Diaspora and Hybridity

New Book

Diaspora and Hybridity

Authored by:

Virinder Kalra Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, UK
Raminder Kaur University of Sussex
John Hutnyk Goldsmiths College, University of London

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What do we mean by ‘diaspora’ and ‘hybridity’? Why are they pivotal concepts in contemporary debates on race, culture and society?

This book is an exhaustive, politically inflected, assessment of the key debates on diaspora and hybridity. It relates the topics to contemporary social struggles and cultural contexts, providing the reader with a framework to evaluate and displace the key ideological arguments, theories and narratives deployed in culturalist academic circles today. The authors demonstrate how diaspora and hybridity serve as problematic tools, cutting across traditional boundaries of nations and groups, where trans-national spaces for a range of contested cultural, political and economic outcomes might arise.

Wide ranging, richly illustrated and challenging, it will be of interest to students of cultural studies, sociology, ethnicity and nationalism.

Hybridity – Elements of a Theory

Hybridity – Elements of a Theory – Roger Clarke.


Pages Prepared as Background Information for an Invited Presentation to the Ars Electronica 2005 Symposium on Hybrid – Living in Paradox, Linz, Austria, 2-3 September 2005

“In both cases, over time, assimilation occurs, and both the newcomer and the host adapt, resulting in one or more hybrid cultural forms; and in both cases cultural and perhaps authority relationships remain with the newcomer’s origins, and perhaps with other outposts, resulting in diaspora, and hence additional sources of cross-and retro-fertilisation (e.g. Kalra V., Kahlon R.K. & Hutnyk J. (2005) ‘Diaspora and Hybridity’ Sage, September 2005).”

The Dialectics of Euro-Asian Hip-Hop

Its a ways off, but I have just agreed to give a talk at Royal Hollaway in May (9th). The details to go into their brochure sent off today are…

The Dialectics of Euro-Asian Hip-Hop: Hybridity, Creativity, and Nations at War.

My recent work takes into account debates about the provenance of hip-hop in Europe. It examines instances of two ‘British Asian’ bands creative engagement with, and destabilisation of, music genres, and takes a broadly culture critique perspective as a guide to rethinking hip-hop journalism. The bands are Asian Dub Foundation and Funˆdaˆmental. Music and ethnicity are the core parameters for discussion, and the idea that musical cultures are variously authentic, possessive or coherent is questioned. The usefulness of academic theories about hybridity (or not) in the face of the war of terror is the wider context.

John Hutnyk is a Reader in Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College. John.Hutnyk@gold.ac.uk. Recent books include Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies (Pluto 2004) and Hybridity and Diaspora co-written with V.Kalra and R.Kaur (Sage/TCS 2005).

Relevant pre-seminar reading…

1996 Dis-orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music
(co-edited with Sanjay Sharma and Ashwani Sharma). Zed Books, London.
Intro, Chapter 2, last chapter.

1998 ‘Adorno at Womad: South Asian Crossovers and the Limits of Hybridity-talk’ Postcolonial Studies, 1(3):401-426.

2000 Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry
(London: Pluto Press)
Intro, chapter 4

2000 ‘Music for Euro-Maoists: On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among Popstars’ in Theory Culture and Society 17(3):141-163


Adventures of the Multitude:

Adventures of the Multitude:
Response of the Authors

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Michael Hardt and Toni Negri’s reply to the Rethinking marxism issue on Empire…
“…By privileging the hegemonic forms and figures of labor at the center of the productive machine, these authors continue, we are still using a Eurocentric model of civilization. Rabasa, Moore, and Hutnyk are among those who raise this critique of both immaterial labor and the Eurocentrism that this implies. This is an important issue…”

RETHINKING MARXISM Volumie 13, Number 3/4 (Fall/Winter 2001)


PUBLICity is an experiment for through which, in a kind of Zamizdat publishing style, a journal (Left Curve – May issue 29/2005 – http://www.leftcurve.org/) can bring varied examples of writing to attention so as to publicize aspects of global public life. The idea was to supplement our efforts with attention to things that may or may not have registered notice previously in the usual academic forums. Somewhat circular in intention and execution then, the Zamizdat style papers over the cracks in an uneven but dynamic global public sphere – this is an effort to pick up on what has been missed, to learn lessons from events that have not yet been covered, to renew our curiosity by exploring the gaps and venturing over new terrains. What may seem an eclectic kaleidoscope of pieces – diverse, short, writerly, interventions and reports – is meant to bring examples of planetary publicity into focus where perhaps social science has often been rather more parochial, or unable to comment with a rapid enough response. The section bypasses the usual referee process of the journal so as to comment on contingency now, rather than in the year or more structured by the necessary delays and relays of scholarly publishing. We are interested to tamper with the ways knowledge production might lag behind a thinking on the move that trawls through the detritus of urban life for evidence, rumours, trinkets and news that we will then take seriously and consider as the luminous and revealing produce of our times.

Unilaterally, the section editor sought a diversity of writing in terms of content, location, orientation and intention – always aiming to make more visible, and to think more creatively, through issues and concerns that might otherwise be missed, might be buried in the conventions or reportage, or be passed over without murmur. I’d like to think the kaleidoscopic here is a viewfinder for the souvenirs of global public culture. A prism house of language (giving publicity/mainstreaming news). Our contributions are from a wide range of places, angles and come in varied styles. The choice of topics and authors is not neutral, indeed the selections are structured by personal choice and evaluation (rather than by dictatorship of the secretariat), and though some effort was made to mix known authors with unfamiliar topics, or to juxtapose pieces in implicit dialogues of content and tone, any unity of format remains accidental. How should you read this section? Perhaps we could imagine that the articles are meant to work through curious correspondences as a kind of planetary arcades project (still awaiting its Benjamin) through which the readerly flaneur may browse. The section will morph and mutate as it grows, feedback is welcome.

