The Location of Culture

Currently the most useful portion of The Location of Culture (1994) written by Homi Bhabha in regards to my research is found in his description of Renee Green’s Sites of Genealogy (1991) used to illustrate his concept of liminality.

Bhabha quotes Green from an interview she conducted with Miwon Kwon where Green is talking about the difficulty with fixed categories (4). What is noted is that the idea of a group or a community is not fixed. Green asks “What is a black community? What is a Latino community?” (4). Questions such as this can be applied to almost every group and sphere that a person moves in and out of. Where does one end and the next one begin?

Bhabha then goes on to describe a work by Green as an “in-between moment” (5):

Green’s ‘architectural’ site-specific work, Sites of Genealogy …, displays and displaces the binary logic through which identities of difference are often constructed – Black/White, Self/Other. Green makes a metaphor of the museum building itself, rather than simply using the gallery space:

‘I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space, a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.’ (5)

The stairwell has become, as Bhabha explains, a “liminal space” (5). It becomes a space where mixing occurs. Because the stairwell is open at either end, neither location is required to be fixed. There is movement between the two places and therefore there is an exchange of ideas. Bhabha states “this interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (5).

The idea that there is such a thing as a “homogeneous national culture” is precarious (7). With the recognition that our economies are interdependent upon each other (recalling the recent debt crisis) it quickly becomes apparent that internationalism is unavoidable. It stands to reason that cooperation and sharing between cultures becomes desirable. Ideas of nationalism are being redefined. “The hideous extremity of Serbian nationalism proves that the very idea of a pure, ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity can only be achieved through the death, literal and figurative, of complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood” (emphasis mine) (7).

Yet while there is apparent proof of redefinition there is still contention. Resistance may take more subtle forms (or not). In the Netherlands, there are two words that have recently come into use. “Autochtoon” meaning “authentic” Dutch and “allochtoon” literally meaning “from another country” (Essed and Trienekens 53, 57). A person who is born to parents who are autochtoon, but is born, raised, and a citizen of another nation would also be autochtoon. In contrast, a person of Japanese heritage, for instance, whose family had lived and worked in the Netherlands for three generations would be considered allochtoon (see the hyperlinked figure).

Opposition or not, national identity is not fixed. If national identity is fluid, then is it possible that racial identities are also fluid? What does it mean if they are? What does that look like? How does it function? Is there a place for racial identities? What about ethnic identities? How do they differ, if at all?

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Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Essed, Philomena, and Sandra Trienekens. “Who Wants to Feel White? Race, Dutch Culture and Contested Identities.” Ethnic and Racial Studies. 31.1 (Jan 2008): 52-72. EBSCOHost, ECULib. Web. 22 May 2009.

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Revised: February 13, 2011.

3 Replies to “The Location of Culture”

  1. Thanks for this. I’m studying liminality and the stairwell, and you’ve expressed the link between Renée Green and Homi Bhabha well. Do you have any further sources you’d recommend on Green and her use of the stairwell? Thanks.

  2. Hi Michael. Unfortunately, the references to her work in Bhabha’s book is the only one I could locate. The idea of Green’s work and liminality is entirely Homi Bhabha. I am not that brilliant, but appreciate the fleeting moment that I appeared so.

    I also apologize for getting to this later than I planned. I haven’t been drinking enough coffee obviously. All the best with your studies! Will you be publishing a paper, or writing a thesis of some kind, or making work about these ideas? I would like to read them when the time comes.

  3. Hi, I’m writing my MA dissertation. The research question is something like, ‘In what ways is leadership more/most effective and fitting when exercised by those with a liminal identity. With particular reference to Christian mission.’ Once the MA is complete I’ll look at ways of publishing (parts of) the dissertation. This article talks a bit about Bhabha and Green:

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