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Immigrant Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: An

Interdisciplinary Approach

Proposal #8853
Submitted: 2010-03-31 09:51:48 AM

Dr. Diego Von Vacano

Investigator 1
Title Assistant Professor
Prefix Dr.
First Name Diego
Middle A
Last Name Von Vacano
Mailstop 4348
Deaprtment Political Science
College College of Liberal Arts

Proposal Abstract

Application--Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities 2010
Diego von Vacano
Political Science Department

Immigrant Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: An Interdisciplinary Approach


The objective of the research is to determine how immigrants’ identities are related to
national identity. This responds to claims made by those such as Samuel Huntington, who
argued that immigrants are deleterious to national identity. I utilize political theory to
examine the development of immigrants’ identity within a framework of
cosmopolitanism. I argue that immigrants from less-developed-nations to developed
democracies are likely to form identities, especially in large cities, which make them
trans- and post-national agents. This stands in distinction from the state-centered classical
assimilation and segmented assimilation theses. The methodology is grounded in political
philosophy, relying on German thought (Hegel, Nietzsche, Honneth), but it is also
interdisciplinary, using work on immigrant identity in sociology, social psychology, and
history to learn lessons for political theory. I anticipate producing a monograph that
normatively justifies the formation of cosmopolitan immigrant identity, as opposed to
identities that emphasize assimilation.

Proposal Description

Application--Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities 2010
Diego von Vacano
Political Science Department

Immigrant Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Do immigrants have a positive or negative impact on national identity? According
to the recently deceased Harvard professor Samuel Huntington— arguably the most
important political scientist of the last fifty years— the answer was the latter. He believed
that recent immigrants, especially those coming to the US from Latin America and Asia,
have a detrimental effect on the national fabric. Was he correct? Political theory can
address this issue by examining the normative implications of the empirical evidence.
Immigration is among the cardinal global phenomena of the twenty-first century,
and yet the field of political theory has not dealt with it accordingly. Some studies are
being produced that seek to address this issue, yet these tend to focus exclusively on the
ethics of borders. That is, political theorists writing about immigration have examined the
legitimacy of international boundaries and the rights of particular groups of people to
cross them. Little has been done to investigate what I believe is a crucial part of this topic,
especially as related to national identity: the normative aspects of the formation and
determination of immigrants’ identities.
While there has been significant work on immigrant identity done in other
academic fields (such as sociology, social psychology, and history), political philosophy
has lagged behind. I propose to examine the issue of the development of immigrants’
identities through political theory with an interdisciplinary approach to learn from other
fields. Political theory is the study of philosophical and ethical issues in political life. It
can help us examine the normative perspectives on whether (and under what conditions)
recent immigrants become assimilated or integrated to the host state, and if these
identities are new forms of conceptions of the self given new cosmopolitan trends such as
easier travel. At the end of my study, I expect to be in a position to evaluate Prof.
Huntington’s claims. My own experience as an immigrant who arrived to the US at an
early age has provoked the kinds of questions that I pursue in this project.
The specific aim of this study is to examine, through political philosophy, how
immigrants experience their transition from the home state to the host state, and what
implications this has for political life, especially to what we can call the national identity
of the host state. I argue that we can carry out a phenomenology of the immigrant
experience in a way that accounts for most cases of migrants coming from less-
developed-nations to advanced democratic states. A theory of the formation and
implications of immigrant identity of this sort would not apply to all immigrants at all
times in history, but to the particular case of those who move to a developed nation from
a poor one in the early 21st century. Thus, my project’s theoretical/philosophical goals are
served by a multi-method approach, including empirical and historical research.
There are two principal components of the research work that is needed for this
project. The first is theoretical and the second is empirical. With the former, I propose

