This entry is part of a series in which we discuss concepts and phenomena in the field of transnational studies.

The major critique of cosmopolitan sociology on empirical research in social sciences is its methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism means that most studies define (explicitly or implicitly) the nation state as the container of social processes. Thus the nation state unit is the key-order for studying major social, economic and political processes. One of the major critics of such a perspective, Ulrich Beck, argues that it is wrongly based on assumptions of the congruence of political, cultural and social borders. The nation state perspective doesn’t capture transnational linkages, structures or identities.

But how can one analyze transnational phenomena empirically? It is a fundamental problem of research on transnationalism that most data sets and strategies of social inquiry are nation state bound. That makes inferences on transnational phenomena difficult or impossible. This methodological problem is therefore fundamentally linked with sociological concept formation, which is  – from a cosmopolitan perspective –   nation state bound and thus unable capture the multi-dimensional process of change.  Or as Beck and Sznaider formulate it:

The decisive point is that national organization as a structuring principle of societal and political action can no longer serve as the orienting reference point for the social scientific observer (Beck and Sznaider 2006).

According to Beck methodological cosmopolitanism is one attempt to overcome these limitations: While globalization discourse usually is concerned with the relations between or beyond states, cosmopolitanism focuses on changes in the inner quality of the social and political itself: With this concept, Beck tried to turn the philosophical idea of cosmopolitanism into an empirical research agenda: The idea is not to look for general, universal pattern but for global variability, global interconnectedness, and global intercommunication.

In this framework the global can be researched locally – as the process of cosmopolitanization takes place “from within”-  by looking at global social structures that cross different boundaries. These structures create at the same time localized and transnational spheres of experience and expectation.

The major aim of the methodological cosmopolitanism is to overcome conceptually and empirically the major dualities which dominate our way of thinking;: the global and the local, the national and the international, us and them. Political dynamics and conflicts are part of globalized social worlds and an expression of transnationality inside nation-states, even if the people themselves might know that they have been affected by rules set somewhere else.

So far it is not yet completely clear what this fully implies for the actual analysis. A cosmopolitan methodological perspective is only in the making and there are still a lot of open questions: What does global interconnectivity mean? How can transnational research unit be defined? How can these units be compared?

Cosmopolitan researchers try to answer these questions by conceptualizing for example “transnational regimes of politics”, “global risk regimes” or “transnational spaces and cultures of memory”, in which transnational spaces, institutions or cultures are analyzed (see for example literature of the collaborate research project on reflexive modernization). These are first attempts to turn into practice, what still sounds very challenging:

It [methodological cosmopolitanism] can and must observe and investigate the boundarytranscending and boundary-effacing multi-perspectivalism of social and political agents through very different ‘lenses’. A single phenomenon, transnationality, for example, can, perhaps even must, be analysed both locally and nationally and transnationally and trans-locally and globally. (Beck and Sznaider 2006)