Week 4 – Beyond “Culture”: Space, identity, and the Politics of Difference – James Ferguson &
6 - Representations of space in the social sciences are remarkably dependent on
Images of break, rupture, and disjunction
The distinctiveness of societies, nations, and cultures is based upon a seemingly unproblematic
division of space, on the fact that they occupy "naturally" discontinuous spaces
7 - Of course, the geographical territories that cultures and societies are believed
to map onto do not have to be nations. We do, for example, have ideas about
culture-areas that overlap several nation-states, or of multicultural nation
nations. On a smaller scale, perhaps, are our disciplinary assumptions about the association of
culturally unitary groups (tribes or peoples) with "their" territories: thus, "the
Nuer" live in "Nuerland" and so forth.
The clearest illustration of this kind of
thinking are the classic "ethnographic maps" that purported to display the spatial
distribution of peoples, tribes, and cultures.
But in all these cases, space itself becomes a kind of neutral grid on which cultural difference,
historical memory, and societal organization are inscribed. It is in this way that space functions
as a central organizing principle in the social sciences at the same time that it disappears
from analytical purview
This assumed isomorphism of space, place, and culture results in some significant
problems. First, there is the issue of those who inhabit the border, that "narrow strip along steep
edges of national boundaries
boundaries. The fiction of cultures as discrete, object-like phenomena occupying discrete spaces
becomes implausible for those who inhabit the borderlands.
Related to border inhabitants are those who live a life of border crossings-migrant workers,
nomads, and members of the transnational business and professional elite
Finally, there are those who cross borders more or less permanently- immigrants, refugees, exiles,
In their case, the disjuncture of place and culture is especially clear: Khmer refugees in the
United States take "Khmer culture" with them in the same complicated way that Indian
in England transport "Indian culture" to their new homeland
A second set of problems raised by the implicit mapping of cultures onto places is to account for
cultural differences within a locality.
"Multiculturalism" is both a feeble acknowledgment of the fact that cultures have lost their
moorings in definite places and an attempt to subsume this plurality of cultures within the
framework of a national identity
Similarly, the idea of "subcultures" attempts to preserve the idea of distinct "cultures" while
acknowledging the relation of different cultures to a dominant culture within the same
geographical and territorial space.
Conventional accounts of ethnicity, even when used to describe cultural differences in settings
where people from different regions live side by side, rely on an unproblematic link between
identity and place.'
Although such concepts are suggestive because they endeavour to stretch the naturalized
association of culture with place, they fail to interrogate this assumption in a truly fundamental
We need to ask how to deal with cultural difference while abandoning received ideas of
Third, there is the important question of postcoloniality. To which places do the hybrid cultures
of postcoloniality belong? Does the colonial encounter create a "new culture" in both the
colonized and colonizing country, or does it destabilize the notion that nations and cultures are
As discussed below, postcoloniality further problematizes the relationship between space and
8- Last, and most important, challenging the ruptured landscape of independent
nations and autonomous cultures raises the question of understanding social change and cultural
transformations situated within interconnected spaces. The presumption that spaces are
autonomous as enabled the power of topography to conceal successfully the topography of power
The inherently fragmented space assumed in the definition of anthropology as the study of
cultures (in the plural) may have been one of the reasons behind the long-standing failure to write
anthropology's history as the biography of imperialism.
For if one begins with the premise that spaces have always been hierarchically interconnected,
instead of naturally disconnected, then cultural and social change becomes not a matter of
cultural contact and articulation but one of rethinking difference through connection
To illustrate, let us examine one powerful model of cultural change that attempts to relate
dialectically the local to larger spatial arenas: articulation
The result is that both local and larger spatial arenas are transformed, the local more than the
global to be sure, but not necessarily in a predetermined direction. This notion of articulation
allows one to explore the richly unintended consequences of, say, colonial capitalism, where loss
occurs alongside invention
instead of assuming the autonomy of the primeval community, we need to examine how it was
formed as a community out of the interconnected space that always already existed. Colonialism,
then, represents the displacement of one form of interconnection by another
But by always foregrounding the spatial distribution of hierarchical power relations, we can better
understand the process whereby a space achieves a distinctive identity as a place.
Keeping in mind that notions of locality or community refer both to a demarcated physical space
and to clusters of interaction, we can see that the identity of a place emerges by the intersection
of its specific involvement in a system of hierarchically organized spaces with its cultural
construction as a community or locality.
9- Fordist patterns of accumulation have now been replaced by a regime of flexible
accumulation- small-batch production, rapid shifts in product lines, extremely fast movements of
capital to exploit the smallest differentials in labour and raw material costs-built on a more
sophisticated communications and information network and better means of transporting goods
In the pulverized space of post modernity, space has not become irrelevant: it has been
reterritorialized in a way that does not conform to the experience of space that characterized the
era of high modernity.
It is this that forces us to reconceptualise fundamentally the politics of community, solidarity,
identity, and cultural difference.
Imagined Communities, Imagined Places
Pg 10 - For even people remaining in familiar and ancestral places find the nature of their relation
to place ineluctably changed, and the illusion of a natural and essential connection between the
place and the culture broken
The irony of these times, however, is that as actual places and localities become ever more
blurred and indeterminate, ideas of culturally and ethnically distinct places become perhaps even
more salient. It is here that it becomes most visible how imagined communities come to be
attached to imagined