Chapter 4 (Dis)Placing Culture and Cultural Space Locations of Nonverbal and Verbal

Chapter 4 (Dis)Placing Culture and Cultural Space Locations of Nonverbal and Verbal Communication
Hybrid cultural space in Shanghai, China
Courtesy of Kathryn Sorrells
Learning Objectives
Describe the relationships among culture, place, cultural space, and identity in the context of globalization.
Explain how people use communicative practices to construct, maintain, negotiate, and hybridize cultural spaces.
Explain how cultures are simultaneously placed and displaced in the global context leading to segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces.
Describe the practice of bifocal vision to highlight the linkages between “here” and “there,” as well as the connections between present and past.
Learning Objectives
Describe the relationships among culture, place, cultural space, and identity in the context of globalization.
Explain how people use communicative practices to construct, maintain, negotiate, and hybridize cultural spaces.
Explain how cultures are simultaneously placed and displaced in the global context leading to segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces.
Describe the practice of bifocal vision to highlight the linkages between “here” and “there,” as well as the connections between present and past.
Take a look around yourself. Notice the place where you are and the space that surrounds you. Perhaps you are in your dorm room, apartment, home, or office. How is this space “cultural” space? How is the use and organization of space, the objects or artifacts that fill the space, and the verbal and nonverbal language used in this space cultural? Is there a sense of gender, ethnic, racial, national, and/or religious identity communicated? Now consider the neighborhood you live in, where you shop, consume food and entertainment, and meet with friends. Can you identify cultural dimensions of these spaces? Don’t forget that places and spaces you may see as “normal,” “just the way things are,” or even “lacking in culture”—a shopping mall or your school campus, for example—are, in fact, products of culture. While spaces of nondominant groups are often marked as “cultural,” those unmarked spaces in the United States that are constructed and shaped by the dominant European American or White culture are also cultural. As you imagine moving in a broader circle from where you are to your neighborhood, then to your geographic region, to the nation, and then across national boundaries, do you experience a layering, intersection, or friction between different cultural spaces?
Expanding on the previous chapter, we now move outward from the body to explore and “read” the cultural and intercultural communication dimensions of place, space, and location. In this chapter, we examine how cultures are simultaneously placed and displaced, inevitably located in specific places, and yet dislocated from their sites of origin in the context of globalization. Since the early 1990s, the confluence of forces that shape the terrain of globalization has dramatically accelerated the displacement and replacement of people, cultures, and cultural spaces. Given this displacement and fragmentation of cultures, we investigate how human beings use communicative practices to construct, maintain, negotiate, reconstruct, and hybridize cultural spaces. Penetration, disruption, and mixing of cultural spaces have occurred on a worldwide scale since the European colonial era.
Understanding globalization as a legacy of colonization allows us to recognize how cultural spaces experienced today—segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces—sustain historically forged relations of unequal power. Yet, these cultural spaces are also sites where Western hegemony is negotiated, challenged, and changed. Building on the case study introduced in the previous chapter, hip hop culture is used to illustrate the cultural and intercultural dimensions of place, space, and location in the context of globalization.
Placing Culture and Cultural Space
Historically, notions of culture have been closely bound to place, geographic location, and the creation of collective and shared cultural spaces. The traditional anthropological definition of culture, as noted in Chapter 1, implies that cultures are bounded entities that are grounded in place, which allows for shared meanings to develop and be passed along. Based on this definition, a reciprocal relationship exists between culture and place. To understand place is to understand culture and vice versa. Introducing an anthology of essays by anthropologists called Senses of Place, philosopher Edward S. Casey (1996) argued the following:
Given that culture manifestly exists, it must exist somewhere, and it exists more concretely and completely in places than in minds or signs. The very word culture meant “place tilled” in Middle English, and the same word goes back to Latin colere, “to inhabit, care for, till, worship.” To be cultural, to have a culture, is to inhabit a place sufficiently intensely to cultivate it—to be responsible for it, to respond to it, to attend to it caringly. Where else but in particular places can culture take root? (pp. 33– 34)
Cultural practices, norms, behaviors, and values, then, have historically been understood as emerging from and being defined by ongoing interactions among people who are situated in specific locations, and through shared interaction, construct cultural spaces. Yet today, culture and cultural spaces have been deterritorialized, removed from their original locations and reterritorialized or resituated in new locations through global flows of people, technology, finance, and ideas (Inda & Rosaldo, 2008). These global flows have created fragmented and disjointed cultural “scapes” and cultural spaces (Appadurai, 1996). What do we mean by cultural space?
Cultural Space
Building on Judith Martin and Thomas Nakayama’s (2004) definition, cultural space is defined as the communicative practices that construct meanings in, through, and about particular places. Let’s examine the concept of cultural space more closely. Can you identify some of the verbal and nonverbal communicative practices that define an academic cultural space? Do you use language in the classroom that may not easily translate in conversations with your family or friends outside of campus? The buildings on a campus, the exterior and interior spaces, and the kind and arrangement of furniture certainly all construct academic cultural space. Are there also nonverbal communication norms that are specific to the cultural space of a classroom? When you are in a club—a sports bar, a karaoke club, or a country western bar—or when you go to places of worship, such as a synagogue, church, mosque, or temple, there are particular architectural features, artifacts, uses of space, and language, as well as verbal and nonverbal practices that construct the cultural space of these particular places.
These are all cultural spaces that are constructed through the communicative practices developed and lived by people in particular places. Communicative practices include the languages, accents, slang, dress, artifacts, architectural design, the behaviors and patterns of interaction, as well as the stories, the discourses, and histories. Places and the cultural spaces that are constructed in particular locations also give rise to collective and individual identities.
Communicative Dimensions Space and Cultural Differences
Na-young, an international student from South Korea, tells a story about space and cultural differences:
A few months after I moved to the United States, a professor of mine and her husband invited me to their house for dinner. They had just moved into this very nice, big house. When I arrived, they asked me if I wanted to see the house. First, they took me to their living room and kitchen, which was very nicely decorated. In the hallway, they had many pictures framed on the wall with their family and wedding photographs.
I enjoyed the tour very much until they took me to their master bedroom. Then it got really awkward for me. Looking at their king size bed, I was so confused and thought to myself ‘why are they showing me their bedroom?’ To me, a bedroom is a private space and it was really strange that my professor was showing her student her bedroom.
I have been in the United States for a couple of years now and I learned that it is a part of custom here to show your guests around the house—all the house! Some people use their living space to express their identity, lifestyle, and accomplishments.
Communicative Dimensions Space and Cultural Differences
Na-young, an international student from South Korea, tells a story about space and cultural differences:
A few months after I moved to the United States, a professor of mine and her husband invited me to their house for dinner. They had just moved into this very nice, big house. When I arrived, they asked me if I wanted to see the house. First, they took me to their living room and kitchen, which was very nicely decorated. In the hallway, they had many pictures framed on the wall with their family and wedding photographs.
I enjoyed the tour very much until they took me to their master bedroom. Then it got really awkward for me. Looking at their king size bed, I was so confused and thought to myself ‘why are they showing me their bedroom?’ To me, a bedroom is a private space and it was really strange that my professor was showing her student her bedroom.
I have been in the United States for a couple of years now and I learned that it is a part of custom here to show your guests around the house—all the house! Some people use their living space to express their identity, lifestyle, and accomplishments.
