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Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson- Beyond culture: Space, Identity, and the Politics

of Difference.

One of the most important outcomes of the post-modern paradigm is arguably a

radically new representation of the pivotal analytical concept of space. The unified,
coherent and easily identifiable space of modernity was replaced by the fractured, hybrid
and fluid space of post-modernity. This mutation forced all major fields of the
Humaniora to rethink their methodological presuppositions, in the context where the
place-identity continuum has been severed.
In the context of this new post-modern topography, the field of anthropology
appears to need a genuine paradigm shift in order to commensurate the puzzling
destruction of the connection between geographical, cultural and identitary space. Gupta
and Ferguson seek to analyze the effects of the post-modern conceptualization of space
and its challenge of the traditional normative values for the anthropological enterprise.
Firstly, the post-modern disruption of the stable given brought forward the
concept of “the in between” or the borderland as a valid analytical category. As Gupta
noted: “ The fiction of cultures as discrete, objectlike phenomena occupying discrete
spaces becomes implausible for those who inhabit the borderlands” (p. 314).
Secondly, concepts such as “multiculturalism” or “subculture” left unanswered
the critical question of the cultural difference in the absence of the overarching notion of
the localized space. Consequently, the modern notion of the territorial space remains
analytically inscribed in the multiculturalist grids or in the area of sub-cultural studies.
Thirdly, the post-coloniality generates another set of theoretical questions
regarding the concept of hybrid cultures, their localization and their relationship with the
canonical definition of space and cultural formation. In this context, the fundamental
question becomes “ to which place do the hybrid cultures of postcoloniality belong?”
Fourthly, the deep connection between the “power of topography” and the
topography of power, organized around the thesis of the basic autonomy of space renders
visible the necessity the reconceptualization of anthropological perspective qua critique
of imperialist temptation of mapping and remapping the life world. Embedded in a
genuine geography of domination and exclusion.

Therefore, in a post-modern paradigm where concepts such as solidarity, identity,
community and difference are no longer based on the contact, and spatial proximity, the
anthropological frameworks of analysis must be substantially reconfigured.
The once stable, -or at least imaginated as stable-identitary frames of belonging
are now configured and reconfigured in what Gupta and Ferguson called “ the apparent
deterritorialization of identity” Consequently, novel types of anthropological subjects
have been created by the accelerated dynamic of globalization: refugees, migrants,
displaced and nomadic communities, which rejects the fixed concept of territory and
space. However, as Gupta and Ferguson pointed out, the new “tribes” of post-modernity
are structured by a forma mentis, which seems to cohere around the acute nostalgia for
the homeland as the fundamental, yet lost place. In other words, the geographical space
is transformed in an imaginated space, integrated in the collective memory and
transmitted through new narrative constructions. Henceforth, as Gupta and Ferguson
argue “ in such a world, it becomes ever more important to train an anthropological eye
on processes of construction of place and homeland by mobile and displaced people” (p.
In this context, Gupta and Ferguson suggested that the anthropological enterprise
should become on one hand, a radical critique two naturalisms: the naturalization of the
territory and the naturalization of the nations. In other words the new anthropology must
critically address the politics of enforced difference of places as an intrinsic part of a
global system of dominance that reinforce the restrictive fields of power in order to
exclude the alterity. The border, real or symbolic remains in this case the perfect
embodiment of this new topography of power. On the other hand, anthropology would
regain its connection with post-modernity if is able to bypass the apparent
epistemological cul-de-sac produced by the radical deterritorialization and pulverization
of the space in the post-modern fluid episteme.
According to the authors, the critical issue at stake here is the development of a
theoretical construction focused on the reterritorialization of the space through
emigration, collective memory of the diasporic communities. The topographical
anthropology of modernity organized around the physical territory as the epistemological
“playground” where cultural difference could be grasped, will be progressively replaced

by an open and pluralistic methodology designed to integrate the spectacular plurality
generated by the post-modern heterotopias (Foucault).