A Matter of Taste

Two Filipino cooks making tamales

I was listening to the radio today — you know, the place where we used to hear what we now call podcasts, as long as they come over our computer’s or smartphone’s speakers…? — and heard an interesting episode of the cooking show The Splendid Table, devoted to Filipino food.

Give it a listen. Continue reading “A Matter of Taste”

Looking for a Thesis Topic?

Did you catch the NY Times piece on who owns poutine?

Those who know something about the founding of Canada as a colonial possession, by both France and Britain, might also know something of the long history that has led to some in one of Canada’s provinces, Quebec, having a strong sense of themselves as being so distinct from the rest of the country as to justify their political autonomy (there’s been a few province-wide referendums on whether to separate). Continue reading “Looking for a Thesis Topic?”

Bayart on the Ironies of Colonialism

edgebayart“Faced with Franciscans who deployed an evangelism of a culturalist type and sought to legitimise authochthonous civilisation to the point of taking care to respect its established hierarchy, the sedentary natives of New Spain chose to submit and to accept the Europeans’ religion. However, they converted ‘in order to remain Indians’. The Continue reading “Bayart on the Ironies of Colonialism”

Bayart on Strategic Syncretism

edgebayart“While British colonial administrators fabricated ‘Indianness’, Hindu intellectuals were formulating Hinduness by resorting to ‘strategic syncretism’. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, this involved ‘structuring one’s identity in opposition to the Other by assimilating the latter’s prestigious and efficacious cultural characteristics’: ‘The appearance of an exogenous threat awakened in the Hindu majority a feeling of vulnerability, and even an inferiority complex, that justified a reform of Hinduism borrowing from the aggressor its strong points, under the cover of a return to the sources of a prestigious Vedic Golden Age that was largely reinvented but whose “xenology” remained active’.*…  In short, the reinterpretation of India’s ‘Hindu’ past by the nationalists and their instrumentalisation of ‘tradition’ for militant political purposes have for nearly a century sustained a political identity unprecedented in the cultural landscape of the sub-continent, by incorporating foreign representations into Hinduism — e.g., egalitarian individualism, proselytisation, ecclesiastical structures — and by seeking to ‘homogenise in order to create a nation, a society that is characterised by extreme differentiation’.** On the Indian political chessboard, the celebration of a golden Vedic age is a mere fig-leaf concealing modernity, like the versions of African ‘authenticity’ that developed in the wake of the colonial invention of tradition…” (37-38)

* Christophe Jaffrelot, Les Nationalistes hindous (Paris: Presses de la Foundation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1993, p. 24, 41).

** Ibid., 83-4.

 [This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]

Bayart on Ethnicity

edgebayart“A great many anthropological and historical studies have shown that pre-colonial societies were almost always mutli-ethnic, and included a great diversity of cultural repertoires; that the principal forms of social or religious mobilisation were trans-ethnic; and that ancient Africa most definitely did not consist of a mosaic of ethnic groups. This does not mean that ethnicity is a pure construct … produced by colonising powers that sought to divide the better to rule, as African nationalists — and, paradoxically, some ethno-nationalists — still like to believe. Colonised peoples took part in its ‘formation’ by appropriating the new political, cultural and economic resources of the bureaucratic state. In one of the many working misunderstandings, ‘Europeans believed Africans belonged to tribes; [whereas] Africans built tribes to belong to’, as John Iliffe brilliantly expressed it.* The political importance of ethnicity proceeds precisely from the fact that it is an eminently modern phenomenon connected to the ‘imported state’, and not a residue or resurgence of ‘traditional culture’.” (29-30)

*John Iliffee, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge University Press, 1979, p. 324). The role of African middlemen, especially the literate ones, in the process of colonial ‘imagination’ of ethnicity is now better understood than a few years ago, when emphasis was placed on the intervention of European administrators and missionaries….

[This is one of a series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]

That Ain’t The Queen’s English

One of the premises of Culture on the Edge is that an implicit, untheorized norm is still presupposed, and its legitimacy is thereby reproduced rather than being historicized, despite many scholars’ recent efforts to develop what they see to be more nuanced, historically sensitive, and situationally specific approaches to identity studies. For it is not uncommon to find seemingly anti-essentialist scholars now studying various identities in terms of their hybridity, seeing them as creoles, studying how diaspora movements have traveled and changed, and documenting the complexity of syncretism–developments understood as important improvements on what are now seen to be previous generations’ far too simplistic studies of social life. After all, as important a an early sociologist as Emile Durkheim seems merely to have understood “society” to be a homogenous, undifferentiated unit. Continue reading “That Ain’t The Queen’s English”