Place, Cultural Space, and Identity
In greater metropolitan Los Angeles, residents make broad identity distinctions based on place; for example, people talk about being from “the city” or from “over the hill” in “the Valley.” As you can imagine, all sorts of stereotypes, assumptions, and judgments, as well as emotional attachments, feelings of belonging, and identification, underlie being from “the city” or “the Valley.” In the Seattle, Washington, area, as in all places around the world, the neighborhood or area where you live—”where you come from,” such as the Central District, Queen Anne Hill, Rainier Valley, Mercer Island, or Kent—communicates meaning about your identity, class status, power positions, and history. In small towns in the United States, people use the expression that “they (as opposed to “us”) live on the wrong side of the tracks,” the “bad” part of town, geographically placing or positioning the “Other” in terms of hierarchies of class and sometimes race or ethnicity. The way people who live in one place talk about and make meaning about their identity and their “home” or cultural space can be very different from how they are labeled, represented, and seen by others. For example, the South Side of Chicago, the South Bronx in New York, or South Los Angeles (formerly South Central Los Angeles) are represented in mainstream media as drug and crime infested, dangerous places. However, residents likely have very different versions of the story about the place called “home.” Meanings about places, cultural spaces, and the collective identities that arise from them are constructed, negotiated, and circulated within a context of unequal relations of power. This example illustrates the difference between avowed identity, the way we see, label, and make meaning about ourselves, and ascribed identity, the way others may view, name, and describe us and our group.
As noted in previous chapters, it is important to consider who has control and power over the texts (in this case, mass media texts) that are constructed. Like the texts that were written and circulated constructing and legitimizing the ideology of race in the colonial era, mass mediated texts disseminating stories about the South Bronx, South Los Angeles, and the South Side of Chicago are narrated by invisible sources who appear to come from neutral positions. Yet, just as locations, such as the South Bronx, South Los Angeles, or the South Side of Chicago are marked in terms of race, class, and culture, mainstream media texts derive from a position or location literally and figuratively and perpetuate certain interests and points of view. Places or locations marked by the intersection of race, class, gender, and culture as well other categories of difference correlate to locations of enunciation—sites or positions from which to speak. An individual’s or group’s location of enunciation can be a platform from which to voice a perspective and be heard. An individual’s or group’s location of enunciation can also be a site of silencing and erasure—a voiceless place. Differing locations of enunciation that are structured by asymmetrical relations of power impact our intercultural communication in interpersonal, community, national, and global interactions. In the global arena, race and gender combine with nationality and geopolitical regions (the West, the East, the North, or the South) to construct different locations of enunciation that enable and constrain the ability to speak and to be heard for groups and individuals. Territorial maps of difference that connect cultural spaces and identities to particular places are deeply rooted in historical and contemporary intercultural interactions, political contestation, and economic struggle. Consider your city, state, the nation, and the world.
How are differences in terms of race and class mapped onto geographic locations? How do these mappings shape locations of enunciation? Now consider how cultural spaces are gendered and how gender impacts locations of enunciation.
As mentioned earlier, cultures and cultural spaces have been studied historically as if they were distinct entities bound to particular places and specific geographic locations. While place is central to the construction of cultural spaces and identities, Appadurai (1988) noted that “natives, confined to and by the places to which they belong, groups unsullied by contact with a larger world, have probably never existed” (p. 39). We know that precolonial societies traded with each other creating regional patterns of intercultural exchange. Armies of emperors, tribal leaders, and feudal lords fought in regional conflicts resulting in the collision, occupation, and overlap of cultural spaces. Colonization, beginning in the 15th century, linked regional circuits of intercultural exchange creating worldwide interconnection, which broadened the scope of displacement of people as well as the mixing and collision of cultural spaces. In other words, the dislocation, intersection, and contestation of cultural spaces we experience today are not entirely new. Yet, while globalization has historical antecedents, the deterritorialization, or uprooting of people and cultural forms, and the reterritorialization, or relocation of people and cultural products, as well as
the fragmentation and fusion of cultures on a global scale are exponentially greater than in the past.
Cultural Identity Views on “Home” and Identity
Monica is Japanese American born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Sayaka is an international student born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. They discuss their views on “home,” and cultural identity:
Monica: “When I came to university in a small town, I had so many people ask me ‘where are you from?’ When I say ‘I’m from Chicago,’ they often respond, ‘well, where are you really from?’ It’s frustrating when people do not believe that I belong here. This is the only country I know. My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Japan, but I see myself as an American.”
Sayaka: “When people ask me where I am from, I’m proud to say, ‘I’m from Japan.’ It’s complicated though when they start asking me all kinds of questions about Japan. I feel like I have to represent all people in Japan. There are so many kinds of people in Japan. It makes me feel like they see me only as Japanese and nothing else.”
Monica’s avowed identity is American, yet many people ascribe a Japanese or foreign identity to her, which causes tension. An unexamined assumption that “American” means “White” underlies the responses she gets. For Sayaka, congruence exists in terms of national culture between her avowed and ascribed identities, yet, in conversations, her cultural “difference” obscures her other identities and she is expected to speak for all Japanese people.
How do each of their identities and positionalities impact what they can say and what others expect to hear?
Cultural Identity Views on “Home” and Identity
Monica is Japanese American born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Sayaka is an international student born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. They discuss their views on “home,” and cultural identity:
Monica: “When I came to university in a small town, I had so many people ask me ‘where are you from?’ When I say ‘I’m from Chicago,’ they often respond, ‘well, where are you really from?’ It’s frustrating when people do not believe that I belong here. This is the only country I know. My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Japan, but I see myself as an American.”
Sayaka: “When people ask me where I am from, I’m proud to say, ‘I’m from Japan.’ It’s complicated though when they start asking me all kinds of questions about Japan. I feel like I have to represent all people in Japan. There are so many kinds of people in Japan. It makes me feel like they see me only as Japanese and nothing else.”
Monica’s avowed identity is American, yet many people ascribe a Japanese or foreign identity to her, which causes tension. An unexamined assumption that “American” means “White” underlies the responses she gets. For Sayaka, congruence exists in terms of national culture between her avowed and ascribed identities, yet, in conversations, her cultural “difference” obscures her other identities and she is expected to speak for all Japanese people.
How do each of their identities and positionalities impact what they can say and what others expect to hear?
Intercultural Praxis Locations of Enunciation
In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, in August 2014, a Black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a White police officer, Darren Wilson. Residents of Ferguson and supporters from around the country protested in the streets demanding the arrest of Wilson. The highly disputed circumstances of the shooting ignited longstanding racial tensions between the majority Black community and the majority White city government and police. Sixty-seven percent of residents of Ferguson are Black; 94% of the police force is White; yet, historically, Black residents account for the vast majority of arrests (Swaine, 2014). In the days immediately following the shooting, police dressed in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters to disperse crowds. Demonstrators and civil rights activists decried the militarization of Ferguson evidenced by the use of armored vehicles, camouflage gear, and martial law tactics. In the months following the shooting, at least five police officers other than Wilson and a former officer in Ferguson were named in federal lawsuits alleging excessive use of force.
In September 2014, prosecutors convened a St. Louis grand jury to decide whether to charge Darren Wilson or not. However, before the grand jury decision, information in the form of autopsy and forensic reports as well as the testimony of unnamed Black witnesses was leaked to the public. Michael Brown’s family, supporters, and civil rights leaders opposed the grand jury proceeding for the very reason that it shrouded the case in secrecy and allowed authorities too much control over the “facts” of the case and timing of releases. “The family wanted a jury trial that was transparent, not one done in secrecy, not something that they believe is an attempt to sweep their son’s death under the rug,” an attorney of the Brown family, Benjamin L. Crump, said (Kindly & Horowitz, 2014).
How are the locations of enunciation different for the protesters, the Brown family and supporters, the police, and the grand jury? In what ways were the protesters and Black residents of Ferguson reclaiming a location of enunciation?
How does the concept of the power of the text discussed in the previous chapter relate to the sources and timing of media texts in this case?
How do racial/cultural frames and positionality shape perspectives on the shooting and the protests? What role do histories of inequity, disenfranchisement and silencing play in this situation?
How can you use the intercultural praxis model to make sense of new information that has emerged since the shooting, the protests, and the grand jury decision?