that immigrant identity matters. I will develop an argument that recent immigrants in the
late 20th century and early part of the 21st century are cosmopolitan actors/agents. In other
words, the best lens to use to examine and explain their experience is through the
literature on cosmopolitanism. I will make some use of the work of philosopher Anthony
Appiah on cosmopolitanism, exploring the manner in which immigrants can be classified
as cosmopolitans due to their ability to navigate various cultures and their interaction
with people from very different ethnic and national backgrounds from themselves.
However, I depart from Appiah’s reliance on the liberalism of John Stuart Mill’s
conception of the self, arguing instead that immigrants in general are in situations that are
more constrained than the average member of the host state. For this reason, I rely on
German political philosophy to construct a theory of the immigrant self, principally using
ideas related to the work of Hegel, Nietzsche, and some of the Frankfurt School,
including recent work by Axel Honneth. With this original cosmopolitan phenomenology
of citizenship, I intend to show that a liberal conception of the self imposes severe social
and psychological burdens on new immigrants, and that a different framework is needed
to examine immigrant identity.
The second part of the work to be performed is empirical. In order to support my
theoretical argument, I will see if there is actual evidence in the real world for it. While I
do not intend to carry out original survey field work or interviews, I will examine the
latest data and literature related to five different scholarly fields and examine case studies
of immigrants from several global cities. From empirical political science, I will see how
immigrants’ political behavior changes over time (Karthick Ramakrishnan 2008). From
the field of social psychology, I will survey the recent literature on how new immigrants
see themselves and how host-state members see immigrants (Kay Deaux 2006; Maykel
Verkuyten 2009). In sociology, I will examine leading theories of immigrant adaptation
and incorporation, including those that underscore difficulties and frictions in
assimilation (Portes 2008; Lee and Bean 2010; Massey and Sánchez 2010; Telles 2008;
Tomás Jimenez 2004). In history, I will examine recent work that shows the tensions and
difficulties of immigrants over long periods of time (Mae Ngai, forthcoming; Al
Camarillo, forthcoming). Lastly, I will return to foundational philosophy of identity
(Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, 1989) to locate immigrant identity in modernity.
The concluding part of this project will be to examine specific case studies of
immigrant communities to see to what extent my theoretical argument holds up
empirically. For this purpose, I will select some cities that fit the description of the
‘global cities’ characteristics. I will argue that immigrant identity qua cosmopolitanism
develops most profoundly within cities. This is because the city forces new immigrants to
interact with those who come from very different parts of the world owing to work and
living circumstances. The ‘global cities’ literature developed by Saskia Sassen (2001)
will be particularly useful for this purpose (also Kasinitz, Waters et al. Inheriting the
City; Sennett, The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life). At this point, I
believe the case studies can be selected from those of immigrants in advanced-state cities
such as NY, LA, Paris, Tokyo, or Madrid, and some developing-state cities with large
immigrant populations such as Buenos Aires and Johannesburg. It is in such cities, I
argue, that immigrants develop their identities qua cosmopolitan migrants, and not as (a)
weakly-assimilated members of the host state; (b) highly-assimilated new members of the
host state, or (c) a hybrid identity from the home and host state. My theory thus argues

for the emergence of a fourth category: one in which immigrants see themselves as
cosmopolitan agents distinct from these other three types. My intention, normatively, is
to justify this alternative.
Phase I: Examination of the relevant literature in political theory (done in 2008); Phase II:
Preliminary development of key argument and initial interdisciplinary reviews (done in
2009 up to Spring 2010); Phase III: Substantive and complete literature review of recent
work in political theory and immigration and of relevant literature in sociology/social
psychology/history/empirical political science/philosophy (to be done by Summer 2011)
Completion of a journal article on the topic as well by this time; Phase IV: Writing of
three main theoretical chapters related to the social/economic/political constraints on
immigrants (to be done by May 2012); Phase V: Field work of case studies to two or
three ‘global cities’ for empirical analysis (Summer of 2012); Phase VI: Completion of
manuscript case studies and Conclusion (by December 2012) Submission of manuscript
to major university press around January 2013. (Cambridge and Oxford University Press
have both shown interest in this project).
The anticipated outcome of this project is a book monograph. Within a year of the receipt
of the grant, I anticipate having performed an exhaustive literature review of all the
relevant fields. I anticipate starting to write the manuscript a year after receiving the grant.
This is a multi-year project which will require significant time and resources given its
theoretical and empirical dimensions. Within a year of the receipt of the grant, I
anticipate having written one journal article on the topic of immigrant identity that
explores the key theoretical issues and problems of the project.
Due to its scope and breadth, this project will require resources that I will seek from
outside sources. I will employ the work that I have done over the year at TAMU to seek
funding for the project from the National Science Foundation and the National
Endowment for the Humanities. I will also approach the Carnegie Foundation and
especially the Russell Sage Foundation, given their interest in immigration studies. An
additional source of external funding will be the possibility of smaller grants from the
Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ and the Center for Advanced Study in the
Behavioral Studies at Stanford, CA. As a former Fellow of each, I am eligible to apply
for some funding from the Interdisciplinary Program at the IAS and the collaborative
projects fund at the CASBS. I will do so a year after receiving the grant from TAMU.
A principal purpose of the funding would be to allow me to remain at the Center for
Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford for the duration of the summer
months of 2010. The CASBS is an eminently interdisciplinary research center of great
quality and prestige, where I interact with scholars from the above-mentioned fields.
Over the year, I have been able to have rich and constructive dialogues on this project
with a diverse group of Fellows. This has been immensely helpful to think about and
structure this project. By staying at CASBS over the summer, I will have a firm structure
and outline of this book manuscript project by the time I go back to TAMU in the fall. I
will then be able to continue and complete Phase III of this project by the summer of

Support Files

Application-Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities 2010
Diego von Vacano
Political Science Department

Immigrant Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: An Interdisciplinary Approach


Summer support:

Three months of salary support: June/July/August 2010

100% Monthly Salary--$8071.00

Fringe on monthly salary--$1420.50
Health Insurance--$494.00

The total for salary, fringe and health insurance is $9,985.50.


Have you received funding from the Office of the Vice-President in the last five (5) years?: N

Please indicate the following NSF reporting codes for the proposal.

