Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference

Essay Excerpt

For a subject whose central rite of passage is fieldwork, whose romance has rested on its exploration of the remote ("the most other of others" [Hannerz 1986:363]), whose critical function is seen to lie in its juxtaposition of radically different ways of being (located "elsewhere") with that of the anthropologists' own, usually Western, culture, there has been surprisingly little self-consciousness about the issue of space in anthropological theory. (Some notable exceptions are Appadurai [1986, 1988], Hannerz [1987], and Rosaldo [1988, 1989].) This collection of five ethnographic articles represents a modest attempt to deal with the issues of space and place, along with some necessarily related concerns such as those of location, displacement, community, and identity. In particular, we wish to explore how the renewed interest in theorizing space in postmodernist and feminist theory (Anzaldua1987; Baudrillard 1988; Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Foucault 1982; Jameson 1984; Kaplan 1987; Martin and Mohanty 1986)-embodied in such notions as surveillance, panopticism, simulacra, deterritorialization, postmodern hyper-space, borderlands, and marginality-forces us to reevaluate such central analytic concepts in anthropology as that of "culture" and, by extension, the idea of "cultural difference." (Gupta and Ferguson, 6)

About the Author

Akhil Gupta is an Indian-American anthropologist whose research has focused on the anthropology of the state and of development, as well as on postcolonialism. He is currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include: Ethnography of information technology, the state and development, anthropology of food, environmental anthropology, space and place, history of anthropology, applied anthropology; India and South Asia.

James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology. His research has focused on southern Africa (especially Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia), and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. These include the politics of “development”, rural-urban migration, changing topgraphies of property and wealth, constructions of space and place, urban culture in mining towns, experiences of modernity, the spatialization of states, the place of “Africa” in a real and imagined world, and the theory and politics of ethnography. Running through much of this work is a concern with how discourses organized around concepts such as “development” and “modernity” intersect the lives of ordinary people.Professor Ferguson recently completed a sabbatical year at the Stanford Humanities Center researching emerging trends in social assistance to alleviate poverty in southern Africa. While welfare programs in the West have been pared back in recent years, there has been a surprising expansion of social payments to the poor across much of the developing world. In South Africa, for instance, nearly 30 percent of the population today receives some kind of social grant. Tracing emerging new rationalities of poverty and social assistance, the new research aims to illuminate both the dangers and the possibilities presented by new mechanisms of “social” government and emerging forms of politics focused on the question of distribution. This new research will be published in a forthcoming book, provisionally titled, Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution.

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