Intercultural Praxis Locations of Enunciation
In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, in August 2014, a Black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a White police officer, Darren Wilson. Residents of Ferguson and supporters from around the country protested in the streets demanding the arrest of Wilson. The highly disputed circumstances of the shooting ignited longstanding racial tensions between the majority Black community and the majority White city government and police. Sixty-seven percent of residents of Ferguson are Black; 94% of the police force is White; yet, historically, Black residents account for the vast majority of arrests (Swaine, 2014). In the days immediately following the shooting, police dressed in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters to disperse crowds. Demonstrators and civil rights activists decried the militarization of Ferguson evidenced by the use of armored vehicles, camouflage gear, and martial law tactics. In the months following the shooting, at least five police officers other than Wilson and a former officer in Ferguson were named in federal lawsuits alleging excessive use of force.
In September 2014, prosecutors convened a St. Louis grand jury to decide whether to charge Darren Wilson or not. However, before the grand jury decision, information in the form of autopsy and forensic reports as well as the testimony of unnamed Black witnesses was leaked to the public. Michael Brown’s family, supporters, and civil rights leaders opposed the grand jury proceeding for the very reason that it shrouded the case in secrecy and allowed authorities too much control over the “facts” of the case and timing of releases. “The family wanted a jury trial that was transparent, not one done in secrecy, not something that they believe is an attempt to sweep their son’s death under the rug,” an attorney of the Brown family, Benjamin L. Crump, said (Kindly & Horowitz, 2014).
How are the locations of enunciation different for the protesters, the Brown family and supporters, the police, and the grand jury? In what ways were the protesters and Black residents of Ferguson reclaiming a location of enunciation?
How does the concept of the power of the text discussed in the previous chapter relate to the sources and timing of media texts in this case?
How do racial/cultural frames and positionality shape perspectives on the shooting and the protests? What role do histories of inequity, disenfranchisement and silencing play in this situation?
How can you use the intercultural praxis model to make sense of new information that has emerged since the shooting, the protests, and the grand jury decision?
Displacing Culture and Cultural Space
Culture has been displaced and unhinged from its geographic moorings in our highly dynamic, mobile, and globalized world. However, Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo (2008) noted that culture is not simply floating out there in some unidentifiable space; rather, culture is constantly and continually replaced in new environments and new places, however temporary, cyclical, or fleeting the replacement may be. I use the phrase (dis)placing culture and cultural space in the chapter title to capture the complex, contradictory, and contested nature of cultural space and the relationship between culture and place that has emerged in the context of globalization. As people and cultural products circulate globally, new cultural spaces are created, intersecting and colliding with existing cultural spaces, in locations often quite distant and geographically removed from their places of origin. Imagine walking the narrow Spanish colonial streets in “Old Town” San Juan, Puerto Rico, and stepping through the doorway of Tantra, a restaurant that serves a delicious fusion of Latin and Indian food to tourists and locals while a Puerto Rican woman belly dances. Picture weaving along the bumpy, rutted dirt roads on the outskirts of Bangalore, India, where glass and steel corporate call centers contrast with the bustling street vendors and pedestrians outside. Consider surfing the channels on the TV in Bangkok, Thailand. You can see a collage of “virtual” cultural spaces from the Korean hip hop scene, to the U.S. “reality-show” Survivor, to Thai soap operas. Visualize driving through Beijing where T.G.I. Friday’s, McDonald’s, KFC, and other fast-food chains dot the urban landscape, often occupying prime locations adjacent to historic sites symbolic of Chinese culture. These visual juxtapositions indicate the displacement of local cuisines and cultures. What examples of displaced and replaced cultural spaces can you identify in your neighborhood, town, or city?
Photo 4.1 Past and present converge and collide as corporate interests brand historic sites
©xPACIFICA/Corbis
Globalization is characterized by a time–space compression bringing seemingly disparate cultures into closer and closer proximity, intersection, and juxtaposition with each other (Harvey, 1990). Time and space are experienced as compressed due to increasingly rapid communication and transportation technologies. As time needed for
people and messages to travel across distances is shortened physically through air travel and representationally through electronically mediated communication, time and space are experienced as condensed. Of course, the actual distance from New York to New Delhi has not changed. However, we experience time–space compression as people, media, money and ideas move more frequently and more rapidly today. As cultural spaces are permeated, disrupted, transported, and relocated in new places around the globe, a continuous process of fragmentation, contestation, hybridization, and fusion of cultures and cultural spaces occurs. Yet, place and location still matter. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1996) stated the following:
For it is still the case that no one lives in the world in general. Everybody, even the exiled, the drifting, the diasporic, or the perpetually moving, lives in some confined and limited stretch of it—“the world around here.” The sense of interconnectedness imposed on us by the mass media, by rapid travel, and by long-distance communication obscures this more than a little. (p. 262)
Our goal, then, is to investigate “the world around here.” By “here,” I mean the localized and situated embodiments of culture and intercultural interactions in particular places that are inevitably influenced by globalizing forces.
Glocalization: Simultaneous Forces of Globalization and Localization
In the context of globalization, “the world around here” is infused with, shaped by, and connected to many different cultures that are both “here” and “there”—both present and distant in space and time. Sociologist Anthony Giddens (1994) explicates the “stretching” of social relations across distance as a way to deepen our understanding of connectivity in the context of globalization. For example, what you purchase, “here,” where you are located, affects the livelihood of someone out “there,” around the world. Women, seeking economic survival for themselves and their families, move around the world to care for other people’s children. In this way, social relations are “stretched” across great distances as individuals and families relocate for economic and political reasons; as goods produced in one part of the world are consumed on the other side of the globe; and as cultural products and representations from one location disseminate globally constructing meanings, desires, and identities.
Given the intensifying levels of connectivity, we need to investigate how this particular “here” is linked to “there” and how this linkage of places not only reveals connections across distances, but also over time. We are interested in how present-day spatial connectivity also uncovers colonial histories and postcolonial realities. Glocalization refers to the dual and simultaneous forces of globalization and localization. First introduced in relation to Japanese business practices in the 1980s and later popularized by sociologist Roland Robertson (1992), the concept of glocalization allows us to think about how globalizing forces always operate in relationship to localizing forces.
Given that globalization “happens” in specific locals, glocalization points to the intersection of the global and the local in particular places.
For example, on a street in a metropolitan area in the United States, you might find a Korean evangelical church next to an Iranian bakery and, across the street, a steak house next to a Thai boxing gym. It’s likely that migrants from distant or not-so-distant places labor in the back and the people who frequent these sites are from many different cultural backgrounds. How is the juxtaposition of cultural spaces we experience “here,” in this particular local intercultural context, related to and interconnected with places around the globe through historic and contemporary webs of connectivity? Contemporary multicultural spaces, “the world around here,” are always layered with histories of intercultural interaction and contestation, as well as assimilation and integration of cultural communities and cultural spaces. In order to understand the intercultural dynamics occurring in cultural spaces around us, we need to dig beneath the surface to examine the histories of interaction that literally and figuratively shape and construct meanings about the ground on which we stand today. Thus, cultural spaces embody and materialize webs of connectivity across both space and time.
In this instance, the specific place designated as “here” where a Korean evangelical church, Iranian bakery, steak house, and Thai boxing gym create a multicultural space is in Los Angeles, California. This particular “here” was previously the homeland of indigenous American Indians, which was invaded and conquered by the Spanish at the beginning of the European colonial era in the 16th century. This location was inhabited by citizens of Mexico who were later displaced by the “Westward Movement” of White Americans (experienced as the “Eastern Invasion” by those who were there). In the past 100 years, this place—this particular “here”—has been “home” to Black Americans who moved to the area in the 1920s and 1930s. Fleeing Jim Crow segregation laws of the South, they experienced other types of spatial segregation in their new home. Following WWII, Japanese Americans, attempting to recover their dignity, economic losses, and “place” within U.S. society after their criminalization and detention in “internment camps” (the dominant U.S. phrase for “concentration camps”) also made this place home.
This neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, with its layered, negotiated, and contested cultural spaces, reflects and embodies a complex history of intercultural relations. Today it is home to a small Japanese American community, a significant African American population, and a large Latino/Latina population. The growing presence of Latinos/Latinas in this neighborhood and across the United States can be understood as a result of the displacement of people, culture, and cultural space due to the forces of neoliberal globalization. The increasing Latino/Latina population is also interpreted by some in the United States as an “invasion” from the South. Yet, if
we take a longer historical view, connecting the present to the past, we can also make sense of the changing populations and shifting cultural spaces as a return of people to their home—both a precolonial indigenous ancestral homeland and a Mexican homeland before U.S. annexation. This example illustrates how the patterns and flows of displacement and replacement of peoples and the creation of cultural spaces in the context of globalization are not random. An excavation of “the world around here,” whether “here” is your neighborhood, the site of your university, or the central cross streets of your city, uncovers histories of overlapping and contested cultural spaces that link particular local places to global historical and contemporary events. A statement popularized by immigrant rights groups in Europe and the United States captures this dynamic: “We are here because you were there.” Understanding and “reading” the intercultural dimensions of place, cultural space, and location today requires bifocal vision that attends to the linkages between past and present as well as between place-based dimensions of “here” and “there.”
Let’s take a look at hip hop culture to illustrate concepts and issues relating to the intercultural dynamics of place, space, and location discussed thus far in the chapter. Hip hop culture is only one of many case examples that could be used to explicate the complex relationships among culture, place, and power. Other music-based cultures with historic roots in particular locations and places, such as rave culture, jazz culture, or punk culture could be explored. Neighborhoods or cities that have distinct, hybrid, and contested spaces based on ethnicity, race, or class could be used. Your university or college could be analyzed to uncover the intercultural dimensions of cultural space. As you read the following section, notice how communication is used to construct hip hop cultural spaces, how hip hop cultural spaces that emerge out of particular places define locations of enunciation, and how hip hop youth represent themselves, avowing identities that challenge and contest the ways they have been represented.
Also pay attention to how hip hop culture illustrates processes of deterritorialization/reterritorialization and glocalization. The case study illuminates intercultural communication dynamics and processes operating in cultures in the context of globalization. Segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces are introduced through the case study and are addressed in greater depth after the case study.
Case Study: Hip Hop Culture
South Bronx
Hip hop culture emerged out of the harsh burned-out, poverty-stricken, gang dominated urban spaces of the South Bronx. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982) described the cultural space as a jungle, where lack of education and escalating inflation made him wonder “how I keep from going under.” Black and Puerto Rican youth took what was available to them—their bodies, their cultural forms of expression, and their innovation—to reclaim their “place.” The reclaimed place of hip hop culture is a literal geographic space, a cultural space of belonging and identification as well as a location of enunciation—a sociopolitical and economic site from which to speak. Through creative forms of cultural expression with deep ancestral ties, such as break dancing, graffiti, and rap music, the South Bronx was transformed into a site of pleasure and protest (Rose, 1994). The youth of the South Bronx used the streets, parks, subways, abandoned buildings, and trains as locations for creating, writing, and voicing their own “texts” about their struggles. Transplanted and resignified in urban contexts around the world today, the communicative practices of hip hop culture are rooted in transatlantic African diasporic colonial history. In “The Roots of Hip Hop” (1986), RM HIP HOP MAGAZINE stated the following:
In the beginning there was Africa, and it is from Africa that all today’s black American music—be it Jazz, R’n’B, Soul or Electro—is either directly or indirectly descended. The ancient African tribal rhythms and musical traditions survived the shock of the transportation of millions of Africans as slaves to the Americas, and after 300 years of slavery in the so called Land of the Free the sounds of Old Africa became the new sounds of black America. Rapping, the rhythmic use of spoken or semi-sung lyrics grew from its roots in the tribal chants and the plantation work songs to become an integral part of black resistance to an oppressive white society.
The South Bronx in the 1970s was an urban wasteland—”a Necropolis—a city of death” (Chang, 2005, p. 16). Like many urban centers in the United States, New York City was devastated by the loss of jobs as the forces of globalization geared up and manufacturing industries sought cheaper labor conditions outside the United States in a process called deindustrialization. New York City’s officials mounted a tremendous revitalization program in the 1970s, but areas like the South Bronx, home to working-class and poor Blacks and immigrants, were left out of the plan and off the map. Joblessness, slum landlords, economic divestment, and depopulation from the displacement of over 170,000 residents due to the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway led to the rapid deterioration of the social and economic fabric of the South Bronx community. Out of these conditions, hip hop culture rose as a vibrant, expressive, and oppositional urban youth culture. Trisha Rose (1994) stated, “Hip hop is a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the experience of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity, and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African American and Caribbean history, identity and community” (p. 21).
Back in the Day
From the beginning, the communicative practices of hip hop culture—break dancing, graffiti writing, DJing, and rapping—developed in relationship to particular places, an identification with and defense of territory, and an awareness of sociopolitical locations. Communication scholar Murray Foreman (2004) quoted Grandmaster Flash, one of the first hip hop DJs, as he identified the division of space and place during the early years of hip hop cultural formation:
We had territories. It was like, Kool Herc had the west side. Bam had Bronx River. DJ Breakout had way uptown past Gun Hill. Myself, my area was like 138th Street, Cypress Avenue, up to Gun Hill, so that we had our territories and we all had to respect each other. (p. 202)
The original DJs: Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash of the South Bronx and other Black and Puerto Rican youth who followed, used two turntables; a microphone; sound systems; and the soul, funk, and blues music of earlier times to create new sounds and styles that spoke to, about, and from the inner-city urban Black and Latino/Latina experience. This was their location of enunciation. They borrowed old beats from Africa and the Caribbean and reterritorialized them in the urban Bronx context in creative and inspiring ways, looping colonial histories of oppression with contemporary, postcolonial struggles for survival. Block parties reminiscent of those in Jamaica brought MCs forward who layered words on top of beats, rapping in ways that recalled African and Jamaican cultural communicative practices of toasting or playing the dozens, where rhyming slang is used to put down enemies or tease friends (George, 1998; Rose, 1994).
In the transition from gang affiliations to hip hop culture, gang communicative practices, such as “tagging”—the marking of either your own territory to signify authority and dominance or the marking of others’ territory to provoke—morphed into graffiti “writing,” where individual and group “writers” used the city—walls, buildings, buses, and trains—as their canvas. The initial writing of code names (Taki 183, Kase 2, Lady Pink, etc.) that literally inscribed the identities of individuals and graffiti crews on the urban landscape offered previously dispossessed and silenced youth notoriety and credibility. As the numbers and boldness of writers increased and the size and shapes of their work expanded to murals on subway trains, intense resistance from city officials mounted. The South Bronx youth’s desire to “talk back,” reclaim their space, and represent themselves was criminalized by city offices. The dominant powers spent millions of taxpayer dollars to reassert power, regain control, and take back the “public” space. As Rose (1994) noted, New York City in the mid-1970s was “a city at war to silence its already discarded youths” (p. 45).
Going Commercial
With the recording of “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, hip hop culture catapulted into the complex and contested terrain of commercialization and commodification. As hip hop commercialized and “went national” in the late 1980s, the regional place-based split or “beef” between the East and West Coasts gained prominence. Brian Cross (1993) argued that the rise of hip hop culture on the West Coast and specifically in Compton was “an attempt to figure Los Angeles on the map of hip hop” in a direct communicative “reply to the construction of the South Bronx/Queensbridge nexus in New York” (p. 37). The commercial success of rap has led to artist-owned businesses and independent labels providing employment and economic viability for many African Americans.
