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 It’s from 2003, so some of their stuff is out of date, but it’s still mostly spot on.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’.
THOMAS [HYLLAND ERIKSEN]:
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