Workshop Exercise: Method

The element under consideration:

One chapter, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy, from Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization

The means of analysis:

Reading the article with an interest in the construction of identity. Pulling out the key points of the article, summarizing Appadurai’s argument, and then filtering that argument through my specific interest in the constructedness of identity.

The evidence adduced:

Cultural material is fluid and as such, it flows across boundaries, including national boundaries. The elements comprising the flow of culture include flows of people, flows of technologies, and flows of finance, as well as flows of information and ideology. These latter two comprise (at least in part) the landscape of images, and as images, they contribute to the construction of imagined worlds—that is, of imagined or constructed identities. Although all of these flows are interwoven and overlap, they are also disjunctive. Appadurai describes these flows as being fundamental fractal, but equally importantly, they overlap polythetically. This polythetic understanding of culture is important: different modes of cultural production resemble each other and overlap while at the same time possessing unique combinations of defining characteristics. The total separation of cultural modes (or the definition of cultures primarily in opposition to each other) is thus artificial.

Appadurai writes of imagined communities, constructed ethnicities, and invented homelands, and he describes “the imagination as a social practice,” using language that emphasizes the active construction of culture and identity by both individuals and communities. The imagination is a site of cultural production; it is “a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility.” Because the imagination is situated and is specific to individuals, communities, and places, it is impossible that all fictional landscapes produced map directly onto realistic landscapes. Imagined landscapes must to some degree impact realistic landscapes, but there must also be disjunctures between the two. The idea of a realistic landscape is one that I have not fully explored and have not yet been able to define through Appadurai’s text.

LEFT: 8 March 2005 Istanbul, Turkey- International Women's Day

RIGHT: 11 Nov 2006 Istanbul, Turkey Women Protest the upcoming visit from the Pope

Appadurai suggests that the further the agent is from the world s/he imagines, the greater the likelihood that the imagined world will be “chimerical, aesthetic, even fantastic objects,” especially when judged in light of another imagined world—say, that of an adopted country. This is especially the case with deterritorialized populations who have to reproduce their identities in foreign contexts, without the reinforcement of their traditional cultural landscapes. Individuals and groups create their own (potentially conflicting) imagined worlds, and when these worlds do not correlate sufficiently, cultural conflict can arise (this point demands further study). Appadurai notes that women play an especially important role in the reproduction of culture and identity since they frequently are responsible for maintaining heritage through family. “In short,” he states, “deterritorialized communities and displaced populations, however much they may enjoy the fruits of new kinds of earning and new dispositions of capital and technology, have to play out the desires and fantasies of these new ethnoscapes, while striving to reproduce the family-as-microcosm of culture.”

The claim relevant to architecture, based on above evidence:

The cultural landscape as imagined landscape is reflected in the cultural landscape as built reality. The built environment carries strong markers of identity and can be used as a tool to reflect cultural identities—and potentially to influence the construction of cultural identity as well. Given the degree to which identity is constructed (rather than inherent), it follows that identity may be re-constructed over time, and that it is fluid, as are the processes that shape cultural interactions. It is possible, then, that architectural agents may be able to heighten disparities between various imagined cultural landscapes; to mediate those disparities and encourage more reciprocal relationships between identity constructs; or to make visible the very constructedness of those identities.

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