Critiques of Hybridity

by Stephanie Cawley

Since the time of Bhabha’s writing The Location of Culture, the concept of “hybridity” has become somewhat controversial and has been subjected to critique within the field of postcolonial theory. Some critics like Antony Easthope engage directly with Bhabha in their critique. Easthope argues that Bhabha’s concept of hybridity relies too strongly on presenting hybrid cultures or identities  as existing as adversarial to a non-hybrid cultures or identities, which Easthope does not see existing in reality.

Other critics are skeptical not so much of Bhabha’s specific theory, but of the way the theory has come to be understood and integrated into postcolonial study. R. Radhakrishnan critiques hybridity on the grounds that, like much postcolonial theory, it is the product of First World thinkers, and as such, the theories may still be linked to cultural imperialism. Radhakrishnan raises an interesting question about the value Western society gives to certain kinds of hybridity: “For example, why is it more fashionable and/or acceptable to transgress Islam towards a secular constituency rather than the other way around? Why do Islamic forms of hybridity, such as women wearing veils and attending western schools…encounter resistance and ridicule?” (755). Other critics like Anjali Prabhu, argue that the political claims of hybridity need to be tested in the real world, not just championed theoretically.

Many critiques about the concept of hybridity seem to primarily take issue with its oversimplification and overuse, and with its applications as a merely descriptive term, not a framework for productive analysis. One of the primary arguments from critics such as Radhakrishnan, Drichel and Steven G. Yao is that “hybridity,” initially conceived of as a challenge to pre-existing categorical descriptions of people and culture, has itself become a fixed, stable, simplified reduction of culture. This critique, however, is really targeted toward misapplications of Bhabha’s theory, as Drichel explains that within Bhabha’s writing, “’hybridity is not a third term that resolves the tension between two cultures’ but rather one that holds the tension of the opposition and explores the spaces in-between fixed identities through their continuous reiterations” (605).

The concept of hybridity will undoubtedly continue to be negotiated and rearticulated moving forward. The primary caution or concern with using the term is allowing it to become a fixed, stable identity descriptor itself, rather than employing it, as Bhabha does, to refer to a field or space of productive play between cultures. To use an analogy, hybridity is not the end result of mixing colors of paint, but instead, hybridity is the space of the palette, where combinations and negotiations of colors can be adjusted and altered.

Works Cited

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