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Using some specific examples, explore the arguments for and against Homi Bhabha’s ideas concerning ‘cultural hybridity’

In this essay the theory of cultural hybridity, as first propounded by Homi K. Bhabha, will be examined. In order to do this, firstly the theory itself and its relation to the media today will be looked at in detail. Then the strengths of this particular strand of thought in seeking to understand the media in modern multi-ethnic societies will be analysed. Finally the arguments of those who question the ability of cultural hybridity thinkers to fully explain this area of media studies will be assessed.

The idea of cultural hybridity was borne out of an area of thinking known as post-colonial discourse, which sought to explain culture and imperialism. Homi K. Bhabha in particular, looked at the arenas of identity and culture. Bhabha was critical of the usual concepts that sought to explain our identities in post-colonial societies. Eduardo Portella elaborates on this, 'Although cultures remain anchored in their national contexts, it is increasingly hard to believe that the traditional concepts of identity, people and nation are inviolable.' Paul Meredith explains hybridity as the straddling by the colonized of two cultures; the traditional and the new western, and the ability to negotiate the difference between the two; the success of Baywatch in India on satellite television and the success of the Asian Network on BBC radio are taken as examples of this. He adds that hybridity, '…is the process by which the colonial governing authority undertakes to translate the identity of the colonized within a singular universal framework, but then fails producing something familiar, but new.' He also uses the term 'third space' to denote the new hybrid culture, 'At the point at which the colonizer presents a normalizing hegemonic practice, the hybrid strategy opens up a third space of/for re-articulation of negotiation and meaning.' For Bhabha this could also refer to the inability by racists or nationalists to point to a person's origin. For him this third space is, '…a separate space…which has been systematically denied by both colonialists and nationalists who have sought authority on the authenticity of origins.' Examples of this can again be seen in the modern media. The comedian and television presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Sikh and Scottish, and often wears his turban with a tartan kilt. Robert Young has added to this analysis of cultural hybridity by looking at the dialectical nature in which population causes constant changes in culture, 'Culture is always a dialectical process…it does not so much progress as constantly reform itself…participating in, and always a part of, a complex, hybridized economy.' Bhabha articulated this view in his original view of culture as well, 'The social articulation of difference, from a minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorise cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation.' Bhabha highlights the thinking of artist Renee Green who uses a viewpoint on cultural hybridity to show the interwoven nature of post-colonial societies, 'Multiculturalism doesn't reflect the complexity of the situation as I face it daily.' Bhabha agrees and shows the failure of vast groupings to explain society, culture and the media, 'What is a black community? What is a Latino community? I have trouble with thinking of all these things as monolithic fixed categories.'

One strong argument against the theory of cultural hybridity is that in seeking to explain the third space and reject old concepts it ignores important historical and material conditions. Eduardo Portella argues that, 'Emerging post-national identities have not yet shown the capacity to withstand inequality, injustice, exclusion and violence.' Whilst the hybridity theory has been good at challenging racial injustice and exclusion in the media, on the economic level it has a more ambivalent role. In talking of the splitting of traditional barriers and terms such as class it has been argued that this theory is open to being used by those in favour of globalisation. The global capitalist viewpoint also seeks to discard old theories such as class, to talk of split communities and new ways of communicating in order to infiltrate the 'third space' to pitch its commodities into new markets. Portella continues, 'Culture must not free itself from national identity by surrendering to the might of globalisation and privatisation.' It is strongly argued that if old ideas of class are discarded a full understanding of wealth inequalities and their relation to hegemonic portrayals in the media is not attainable when using the hybridity theory.

Cultural hybridity is a theory argued by Homi K. Bhabha that sets out to explain post-colonial culture. It does this by discarding the old monoliths of social study such as class, gender and sexuality and looking at the gaps between these, the third space. In doing this, this school of thought provides an original and persuasive explanation of modern culture and the media in multi-ethnic societies. It also helps to provide a riposte to essentialism and racism in the media. However, by discarding the old theories, especially class, this school of thought does not do enough to challenge the globalisation that the media supports. In the final analysis Homi K. Bhabha's ideas concerning cultural hybridity are strong and engaging, but limited when seeking to fully explain modern culture.

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