Suggestions for topics to be covered from potential authors should, in the first instance, be sent to John Hutnyk at John.Hutnyk@gold.ac.uk by Nov 1st, 2006. Usual length will be approx 1000 words. In the section published in the current issue individual authors are identified, where appropriate, by name, city and email address to encourage correspondence.


New internationalist Rumour Notice

The Rumour of Calcutta:
Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation

‘…. John Hutnyk, in his fascinating study of Western interpretations of Calcutta, attempts to excavate the city from under the layers of accreted prejudices. He shows convincingly how, even before the traveller arrives, the reputation of Calcutta has laid down a sediment of ideas that acts as a modifier on subsequent experiences….’

History without Warranty

Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies MA and phD students run a Seminar Programme and have invited Saurabh Dube to speak. He’s responsible for keeping me up talking late last night, and I guess this will happen a few more times over the next week as he is an old comrade I’ve known for many years (since we met in Germany in 1997). Check out his book Stitches On Time. Talk details below. (Hi Ishita)

From Maude…

The first session of SEPRO will be held in MB350 at 3 PM on
Monday September 26th.

“History without Warranty: Questions of Modernity, Colony, and the Post-colony” by Saurabh Dube

This talk will explore issues of power and difference in relation to the colonial and the postcolonial, nation and modernity, each understood as concept and entity.

Saurabh Dube is Professor of History at the Center for Asian and African Studies at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. His authored books include Stitches on Time: Colonial Textures and Postcolonial Tangles (2004), Untouchable Pasts (1998), as well as a trilogy in historical anthropology in the Spanish language. Among his edited volumes are Postcolonial Passages (2004) and Enduring Enchantments (2002).

Hope to see you there!


Gane insults all. Needs a slap.

In his review of my “Bad Marxism”, Mike Gane says students won’t know who Mao was or what the Soviets were! Insulting waste of space he is, and even if it were true, it would be his asteroid-dwelling, wire-headed, three-toed trogg fault for not being a better teacher.
Anyway, check it out:
PDF Book Review: Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural StudiesGane European Journal of Communication.2005; 20: 407-410
This item requires a subscription to European Journal of Communication Online

Public space in the media city

My good friend from Melbourne, Scott McQuire, is here at Goldsmiths today to give a talk today (Monday 19 Sept, at 3pm in the Cinema/small hall). He’s the author of Visions of Modernity with Sage and The Look of Love (with photographs by Peter Lyssiotis), with Masterthief. Come and join us if you can. The details are here below. The Centre for Cultural Studies in the sponsor.

Details of lecture: by Scott McQuire (University of Melbourne)

Title of Talk: Public space in the media city

Starts: 15:00 – 19 September 2005 | Ends: 17:00 – 19 September 2005

Location: small hall. 3pm- 5pm. Goldsmiths Main Building. Monday 19th September

Cost: nil.

Paul Virilio argues that public space has given way to public image,
shifting the location of the public domain from the street to the
domestic display terminal. But what happens when the TV screen leaves
home and moves back into the city? The public domain of the 21st
century is no longer simply streets and plazas. But nor is it defined
solely by electronic space. Rather it emerges in the complex
interaction of material and immaterial spaces. In the hybrid spaces of
contemporary media cities, what forms of access and interaction might
support ‘democratic’ public space?

Celebrating Transgression essay part file 2

This is Steadman, but William S. Burroughs’ art work is showing in London for the next couple of months. – see

The Unseen Art of William S. Burroughs

79 Beak Street, Regent Street – W1F 9SU

So, since he’s named as an anthropology ancestor, here’s some more from my essay on fieldwork/filed works – from Celebrating Transgression (forthcoming with Berghahn in November)

2.1Instead of a litany of names that founded schools, which constrict and contrive, how about those who enact openings to thought? With Louis Aragon, in The Adventures of Telemachus, the disenchanting of the gods proceeds apace as Mentor opens a bottle the gods had failed to uncork by simply smashing it on a rock (Aragon 1988: 87). Is it already too late to be contrite, to be polite, to not offend with a smart-alec radicalism? The disenchanters have not yet taken over the asylum, indeed they (we) have barely worked out how to fill the forms that give tenure. Fieldwork is over. Malinowski is dead (shock!)

2.2With William Burroughs at Harvard in 1936: ‘I had done some graduate work in anthropology. I got a glimpse of academic life and I didn’t like it at all. It looked like there was too much faculty intrigue, faculty lies, cultivating the head of department, so on and so forth’ (Burroughs 2001: 76).

2.3 Burroughs ‘defines paranoia as “having all the facts”’ (Burroughs in Lotringer 2001: 476) but also thinks ‘we are all black centipedes at heart’ (in Lotringer 2001: 168). Did he learn any more anthropology on his ‘fieldwork’ trips to South America in search of Yagé? From where does that critical countenance come? He says: ‘if a large number of people defy the whole question of boundaries, thousands of people walking across borders without passports, that sort of thing seems to me a useful form of demonstration’ (Burroughs in 1968, in Lotringer 2001: 106). And reflects: ‘I would love to see… in England “they must” get rid of the idea of this bloody Queen. That bitch. Sitting there soaking up the energy of forty million people. People say “The Queen isn’t important. She’s just a figurehead.” A Figurehead of subservience. A figurehead of kissing her ass. Worthless wench. She should be sweeping floors’ (Burroughs in 1968 in Lotringer 2001: 102). Burroughs’ routines expand the field.

