Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference
In Un/Common Cultures, Kamala Visweswaran develops an incisive critique of the idea of culture at the heart of anthropology, describing how it lends itself to culturalist assumptions. She holds that the new culturalism—the idea that cultural differences are definitive, and thus divisive—produces a view of “uncommon cultures” defined by relations of conflict rather than forms of collaboration. The essays in Un/common Cultures straddle the line between an analysis of how racism works to form the idea of “uncommon cultures” and a reaffirmation of the possibilities of “common cultures,” those that enact new forms of solidarity in seeking common cause. Such “cultures in common” or “cultures of the common” also produce new intellectual formations that demand different analytic frames for understanding their emergence. By tracking the emergence and circulation of the culture concept in American anthropology and Indian and French sociology, Visweswaran offers an alternative to strictly disciplinary histories. She uses critical race theory to locate the intersection between ethnic/diaspora studies and area studies as a generative site for addressing the formation of culturalist discourses. In so doing, she interprets the work of social scientists and intellectuals such as Elsie Clews Parsons, Alice Fletcher, Franz Boas, Louis Dumont, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz, W. E. B. Du Bois, and B. R. Ambedkar.
Kamala Visweswaran is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California San Diego. She is the author of Un/Common Cultures and Fictions of Feminist Ethnography.
“Anthropology is implicated in cultural differentialism because cultural difference is taken as a starting point. Un/common Cultures provides a solid theoretical foundation to examine other central concepts such as ‘class’ in other disciplines and its relation to ‘race.’ The slash in the book’s title reflects optimism that difference are not incommensurable or insurmountable. Rather, what is distinct about cultures can only be understood in relation to finding similarities among them to forge transnational intellectual and political solidarities”—Anastasia Chung, Anthropological Forum
“Visweswaran proves herself an exceptional scholar and forward thinker in her analysis of works by philosophers, intellectuals and scholars. She diagnoses the symptoms of the disease that affects cultural, gender and race related issues and provides potential solutions to curing them. An extraordinary work by an extraordinarily gifted author with a passion for her subject”—Danielle Mulholland, M/C Reviews
“Visweswaran’s project is challenging and important in confronting the ways in which cultural difference has been, and is, used as a substitute for broader issues of inequality, exclusion, and racial discrimination. . . . Un/Common Cultures provides a crucial and welcome challenge to the discipline’s airbrushed colonial heritages and selective amnesia, and a broader provocation to rethink the consequences of culture-thought and culture-talk in the contemporary world”— Claire Alexander, Ethnic and Racial Studies
“In Un/common Cultures Kamala Visweswaran provides an acute, historically informed diagnosis of the relative weakness of the culture concept so central to American anthropology, and a provocative and fascinating explanation of why, during the past two decades, other fields and interdisciplinary arenas have developed more cogent critiques of culture. This first-rate book will be read widely and generate much discussion”—George Marcus
‘Un/common Cultures is a profound and important book, a major intervention in cultural studies, anthropology, and feminist and South Asian studies. It has all the hallmarks of Kamala Visweswaran’s work—impeccable scholarship and a keen sense of purpose that is both activist and intellectual’—R. Radhakrishnan, author of History, the Human, and the World Between