The Location of Culture

Hommi K. Bhabha

A compilation of essays by Hommi K. Bhabha, a groundbreaking cultural theorist, who thoroughly unpicks issues surrounding cultural difference. Bhabha dedicates much of his work towards the theory of cultural hybridity, coining the concept of ‘third-space’, which has been widely referenced by other post-colonial writers, art critics and artists themselves.

The opening essay, ‘The Commitment to Theory’, is one of Bhabha’s most renowned pieces of work, where he deconstructs the role of theory itself when discussing post-colonial dichotomies:

‘Through the concept of cultural differences I want to draw attention to the common ground and lost territory of contemporary critical debates. For they all recognize that the problem of the cultural emerges only at the significatory boundaries of cultures, where meaning and values are (mis)read or signs are missapropriated. Yet the reality of the limit or limit-text of culture is rarely theorized outside of well-intentioned moralist polemics against prejudice and stereotype, or the blanket assertion of individual or institutional racism – that describes the effect rather than the structure of the problem. The need to think the limit of culture as problem of the enunciation of cultural difference is disavowed. […]

The reason a cultural text or system of meaning cannot be sufficient unto itself is that the act of cultural enunciation – the place of utterance – is crossed by the difference of writing or ecriture. This has less to do with what anthropologists might describe as varying attitudes to symbolic systems within different cultures than with the structure of symbolic representation – not the content of the symbol or its ‘ social function’, but the structure of symbolization. It is the ‘difference’ in language that is crucial to the production of meaning and ensures, at the same time, that meaning is never simply mimetic and transparent.

The intervention of the Third Space, which makes the structure of meaning and reference an ambivalent process, destroys this mirror of representation in which cultural knowledge is continuously revealed as an integrated, open, expanding code. Such an intervention quite properly challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary Past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People. […]
To that end we should remember that it is the ‘inter’ – the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between, the space of the entra that Derrida has opened up in writing itself – that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, anti-nationalist, histories of the ‘people’. It is in this space that we will find those word with which we can speak of Ourselves as Others. And by exploring this hybridity, this ‘Third Space’, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.’ – (Hommi K. Bhabha, The Commitment to Theory, New Formations, No. 5, 1988)

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Hommi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994

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