Homi Bhabha

(b. 1949)

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An Indian-born, but American-based literary critic and theorist, Bhabha is one of the three most prominent postcolonial theorists of recent times, along with Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak. Of Parsee descent (an Indian minority group that originally migrated from Persia in the 8th century), Bhabha was born and raised in Mumbai. He took his undergraduate degree from the University of Mumbai, then went to Oxford to complete his DPhil on V.S. Naipaul. Thereafter he taught at the University of Sussex for a decade before relocating to the US where he has held a series of prestigious appointments culminating in his decision to join Harvard in 2001. Bhabha is very far from being a prolific author: to date, he has only published one monograph (though several more are said to be in the pipeline), The Location of Culture (1994), which collects several previously published essays. Despite his comparatively meagre output, Bhabha's work has had an astonishingly broad impact. Difficult though his writing famously is, his combination of poststructuralist theory, postmodern sensibility, and postcolonial themes resonates strongly with the critical concerns of the present moment. Bhabha's basic argument, tested via the interrogation of a rich variety of literary and artistic texts, is that culture cannot any longer (if it ever could) be conceived in monolithic terms, but has to be thought rather in terms of hybridity. Culturally, thanks to movement of peoples, ideas, capital, and commodities made possible by the forces and processes of globalization, ‘we’ are never wholly of or in one place. Our sense of self and location is a product of a combination of factors that are never entirely local or ‘native’ in origin. To take only one example, more than two thirds of all toys and clothing retailed in the US today are manufactured in China, yet those toys and clothes are not recognizably Chinese in form or design. For Bhabha, this hybridity is ambivalent: it means that power is always limited in its ability to determine identities and control representations. Bhabha thus criticizes Said's orientalism thesis for portraying the effects of power as singular and inexorable and not taking into account the postmodern subject's ability to mimic and therefore transmute what is expected of them.

Further Reading:

E. Byrne Homi K. Bhabha (2009).D. Huddart Homi K. Bhabha (2006).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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