2.4Complicity – it is never a matter of automatic accusations of complicity over against assertions of purity or righteousness; even if all encounters were complicit this would not be grounds for invalidation. What is more important is debate and discussion, even with wrong ideas and false gods. Would it that a Burroughs or an Aragon were offering the introductory lectures for the discipline.

2.5Anthropological paranoia. To treat paranoia as a productive value makes sense where the paranoid distrusts codifications and established routines as the very traps that must be avoided by a non-paranoid consciousness. Salvador Dalí would be the patron of this impossible anthropology then, that would validate disruptions and deviations to the codes of common sense and conventionality. The paranoid-critical method might be useful. Teaching Dalí as proto-ethnographer to students in the 1980s did more for experimental ethnography than anything else I could imagine.

[Burroughs at Riflemaker is open mon-sat till 6pm each day]

Utopianism and its discontents – Marcus Breen

‘Postcolonial Studies’ Volume 4, Number 3 (November 1, 2001). ‘Utopianism and its Discontents’ is a piece of slime from Marcus Beem. My second worst review ever. And my reply, which the journal was kind enough to include in the same issue. You complete and utter wonker, Breen.

Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry
By John Hutnyk
Pluto Press, London, Sterling, Virginia, 2000.
Reviewed by Marcus Breen

Mere mortals have to approach the writing of a review of a book by an author such as John Hutnyk with trepidation. Nothing that I write can be deemed worthy in the face of the scathing style of critique employed by Hutnyk. For a start I am a cultural studies person, a policy wonk, a consultant and a theorist. As such I am little more than an extension of the grand capitalist edifice which stands as a testament to a failed human civilization. Mea culpa, mea culpa, ad infinitum. At any point and at every turn, the type of polemic that defines this text runs counterpoint to my own life and experience. While reading the book there were times when it seemed that the wisest course of action for me would be to inform the reviews editor of this journal that this book and I were a marriage made in hell. Nothing I do or say, could hope to speak to and for Hutnyk’s challenge to the world I inhabit – his evangelical zeal for the communist revolution inspires a nostalgia for some purer past, and a hope that one day he will join the normalized masses in the present. But mere mortals can only hope.

It follows therefore that Critique of Exotica comes from a place which I do not inhabit. The author is a utopian, searching out locales where perfect vectors of light and knowledge converge in a mess of praxis. In such a world, the realities of everyday life appear to be of insignificant consequence, as all forces collapse into a perfected state of egalitarianism. We should be so lucky.

While I admit to knowing little of the vagaries of anthropology, the processes of human investigation are not entirely lost to me. In this sense, Hutnyk’s methodology – such as it is – is flawed, due as much to the fact that this book is really a collected set of essays (variously published from 1994 -1999), loosely collated under the convenience of a publishing strategy that seeks to pass them off as an extended essay. Bad idea. At a purely functional level I recall a talk by Michael Taussig (in 2000 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) where he described the process of gaining seniority in the academy by having one’s essays collected as an anthology while between books. This seems to have befallen Hutnyk and he is the poorer for it.

Furthermore, the essays do not make a coherent whole. Rather, at times they read like Socialist Worker’s Party tracts where the first thing you notice is the polemic. Is this what has become of anthropology? The one with the loudest voice wins? I would also hope that the style of leftism promoted by Hutnyk can be contained in such a way that the microhistories of various socialist factions cast within the history of the Second International do not become accepted as a type of anthropology, where the participant-observer seeks the status of revolutionary investigator-agitator, in some sort of recidivist sociological strategy of the oppressed. Presented in this collection, the “methodology” of academic activism had little to offer, as almost every non-revolutionary yet informed and discursive intellectual engagement is preempted by the author with eviscerating attacks on such bourgeois notions as research, academic careerism and theory. So for example, any suggestion by me that Hutnyk’s investigator-agitator persona fails to recognize the complexity of the world in which we live, is countered by Hutnyk in the penultimate paragraph of the book, where he writes that we should not “cower in the face of some rampant ‘complexity’ or ‘uncertainty’ (p. 233). In the daily grind of the affairs of humanity, I can only wish for such certainty, clarity and simplicity with which Hutnyk attends to existence.

At a detailed level, Critique of Exotica attempts to put the case for the politicization of Asian music in its contemporary forms from the perspective of London, England. This is an important project – just as the subtext that ultimately becomes the main text is overwhelmingly necessary: globalization is the core tenet of the book, but surfaces like almost all other concepts with little convincing detail (which is why the polemic becomes a frustrating signifier, as if that’s what really counts). This is hardly surprising given Hutnyk’s critique of mortals who live in the everyday. Theorists are caricatured as “the interests of the metropolitan class who see theory-production as the driving force of society,” acting apparently in cahoots with the “chattering classes who provide the theoretical smoke screen” (pp. 226-227). Cultural studies scholars (I am one, yet have some sympathy for this view, which is now dated) become the enemy:
“Culturally hip academics are the ones to watch out for, the agents of incorporation, domestication and pacification in the service of new elitism.” (p. 9) In reality, the way of the world is that it is reinvented in more remarkable forms by those very same new elites, in this case the cultural studies factions that became the tidal wave of new university education for otherwise tired masses, that Raymond Williams wrote about in the 1980s. Surely this was and is an achievement, a forward progressive step – but apparently not.

Similarly, “the white left” and academics in general are pretty well bereft of value, while any apparatus of the state is suspect due to its association with the capitalist enterprise. After a while, the polemic becomes a strategy and a literary ploy, a means to subvert demanding theory building, astute observation and even good will. (How do some people manage to get out of their front door some days? The absence of pleasure must be deadening).

