Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

A Bricolage of Identifications: Storying Postmigrant Belonging

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

A Bricolage of Identifications: Storying Postmigrant Belonging

Article excerpt

The opening sentence of one of the first books about postmigration provides a good starting point for the discussion to follow: "We need to recognise that [...] dichotomized cultural differences[...]are vastly overstated in ethnic discourse"1 and link this with another important reservation about the originary, or the primordial, idea of ethnicity:

In systems where "ascribed" cultural differences rationalize structures of inequality, ethnicity takes on a cogent existential reality. It is this process of reification[...]that gives it the appearance of being an autonomous factor in the ordering of the social world.2

This "cogent existential reality" is a way of describing those who are "othered" by relations of power, fixed in essentialized identities and ethnic absolutes, which justify inequalities, discrimination and racism. One of the tasks involved in the theorising of postmigration is that of de-essentializing so-called migrant coherences and homogeneities and breaking up ascribed identities, bearing in mind what Bauman says about the ways in which dichotomized cultural differences can be overstated in ethnic discourse. Postmigration is, firstly and most simply, a literal description of a status but it is also, like postcolonialism, a critique of terms such as migrant, or person with foreign background, used to describe someone born in a particular country whose family origins are elsewhere. It is also a useful concept for exploring the conflicts and contradictions, the dialectic of belonging and unbelonging, the split subjectivities which, in many cases, are a feature of postmigrant belonging, although we also need to be wary of using "belonging" too readily. In fact, we may want to consider whether it is a belonging as such or something more fluid and variable. The use of the prefix "post" is, therefore, not just temporal but also epistemological in the sense that it raises the question of how, and what point, someone ceases to be thought of as a "migrant" or in terms of their supposed ethnicity.

To date, much of the work on postmigration has been ethnographic and in the social sciences-e.g. the study of clubbing cultures among queer and "minority" groups-or has been articulated in relation to theatre, Turkish-German plays as well as a range of productions by directors from other minority backgrounds, for example.3 I should like to try to broaden the debate to take account of a range of relatively new cultural and representational practices which have produced, and in many instances have been produced by, what might be called provisionally, new postmigrant ethnicities. These new practices-I am thinking of the work of filmmakers like Fatih Akin in Germany, John Akomfrah in the UK and a host of writers in Italy, Germany, France and the UK-are a sequel to what, some years ago, I called diasporic cultural fictions.4 In some ways, they have emerged from diasporic families but it is limiting to describe their work as diasporic, as many of the producers, artists, writers, and musicians have not migrated from anywhere. Nevertheless, I want to speak of new aesthetics, new narratives, and new belongings and the ways they are articulated with specific representational practices which might be termed "postmigrant", linked in some ways with the concept of diaspora but also detached from it in so far as the practices emphasize a present and future trajectory rather than anchorage in an "originary" culture. They may start out from a "minority" position, from the margins, but develop within new fields of reference to a point of being part of, for example. British culture, or of national/global cultural discourse, what Habermas called, "a common horizon of interpretation".5

One of the major obstacles to this kind of activity, the products of cultural diversity and second/third generational belonging is, in the UK for instance, the racialisation of Black and Asian people (people of colour) by the coloniality of power which I shall return to later. …

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