Hybridity refers in its most basic sense to mixture. The term originates from biology and was subsequently employed in linguistics and in racial theory in the nineteenth century. Its contemporary uses are scattered across numerous academic disciplines and is salient in popular culture. This article explains the history of hybridity and its major theoretical discussion amongst the discourses of race, post-colonialism, Identity (social science), anti-racism & multiculturalism, and globalization. This article illustrates the development of hybridity rhetoric from biological to cultural discussions.
Hybridity as racial mixing
Hybridity is a cross between two separate races or cultures. A hybrid is something that is mixed, and hybridity is simply mixture. As an explicative term, hybridity became a useful tool in forming a fearful discourse of racial mixing that arose toward the end of the 18th Century. Pseudo-scientific models of anatomy and craniometry were used to argue that Africans, Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders were racially inferior to Europeans. The fear of miscegenation that followed responds to the concern that the offspring of racial interbreeding would result in the dilution of the European race. Hybrids were seen as an aberration, worse than the inferior races, a weak and diseased mutation. Hybridity as a concern for racial purity responds clearly to the zeitgeist of colonialism where, despite the backdrop of the humanitarian age of enlightenment, social hierarchy was beyond contention as was the position of Europeans at its summit. The social transformations that followed the ending of colonial mandates, rising immigration, and economic liberalization profoundly altered the use and understanding of the term hybridity.
The post-colonial turn
Hybrid talk, the rhetoric of hybridity, is fundamentally associated with the emergence of post-colonial discourse and its critiques of cultural imperialism. It is the second stage in the history of hybridity, characterized by literature and theory that study the effects of mixture (hybridity) upon identity and culture. The principal theorists of hybridity are Homi Bhabha, Néstor García Canclini, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, and Paul Gilroy, whose works respond to the multi-cultural awareness that emerged in the early 1990s. Moreover, in their discussions of hybridity, there recurs the literature of post-colonial and of magical realist writers, such as Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, and J. M. Coetzee.
In the theoretic development of hybridity, the key text is The Location of Culture (1994), by Homi Bhabha, wherein the liminality of hybridity is presented as a paradigm of colonial anxiety. The principal proposition is the hybridity of colonial identity, which, as a cultural form, made the colonial masters ambivalent, and, as such, altered the authority of power; as such, Bhabha’s arguments are important to the conceptual discussion of hybridity. Although the original, theoretic development of hybridity addressed the narratives of cultural imperialism, Bhabha’s work also comprehends the cultural politics of the condition of being “a migrant” in the contemporary metropolis. Yet, hybridity no longer is solely associated with migrant populations and with border towns, it also applies contextually to the flow of cultures and their interactions.
That critique of cultural imperialist hybridity meant that the rhetoric of hybridity progressed to challenging essentialism, and is applied to sociological theories of identity, multiculturalism, and racism. Moreover, polyphony is another important element of hybridity theory, by Mikhail Bakhtin, which is applied to hybrid discourses presented in folklore and anthropology.
A rhetorical cul-de-sac
The development of hybridity theory as a discourse of anti-essentialism marked the height of the popularity of academic "hybridity talk". However the usage of hybridity in theory to eliminate essentialist thinking and practices (namely racism) failed as hybridity itself is prone to the same essentialist framework and thus requires definition and placement. A number of arguments have followed in which promoters and detractors argue the uses of hybridity theory. Much of this debate can be criticized as being excessively bogged down in theory and pertaining to some unhelpful quarrels on the direction hybridity should progress e.g. attached to racial theory, post-colonialism, cultural studies, or globalization. Sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse highlights these core arguments in a debate that promotes hybridity. Some on the left, such as cultural theorist John Hutnyk, have criticized hybridity as politically void.
The cultural effect of globalization
The next phase in the use of the term has been to see hybridity as a cultural effect of globalization. For example, hybridity is presented by Kraidy as the ‘cultural logic’ of globalization as it "entails that traces of other cultures exist in every culture, thus offering foreign media and marketers transcultural wedges for forging affective links between their commodities and local communities." Another promoter of hybridity as globalization is Jan Nederveen Pieterse, who asserts hybridity as the rhizome of culture. He argues that globalization as hybridization opposes views which see the process as homogenizing, modernizing, and westernizing, and that it broadens the empirical history of the concept. However neither of these scholars have reinvigorated the hybridity theory debate in terms of solving its inherent problematics. The term hybridity remains contested precisely because it has resisted the appropriations of numerous discourses despite the fact that it is radically malleable.
Hybridity in linguistics
Linguistic hybridity and the case of mixed languages challenge the Tree Model in linguistics. For example, "Israeli" (term for Modern Hebrew) is a Semito-European hybrid language and "demonstrates that the reality of linguistic genesis is far more complex than a simple family tree system allows. 'Revived' languages are unlikely to have a single parent."
Hybridity in art
Presently, human beings are immersed in a hybridised environment of reality and augmented reality on a daily basis, considering the proliferation of physical and digital media (i.e. print books vs. e-books, music downloads vs. physical formats). Many people attend performances intending to place a digital recording device between them and the performers, intentionally "layering a digital reality on top of the real world." For artists working with and responding to new technologies, the hybridisation of physical and digital elements has become a reflexive reaction to this strange dichotomy. For example, in Rooms by Sara Ludy computer-generated effects process physical spaces into abstractions, making familiar environments and items such as carpets, doors and windows disorientating, set to the sound of an industrial hum. In effect, the distinction between real and virtual space is deconstructed.
- Post-colonial theory
- Migrant literature
- Intercultural theatre
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