Hutnyk relies on enthusiastic discipleship to the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and to a lesser extent Paul Gilroy and Lisa Lewis, for his key ideas. If he had spent more time working through Spivak’s suggestion for a “broader perspective…that takes the trouble to acquire transnational literacy in the New World Order that has come into being in the last decade of the second millenium” (p. 150), the book would have got closer to realizing its objective. Namely, questions associated with the exoticization of culture, of everyday life are desperately needed, and need to be proposed in ways that both acknowledge the growing complexity rendered by globalization while making a case for dealing with it in practical ways.

Closer textual work would have provided the necessary substance to this book – the promise of the title – a study of the exotic. The absence of theory means that the challenge to employ conceptual tools to build a model that explains the established, new and emerging formations of exoticism within music and politics does not get the explicit treatment it deserves. In my opinion, it does not suffice to offer up opinions about the ‘myopic blindness to exploitation typical of culturalist agendas’ (p. 224), as if culture (music especially) is a singularly unified whole that fits a predetermined de-politicized model. Exotic engagement with musical expression are the bread and butter of the sensuous life in the mediated, globalized world which we inhabit, and they are all political. What I want to know is how to make the politics work within the meaning systems of popular music and mediated living, where ready access to the exotic is taken for granted. (I should also add that rock and popular music in general is in need of a lot of work on the exotic, be it African Americans posing their gangster rap – especially exotic to white middle class consumers I am sure – to South Asian bhangra – a new sensation for inner city Londoners – to Ecstasy/rave experiences for suburban teens. Elvis could be seen as the mediator of the exotic poor black southerner. The boundaries are fuzzy in the extreme, yet an important part of our contemporary musical experience and backdrop).

During the time I was reading this book the first of the UK race riots reached some of the front pages of news reports around the world. During the first week of June 2001, the city of Oldham in the British Midlands, was a zone for furious fighting between Asian and Caucasian youth and the police. The 5.5 percent of the UK population of nearly 60 million showed little interest in the skirmishes – at least according to media reports on the absence of media reportage (!). My understanding of the issue was somewhat enhanced by Hutnyk’s reading of the long-term disinterest of the British public in the incorporation of Bengali migrants into the center of British capitalism. Hutnyk’s appeal for a politics that goes beyond readings of hybridity and multiculturalism make sense at a superficial level, when read against the background of race-defined civil unrest. His suggestion that music can function as a politicizing and organizing tool is less convincing, given the incessant demands he makes for a non-commercialized cultural politics (p. 204). Hutnyk’s retelling of part of the story of Indian-Bengali communist party factionalism, in trying to explain the position adopted by Asian Dub Foundation in their song ‘Naxalite’, is historically informative, but unconvincing in providing any explanation for how race is played out on the streets of working class England.

Seeking deeper understanding of the issues being played out will probably not be found in analysis of mainstream laws such as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, introduce in 1994 to stop mass protests, squatting and raves. This hardly seems to be a point around which to focus a discussion of popular music, but Hutnyk tries. Taking a variety of subcontinental and South Asian popular music practitioners as examples -Apache Indian, Asian Dub Foundation, Kula Shaker, Fundamental – Hutnyk suggests a direct claim can and should be made for pop music as agitprop. (And by the way, do not attempt to engage in political activism and eat vindaloo anything, given Hutnyk’s maddening obsession with cheap shots at anyone who eats or partakes of anything “other” than bangers and mash)! This raises the fundamental flaw in this type of anthropology – it is ultimately demanding guarantees of a relationship between specific ‘other’ forms cultural production and political activism. Anything less, such as cultural studies in its mainstream manifestations is doomed to fail Hutnyk’s political test of inciting revolution.

If I should apologize for these comments, I cannot find the good will to do so (much as I would like to). The gaps in this work are severe. Music is given a role in explaining political phenomenon while the popular music theory and scholarship that has developed over the past 20-30 years is hardly visible. Popular music studies, audience studies, media studies, cinema studies, political economy, all melt under the withering demands of Hutnyk’s criticism. Occasionally – in chapter 6, ‘Critique of Postcolonial Marxisms’ drawing extensively on Spivak and in the conclusion, which suggests a theory of media, by drawing on Theodore Adorno and Jacques Derrida – the book offers some ways forward. But ultimately it is a backward looking text.

For example, anyone writing about popular music should make note of the fact that Adorno has been dead for more than a generation, and that purely re-reading Adorno, as if 50 years of communication theory and practice has not taken place, is disagreeable in the extreme. But the utopianism in play in Critique of Exotica presents the surface reading of cultural industries as so many corrupted forces injecting images of consumption into the unsuspecting public. Granted, there are massive abuses of mediated communications, but contemporary understanding of media calls for much more than this. Could it be possible to see the media as a liberationary tool, whereby ideas and theories of social and personal development are diffused to the world to be made in pleasurable acts of resistance, co-optation and celebration? Not according to Hutnyk. MTV has no virtue. Madonna represents the capitalist. Ergo, scholarship is wasted.

Consider the following claim that, ‘the industrialization of creativity – even seen in the organized and premeditated recorded spontaneity of Peter Gabriel’s Real World Box sessions – is a production process uninterested in how music is used, heard, consumed, so long as it is consumed’ (p. 222). Not only is this wrong, it does an injustice to every performer, audience member and listener, cultural worker, record producer, disc jockey and sensuous creature within earshot! Hutnyk has clearly decided to spend time writing about music without appreciating that it cannot be remade as an ideological tool for every occasion. Popular music is by its very definition open to definition, redefinition, use, abuse and reuse, not a straightjacket of meaning. It would seem that Hutnyk has also not spent time with musicians and record company people, promoters and groupies. Utopianism would not allow for such research.

