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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

National and Urban Ways of Seeing


This short paper discusses the persistence of nationalism in framing the ways in which we understand what it means to be political. The paper begins by outlining what I describe as a nationalist ‘way of seeing,’ which involves understanding world politics as organised by the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ordered according to a linear and homogenous experience of time. I trace how two contemporary theorists, of cosmopolitanism and globalism respectively, allow this nationalist way of seeing to frame their understandings of political community and, specifically, their discussion of alternatives to nationalism. In the second part of the paper, I turn to a novel written by Hanif Kureishi called The Black Album(1995), to discuss how literary texts set in cities might offer other ways of understanding political community. By troubling an experience of community as bounded and of time as linear, I argue that this novel allows us to discuss what an ‘urban way of seeing’ might offer for the task of developing non-nationalistic accounts of living with others.

Insights Paper