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The Problem of Cultural Incommensurability

In Imperialism of Categories, the overarching issue is crudely the issue of generalised

transferability of undifferentiated ideologies and ideations in subordinated non-local regions,

often through colonial violence. Given that, the article recognises the consequent problematic

of (i) dualist, evolutionary systematicities that produce and purport hierarchies; thus resulting

in an ‘epistemic culling’, so to speak, of local systems, (ii) the stress on Lockean

universalism/individualism schema1, and the necessary epistemic current it set forth inspiring

modernisation theory, rational-choice theories and so on, and finally, and this is where I make

my intervention, (iii) the article rightly posits the issue as being epistemological in nature2

and thus, I argue limits the possibility to break out of the “ethnocentric prisons”, to use

Charles Taylor’s phrase (1994), even through the situationist scheme. Instead, I argue that an

ontologising of the issue informs better responses. Thus, the question: in a setting of cross-

cultural transferences, what are the fundamental possibilities that give rise to applicative and

communicative instances of (in)commensurability3? For this, I want to make use of the issue

In fact, I had issues with the article’s somewhat ‘naïve’ insistence on this rather caricatured, or at best, duly
impartial schematisation of Lockean thought- it is true that there are universalist tendencies centrally arrived
at through methodological individualism, but it is, exactly this paradoxical tension of universal/individual that
Locke utilised to conceptualise varied theories which in fact were uniquely in alignment with the ‘situationist’
thinking. For instance, one of the primary tenets in his Letters Concerning Toleration, which he wrote in the
wake of European wars of religion, in exile in Netherlands, was the cautioning appeal that coercing religious
uniformity would lead to social disorder than to diversity—thus, he was not an archetypal anti-pluralist by any
stretch of imagination. Moreover, the insistence of Lockean rationalism insistently made in the article does not
consider the other fact that Locke, was, in fact, taking a critical stance against Descartes, (tabula rasa, dream
argument etc), and pioneered the psychological methodology of introspection, which relies on affective
vicissitudes of the self rather than the rational fetishism ascribed to it (Baldwin, B.T. 1913, "John Locke's
Contributions to Education"). Lastly, and funnily enough, Locke himself was English and not American, and thus
his thought itself, even in the American context is an import, non-locally utilised.
As if in a far-fetched entendre, the article at one point discusses the Foucauldian episteme; a historically
specific discursive praxis
For the sake of brevity, I cannot elaborate. But I am referring to the problem posed by Thomas Kuhn, albeit in
a different context, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
of immigration (a cross-cultural encounter), and delineate how dismantling dualist

approaches helps in providing a ‘solution’ to this circumstance.

The immigrant scenario, most significantly, allows us to recognise the struggles undertaken

by these groups in the interstices of the society, in the peripheries and the breaks, between

disjointed wholes, flowing in and out, and carrying the effects of living into supposed centres;

it is then indicative of not simply their victimised positions, but also of their creative

potentials to co-habit, co-opt, and ‘disturb’. As Homi Bhabha notes, the boundary becomes

the ‘place from which something begins its presencing’. (Bhabha, 1994) In that way,

interstitiality is not to be looked at as merely a disempowered position, but what is more

important is to understand the politics of negotiations, improvisations, innovations,

appropriations that are accomplished in these in-between spaces. It seems then that these

interstices are more profoundly ‘alive’ and activated than the inert centres of rigidity- thus,

one has to ask: when these interstitial flows seep into the inert centres, what do those

infiltrations and discharges of politico-aesthetic energies do to the former? What are its ‘side-

effects’; as and when the peripheral sides and the undersides of the ‘mainstream’ sphere of

the State/Cultures activate?

Thus, the immigrant situation answers the problem of incommensurability by pointing out to

the possibility of looking at a non-dualist epistemological framework, which entails

confrontation, instead of co-creation; which is what I am pitching for.


Bhabha, Homi. “The Location of Culture”. Routledge Press, 1994.

Taylor, Charles. “Multiculturalism: Examining The Politics of Recognition”. Princeton

University Press, 1994.
Rudolph, Susanne. “The Imperialism of Categories: Situating Knowledge in a Globalizing
World”. American Political Science Association, 2005.

Kuhn, Thomas. “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. Chicago University Press, 2005.