The industry fosters entrepreneurial endeavors that have advantaged many dispossessed and marginalized people. Yet, hip hop is a highly contested cultural space. Mainstream middle- and upper-class Whites and Blacks decry the corrosive moral effects of hip hop culture. Yet, the vibrant lyrics of rap and the locations of enunciation pictured and voiced in music videos capture the attention of youth across the United States and the globe.
Photo 4.2 Towering buildings and graffiti mark cultural spaces in New York
©iStockphoto.com/ Lisa-Blue
In rap videos, young mostly male residents speak for themselves and for the community, they speak when and how they wish about subjects of their choosing. These local turf scenes are not isolated voices; they are voices from a variety of social margins that are in dialogue with one another. (Rose, 1994, p.
11)
Fascinated and lured by narratives of rebellion, oppositional identities, and locations on the margin, youth of all ethnic racial backgrounds and particularly White Americans are the primary consumers.
Global Hip Hop Culture
Today, hip hop cultural spaces are materializing around the globe. In urban, suburban, and rural settings in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, hip hop culture has been deterritorialized from the urban centers of the United States and reterritorialized in new locations creating hybrid cultural spaces that illustrate processes of glocalization. Distinctive communicative practices—particular styles of DJing, rapping, break dancing, and graffiti writing—originally constructed hip hop cultural spaces in the South Bronx, traveled to the urban centers of the
U.S. Northeast, the West Coast, across the United States, and now around the globe. While the communicative practices of hip hop cultures around the world are clearly linked to the African diasporic colonial experience, they also rework the qualities of flow, layering, and rupture in their place-based specificity as global forces converge with local forces (Rose, 1994). From his research in Cuba, Brazil and South African, anthropologist Marc Perry (2012) argues that hip hop serves as a conduit for transnational Black cultural identification, where hip hop music, dance, and graffiti communicate Black political consciousness and counter-hegemonic resistance globally. Hip hop culture and styles developed across Europe provide spaces to address local issues of racism, concerns over police brutality, and other challenges faced by disenfranchised youth. In “Hip-Hop à la Française” in the New York Times, professor of African American Studies and French, Samir Meghelli (2013) stated:
There are few cultural forms more American than hip-hop, and yet it has taken firm hold in France. Over the last three decades, France has grown to become the largest market in the world (behind only the United States) for the production and consumption of this genre. But French hip-hop is not a copy of its American precursor. On the contrary, it is a rich scene of French artists who rap in their national language (and local argot) and narrate their own unique socio-political realities.
Indigenous hip hop artists from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Tanzania, and the United States claim that hip hop culture emerging in their communities blends traditional stories and aesthetics with contemporary beats and moves empowering First Nation youth to negotiated differences between tribal and non-tribal cultures (Verán, 2012). Sociologist Andy Bennett (2004) noted that:
the commercial packaging of hip hop as a global commodity has facilitated its easy access by young people in many different parts of the world. Moreover, such appropriations have in each case involved a reworking of hip hop in ways that engage with local circumstances. In every respect then, hip hop is both a global and a local form. (p. 180)
The appropriation of cultural forms and practices originally improvised and created in Black and Puerto Rican inner-city ghettos is central to the global flow of hip hop culture today. The meaning of appropriation varies along a continuum from the idea of “borrowing” to “mishandling” to “stealing” and raises questions about authenticity, ownership, and relations of power. Is hip hop essentially a Black thing? Is it disrespectful, inauthentic, or a subtle continuation of colonial practices for White rappers like the Beastie Boys, Eminem, Mac Miller, and Yelawolf to borrow, mimic, use, and rework Black cultural practices? Sociologist Paul Gilroy (1993) argued that “the transnational structures which brought the black Atlantic world into being have themselves developed and now articulate its myriad forms into a system of global communications constituted by flows” (p. 80). In other words, Gilroy pointed out how the African diaspora is rooted in the development of Western capitalism. Today, hip hop circulates through a global communication system as a result of the networks of connectivity established during the colonial era. “Black” culture becomes global culture as hip hop is deterritorialized and reterritorialized around the globe, and the music and styles mesh with and call forth local responses (Bennett, 2004).
Hip hop cultural spaces, forms, and practices illustrate the complex and paradoxical nature of intercultural communication in the context of globalization. While enabling economic mobility and providing a platform for
speaking—a visible and audible location of enunciation—mainstream rap narratives often promote stereotypes about communities of color and valorize danger, violence, misogyny, and homophobia. The commodification of hip hop culture—turning the culture into a product for sale and appropriating a message of rebellion and protest to sell everything from jeans to Jeeps—defuses and neutralizes the potentially resistive and counter-hegemonic message of hip hop. Tricia Rose (2008) argues that hip hop’s “tragic trinity”—black gangstas, pimps, and hos— driven by corporate mass media and facilitated by mainstream White America, black youth and black industry moguls have nearly destroyed hip hop. The “hip hop wars,” a battle framed by those who adamantly reject hip hop and those who uncritically defend it, mask critical factors—massive corporate consolidation, new media technologies, an increasing appetite for racially stereotypical entertainment, and a valorization of violence and misogyny—that create toxic conditions in hip hop and the broader mainstream culture (Rose, 2008).
Today, hip hop cultural spaces are places of belonging and identification, spaces of opposition and resistance, as well as spaces where ideologies of domination and exclusion are disseminated around the globe. Hip hop cultural spaces are locations of enunciation where the stories of the dispossessed and marginalized “others” spin and spit alternative texts that can and do challenge, resist, and rewrite dominant narratives. Yet, the commodification of hip hop culture has manufactured “mainstream” or “commercial” hip hop, which produces texts that comply with and shore up dominant ideologies. Consuming and enjoying hip hop beats does not constitute socially responsible action; nor does this alone create social change. Creative and conscious participation in hip hop culture that challenges inequities and uplifts the community can and does create social change. The case study on hip hop culture points to the central role of power—economic, social, political, and discursive power—in the formation, maintenance, and disruption of cultural spaces. In the following section, segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces are examined highlighting the way power circulates in each.
Cultural Space, Power, and Communication
Throughout history and today, space has been used to establish, exert, and maintain power and control. Power is signified, constructed, and regulated through size, shape, access, containment, and segregation of space. In other words, the use of space communicates. Consider the largest metropolises in the world today—Tokyo, Japan; Jakarta, Indonesia; Delhi, India; Seoul, Korea; Manila, Philippines; Shanghai, China; Karachi, Pakistan; New York City, United States; and San Paulo, Brazil. How do you think power is symbolized through the use of space in these cities today? In the Middle Ages in Europe, churches were the tallest buildings and occupied central locations in cities signifying the importance of religious authority. In the Ottoman Empire, no building was built higher than the minarets of mosques. European colonizers erected churches on top of local religious sites from the Americas to India and Africa to materially and symbolically impose colonial rule. Massive, elaborate, and substantial buildings were constructed in Europe and the colonies during the period of nation-state building, signifying governmental power.
Today, the signs of power in metropolises around the world are the financial buildings—the towering, glitzy, eye- catching economic centers of transnational capitalism. Financial centers around the globe like the Twin Towers in New York City are symbols of wealth, prosperity, and participation in global, transnational flows of capital. In other words, they signify access to resources and communicate power. Like all signs, buildings that are erected with multinational and transnational capital acquire meaning within a signification system that includes its opposite, or the lack of access to wealth and power. Towering skyscrapers also signify unequal relations of economic and political power. As Edward T. Hall (1966) elaborated in his book The Hidden Dimension, the way cultures use space communicates. Let’s take a look now at how power is exerted and negotiated through communication in the construction of segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces.
