Creolization? Or Globalization?

Mark A Peterson peterson at
Wed Feb 23 05:41:16 UTC 2000

While a lot of the hybridity literature, especially the cultural studies
work like Homi Bhaba's -- is guilty of reification in the construction of
its imagined hybrids, there've been several recent pieces emphasizing that
the cultural forms are already hybridized when they are then further
hybridized.  I'm thinking of a couple of articles by Jan Nederveen Pieterse

As for not dealing with power, this one is an interesting trade-off, really.
The cultural studies people who first popularized the term did so in the
interest of further understanding (or at least theorizing) power.  In the
process, they usually manage to reify that too.

Bakhtin's definition was:

[Hybridization] is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a
single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between
two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an
epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor.

Excerpts from a paper:

Bhabha uses hybridity here to complicate our understanding of the nature of
power relations in cultural contact, arguing that imposed cultural forms
(such as “colonial identities”) are always only partially replicated;
dominant forms imposed on the colonial “other” are altered, hybridized, and
the hybrid nature of the new identities functions to call attention to the
nature of the dominating/dominated relationship.  In a seminal work, Bhabha
writes that “the colonial presence is always ambivalent, split between its
appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition
and difference.” (Bhabha 1994: 107) and goes on to argue that “the effect of
colonial power is seen to be the production of hybridization rather than the
noisy command of colonialist authority or the silent repression of native
” (1994: 112)

Many postcolonial writers use hybridity in part as a useful foil to such
canonical texts as Edward Said’s Orientalism or Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak’s
“Can the Subaltern Speak.”  Said’s argument is that representations of the
colonial and postcolonial worlds  as “the Orient” are constructed by an
us/them dichotomy that stereotypes the other as “our” inferior opposite.
Because these representations are constructed by “experts,” they become
dominant and dominating knowledge structures or “epistemes” that authorize
projects of power (Said, 1978).  Likewise, Spivak asks whether it is
“possible to speak as the thing/person/category/etc. which is repressed by
the symbolic order?”  That is, if the colonised “other” cannot speak (in any
powerful way) except by using the very discourse by which colonisation takes
place, does not that “other” cease to speak as the colonised and speak
instead as the coloniser?  Both arguments can be read as making unbridgeable
the gap between dominator and dominated as created in and through discourse.
Closely related to this is the serious ethnographic problem of how the
‘other’ can ever be spoken of without “reinscribing” the oppositions of
colonial domination in the effort to reinscribe them.

Hybridity theories argue that the discourse of the dominant is always
transformed (or “contaminated” or “deformed”) by the dominated through
various forms of mimesis, appropriation, resistance and accommodation into a
new discourse.  This new cultural configuration is neither that of the
colonized nor that of the colonizer but is rather a new, hybrid discourse in
which both form and content are reshaped by the encounter.  Power continues
to be a central issue but it is no longer a binary encounter.  Hybridity, in
this literature, opens the way for a dialectical criticism (Caton, 1999).

Hybridity, then, is a label for the site of tension between the essential
and the ambiguous, between identity and difference.  It is a  fusion of
things that might otherwise be seen as symbolically separated, or even as
opposites.  It is the reverse, or perhaps the inverse, of Mary Douglas's
famous formulation of symbolic pollution of cultural categories.  While
Douglas work argues that cultural categories never completely map nature and
that things that do not fit cultural categories are bound by taboos and
rules of` purity and pollution, hybridity offers a way of looking at
categorical change through the mixing of categories.  This is possible at
the local level only because of the cultural flows at the global level: at
least one of the categories being hybridized derives from a different
cultural pattern, an alternative set of categories.  Hybridity is found in
the interstitial, in the disorder and disarray of categorical mixing.  But
(as Bakhtin’s definition would have it), one of the hybridized pair is
separate from the other and hence not immediately subject to tabboo.
Douglas argues on the basis of her analysis of the abominations of Leviticus
that if the ancient Hebrews had known the platypus, it would have been
tabboo.  Where Douglas analysis falls short of is helping us to recognize
that contemporary Jews in Australia and New Zealand do know the platypus and
that if they lived in communities where this animal was considered food a
decision as to its being kosher or not would have to be made.  It is just
such contemporary dilemmas that hybridity has been coined to deal with.
Hybridity is thus a way of describing phenomena that exist in a kind of
cultural tension.  Hybrid forms and institutions are not proscribed
categories because they are too new.  At the same time, they are always
proto-proscribed categories, social facts whose place has not yet been
determined by social agreement.

 Because hybridity is about the fusion of cultural things, it is found in
sites of cultural contact and conflict.  Scholars who use the concept tend
to be concerned with colonialism, imperialism, gender conflict, population
diasporas and globalization.  Hybridity is not only about fusion but also
about diffusion, about the flow of symbols and forms across time and space.

[End of excerpts.  Comments welcome]

I don't want to defend the concept of hybridity against all comers but it
has its uses. I got interested in hybridity for a couple of reasons.  First,
it is useful in helping some students here in Egypt break from the deeply
embedded "development Ideologies" that make modernization theories a part of
their everyday identies.  Either they believe in the teleology of
modernization theory or they buy into the almost equally closed-ended
"development of underdevelopment" theses.  Hybridity offers tham a simple
but useful metaphor to try some different ways of looking at cultural forms.

Second, it is useful in looking at culture in process.  "Syncretism" implies
a stability that may not be there.  Will computer matchmaking systems,
Popeye's restaurants or plastic koshari buckets modeled on KFC's chicken
buckets survive or fail?  Hybridity is probably not the best metaphor but
there it is in the literature.

One of the favorite places to use hybridity in the current literature is in
looking at local expressions of capitalism (as my examples suggest).  Here,
more than anywhere else, we must, as Jeff and others suggest, be cautious
about overlooking relations of power or reifying the "cultures" which are
hybridized.  Obviously, cultures can't hybridize only institutions,
artifacts and discourses.

Creolization has several times been suggested as a model for how
hybridization can be complicated and studied but, alas, I've seen little
useful stuff on this besides the Drummond article I cited in my earlier

Sorry to go on so long.

Mark Allen Peterson
Asst. Professor of Anthropology
The American University in Cairo
PO Box 2511, Cairo 11511 EGYPT
peterson at

"Laughter overcomes fear, for it knows no inhibitions, no limitations. Its
idiom is never used by violence and authority."
          -- Mikhail Bakhtin
-----Original Message-----
From: JFThiels at <JFThiels at>
To: linganth at <linganth at>
Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2000 5:47 AM
Subject: Re: Creolization? Or Globalization?

>Well, to put in my two cents' worth, I'd like to problematize the
relationship between linguistic phenomena and cultural phenomena, although
comparisons are often tempting and sometimes very fruitful.  However, it is
easy to transfer the whole kit of ideas contained in the idea of language
(creolization) and transfer it to "culture" (hybridity, for example,
mistakenly reifies the "parent" cultures)--anyone have the reference for
Hymes's "Problems in the Definition of 'Tribe'"?  I guess my beef with some
of the globalization literature is that it does not usually address
questions of inequality in the world system; life becomes a big "it's a
small world after all" exhibit at Disney World.  The movement of different
products and ideas is undeniable; yet directionality and capital flow is
often left to the side in such discussions.
>Has anyone thought about Kulick's Language Shift and Cultural Reproduction
in terms of this discussion?  I really liked his argument concerning the
shift to Pidgin and the association for his informants of particular codes
to gendered it relevant here?
>John Thiels

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