In the current political and aesthetic context in which I live and work, there are a number of issues that cannot be denied. These may be reduced to the following aphorisms: Capitalism has survived state managed communism. Capital is necessary for human and social development. Media are volatile mechanism s by which human civilization is informed and ideas are explored. Music is a sensuous tool that provides both respite and pleasure for vast numbers of people around the world, whether in live performance or in mediated form. Globalization is about 400 years old. Pop music is not going away!

It is not possible to read pop music as an addition to the political currents of everyday life. Nor is it possible to construct a discreet system of representational politics from which to draw conclusions: the world just does not work that way. If it did we would be veering towards a reinvention of authoritarianism which many people would find an unsatisfactory model for meeting their needs. Call me a pragmatist, or call me a sell out – I want a politics that gives me fun, that offers engagement with the real and everyday, while moving me out of the corrupt world and into a better (yet still corrupt) one.

In the world but not of it, is a fabulously over utilized utopian phrase, used by fundamentalists in a host of religious communities to describe their rare position. I am not, sad to say, a fellow traveler in the utopian approach to political music making. I am however, a traveler who would like to see major change brought about across the globe. Being both in and of the world, I am not convinced that Hutnyk’s approach to music, culture and politics offers a way forward.

Marcus Breen is a consultant for Gartner Inc., concentrating on telecommunications public policy and regulation. He is an adjunct faculty in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His most recent book is Rock Dogs: politics and the Australian music industry, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1999.

Hutnyk: Published Response to Marcus Breen:

Differences aside – and I am happy to acknowledge we have some very big differences – I think the task of reviewing a book at least requires some care in the reading. I do wonder what interests prompt a journal to commission such inadequate reviewing. In the absence of sufficient material for a fruitful debate, I should like at least to correct the more obvious errors.

In Breen, Lisa Lowe is misrecognised as Lisa Lewis, Oldham is somehow relocated from the North of England to the Midlands, the ‘race riots’ are said to have been underreported, rather than misunderstood, and Bhangra is described as a ‘new sensation’ in London, when it is in fact old news in the capital – in my book the music more often under discussion is hip hop, drum and bass, crossover and experimental styles. The essays are not ‘variously published from 1994 to 1999, but rather reworked from things published since 1996, the first chapter pretty much unchanged from the version in this journal in 1998. I argued explicitly that the criminal justice and public order act was not simply introduced to ‘stop mass protests, squatting and raves’, but that public debate focussed only on rave, and not on the more draconian and racist elements of the law. Finally, there is nowhere in the book where I actually advocate the eating of bangers and mash over vindaloo. Never will.

Breen thinks re-reading Adorno today is ‘disagreeable in the extreme’. I quote Adorno exactly as a corrective to the simplicities and avoidances of the audience studies, communications theory and cultural studies careerism that Breen would rather entertain. I will agree we see the world differently. I don’t agree that ‘capital is necessary for human and social development’ and I think the equation of 400 yeas of ‘globalisation’ with the longevity of pop music is laughable. I’m not sure that talking to ‘groupies’ about Islam-influenced hip hop would have made much of a research project – or made me less of a Marxist – but I do appreciate the humour. Funny.

What “Critique of Exotica” tried to do is set out resources that allow readers to make up their own minds about several aspects of racial violence in Britain, issues of community policing, music in relation to politics, the contextualised uses of theory, and, among much else, the complicity of academics (including myself). The referrals to campaigning groups and organisation websites such as CARF, the Free Satpal Ram campaign, Fighting Talk, Red Action etc., which I make throughout the book are never mentioned in the review. The sense of engaged debate in the book is wholly occluded. Some ill-informed fear of the reds and McCarthyite gut-reaction are Breen’s only themes. The man describes himself as a ‘policy wonk’. I must admit I’m awful sorry he got so wound up that the red stain of critique spoiled his day, but I’m not sure he actually needs a ‘policy’ to be such a complete wonker.

Fashioning ethnicities

If you have Sage electro access, check out Claire Dwyer and Philip Crang 2002 “Fashioning ethnicities: the commercial spaces of multiculture”, Ethnicities, 2(3): 410-30 ()

Celebrating Transgression – Method part one

This pic is from a recent celebration – heh heh. bleary eyed the next day (in fact already here – those magaritas were fine).

Anyway, Klaus Peter Koepping is coming to Goldsmiths to teach for the next year. This below is from Celebrating Transgression – a festschrift for him. This is the start of my paper. More to come…

From ‘Method in the Madness’ in “Celebrating Transgression” (forthcoming Nov – see the books blog).

1.1 The idea that anthropology is about one culture understanding another, in some sort of binary exchange mechanism, seems absurd. There are no distinct cultures, understandings are multiple. Balance sheets are false documents. But these absurdities are the ethic of anthropology, as a trickster discipline, conjuring its way to a faulty comprehension (Köpping 1989). Ethnographers might lie. They might be brilliant. They might be government spies, or worse, revolutionaries. In an anxious history, the drive to rethink culture must engage with diversity, media, commerce and yet is nothing if it does not encourage the opening of minds that only transgressive quest(ion)ing can ensure.

1.2 Reinventing anthropology could be imagined as a project of recognising differences so as to work an overcoming in equality that preserves them. In Gayatri Spivak’s reading of Marx we hear of a ‘system that will remove difference after taking it into account’ (Spivak 1999: 79). This might even be something like the structure of anthropological reportage in a Malinowskian world, where difference is revealed as not so different – the point might be to radicalise this towards its revolutionary implications. The move from reportage to intervention is a not so unusual ambition. If the structure of ethnographic motivation was to say ‘look how these strange people are not all that strange after all’, then the political task of ensuring equity despite acknowledged differences is only the next step. Here there would not be talk of rights to difference, but of rights to (and the responsibilities of) equality.