Segregated Cultural Space
Around the world, spatial segregation exists today and has existed historically in cities and rural areas based on socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, political, and religious differences. Ethnic, racial, religious, as well as sexual minority cultural groups may choose to live in communities in close proximity as a way to reinforce and maintain cultural spaces and to buffer themselves from real or perceived hostile forces around them. These cultural spaces—more appropriately understood as voluntary separation rather than segregation—often provide and reinforce a sense of belonging, identification, and empowerment. Yet, there are many historical and contemporary examples of segregated cultural spaces: the imposition and use of spatial segregation to maintain the hegemony of the dominant group and to restrict and control access of nondominant groups to power and resources. The word ghetto, used primarily today to refer to ethnic or racial neighborhoods of urban poverty, originally referred to an area in Venice, Italy, where Jews were segregated and required to live in the 1500s. The reservation system imposed on Native Americans, the Jim Crow laws that segregated Blacks, and the isolation of Japanese Americans during WWII are examples of forced segregation that maintained the hegemony of European Americans and limited access for nondominant groups in the United States.
On the long road from slavery to freedom that many still walk in the United States, African Americans have encountered tremendous obstacles, including various insidious forms of segregation. From the abolition of slavery in 1865 until the civil rights laws of the 1960s, more than 400 state laws, constitutional amendments, and city ordinances were passed by White lawmakers to legalize racial segregation and discrimination against Blacks (and other minorities in the western United States) in the majority of states in the United States. Jim Crow laws segregated Blacks and Whites, first and foremost, restricting contact between the two groups by imposing legal punishment for those who crossed the color line and secondly, restricting interracial marriage (Litwack, 1998).
Visible signs marked the public spaces where Blacks were allowed. If Blacks entered spaces on trains or buses, in public buildings, hospitals, restaurants, theaters, or schools that were not designed for “coloreds” or crossed the line into the “Whites only” area, they were subjected to beating, arrest, and on occasion, death. Today, the use of the word colored to refer to people of color or non-White people is problematic and often experienced as derogatory because of the dehumanizing use of the term historically. Jim Crow laws maintained and managed a system of White supremacy constructed through colonization and slavery (Litwack, 1998).
Real estate covenants restricted where Blacks and people of color could live and “Whites-only” towns officially and unofficially segregated Blacks, forcing them into areas where economic resources from businesses to jobs and public services, such as schools and health care, were and continue to be substandard and scarce. Sociologist James Loewen (2006) argued that “Whites-only” towns, what are called “sundown towns,” exist today. “Sundown towns,” so named for their threats of violence aimed at Blacks after the sun sets, are places that have deliberately excluded Blacks for decades and that, today, increasingly exclude Latinos/Latinas. You might think that racial, ethnic, and cultural segregation is a phenomenon of the past in the United States. I often hear students say, “That’s history. It’s over now. Let’s move on.” Well, unfortunately, it isn’t over. First, systemic inequities and injustices of the past continue to impact the present and the future. Second, while laws that blatantly led to segregation, such as the Jim Crow laws, have been abolished, other formal and informal practices support de facto (by practice) segregation today. As discussed in Chapter 3, in the context of neoliberal globalization, race is recoded as class. Given the legacy of colonization and the history of systemic discrimination, the contours of class segregation are closely linked to race. Rearticulating race as class obscures the racial, as well as gender, dimensions of class.
Six decades ago the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal and, thus, unconstitutional; yet, today, schools in the United States are more segregated than they were a few decades ago. Data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 80% of Latino and 74% of Black children attend schools where the majority of students are not white. Approximately 43% of Latino and 38% of Black students are in “intensely segregated schools,” which means less than 10% of their classmates are white (Zalan, 2014).
According to the Executive Summary of the UCLA Civil Rights Project (Orfield, Frankenberg, Ee, & Kuscera, 2014):
Segregation is typically segregation by both race and poverty. Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, but White and Asian students are typically in middle- class schools.
Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas, but it is also severe in central cities of all sizes and suburbs of the largest metro areas, which are now half non-White. Latinos are significantly more segregated than Blacks in suburban America.
The Supreme Court has fundamentally changed desegregation law, and many major court orders have been dropped. Statistical analysis shows that segregation increased substantially after the plans were terminated in many large districts.
A half-century of research shows that many forms of unequal opportunity are linked to segregation. Further, research also finds that desegregated education has substantial benefits for educational and later life outcomes for students from all backgrounds. (p. 2)
Another vivid and compelling illustration is the devastation experienced by victims of Hurricane Katrina. While all people living in New Orleans and the Gulf area were impacted by the natural disaster, low-income, working- class neighborhoods were hit the hardest. Working-class and poor neighborhoods were the least protected from the storm and most vulnerable to the substandard relief efforts that followed. Historically, racial segregation imposed geographic color lines in New Orleans as it did in cities across the United States, and current class segregation maintains these divisions. The New Orleans parish with 67% Black residents was the hardest hit by the storm and floods. Representative Cynthia McKinney (2006) from Georgia reported the following:
Poverty cuts across ethnic divisions, but there is another side to this story . . . whites were evacuated before blacks while blacks were detained or turned back, as happened on the bridge to Gretna. The media stereotyped blacks as “looters” and whites as “takers” and fueled fears of blacks that led to the “invasion” of New Orleans, shockingly by hired mercenaries.
The plight of victims was exacerbated by long-standing and present-day systematic racism and neglect.
These examples illustrate how segregation of cultural spaces structure and reinforce different power positions within socioeconomic, political, and cultural hierarchies. Segregation, whether it is class, race, gender-based, or an intersection of all three, is a powerful means to control, limit, and contain nondominant groups. Spatial segregation is imposed and enforced by systems put in place by a dominant group—in the United States, European Americans or Whites, who maintain White supremacy. Formal and informal institutional systems that restrict access to places and spaces continue to limit the material, social, political, and economic potential of nondominant groups in the United States today. What other examples can you think of that suggest segregated cultural spaces are not relics of the past? As in the case of the forgotten and disenfranchised Black and Latino/Latina youth in the South Bronx, segregated cultural spaces that produce the exclusion of groups from resources—material, symbolic, political, and social resources—have been challenged in the past and are disputed today resulting in contested cultural spaces.
Contested Cultural Space
Chinese immigrants who came to the United States to work from the 1850s onward were forced to live in isolated ethnic enclaves known as Chinatowns in large cities, such as San Francisco and New York. In an article titled “The First Asian Americans” in the Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America, C. N. Le (2006) stated the following:
Because they were forbidden from owning land, intermarrying with Whites, owning homes, working in many occupations, getting an education, and living in certain parts of the city or entire cities, the Chinese basically had no other choice but to retreat into their own isolated communities as a matter of survival. These first Chinatowns at least allowed them to make a living among themselves.
 This is where the stereotypical image of Chinese restaurants and laundry shops, Japanese gardeners and produce stands, and Korean grocery stores began. The point is that these [occupations] did not begin out of any natural or instinctual desire on the part of Asian workers, but as a response to prejudice, exclusion, and institutional discrimination—a situation that still continues in many respects today.
After the devastating 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, White city leaders and landlords wanted to relocate Chinatown, which was situated on prime real estate in the city center, to the outskirts of town claiming that it was an “eyesore and health hazard.” A political battle ensued with the Chinese community leaders strongly protesting the forced displacement. Finally, they were able to convince the White civic leaders that Chinatown could be rebuilt in a “traditional Oriental” style to attract tourists and contribute to the city’s revenue and appeal. We can see how Chinatown is a polysemic cultural space as well as a contested cultural space. A polysemic cultural space means that multiple meanings have been constructed about Chinatown over time. Chinatown was originally seen as a place to exclude and isolate Chinese immigrants by White city power brokers. It was seen and experienced as a refuge, a safe haven, and “home” by and for Chinese immigrants. Powerful White leaders denigrated Chinatown and its residents calling it an “eyesore and health hazard” with a masked goal of repossessing it as a desirable and valuable piece of property. Chinatown was redefined as a “cultural resource” by Chinese immigrant organizers for community empowerment and a product or commodity for sale. Chinese leaders of the dispute had to agree to represent themselves and their community in ways that would appeal to and be marketable to tourists from the dominant European American culture. In a way, Chinatown was appropriated by city power brokers, whether we understand that as borrowed or stolen, for the purpose of commodifying and selling it. The competition or dispute over various meanings and interests—economic, community, symbolic, political, and social meanings and interests—make Chinatown a contested cultural space. Anthropologists Setha Low and Denise Lawrence-Zúñiga (2003) define contested cultural spaces as geographic locations where conflicts engage actors defined by unequal control and access to resources in oppositional and confrontational strategies of resistance.
