Cosmopolitanism in a Changing Political Landscape: Making Sense of Cultural Difference and Belonging in an Australian School

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:54 PM
Room: F202
Oral Presentation
Melinda HERRON , The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
With the recent change in federal government, Australia is currently experiencing a conservative nationalist turn. Xenophobic, anti-immigration debates abound about how cultural diversity and difference will lead to the demise of ‘Australian’ national identity, values, social cohesion and security. Whilst this political discourse has marginalised post-national sentiments in dominant media, does this align with how culturally diverse communities orient toward cultural difference and belonging in the everyday? The City of Greater Dandenong in the outer suburbs of Melbourne is one of the fastest growing, most culturally diverse regions in Australia. Dandenong government schools, micropublics of the wider community, are key sites where issues of race, cultural diversity and belonging are experienced. Normative cosmopolitanism offers an alternative discourse and a competing resource for the imagination through targeted educational and cultural interventions in school communities. Whilst cosmopolitanism has currency as a valuable ethico-political ideal for contemporary transnational and global ways of life, it has faced criticism as unrealistic, elitist, consumerist and western-centric.  

Based on fieldwork in a Dandenong high school, this paper considers how students and teachers interpret and interact with nationalist, cosmopolitan and other post-nationalist discourses in making sense of how they live, belong and get along in a complex, culturally diverse school community and their wider worlds. In light of debates over whether grassroots, vernacular forms of cosmopolitanism manifest in commonplace encounters with difference and diversity, this paper provides insight into whether students and teachers in this school create an everyday cosmopolitanism on their own terms – independent of the ever-shifting ‘flavour of the month’ political and institutional discourses.