1.3 The archive of ethnography shifts and grows exponentially, but only sometimes escapes the impulse to itemise, even as we try to theorise the innovations of the system. If anything, perhaps it is the grand expositions, such as that in 1851 at the Crystal Palace, which are the precursors of the anthropological collection and display, and which still regulate the discipline. We can possibly imagine Marx wandering around the exhibits, astonished. Walter Benjamin, so many years later, obviously wished he’d been there – he noted that visitors were not allowed to touch the goods on show. The produce of the world, today, the fact that cultural curios are often replicated in miniature indicates that the aura of authentic commodification, once prominently displayed in the industrial products of the expositions, is now rendered less significantly, or even ironically diminished, as kitsch. A kind of reductive ambition and loss of grandeur, the convenience store and the tourist flea market become the scenes of culture. The souvenir collected by the anthropologist is more akin to the snapshot or postcard than ever before. Should we see this as a loss? If so, of what?

1.4 The curriculum that demands a critical rethink might claim many avatars. We should not be surprised to find anthropologists that do not fit the canon. Other ways of writing the trajectory of the discipline have been offered. Alternative versions ask urgent political, conceptual, dialectical questions and evoke names not usually present, texts scavenged and refashioned through critique. Popular interdisciplinarity recasts everything afresh. This is in part learned from Peter Köpping’s lectures on Anthropology and Method, here and there updated over the years in a file seasoned with engagement, teaching, reading, activism.

1.5 Most important of all, the critique of mediocrity – the gilt-edged mediocrity of those in positions of privilege incapable of anything other than marching in place with that privilege, incapable of challenging even themselves or the perseverance that put them here in the first place. Who do I have in mind? Certain professors of culture at work in the bureaucratic teaching machine, dull operatives of self-promotion and resignation, luxuriant in egoistic privilege, imagining conference attendance and canteen dinners amount to a jet-set lifestyle – these people thrive on a capitulation to the administrative job that makes the capacity for critical thought a mere line on a curriculum vitae.

New Worker – Review of Bad Marxism (ouch!)

From: New Worker Online, Thursday, September 09, 2004
Worker Review & Diary – 10/9/2004
REVIEW by Ray Jones

JH review of Tariq Mehmood, ‘While there is light’,

Weekly Worker 512 Thursday January 22 2004
‘Face up to the fight’ – by John Hutnyk Review of:
Tariq Mehmood, ‘While there is light’, Manchester, 2003, Comma Press, pp220, 」7.95


Face up to the fight

Tariq Mehmood, ‘While there is light’, Manchester, 2003, Comma Press, pp220, �7.95

The travails of those who fight imperialism are long and brutal. Families torn asunder, friendships stretched and broken, lives crushed against the bars of prisons and the kicks of cops.

Tariq Mehmood’s novel mixes clarity of reflection with bittersweet agonies and a pained lament for loss. The loss is not only consequent upon the cruel conditions of an updated and as yet unfinished Raj – though the ways the legacy of colonialism plays out on the workings of northern England and north Punjab are not simply contemporary – and the lament is not just for the family, but for the stalled and failing political movements that would be a possible resistance.

Against the several significant historical backgrounds that shape the (so-called) post-colonial condition, Where there is light recounts the tale of Saleem Choudry returning to his parental village in north Punjab. The novel utilises three texts to tell its multi-sited tale – the first: a letter the disgruntled labour-migrated worker son writes to his mother, but which she cannot read; the second: the cassette tape recording the heart-torn and weary mother prepares for her son as she faces death, to which he cannot listen; and the third: the police-violence-extracted ‘confession’ which identifies Saleem as the ringleader of the Youth League fighting racist skinheads in Bradford in the early 1980s.

In these contexts, characters recount – more or less lyrically – various predicaments. The legacy of the partition violence with which England left a parting gift of train-filled bodies, hacked to death in sectarian frenzy, is one memory. An unrelated consequence is the position of disaffected youth, whose heritage could be the anti-colonial and workers’ movement but who, through seduction and distraction, are disconnected from their romantic and revolutionary roots. In place of the movements they try to build are the old religious hypocrisies that are but the first cry of an oppressed mass, misled by a self-interested leadership with thought only for comfort.

Saleem is arrested as a ‘terrorist’. This is a fictionalised account of what came to be known as the case of the Bradford 12, when Asian youths were charged with conspiracy after the discovery of petrol bombs. Saleem, out on bail, is flying back to Punjab to see his mother. A letter he had posted in a drunken rage the day before follows him through the post. He arrives too late to meet his mother (hospitals full of shit while the government builds atomic bombs). Scenes of lament and a difficult homecoming to a place that is no longer home are punctuated by a harrowing account of the arrest scene in Bradford and the interrogation, with full English police-style beatings, in the lockup before the trial.

The story works in these multiple places and concurrent times, along the way providing a meditation – angry, not passive – on a range of difficulties that are the lot of the ‘returnee’ to the site of colonial extraction. Saleem was sent to England as a boy to earn money for the family, from that country where the streets were paved with gold (but they were not). Returning to Pakistan, the sex scene in the movie The saint is censored, the passport and customs officers impose their delays and extract their percentage cut, the dilemma that values the life of a fly but not of kin relations is matched by the alacrity with which friends, and devout community leaders, pursue the duty-free booty with which Saleem returns. A well read tourist might recognise this lot, but not likely.

Self-mocking mockery of mock pieties, perhaps the portrayal of the whisky running business scam is the most blatant example of a hostility to religious hypocrisy that must be replaced by a more organised resistance. There are positive portrayals: the old mates from school who have not forgotten the one who left – even as they make merry with the desire to go themselves. In one sequence the contract that requires one both to give and take is considered fair trade for the prize of entry to Valaiti (Britain), despite full knowledge of what the prospective migrant will be forced to endure. Foreign, Vailaiti poison (cigarettes) is even better than local lung-rasping pleasures.