Field of Science: Social Sciences-Political Sciences

Areas of Special Interest:

Please provide five key words that describe your project.

First Key Word: immigration

Second Key Word: identity
Third Key Word: cosmopolitanism
Fourth Key Word: ethics
Fifth Key Word: interdisciplinary


Does your study require review by the Research Protocol Compliance Committee? You must
indicate Yes or No.

Human Subjects: N
Lab Animals: N
Recombinant DNA: N
Infectious Biohazards or Toxins: N
Potential Conflict of Interest: N
Scientific Diving: N

Other Issues (check all that apply)

Classified or Proprietary: No
Commercial Potential: No
International Effort: Yes
Radioactive Material: No
Renovations Required: No
Interdisciplinary: Yes

Diego Von Vacano

Application-Program to Enhance Scholarly and Creative Activities
Diego von Vacano
Political Science Department

Immigrant Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: An Interdisciplinary Approach


List the source, title, date, and amount of relevant internal and external funding support
received and pending, as well as for applications submitted but not funded during the
previous three years (for all investigators).

For this project: no current or pending internal or external support applications as of

March 29, 2010

Previous applications:

Diversity and Democracy in Bolivia International Research Travel Assistance Grant

Completed Signature Routing Feb 17 2010

Race and Political Theory: Learning from the Hispanic Tradition Scholarly & Creative
Activities Completed Signature Routing Mar 05 2007

Teaching Latin American Political Thought International Curriculum Development Grant

Not-awarded Feb 10 2006

Political Theory and Ethnic Identity: Learning from the Mexican Tradition International
Research Travel Assistance Grant Not-awarded Jan 12 2006

The Color of Citizenship: Racial Identity in Latin American Political Thought

International Research Travel Assistance Grant Not-awarded Feb 12 2008

Culture, Politics and Society in the Andean World: An Interdisciplinary Comparative

View of Race in Peru and Bolivia International Research Travel Assistance Grant Not-
awarded Sep 29 2008

Research on Gilberto Freyre Archives Rio/Recife Brazil International Research Travel

Assistance Grant Not-awarded Jan 23 2009

Diego Von Vacano

January 2010


Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
75 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
Tel (650) 321-2052; Fax (650) 321-1192; Cell (858) 692-2977

Ph.D. Princeton University, Politics, 2003.
Fields: Political Theory, Comparative Politics, Latin American
M.P.P. Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government,
Public Policy of Political and Economic Development, 1996.
B.A. Wesleyan University, Political Science, Economics, Philosophy, and
College of Social Studies, 1993.

o Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
Fellowship, 2009-2010.
o Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science, Princeton, NJ
Member Fellowship, 2008-2009.
o Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Princeton, NJ
Career Enhancement Fellowship, 2008-2009.
o Center for Ethics and Public Affairs Faculty Fellowship, Murphy Institute,
Tulane University, 2008-2009 (declined).
o Mellon Prize Graduate Fellowship, University Center for Human Values,
Princeton University, 2000-2001.
o Princeton University Presidential Fellowship, 1997-2001.

The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche and the Making of Aesthetic Political Theory
(Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield, April 2007).

The book examines Machiavelli’s philosophy of life and its relationship to

Nietzsche’s contribution to moral and political theory. It analyzes two thematic
links between the authors: their tragic perception of the human condition and their
aesthetic conceptualization of human activity. I also argue that Machiavelli and
Nietzsche, taken together, provide the foundations for understanding politics
through aesthetic categories (such as representation, expression, and form). This

poses an alternative to the traditional ethical basis of political theory that I call
‘aesthetic political theory.’

Reviewed in the journals Political Theory (February 2008); Perspectives on Politics (Volume 6, Issue 1,
March 2008, pp 170-171); Theory and Event (December 2007); The Review of Politics (2009), 71:152-154;
Journal of Nietzsche Studies (Issue 37/38); The Agonist (Nietzsche Circle), December 2008; and
Redescriptions: Yearbook of Political Thought (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2009).


‘The Citizenship of Beauty: José Vasconcelos’ Aesthetic Approach to Latin
Racial Identity’

‘Simón Bolívar, Race, and Modern Republicanism”

The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity and Latin American Political Thought (Oxford
University Press, forthcoming)
The monograph examines the persistence of race as a political issue in spite of it
being a superficial human characteristic. It argues that canonical political theory in
the European and US traditions deal inadequately with this problem. It examines
the formation of racial identity vis-à-vis citizenship in the history of Latin
American and Hispanic political thought (1492-1939) and its normative
implications for modern multicultural societies. It finds a ‘synthetic’ concept of
race through analysis of Empire, Nation and Cosmopolis in the writings of various
Hispanic thinkers and argues that race is central to the making of modernity.

Edited Volume
Forging People: Race, Ethnicity and Nationality in Latin American Philosophy (Notre Dame
University Press, forthcoming)


SIGNED BY: Rogers, James on 2010-03-31

SIGNED BY: Oliver, Lawrence on 2010-03-31