Sunday, October 11, 2009


Questions concering Arjun Appadurai’s Disjuncture and Difference in Global Cultural Economy

“The task of cultural reproduction, even in its most intimate arenas, such as husband-wife and parent-child relations, becomes both politicized and exposed to the traumas of deterritorialization as family members pool and negotiate their mutual understandings and aspirations in sometimes fractured spatial arrangements. At larger levels, such as community, neighborhood and territory, this politicization is often the emotional fuel for more explicitly violent politics of identity, just as these larger politics sometimes penetrate and ignite domestic politics” (“Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Appadurai 18).

This section in Appadurai’s text, the process of cultural reproduction, appears to be one of great importance in terms of discussing what is at stake in the act of reproducing subjectivity, or rather performative identities. Through cultural reproduction, performativity and identity becomes politicized as these levels of identification, be it at the local, national or global, become complicated by systems of circulation including media, political tension, deterritorializaiton, or transnational flows of capital and labor. Appaduai points to this sometimes contradictory sense of identity as yielding violent reactions. The site for this conflict lies in Appadurai’s catergory of the ethnoscape:

“By ethnoscape, I mean the landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guestworkers and other moving groups and persons constitute an essential feature of the world and appear to affect the politics of (and between) nation to a hitherto unprecedented degree…the warp of these stabilities is everywhere shot through with the woof of human motion, as more persons and groups deal with the more, both these realities as well as these fantasies now function on larger scales… and as international capital shifts its needs, as production and technology generate different needs, as nation-states shift their policies on refugee populations, these moving groups can never afford to let their imaginations rest too long, eve if they wish to” (7-8).

If we can think of these subjects as now fragmented to an even greater extent, then how does one deal with the feeling of lost totality? How can one recuperate or disavow this transforming subjectivity?

Referencing Jameson and his analysis of the ‘postmodern condition,’ subject are forced to think of “the impossible totality of the contemporary world system. It is in terms of that enormous and threatening, yet only dimly perceivable, other reality of economic and social institutions that, in my opinion the postmodern sublime can alone be adequately theorized”( Jameson 36).

It is in the midst of this violent reaction to identity, an attempt to resolve its fragmentation, Appadurai seems to posit a space where this recuperation is possible – through the mediascapes and ideoscapes. Perhaps these –scapes, then, become a means to function and deal with shifts from the local to issues concerning the national and global. Here it seems necessary to bring up the importance that violence plays into this shifting and circulating flows and identities. Whether it lie in “apparently simple technical uniformities [that] often conceal an increasingly complex set of loops, linking images of violence to aspirations for community in some imagined world” or through a very real violent reaction to hold onto one’s identity, violence seems to be a product of such a process (Appadurai 15). And it is the physical manifestation of violence that is of importance to this blogpost.

When these –scapes are in flux and flowing through the constructs of imagined totalities – the nation-state, identity, and culture – there is an equal and often violent push in order to recuperate the deconstruction of the illusion of these once-fixed totalities. It would also seem that these flows or –scapes do not flow as easily or fluidly as we might think, and the very real of borders and their impenetrability remains important.

While Appadurai seems to focus on these resemblances and overlapping, he chooses not to focus on what is at stake in the shift toward a borderless circulation, only briefly alluding to these violent reactions. Appadurai’s analyses of these flows underestimate the very real power of capital and the interactions between the different kinds of flows. What happens when these –scapes are in conflict or hit the walls of borders, be it national or local? Do these –scapes, then, become in and of themselves sites of conflict? Also, what is at stake in this deconstruction of an illusion of fixed identity? If we are to let go of these ‘fixed essences,’ could we also be letting go of the politics? And what is the relation between imagined violence and that which is manifested in terms of how they (re)produce each other?

Monica Garcia (blog post #2)

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