Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hybridity in Herodotus

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Hybridity in Herodotus

Article excerpt

Abstract

Scholarly interest in hybridity has focused largely on the present and recent past. Yet, one of the great theorists of hybridity is an ancient one: Herodotus. By describing a globe in motion-the motion of people across borders and through time-Herodotus draws a picture of a world that brings the hybrid to the fore. He thinks seriously about how we should regard diversity in light of global hybridity. Reading Herodotus as a theorist of the hybrid not only adds an interesting perspective to contemporary conversations but also reminds us of hybridity's enduring importance as a subject of political inquiry.

Keywords

globalization, Herodotus, hybridity, multiculturalism, travel

Hybridity is a concept currently receiving a great deal of attention. Following the lead of thinkers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Homi Bhabha, scholars are noticing and analyzing the processes of border crossing and cultural mixing that are apparent in our own time (Anzaldúa 1987; Bhabha 1994; Kapchan and Strong 1999). Perhaps because hybridity is such an evident feature of contem- porary globalization, lending a sense of immediacy to its study, scholarly interest in the concept has been focused largely on the present day and the recent (often colonial) past (Gonzalez 2004; Held and McGrew 2003; Kraidy 2005; Pieterse 2003). The common idea that hybridity is a boundary-subverting, transgressive criti- cal tool also imbues its study with a spirit of newness (Kompridis 2005).

Yet, one of the great theorists of hybridity is an ancient one: Herodotus. In The History, hybridity is a dominant, if not the dominant theme. Through his elab- orate descriptions of a globe that is overwhelmed by motion-the motion of people and cultures as they over- lap and intersect, and the motion of all peoples and cul- tures through time-Herodotus draws a picture of a world that brings the hybrid to the fore. He thinks seri- ously about how we should regard diversity and plural- ity in light of an appreciation of global hybridity. What's more, his particular vantage point, ensconced in the ancient world-a world radically different from our own-allows Herodotus to add the contemporary dis- cussion on hybridity in novel fashion. Reading Herodotus as a theorist of the hybrid thus not only adds an interesting perspective to contemporary conversa- tions about hybridity but also reminds us of its perma- nent importance as a subject of political inquiry.

More specifically, Herodotus devotes much of his energy in The History to counseling his Greek audience about how to understand political identity in a world where motion rather than stasis is the rule and where, cor- respondingly, border crossings are the norm rather than the exception (Redfield 1985). As part of this project, Herodotus aims to correct the Greeks' propensity to define themselves in hegemonic political terms, a pro- pensity tied to a kind of thoughtless ethnocentrism in speech, which does not in fact reflect the reality of Greek practice (Munson 2001). By demonstrating the extent of intercultural interconnectedness, and showing how that interconnectedness destabilizes every conventional notion of culture and politics as "fixed," Herodotus encourages his audience to embrace the hybrid.

For Herodotus, it is critical to embrace hybridity in practice as well as in theory. Although it seems paradoxi- cal at first glance, those cultures that admit of foreign customs and conventions-no matter what the regime form-are the most durable in the long term. To thrive in conditions of intercultural interconnectedness, a commu- nity must never imagine itself to be static, and must never refuse to learn from foreign instruction. At the same time, Herodotus does not advocate doing away with conven- tional political borders, nor does he aspire to a unity in human political practice. He believes that diversity in customs and conventions is not only inevitable but also desirable; diversity of practices is a natural reflection of the plurality in human nature, and a diverse world is one in which the dangers of tyranny and slavery are less severe. …

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