Embracing Strangeness: The Politics of Solidarity

By Emerson, R. Guy | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Embracing Strangeness: The Politics of Solidarity


Emerson, R. Guy, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Abstract

Be it the ideal of liberal democracy, the opening of local markets to the fluctuations of international capital, or the elusive quest for development, the discursive strategies of the North and the policy orientations that they enable toward the South are well explored. Less explored, however, is the way in which the South interacts with this received wisdom. This article explicitly focuses on how Venezuela, as one of the more outspoken southern states, works within and subverts the dominant U.S.-authored tropes in Latin America. It suggests that while U.S. representations of the Chavez administration as a strange anomaly in the America's resonate in Venezuela and beyond, it is possible for Venezuela to subvert these messages by "embracing strangeness." That is, by embracing and expanding the difference attributed to them onto the rest of Latin America, Venezuela is able to use "strangeness" to open up possibilities for new meanings and political spaces in the Americas.

Keywords

identity, discourse, resistance, strangeness, global south

In 1988, Michael Shapiro published The Politics of Representation: Writing Practices in Biography, Photography, and Political Analysis. Analyzing the relationship between politics and language, Shapiro sought to contest the boundaries of international relations scholarship as well as extend the politics of analysis to the fields of art and literature by examining the practices of representation and their consequences. While these were undoubtedly important and overdue points of investigation, the present interest in Shapiro's text centers on a number of specific questions he posed in relation to U.S. representations of Guatemala, Seeking to understand the politics of U.S. involvement in Central America, Shapiro spoke of a geopolitical discourse embedded with assumptions of moral superiority that in turn offered Washington a powerful vindication for action.

One of Shapiro's more succinct insights, one that this article intends to pursue, involved the process of exoticizing the Other, or, put more succinctly still, making the Other "strange." Arguing that such a process invariably amounted to constituting the Other as a less-than-equal subject, Shapiro demonstrated how "strangeness" came to be viewed as threatening and therefore legitimized a series of foreign policy forays into the region. (1) Continuing a similar line of investigation, a number of international relations scholars began exploring the production of strangeness and the representation of less-than-equal subjects in the foreign policy avenues of the North (official, journalistic, and academic). (2) While these investigations provide valuable insight into the complexity of North-South relations, less explored are the ways in which Northern representations circulate in the South. To what extent have these representations been reproduced, manipulated, exchanged, combined with already existing narratives, and/or destroyed. (3) More to the point, what effect has this reproduction had both in the South but also in the North? It is to this series of questions that this article speaks.

Using the U.S. representation of Venezuela as a starting point for analysis, the article illustrates the way in which the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, are made strange. However, rather than focusing on U.S. representations, analysis quickly turns to how narratives of strangeness and discourses of danger play out in Caracas. Deliberately concentrating on one of the most outspoken leaders in global politics, the interest below lies in how President Chavez interacts with claims that he is, at best, a firebrand and, at worst, akin to Adolf Hitler. (4) It is argued, however, that more than contesting these representations, Hugo Chavez plays within the discursive structures largely elaborated in the North. Put alternatively, far from solely opposing U.S.-authored representations, Chavez embraces the strangeness attributed to him and, in the process, casts it as a positive attribute. …

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