The one who inducts Saleem into the subtleties of communist solidarities – poignantly a white father who rescues him from a beating at the hands of his fascist son – is clear and insightful in his analysis of the mill workers and who profits most from those who labour under capital. Payara Singh tells of the heroes of the Punjab: of Uddam Singh and Baghat Singh, who fought the colonials with no thought for their own gain – a history that Saleem has to struggle to preserve – if you do not understand your past, how can you have hope for your future? The Manifesto is quoted, thought the words are mislaid.

Solidarities become a major theme. In the end those interrogated in the youth movement betray each other under duress, but we know the wider campaign mobilised a larger alliance and won the case for the Bradford 12, establishing self-defence as a legal defence in law. This is particularly important to remember today, as alleged ‘terrorists’ are routinely detained in the UK, profiled again as the enemy by the jihadis, Bush and Blair. By the end of the novel Valaiti has become England, Saleem is not a Trot but he reads, the cops know they are not going to win the case (but they make the charges in any case) and the movement continues.

Saleem does not know all that yet, but his personal resolution – he plays his mother’s tape, reads the letter, signs the forms – mean a realisation: that his history is one that requires him to face up to the fight (while there is light). He will return to struggle again.

John Hutnyk

Richard Smith – Review of Critique of Exotica

Richard Smith – Review of Critique of Exotica
In Intensities: Journal of Cult Media – issue 3.

“John Hutnyk has written a significant work, one that everyone working in the area of contemporary cultural studies needs to engage with. He deals with the central issues of hybridity and authenticity in the context of the appropriation of diverse cultural forms (‘Exotica’) within the global cultural industries by key popular cultural stars. At the heart of the book is a personal commitment to a form of radical politics…”

Ghadar – Culture Move: On Asian Dub Foundation

Culture Move: On Asian Dub Foundation by John Hutnyk
Ghadar: A Publication of the Forum of Indian Leftists
Volume 4: Number 1, May 1 2000

Vijay Prashad review of Rumour of Calcutta

In Light of Calcutta by Vijay Prashad
The Kathmandu Post Review of Books
30 November, 1997Vol. 2, No. 8

“John Hutnyk’s book does not tell us of the visions of the city among its long-term inhabitants. His book introduces the people who travel to South Asia on a budget, mostly from North America, Europe and Australia. ‘Budget travellers’ come not to bask in the glory of the Raj, but to explore the underbelly of Asia and to do some volunteer work as a means to assuage their guilt or redeem themselves. Despite their best motives, Hutnyk explains, these travellers do not question how they see the city. They have heard the ‘rumour of Calcutta, the imagery by which the city is known’…”

“The “good tourists” (who abjure the “veranda view” of the 5-Stars
and packaged tours) offer themselves to NGOs to ameliorate poverty. Many
are smart enough to know their own work does little. As Julia notes, her
work appears sometimes like “putting band-aid on lepers in the hope of
stopping capitalism”.  Hutnyk is very clear about these efforts (such as
those of the Missionaries of Charity), arguing that the NGOs act “as a
stopgap anti-revolutionary and counter-revolutionary placebo”‘


Vijay Prashad

Mother Teresa: A Communist View by Vijay Prashad
This article was first published in September 1997 in Political
Affairs, the journal of the Communist Party USA.

Steve Wright

“Pondering Information and Communication in Contemporary Anti-Capitalist Movements” From The Commoner. July 2001.

Razor-wire Imperialism

Weekly Worker 489 Thursday July 17 2003
Razor-wire Imperialism
From Guantanamo to Kumingting to Campsfield, detention without trial is used to divide and rule. John Hutnyk calls for an international working class response…




KWark review of Rumour of Calcutta

Against Mother Theresa

John Hutnyk’s Rumour of Calcutta, reviewed byMcKenzie Wark
Wednesday, 10 September 1997

dead link above, but republished HERE.

The Dialectic of Here and There

This is the abstract and first couple of paragraphs of an essay I have coming out in the journal Social Identities in January. I include it here because I’ve just heard that Sivanandan will speak at Goldsmiths on Oct 5 (4pm).

The Dialectic of Here and There:
Anthropology ‘at home’ and British Asian Communism


Ethnographers in Britain seem to have by and large ignored left political activity among South Asian settlers on these islands. The lustrous career of South Asian communists active in the UK is however not to be romanticized and of course there were many more people not involved in class politics than can be registered in the annals of communist champions. But it is clear that the groundwork for many of the kinds of political positions taken for granted today were forged in adversity and struggle under scarlet flags. That this again means that not everyone is involved in left wing groups and causes today goes without saying, and again it should not need to be pointed out that an overly rosy view of the inheritance of South Asian politicals would be inappropriate and misguided (but all those slightly strange left wing uncles and aunties do have an influence). The point is that given the really existing conditions into which most South Asian youth are born in multi-racist Britain, and given the heritage to which they can, if they wish, lay claim, it should be no surprise that comprehension of the struggle is ‘imbibed as if with mothers milk’, as one informant described it to me. Why has scholarship singularly failed to register this?

Keywords: South Asian, communists, anti-racism, imperialism, history, Britain.

