking positions within (and consciously outside of) a whole range of classical debates in the Western philosophical cannon with pressing relevance for contemporary legal anthropology, from nature versus nurture to free will versus determinism, individualism versus collectivism and structure versus agency.

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