When we look carefully and critically at our neighborhoods, cities, state, nation, and the world, we can find many examples of contested cultural spaces. In places where different cultural group overlap—based on race, ethnicity, class, sexuality or religion—contestation or friction and disagreement over identity, ownership, and representation often fester. For example, when cultural groups with languages, norms and practices that differ from the group that is dominant settle in an area, arguments and conflicts over whose neighborhood it is, what languages should be used for public signage and how the area is changing as a result of newcomers manifest and magnify. Multiple, intersecting dimensions, rooted in the present and in the past, underlie contested cultural spaces.
In September 2014, one month after the shooting, Ferguson, Missouri, was burning. Protesters marched in the streets demanding justice in the violent and deadly clash between an unarmed African American youth and a White police officer. The police responded to the protests with militarized force. Citizens supporting Michael Brown and resisting police brutality carried signs, such as: Black Lives Matter; Don’t Shoot, I am not a Threat;
Hands Up, Don’t Shoot; Truth is on the Side of the Oppressed; My Blackness is Not a Weapon, Don’t Shoot. Those who supported and identified with Darren Wilson, the police officer, carried signs that said: Support our Police, Pray for Peace; We are Your Voice PO Wilson; It’s About the Rule of Law; I Don’t Support a Race, I Support the Truth. While an initial photo used by mainstream media showed Michael Brown smiling at his high school graduation in a cap and gown, the more commonly used image of him was in a red jersey throwing what could be construed as a gang sign—although friends said it was a peace sign.
Photo 4.3 Community youth protest police violence in Ferguson, Missouri
Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images
Clearly, Ferguson, Missouri, is a contested cultural space. As in many similar incidents, the immediate physical and representational contestations are undergirded by multiple and intersecting racial, ideological, economic, and deeply historical dimensions. Cultural spaces are complex and multifaceted. Understanding Ferguson as a contested cultural space means we dig into the messy, violent, and disturbing terrain to excavate these deep layers. What is the history between the different racial groups in Ferguson? Between citizens and the police? What is the relationship among cultural spaces, race, and power? How do standpoint theory and positionality inform our understanding of this contested cultural space? How does the focus on the innocence or guilt of the police officer mask larger issues of structural inequity and violence? How does media attention on “looting” and “rioting” frame the uprising and protests? Using intercultural praxis, what other issues need excavating to understand contested cultural spaces like Ferguson?
Setha Low and Denise Lawrence-Zúñiga (2003) noted, “Spaces are contested precisely because they concretize the fundamental and recurring, but otherwise unexamined, ideological, and social frameworks that structure practice” (p. 18). Ferguson, Missouri, as a contested cultural space, concretizes and exposes the highly racialized terrain of the United States; the differential access to and identification with authority and power, as well as the criminalization of Black youth and the normalization of structural violence. Let’s take a look at how hybrid cultural spaces are sites of negotiation, resistance, and change.
Hybrid Cultural Space
On the surface, the notion of hybrid cultural spaces appears fairly simple. Most people agree that there is a mixing or blending of cultures in the world today, and through intercultural overlap and intersection, hybrid cultural spaces are constructed. Yet, what is the nature of the blending and mixing? Is it simply an equal mix of two or more cultural ingredients—like food preparation—that creates hybridity and hybrid cultural spaces? The following three examples of hybrid cultural spaces help us understand the power dynamics that structure the terms and conditions of mixing in hybrid cultural spaces.
Imagine you are sitting in a McDonald’s in Moscow, Russia. You might expect to find a situation similar to what you experience here in the United States—a fast, inexpensive, (fat) filling meal in a familiar and standardized space (each one is pretty much like the next one) where you sit down, eat your meal, and leave or take the drive-through option. You might assume you will have an experience of “American” culture in Russia. However, when Shannon Peters Talbot (as cited in Nederveen Pieterse, 2004, p. 50) conducted an ethnographic study of McDonald’s in Moscow, Russia, she found something quite different. Moscowites came to McDonald’s to enjoy the atmosphere, often hanging out for more than an hour. They pay more than one third of the average Russian daily wage for a meal and are drawn to this cultural space for its uniqueness and difference. Instead of “one size fits all” management practices that are generally applied in the United States, McDonald’s in Moscow offers a variety of incentive options for employees (Nederveen Pieterse, 2004).
The proliferation of multinational entities around the globe suggests a corporatization and homogenization of cultural spaces. This McDonaldization of the world (think 23,000 Starbucks in 65 countries; 11,000 Walmart stores in 27 countries outside the United States; 35,000 McDonald’s in 116 countries; etc.) is the result of unequal power relations, which manifests in an asymmetrical global flow of cultural products. Do we see the proliferation of Russian restaurants, coffee shops, and department stores in the United States or around the world? Undoubtedly, this is an example of cultural imperialism or the domination of one culture over others through cultural forms, such as pop culture, media, and cultural products. Without erasing the asymmetrical power relations and the dominance of U.S. and Western cultural forms, it is important to note the hybrid nature of the cultural space—the mixing of cultural influences, the altered way the space is used, and the new meanings that are produced about the space—in this reterritorialized McDonald’s. Sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2004) used Talbot’s ethnography in Moscow as an example of intercultural hybridization. McDonald’s in Moscow is a hybrid cultural space. Hybrid cultural space is defined as the intersection of intercultural communication practices that construct meanings in, through, and about particular places within a context of relations of power. Digging under the surface appearance of blending and mixing reveals hybrid cultural spaces as sites of intercultural negotiation. Hybrid cultural spaces are innovative and creative spaces where people constantly adapt to, negotiate with, and improvise between multiple cultural frameworks.
Communication scholar Radha Hegde (2002) described the hybrid cultural space in an Asian Indian immigrant home:
The aroma of Indian cooking replete with cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, and ginger rises in the air as friends arrive. The colors of Indian saris stand out, making a statement of embodied difference. The afternoon warms up with an array of appetizers—a tantalizing multicultural spectacle ranging from salsa and chutney to tahini! The conversation also spans a vast geographical and cultural terrain. (p. 259)
Hegde continued by describing the multiple and varied conversations that move from the delicious taste of samosas, reminders of home, to concerns over cholesterol and heart disease. Conversations about mothering in a bicultural world merge into a heated discussion over the stoning of a local Indian temple. Here is how she ended the scenario:
Just then a new batch of samosas arrives from the kitchen, ready to be savored. There is a roar from the adjoining room. The football game gets intense. “American football is where the action is. What did you say, cricket? Can’t take it anymore—just too drawn out.” (p. 260)
Hegde argued that the hybrid cultural space described here is constructed by Asian Indian immigrants as a response to what Salome Rushdie (1991) called the triple dislocation: a disruption of historical roots, language, and social conventions. This triple dislocation penetrates to the very core of migrants’ experiences of identity, social connections, and culture. The construction of hybrid cultural spaces, then, is an active and creative effort to maintain and sustain one’s culture in the context of global displacement and replacement. Constructed in the context of differential power relations, hybrid cultural spaces are forms of resistance to full assimilation into the dominant culture. As noted in the case study about hip hop, hybrid cultural spaces are both highly innovative, improvisational, creative, and “also cultures that develop and survive as a form of collective resistance” (Hegde, 2002, p. 261). Hybridity—hybrid cultures, spaces, and identities—challenge stable, territorial, and static definitions of culture, cultural spaces, and cultural identities. Therefore, we can understand hybrid cultural spaces as sites of resistance.