Anthropology ‘at Home’

‘labour in the white skin cannot be free if in the black it is branded’ (Marx 1867:301)

In a short story collected in Where the Dance Is, Ambalavaner Sivanandan tells the tale of a meeting of a Marxist study group in a pub in Hampstead, probably sometime in the 1970s. In this engaging story, (semi-autobiographical?) a Sri Lankan PhD student at the London School of Economics, going by the name of Bala, is invited to a meeting by Clarence, an acquaintance from home now resident in the ‘mother country’. Bala is uncertain as to just what is required of him:
I was not sure how to play my role: as a red insurrectionary or as black militant (Sivanandan 2000:48).

The four white comrades bought him drinks for both affectations, but when the discussion turned to the issue of immigration into Britain it was Clarence, the ‘senior immigrant’, who won the most approval, and a kiss from one of the women, for a position that should readily be recognised even amidst the smoke and fug of the mid afternoon local boozer. As the story tells it, Clarence ‘mumbled and spluttered incoherently about the responsibility of the mother country to its children and ended up declaring, “we are here because you were there”‘, something Bala had heard before. The meeting broke up, with the next Saturday scheduled as a discussion of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire.

The story goes on with various intricacies, the woman who kisses Clarence cooks a curry for Bala, Bala gets to know something of Clarence’s life in Britain, but the main point in retelling this scene is neither appreciation of Sivanandan’s accomplished literary talents, nor to rehash some scenario in mockery of the curry-cooking patronising white left woman Tessa, but to register the movement that Sivanandan always tries to effect: the complication and extension of thought beyond platitudes and slogans, achieved always also from an activist’s perspective. The formula ‘we are here because you were there’ may in fact have the ring of truth, and it makes an excellent chant, and must needs be said. But saying it for approval, saying it into the ether, saying it without consequence deserves critical attention too. Sivanandan questions the motives and context of sloganeering even in the very heart of a Marxist cell meeting discussion of immigration in the days when Compendium bookshop was still a fixture and visits to Cuba were the norm. Sivanandan shows us exactly where romantic attachments and the deceits of too easy acceptance only allow platitudes when more is required. As to what happens at the end of the tale, without giving the story away – its called ‘The Man Who Loved the Dialectic’ – a nuanced Marxism makes more sense of the predicament of contemporary life than that afforded in any other conception.

What then for writing about South Asians in Britain that would do more than rehearse either the trite axioms of identity politics or the romantic attachments of essentialist stereotype? On two sides there is a seductive danger and all too easy exoticist trap – playing the ethnic card and falling for ethnicist stereotypes have been the preserve of many who would write, with good intentions, the history of South Asains in Britain. On the one hand those who have appropriated the role of documenting Asian identities in the metropole, on the other metropolitan identities playing up to expectations. For convenience sake this essay identifies this double trap in the congealed positions of anthropologists writing on South Asians in Britain, and in their identitarian informants – and it uses the critical position of a British – South Asian communist history (the subject matter that stems from Sivanandan’s fictional study group) as the counterfoil that disrupts this duality.

The procedure of taking category and classification in advance of observation and discussion has reified and fixed a conservative set of stereotypes. To assume that caste, kinship, arranged marriages and religious tradition are the main keys to comprehension of the social and political experience of South Asians in Britain is a common delusion. A delusion born from the work of anthropologists bent on finding rural and village subjects conveniently replicated in metropolitan settings. This is a conservative anthropology in the extreme, owing more to allegiance to old categories found ‘over there’ than politics and experience of people with agency ‘over here’. Not to say, of course, that caste, kin and religion are or were unimportant, but, as we will see, equally worthy of attention could be workplace and neighbourhood organisations, trades unionism, political activism, socialist and communist party affiliation, rallies and other such associations. It can be argued that the organisational history of South Asians in Britain has been particularly obscured by a blinding culturalism attuned only to the exotic. The worst consequence of this exoticism is to reduce the ‘migrant’ worker to a timeless and rural pre-political unconsciousness – an imperialist oversight that replicates ethnicist fantasy and depoliticises by means of reified culture…..JH

Art Education Congress

I have to give a talk in Athens on friday. Here is the abstract I sent. For a paper to be written on the plane (well, the notes to be reassembled and rearranged again and again, as ever rewritten in the hours leading up to the talk…). Its for the European Art Education Congress.

On the relation between art and theory

John Hutnyk (Reader in Cultural Studies, GoldsmithsCollege)

I work at GoldsmithsCollege where there are two competing agendas reshaping the nature of University (art) teaching. My work has been in part a political exercise to explore these contradictions. On the one hand there is great interest in practical and engaged research, or art-research/research-practice, as a series of interventions and interruptions interweaving both practice and theory, or relating both productivity and research not as opposed but simultaneously cross-referential and co-constituted with one another.

On the other hand there is an increasingly bureaucratised, compartmentalised and accounting-ified regime of documentation and forms which hinders all creative theoretical exchange and reduces teaching and creativity to drawing-by-numbers.

Art has become commercialised and instrumentalized to an astonishing degree both in terms of consumption and as practice (examples: Tate Modern and the tourist economy; Banks and mining industry sponsorship of artists; the branding of Goldsmiths as cool brand Art College).

The commercialisation of teaching is also well advanced; the teaching factory and its ‘improving’ functions are more and more instrumentalized and industrialised as a part of a general trend (examples: fee paying programmes to earn export revenue; productivity gains, increased class sizes, degraded facilities; reduction of teaching to ‘technique’, not pedagogy).

This instrumentalization is common to our total social world – everything, even our conversations, becomes a calculus, and a resource. The same logic infects children’s fantasy novels right through to the global war of terror – our ‘model’ way to understand these things is too often merely profit and loss. We now even draw up such tables to evaluate the most esoteric of our practices. Heidegger’s notion of Enframing, and Adorno’s notion of the Culture Industry suggest we need more than a revaluation of Art teaching, rather a fundamental rethink of the relation of theory to practice, and of intellect to production.