Postcolonialism, Multiculturalism, Orientalism

Key theorists:

Stuart Hall

Edward Said

Michel Foucault

Antonio Gramsci

Franz Fanon

In our most recent lecture, we discussed how identity is formed through notion of Postcolonialism, focusing on Orientalism (Said 1970) and how these discourses of identity, power, and culture have come to create specific and deeply ingrained cultural identities for certain groups of people.

Orientialism seeks to highlight how there is a long history of constructing anything non-Western as being exotic, dangerous, mysterious, and secretive. It is outside of the Western norm and therefore it becomes ‘Other’. These discourses stem from Colonial and Imperialist writings, but continue to persist and reproduce themselves today, despite the evidence of Postcolonialism and Postmodernism being in existence. We need to undertand and accept that Orientalism continues to ‘other’ anything non-Western as being something elusive. It can be seen to fetishise the non-Western, as well as creating a distinct form of alienation between the two.

Issues of alienation are discussed by Fanon, and we can see this clearly through Orientialism and Postcolonialism. As discourses of Orientialism continue to be reproduced, the binary between East and West continues to be strengthened. We start to see how those falling under Orientalism start to internalise this discourse, to believe and enact it. Fanon noted this as a form of self-alienation, as seeing one’s own body and identity as being ‘other’ and outside of the norm.

In thinking about how individuals internalise these discourses of power, we need to think about how power itself works with and through these discourses. Foucault discussed that power is not in the style of a top-down Marxist approach. Instead, power is a way of producing, facilitating, and circulating enactments of power. He saw discourses of power as a way in which social realities themselves are operated and circulated, and consequently these discourses are how people come to perceive objects, places, and cultures around them. Power is distributed through discourses, and all identities, including East and West, are part of this construction through discourse. Gramsci in his writings on hegemony saw some similar, looking at where power is situated and centred and how it comes to be distributed. In the case of Orientalism, we need to look at who has the power to create such a dichotomous discourse of East and West, and how we understand the dynamics that centre around historical and societal contexts within this. Orientalism is itself a discourse designed, reproduced, and distributed through Western discourses of power so that the Orient could be managed on an ideological scale.

However, we now live in a Postmodern and Postcolonial era. We have a much greater understanding of how cultures operate and how discourses of power circulate and influence. We understand that being ‘Postcolonial’ means we continue to carry the baggage of the colonial past with us – we are a long way from being past-colonialism. In understanding the historical and social implication that surround power and discourses of identity reproduction, we can start to see how we can break them down as a result. We now have the capacity to criticise and develop our understanding of why and how Orientalism came to be such a dominant form of circulated discourse by the West. Of course, we also acknowledge that Orientalism is still endlessly reproduced by the West, and still internalised to an extent by the East. But we can look beyond this, and into the new discourses that surround globalisation, hybridity, and multiculturalism.

Global, hybrid, and multi- cultures have emerged predominantly through Postmodern and Postcolonial discourse. We have the idealistic notion of the cultural melting pot taking place around the world. We do have evidence of the strict structures between East and West starting to break down, but only social. Economic and social development through the world is changing the ways in which countries understand themselves, and this consequently affects how culture is embodied through discourses and notions of power. While the notion of multiculturalism is a positive one for breaking down outdated dichotomies of power between East and West, we need to continue to have an appreciation for individual cultures as well, and continue to navigate how discourses of power and identity are constructed. Stuart Hall discussed that identities are constantly unfixed and in flux. The narrative and subjectivity of an identity is what is central to its realisation. This point becomes even more important as we move into a global/hybrid/multi cultural society, and we see how identity’s unstable and unfixed nature ┬áleads to transformations of discourse construction.

CASE STUDY IN MULTICULTURALISM: ANASTASIYA SHPAGINA

Anastasiya Shpagina, also known as Fukkacumi, is a YouTube make-up artist and fashion icon. She has a large following on both her YouTube and Instagram, thanks largely due to her unique and exotic blend of cultural styles that form a huge part of her identity.

