Gareth Williams’ The Other Side of the Popular: Neoliberalism and Subalternity in Latin America, 2006

Chapter 3: “Formalities of Consumption and Citizenship in the Age of Cultural Hybridity”, pp: 102-139

In this book, Gareth Williams theorizes the ongoing process of modernization of Latin America, “a passage from national to postnational cultural and political paradigms,” through the notions of citizenship and consumption in close relation to, and in interaction with, postmodern cultural hybridity and contemporary forms of cultural and political mediation” (103). The author’s theoretical framework refers to postcolonialism in that he has pointed out the similarity of Orientalism and Latinamericanism, especially the way it is theorized and produced within the Western academies, which tend to “identify Europe, and by extention the United States, as a superior culture in comparision to all other non-European peoples and cultures”. Which is a reminder of the role of disciplinary production of knowledge as “one of the many arenas for hegemony’s insistent naturalizing processes” (104). On the other side, “thedisciplinary spectrum of the modernist literary tradition (of the West) merely reproduce and redistribute a profoundly outdated preservationist desire to maintain, to uphold, and perpetuate discouirses of national cultural patrimony and canonical tradition” (105), therefore hinting at the sometime-oppositional framework of postcolonial scholarships and social projects. In reaction to that, Gareth Williams relies on the politics of transnationalism to undermine such polarizations, not only in scholarly traditions, but in social encounters and interactions as well.

In this chapter, the author questions the notion of identity which is sometimes related to territory, regionalism, or ethnicity to put it simply. through the coupling of citizenship and consumption, Williams is positing the “passage from national-popular formations to transnational configurations,” a passage aimed at “transforming forever not only state/culture relations but also intellectual/state/culture relations”. His ideas refer to a Gramscian framework in which the intellectual plays in important role between the state (a hegemonizing actor) and civil society (as a counter-hegemonic agent). “The passage toward postnational multiculturality” he says, “announces the problematic repositioning of the Latin American intellectual in relation to the state, but also in relation to the restrcuturation of local cultural politics in face of transnational market forces and capital flows”. With such a repositioning, the intellectual occupies an in-between space of mediation not only between the state and the civil society, but the “nation-state, and external forces, influences, and desires” (107).

Williams has also drawn fron the Deleuzian framework of capital flow and dessimination  through what he calls “intallations of new circuits of domination and control (108). I will not go further with Deleuze given the reasons that you might know. Having said that, Gareth Williams has remarkably focused on  Nestor Gracia Canclini’s Consumidores ad Cuidadanos (Consumers and Citizens) and Hybrid Cultures in which the author kind of argue that the “the hybrid transnationalism” that has dismantled “the traditional local/national civil configurations” and has established a informal economy which in turn has “preconditioned the emergence of critical discourse dealing with the relation between citizhenship and consumption as a potentially new arena for subject formation and collective agency” (112). The emergence of such a hybrid space of consumption through informal economy, as G. Williams argues, is a critical response to the “postmodern crisis of the nation-state and the exhaustion of the national-popular in Latin America” (113).

My understadning of this chapter is that G. Williams is arguing for the importance of transnationalism, the flow of capital from North and South, and vice versa, not in the hands of the few, but accessible to “subaltern” people for them to become “real” citizens, not in emphasizing on their marginalities as a people, but on their ability to consume: consumption as a guarantor of citizenship. This might be realizable  through “increasing urbanization and the emergence of mass society, the gradual transnationalization of symbolic markets and labor migrations, the increasing insertion of peripheral cultures and economies into global networks of symblolic productions” (119).

Nestor Garcia Canclini has asked a very important question in his Hybrid Cultures, wanting to know “in what, then, lies the novelty of postmodern decollection, deterriotorialization, and hybridity” (123), which, according to G. Williams, refers to Georges Yudice’s observation that “societies may have reached a historical threshold in which it is no longer possible to think such ideals as citizenship and democracy in the absence of consumption” (124, emphasis mine). I, however, have a strong doubt on the feasibility of such a project, given that the state is always capable of adjusting to new forms of social networks and always absords their most effective gains, even though Yudice proposes “a cross-cutting, longitudinal nationalism” or ‘regional federalism,’ designed to negotiate economic integration and transnational circuitries” (124).

About Babacar

I am a graduate student at the Bowling Green State University (Ohio) in American Culture Studies program for a two year Master degree. Am studying the theories of race, multiculturalism and feminism and their intersectionality in the formation of Identity in the racial and postracial America.
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