Historical Memory, Global Movemen...
Historical Memory, Global Movements and Violence Paul Gilroy and Arjun Appadurai in Conversation Vikki Bell T HIS INTERVIEW was conducted in order to give an opportunity for these two thinkers, who stem from different disciplines, but whose work meets at certain crucial junctures, to present a discussion to a wider audience about the themes and issues that were currently motivating them in their work. Paul Gilroy���s work is well known as a central reference point within the contemporary analysis of ���race��� and racism. At its most broad, he has a reputation for thinking throughout his writings about the historical constitution of race and the mobility of forms of racism over time and space. Arjun Appadurai���s work emanates from the discipline of anthro- pology, and he has a specific and on-going interest in South East Asia Studies. He has been influential in the exploration of new modes of conceptualizing the remit and processes of forming anthropological know- ledge. While both authors share certain key concerns, their interconnec- tions are not explicit in their writings. This interview, conducted in London during Arjun Appadurai���s visit in 1997, was an opportunity to bring these two authors together to discuss the themes and connections which they are both exploring in different ways, but in ways that have similar theoretical and political impulses. In particular, I wanted to ask them about the themes that I think animate the critical edge of cultural studies: the politics of memory, the theorization of movement and new conceptualizations of spatiality, the critique of authenticity and modes of theorizing embodiment, & Theory, Culture & Society 1999 (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 16(2): 21���40 [0263-2764(199904)16:2 21���40 008253]
and concurrent directions in their present work, especially around the notions of extreme actions, of war and violence. VB: I wanted to ask first of all as an initial question about the fact that both of you have written within the context of ���home��� disciplines ��� anthropology in your case, Arjun, and sociology or cultural studies in yours, Paul ��� but both of you I think have been very critical of the traditions that you have inherited. In your case, Arjun, I was interested in the way in which the very concept of place in anthropology is something that you have written about, critiquing the tendency for certain places to become ���show cases��� for certain ideas, as well as critiquing concepts of temporality that anthropology works with. Paul, in your case, I think you���ve been critical of sociological modes of categorization, particularly in relation to ���race��� as an explanatory concept, and of central sociological ideas of method. So, what I wanted to ask you both is how you feel your work resides within those disciplines, how you see it critiquing whilst remaining within them, and how you see your audience responding to your work? PG: It seems to me that sociology lacks its own version of the very interesting self-critical conversation that was forced on anthropology for obvious reasons at a much earlier point. Although sociology has been kind to me, much of the time I don���t think of sociologists as being people who would be interested in the things that I have wanted to talk and write about. This seems borne out by the fact that I haven���t had a lot of sociological responses to what I���ve done. I suppose what I���m most interested in doing is prompting a disciplinary crisis in sociological thinking, something like the reflexivity that followed the impact of Talal Asad���s work in anthropology some years ago now and has been consolidated by writers like James Clifford, Renato Rosaldo and the rest. These are people who applied the tools of literary criticism to anthropological writings, who put anthropology back into colonial history and who saw the production of anthropological knowledge in the context of a wider system of political and cultural relations in which the academy negotiated the needs and priorities of governments, artists and intermediate institutions like museums. I���m interested in feeding a disciplinary crisis like that. I think there are all sorts of reasons why sociologists in this country in particular haven���t really been comfortable in confronting the imperial and colonial dynamics that have constituted and refined their discipline, or even been prepared, with quite the same en- thusiasm as literary scholars have, to seek for the kind of repressions and elisions and lapses of memory that have characterized the configuration of sociological modernity. So I wanted to provoke some of that, and that is an ongoing project. I know that one of the issues you want to raise later on is the current state of the sociology of globalization. That seems a good example of how partial and selective ��� on some occasions almost trivial ��� sociological writing has been. Once the light does come on, the problems that appear 22 Theory, Culture & Society
get reduced to the simplest and most easily assimilable forms: markets, states, cultures are essentially what they always were. The concepts aren���t being re-worked, re-thought. People want to put up a signal that says ���business as usual���. It���s that business as usual signal that I want to interrupt. AA: In my own case, the relationship to anthropology is slightly more deliberate perhaps. First of all I should say that I teach in the US context, which is peculiar. Anthropology comes not so much with the ���business as usual��� sign, but with a crisis bulb on all the time. So the problem becomes ���What���s the crisis, what���s the real crisis?��� whether it���s the reflexivity busi- ness, or the impact of Said, or the impact of cultural studies. Everything precipitates crisis. Moreover, because the space of anthropology in the US simultaneously hosts issues in natural science as well as issues which are entirely sociological, you inevitably have a kind of crowding and have times when consensus is weak but departmental and university institu- tional realities force people to have a common position. The question is the relationship of these crises, some of which are institutional, not trivial but not exactly conceptual, and others of which are conceptual and which may be interesting, historical and productive. So my interest has been to try to use the things I have engaged with over time ��� India first of all and most of all ��� as well as other concerns such as globalization and colonialism ��� to try to identify which of those crises are the productive and interesting ones. My subjects have emerged at that intersection between the locations I know best and to which I���m committed, and what I imagine to be this panoply of crises of which some are more consequential than others. I do think it���s been helpful to have some of idea of a disciplinary history or a canon of some kind. I���m fully aware that these vary depending where you are, but in my location there is a history of a field, and there is a picture of its best actors, and its distinctions and so on. All of these are contestable, of course, but it���s identifying, opening up and resisting those narratives that has been helpful for me. I can imagine it would be very different if I were in sociology or psychology, I might have a more loose relationship like that which I sense from Paul, but in the case of anthropology, it has been helpful for me to be able to say, ���Well you think this is the issue . . . but it���s really this.��� PG: Let me clarify lest I sound too ungenerous to the very tolerant responses of some sociologists to the things I���ve said. I wasn���t trained as a sociologist and I didn���t think of myself as a sociologist until I became a sort of domesticated foe of sociology. It was through trying to critique the complicity of too much sociological thinking that reduced critical political questions to policy questions and showing where academic sociology was entirely comfortable with reproducing, for example, a number of pathological assumptions about the way that black culture and social life were constructed, that I got drawn on to sociological ground. I would have to Bell ��� Gilroy and Appadurai in Conversation 23