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Interview with Robert Fine

Professor Robert Fine, Chair of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL. Tel: 024 765 23068. E-mail:


He teaches graduate modules on Social Theory and Politics, Sociology of the Holocaust and Critical and Deconstructive Social Theory, and an undergraduate module on the Sociology of the Modern State.


His books include Democracy and the Rule of Law (republished in 2002), Political Investigations: Hegel, Marx, Arendt (2001), Being Stalked (1997), Beyond Apartheid: Labour and Liberation in South Africa (1991), He has co-edited Social Theory after the Holocaust (2000), People, Nation and State (1999), Policing the Miners' Strike 1985), and Capitalism and the Rule of Law (Hutchinson 1989).


He is currently engaged in research on cosmopolitan social theory and has an ESRC-funded project on humanitarian military intervention.



FH: - Could you remember the time when you started to think about cosmopolitanism?


Robert Fine:- Well I had finished a book on South Africa which had nothing to do with cosmopolitanism at all but the book was on the labour movement in South Africa and the relation of the labour movement to nationalism. What I was arguing is that the tendency within South African literature nationalism, African nationalism, some kind of black nationalism is the only form of legitimate opposition to the apartheid was belied by a history of labour politics also struggling against forms of racism and Africana nationalism. So I was interested in that, and that was part of a broader interest in non-nationalist ways of thinking. And then when I first came across Kant's writings on cosmopolitanism, I thought, well this is interesting because it shows that the tradition of cosmopolitan thinking is a s old as the tradition of nationalism. And in a sense, they have been, they are co-evil ways of thinking. So I thought that was interesting and it's always disturbed me the extent to which national ways of thinking have taken over our imagination. So that's when I got into literature on cosmopolitanism. Do you want a date?


- You mentioned Africa at the time


- I was doing that work in the 1990s.


- Could you explain why South Africa?


Robert Fine:- Well I was interested in South Africa. I was interested in forms of antiracism. And South Africa had at that time a very active independent trade union movement which developed very open and inclusive forms of antiracism, very exciting forms of antiracism. And I was sort of wary of ways of thinking that sort of responded to one nationalism with another nationalism and I found the labour movement there, the independent trade union movement there very exciting, very kind of positive. So it was a good case. I mean there was no special reason. It was just a very case in point.


FH:- Do you know Ulrich Beck's work? He had this definition of cosmopolitanism as a search for during the second world war if you call some one a cosmopolitan then it meant that he has to go to Hell... This a kind of negative notion. Now it's changed, I think...


Robert Fine:- - That was another reason I was drawn to the literature of cosmopolitanism. I thought, you know, if the Stalinists denigrated the ruthless cosmopolitan Jew, then there must be something good in cosmopolitanism. I identified with that. I thought well - It must have something going for it.


- And at what point are you now with your thinking on cosmopolitanism?


Robert Fine:- I think the general kind of stance I've got is that I'm interested in the idea of cosmopolitan judgment. I don't think I've ever seen cosmopolitanism as a kind of ideal. I don't really like the sort of "-ism" of cosmopolitanism. You know, one time there's socialism and then there's cosmopolitanism. I'm rather wary of any of these "-isms" And I think that if you treat it as some kind of abstract ideal then it doesn't allow you to reach any interesting conclusions. So I'm interested in developing it as a form of judgment, a form of... a way of doing political life, rather than a set of formulae. And I'm a little bit concerned that it's become a set of formulae. I think I see cosmopolitanism as a kind of research project and Beck have been very important in generating research projects and it's a very open ended one and a long way to go and I see myself as part of a much broader, much wider sort of collective research project.