In a third example, Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) described the fluid, contradictory, and creative experience of living in the hybrid cultural space she calls the “Borderlands/borderlands”:
. . . the Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy. I am a border woman. I grew up between two cultures, the Mexican (with a heavy Indian influence) and the Anglo (as a member of a colonized people in our own territory). I have been straddling that tejas-Mexican border, and others, all my life. It’s not a comfortable territory to live in, this place of contradictions. Hatred, anger and exploitation are the prominent features of this landscape. However, there have been compensations for this mestiza, and certain joys. Living on borders and in margins, keeping intact one’s shifting and multiple identity and integrity, is like trying to swim in a new element, an “alien” element. There is an exhilaration in being a participant in the further evolution of humankind, in being “worked” on. (p. 1 of unnumbered preface)
Amidst the pain, hardship, and alienation, Anzaldúa expressed “exhilaration” at living in, speaking from, and continually constructing hybrid cultural spaces—the Borderlands. In the ongoing confrontation with and negotiation of “hegemonic structures that constantly ‘marginalize’ the mixtures they create” (Tomlinson, 1999, p. 146), Anzaldúa experienced and constructed a location of enunciation, a position, and a cultural space (both a literal and figurative space) from which to speak and claim an oppositional identity. Nederveen Pieterse (2004) stated, “ . . . it’s important to note the ways in which hegemony is not merely reproduced but reconfigured in the process of hybridization” (p. 74). Therefore, we can understand hybrid cultural spaces as sites of transformation. We have explored segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces through historical and contemporary examples. This discussion of cultural spaces and the excavation of underlying power dynamics provides a foundation for investigating the intercultural dynamics of border crossing, identity construction, and relationship building in later chapters.
Summary
In this chapter, the cultural and intercultural communication dimensions of place, space, and location were investigated. I discussed the ways that human beings construct, negotiate, contest, and hybridize cultural spaces though communicative practices highlighting the role of power historically and today. The concept of glocalization was introduced to focus attention on how specific places are impacted by globalizing and localizing forces. I also proposed the notion of bifocal vision or the ability to attend to the linkages between “here” and “there” as well as the connections between the present and past to understand the complex, layered, and contested dimensions of places, cultural spaces, and locations today.
The case study on hip hop culture illustrated the pivotal function of place in constructing individual and group identities, locations of enunciation, and relationships of power. Hip hop emerged from the segregated space of the South Bronx—a forgotten and forsaken place. Fusing traditional communicative practices with contemporary technologies and postcolonial realities, the youth of the Bronx created a powerful cultural space. Hip hop cultural spaces give rise to both pleasure and protest that challenge the conditions of marginalized people within societies around the world. Yet hip hop culture’s counter-hegemonic messages of resistance and struggle are often defused through processes of commodification. As cultures and cultural spaces are deterritorialized and reterritorialized around the world in the global context, contested and hybrid cultural spaces develop. Segregated, contested, and hybrid cultural spaces expose the context of unequal power relations that structure intercultural communication in the global age. We discovered that hybrid cultural spaces are much more than the blending of multiple cultural traditions and practices. Rather, hybrid cultural spaces are sites of intercultural negotiation, sites of resistance where people reconstitute identities, and sites where creative alternatives challenge and transform oppressive hegemonic forces.
Key Terms
cultural space avowed identity ascribed identity
locations of enunciation out-thereness
(dis)placing culture and cultural space time–space compression
glocalization deindustrialization appropriation segregated cultural space polysemic cultural space contested cultural space hybrid cultural space
hybrid cultural spaces as sites of intercultural negotiation hybrid cultural spaces as sites of resistance
hybrid cultural spaces as sites of transformation
Discussion Questions and Activities
Discussion Questions
Think about the neighborhood you grew up in, the street you live on, and the place you work. What is the most significant building or landmark in your town and what does it communicate? How do these cultural spaces contribute to your avowed and ascribed identities?
In what ways is globalization changing our experiences of cultural space? What does it mean when corporations, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, develop stores around the world, creating physical spaces that are exactly the same?
Using specific examples from the chapter, discuss the tension between voluntary and involuntary segregation of cultural space. Is it fair to say ethnic enclaves are voluntarily formed when the lines are drawn by racial and class stratifications? How about gated communities? Why do we perceive certain cultural spaces (i.e. ethnic enclaves) as “segregated,” and not others (i.e. gated communities)?
Discussion Questions
Think about the neighborhood you grew up in, the street you live on, and the place you work. What is the most significant building or landmark in your town and what does it communicate? How do these cultural spaces contribute to your avowed and ascribed identities?
In what ways is globalization changing our experiences of cultural space? What does it mean when corporations, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, develop stores around the world, creating physical spaces that are exactly the same?
Using specific examples from the chapter, discuss the tension between voluntary and involuntary segregation of cultural space. Is it fair to say ethnic enclaves are voluntarily formed when the lines are drawn by racial and class stratifications? How about gated communities? Why do we perceive certain cultural spaces (i.e. ethnic enclaves) as “segregated,” and not others (i.e. gated communities)?
Activities
Creating a Cultural Map—Group Activity
On a geographical map of the area around your university campus, identify types of cultural spaces using words, symbols, colors, and pictures. Identify what kind of schools, neighborhoods, museums, businesses, cultural/ethnic/religious sites, and so on, are located in the area.
Address the following questions:
What groups (race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, class, nationality, etc.) are associated with the cultural space? What meanings are attached to the space and people?
How is the area segregated and/or integrated? How does the segregation translate into or reflect unequal access to resources, such as housing, education, and health care?
Where can you position yourself in the map? How does the way you navigate in the area reflect your identity, belonging, and privilege, or lack thereof?
Can you see the signs of globalization on the map? If so, what concepts from the chapter can you apply to the phenomena?
The Body and the Space—Group Activity
Choose a specific cultural space (i.e., restaurant, neighborhood, nightclub, and workplace) you are familiar with.
Describe in detail how you communicate verbally and nonverbally in the space, such as your language, greetings, gestures, eye contact, voice, clothing, and use of space.
Address the following questions:
How is your verbal and nonverbal communication shaped by the particular cultural space?
What are the “codes of conduct” in the cultural space, and what happens if you violate them? Are there different codes based on gender?
How is your body signified in the particular cultural space? How are your differences marked on the body?
What is the relationship between the body and the space?
Activities
Creating a Cultural Map—Group Activity
On a geographical map of the area around your university campus, identify types of cultural spaces using words, symbols, colors, and pictures. Identify what kind of schools, neighborhoods, museums, businesses, cultural/ethnic/religious sites, and so on, are located in the area.
Address the following questions:
What groups (race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, class, nationality, etc.) are associated with the cultural space? What meanings are attached to the space and people?
How is the area segregated and/or integrated? How does the segregation translate into or reflect unequal access to resources, such as housing, education, and health care?
Where can you position yourself in the map? How does the way you navigate in the area reflect your identity, belonging, and privilege, or lack thereof?
Can you see the signs of globalization on the map? If so, what concepts from the chapter can you apply to the phenomena?
The Body and the Space—Group Activity
Choose a specific cultural space (i.e., restaurant, neighborhood, nightclub, and workplace) you are familiar with.
Describe in detail how you communicate verbally and nonverbally in the space, such as your language, greetings, gestures, eye contact, voice, clothing, and use of space.
Address the following questions:
How is your verbal and nonverbal communication shaped by the particular cultural space?
What are the “codes of conduct” in the cultural space, and what happens if you violate them? Are there different codes based on gender?
How is your body signified in the particular cultural space? How are your differences marked on the body?
What is the relationship between the body and the space?