The border and the bourgeois

I’m in the middle of reading a roundtable discussion between a bunch of anthropologists of Europe talking about the New Right in European politics.  It’s from 2003, so some of their stuff is out of date, but it’s still mostly spot on.  In the middle of their discussion, the panelists start talking about the hybridity and border-crossing stuff that’s been popular recently.  They discuss two discourses on the issues.  The first speaks of border-crossing in terms of leakiness, where miscegenation–whether cultural, biological, or economic–is threatening, while the second celebrates the hybridity and cultural enrichment found from mixing different cultures.

As Jonathan Friedman asserts, though, the discourse of fear is produced by people at the bottom and middle of a society, while the discourse of celebration comes mostly from the top:


I have it very clearly. Look, I’ve never found a working-class hybrid who celebrated his mixture. I’ve never found even an example of it in ethnographies. It’s always by interpretation. There is one very, very strong kind of discourse of hybrid that’s being produced at the top. And I have hundreds of examples of it. What I’m interested in is saying, ‘Okay, these things are located, they’re positioned. They’re interested discourses in the sense that there are interests behind them’. I’m not sure exactly what interests they are, but I think they’re pretty clear. And these have nothing to do with Left and Right. The people at the top are producing hybridity: I don’t want to classify them as Left or Right. But there is a long history of colonial hybrid discourse being reproduced at the top. I don’t want to be stuck in how I represent that. I don’t want to have to represent that saying that ‘this is good, and the other is bad’.


But I’d like to challenge that, Jonathan. You’re probably right, that the people who celebrate hybridity are, as it were, middle class, I mean, members of the chattering classes, basically. The Salman Rushdies and so on. But those are the people who always open their mouths about anything, so that’s neither here nor there. Christopher Lasch belongs to the same class himself, now doesn’t he? But if you look at the people who are uncomfortable, and who present the kind of leakage that Sarah mentioned, and who are anomalies, and who don’t fit in and so on, a lot of them would belong to the lower ranks of society. I mean, all the illegal immigrants who make New York go ’round, who New York is completely dependent on in order to survive as a city. And the Pakistanis in Norway who spend three months a year in Pakistan, and who, you know, bring women back and who have this traffic in marriage and so on.


Yes, but what does this have to do with hybridities? You compare Gloria Anzaldúa, of border crossing ideology. She’s an author, and then there are hundreds of people who write about her, it’s an industry. It’s an industry of border crossing and of hybridity. But then in Lund we have people who have worked on illegal immigrants in California. Those immigrants are scared shitless of the border. There’s no celebration of hybridity, they haven’t got time for that. They’re not into those kinds of problems at all. They’re into very different kinds of issues. They’re trying to survive. Hybridity is a leisure issue.


Well, take that Appadurai.  I already had bunches of stuff critiquing cosmopolitanism, but this roundtable discussion is certainly easier to read.  After this part the panelists went back to discussing the New Right in Europe.  Anyway, it’s certainly food for thought.


”Anthropologists are talking’ about the new right in Europe’,
Ethnos, 68:4, 554 – 572

Costa Rica: Some initial impressions

Okay, this was written a little while ago but I’m only now putting it up.  Enjoy:

Well, I’ve been in Costa Rica for a week, so I wanted to share my initial impressions.

First, it’s quite wet here. It’s the rainy season, which pretty much means that it will rain everyday until November or early December. But just because it rains everyday doesn’t mean it rains all day, and it’s gotten sunny quite a few times since I’ve been here. The first couple of days, it was so humid that I felt sticky all the time, but either I’ve gotten used to it or the wetness has eased off. Number 2 is less likely because one of the wettest days in the last month (or so I’m told) happened a couple of days ago, the tv news had lots of stories about floods and crap out in the countryside. In fact, there’s apparently now a state of national emergency.

By the way, the wettest day of the month also coincided with my second day of work. My boss picked me up on my first day on Monday, but I had to make my own way on the bus system the next day. I got off at the wrong stop in an entirely different neighbourhood then took the taxi to the landmark nearest to the office. See, addresses work differently here, houses and buildings don’t have numbers. When giving directions, people say, “Go 100 metres north from the park and 200 metres west, it’s the yellow house on the corner.” One block is taken to equal 100 metres, no one really cares if it actually is 100 000 centimetres. So they actually mean go 1 block north and 2 blocks west. It’s overcast a lot now so you end up having to keep asking which way is north.

That’s the surface stuff, but on to the serious bits.  On the topic of gender, it’s interesting to note that two of the guidebooks I’d read warned that travellers would be shocked at how much skin Costa Rican women showed.  All I can say is that the writers must have been Amish because I haven’t seen anything outrageous at all in terms of clothing.  None of the girls here in San Jose would look out of place in Los  Angeles.  The biggest difference I’ve noted between here and North America is that hiphop fashion is hardly present here for both girls and guys.

Anyway, I went wandering off the tourist path once and saw an amazingly scuzzy-looking woman, she had a beer belly, armpit hair, and a miniskirt and bare midriff.  Sure, it’s freaky, but I’m thinking back to some other scuzzy-looking women I’ve seen in Sudbury and I can’t say she looks that different.

Oh yes, prostitution is also legal here.  The prostitutes don’t have pimps because they don’t need them when they’re legal.  Apparently the tourist hooker industry is contained almost entirely in the Hotel Del Rey, which also has a casino inside.  I went inside to use the ATM once and saw lots of fat white guys and amazing looking women.  But apparently the locals have their own brothels they go to where the women aren’t as pricy.

Second, on the topic of race, I’ve noticed that most of the working class folk have darker skin while the richer set are very white.  You can’t assume that just because someone is blonde that they’re foreign because they could very well be a native Costa Rican (an upper-class one, to be specific).  It was really quite obvious when I went to the Canadian embassy (it was closed, apparently they punch out at 1 PM on Fridays, the jerks), which is located in Sabana Sur, one of the swankier districts here.  I wandered around and saw some big houses with SUVs in the driveway.  I also had some chocolate croissants at this one convenience store and watched some kids from something called the American High School hanging out in the parking lot.  A couple of them were blond as can be, though none were that Scandinavian blond that burns really easily in the sun.

Continuing in that vein, and to segue to the topic of language, I must confess that I find it easier to talk to upper-class Costa Ricans.  It’s just that I can understand their accents better because they’re more like the standard Spanish I studied.  It was only after having had trouble speaking with different clerks and taxi drivers did I realize that some of them must have been Nicaraguans who’d come over to do the 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) that are the lot of many immigrants the world over.  Anyway, they do stuff like omit the “s” at the end of words (“tremille”? Oh, “tres mille”, 3000).  Costa Rica is mostly inhabited by mestizos and criollos (i.e., they look mostly Spanish), but quite a few Nicaraguans are actually descended from the local Indians.   Which means that Nicaraguans tend to be darker-skinned than many Costa Ricans.

Also, today (note: on Oct. 8) there is a referendum on whether Costa Rica should sign on for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  Anyway, the Si people seem to be mostly composed of the richer set, while the No people are more working class, with a couple of richer liberals here and there (I saw a guy in an SUV with a No sign in his windshield).  There have been convoys of Si vehicles tricked out in flags and Signs going up and down San Jose beeping their horns and drawing attention to themselves.  I did see a newspaper vendor shouting “vampiros” at them while they passed, though.

The building across from my hostel has one of the counting stations, there’s an armoured vehicle and tons of cops on the street.  Supposedly Costa Rica has no army, but I can’t really see the difference between these police officers and army pukes, they’ve even got army-looking uniforms and swagger around like soldiers.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to in Costa Rica so far.