Shpagina blends Eastern femininities, specifically Japanese styles like lolita and kawaii, with Western notions of white beauty (including French bisque doll influences) to create a new form of feminine identity that she performs. She expertly blends these two cultures of femininity and as a result, creates an unusual and striking new performance and identity within herself. She draws heavily upon both cultures of femininity, and performs it with a remarkable level of skill and flexibility.

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Gender and Identity: Posthuman Bodies, Online Identity

The module started off with an in-depth discussion on ideas such as online identity, Posthumanism and Posthuman bodies, cyborgs and cybernetics, and technologization of the self. Key authors discussed included Donna Haraway, Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Rosie Braidotti.

In my own research, I have looked at ideas of online identity and how we take the body online through practices such as embodiment and creating the digital self or digital body which carries us online through feeling and immersion into the digital landscape. My immersive experiences with World of Warcraft during a module last term, and also my current research on representations of femininity online, have given me sufficient evidence to understand that for me, taking the self online is a highly involved, emotive process. I draw heavily upon the sensorial reactions that occur during my online experiences with this conclusion – during MMO play online, I am filled with a huge range of emotions, from frustration to happiness. Through the use of the avatar online, I can understand these senses in a way that is both online and offline. It is this understanding of ideas such as the sensorium and sensoreality that deeply shape my understanding of ethnographical research on digital platforms, as well as how these things can affect myself as a researcher.

When discussing Posthumanism, it raises ideas such as what it means to be human, how we as humans understand ourselves within the world (and within the digital world), and how we develop understanding of living in contemporary society and notions of equality – particularly in terms of life and the ‘non human’ i.e. treatment of animals and the environment. When we look at Postmodern society as a combination of capitalism and neoliberalism in its construction, it is easy to see how Posthumanism, calling out for equality and a greater evaluation of humanity beyond it current condition, can get lost. However, we can still see Posthumanism enacted through things like digital bodies, online communities, extensions of the self through media (McLuhan) and the ideas of ‘the Messy Digital’ – the constant spreading out of digital media and information on the web without containment or order.

Posthumanism is strongly tied into Postmodern identity. With the rapid development of new digital technologies, bringing us online, and new scientific movements such as bio-mechanics and gene splicing/therapy/editing, we can see how an idea like Posthumanism is being played out within the human body and psyche. It is here that we can start to see how Donna Haraway’s work on the Cyborg Manifesto is coming into being in the present day.

The Cyborg Manifesto looks for the link between culture and technology, between human and machine, between actual and virtual reality. It is not truly part of Posthumanism discourse, but instead can be seen as a bridging text between Posthumanism and Postmodernism, with discussions of the digital body mixed in. It seeks to discuss what goes beyond the boundaries of currently understood notions of identity, and to see where we are headed. Seeing how bodies react and adapt within the digital is symbolic of the Cyborg Manifesto, as it looks to explore how new identities are emerging as a result of new platforms and technologies available. Consequentially, as we explore new ways of being ‘not human’ i.e being digital bodies and in virtual reality, the question of what being human means has arisen. Baudrillard noted that as we have developed new technologies to play with our identities, a growing anxiety has arisen around what it means to be human.

Answering such a huge question like ‘what does it mean to be human’ is not easy. What we can highlight is that through embodied practices in online and digital spaces, we can take our humanity online with us. Emotion, the body, senses of identity and self, these are all pieces of baggage that we take with us, even into the online space which is promised as a utopia supposedly free from these things. In order to develop our online identity, we must first have something to springboard it from – namely, what our bodily/physical identity is. Even if it is to reject this, in rejecting our ‘real’ identity, it is still shaping our online selves. Ideas like the singularity, and dystopian notions of the machine superseding the human, are concerns only raised in the last century or so. But in truth, as technology develops and advances, so does our understanding of how we are ‘human’, therefore creating a constant leapfrog between the two ideas of the human and the machine.

Will we ever become truly Posthuman? Possibly, but with the current global situation being so turbulent, I think that understanding what it means to be human, is the first priority.