Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Ideology Debates:
From Ideological Closure to Discursive Openness

Dr. Manash Pratim Borah
Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies, Dahung


The great artists were never those who embodied a wholly flawless and perfect style, but those who used style as a way of hardening themselves against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth.
       (Adorno and Horkheimer 37)
The history of the world over the centuries have witnessed an enduring debate concerning hierarchical structures, ideological dominance, consent and resistance with utmost fecundity of dynamic knowledge and epistemic discourses within the ambit of the socio-cultural and socio-political spheres of human existence. Our social thinkers have also displayed same sorts of propensities over the centuries for explicating the causes of creating inequality and the role of economic power in accomplishing the consent of the power less for the sake of the powerful in the hierarchical structure of civil society. The most fascinating part of this material history is that all the way through the ages, it has formed an assorted numbers of schools of critical theories and discourses engendering a prolific dialectical terrain of decisive thoughts for knowledge consumers. These bodies of theories corresponding to their efforts in understanding social inequalities, dominance and exploitation of the dominant sides have stimulated new-fangled knowledge and culture within the domains of the socio-cultural spheres of our existence. Specifically in reading various processes of securing the consent of the powerless or the dominated ones to the systematic social inequality, the social theorists are themselves engaged in abundant debates regarding the ‘motivating factors’ of that consent-- such as ‘ideology’, ‘ideological state apparatus’, ‘hegemony’ and ‘discourse’ in the crossroads of lived history. 
The present paper is an epistemic exertion in reading the ideology debates concerning social inequalities and the role of dominant ideas within the socio-cultural and socio-political spheres in the long run of our material history. In reading that enduring debate, I have basically accentuated the paradigm shift of the notion of Marxian ideology to Foucauldian discourse through Althusser’s ‘ideological State Apparatus’ and Gramscian notion of ‘hegemony’ and how these notions in different crossroads of the genealogy of history have interpreted the dichotomy of dominance and resistance in socio-cultural arenas of civil society. The paper will also accentuate how in the course of paradigmatic shift in these theories, the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the lacuna of Marxist to Gramscian development has problematised the sanguine agenda of ‘great refusal’ and leeway of revolutionary changes in social structure and relation. With this framing at my disposal, I will try to delve into the introspective levels of those “theoretical moments” (Hall 98) which not only radicalized the legacies of previous theoretical postulations but also interrupted with positive aim the course of dissention of the theoretical regime with “theoretical noise” (ibid 99).
In reading these ideology debates from Marxian ideology to Foucauldian discourse through the Frankfurt School’s notion of “Culture Industry” (Adorno and Horkheimer 31), the Althusserian ‘Ideological State Apparatus’, and Gramscian ‘hegemony’, I circumspectly perceive three specific courses of paradigmatic shifts marked with six different ‘theoretical moments’: firstly, this paradigmatic shift is a move from ideological closure to discursive openness; secondly, from ideological essentialism to multiple politicized subject positions; and thirdly, from the notion of unified totalizing power structure to networks of power relations. In every dichotomy, each particular ‘theoretical moment’ postulating an overt theoretical position vis-à-vis socio-cultural quandaries and ideological solutions explicates the specificities as well as limitations of theoretical visions of creators of discursive practices in a dialectical way. In all these dichotomies, mention should be made of a specific point that the first theoretical or ideological positions as preparatory moments of the ideology debates univocally signal to Marxist notion of ideology where the ideological closure of base and superstructure model, essentialist notion of identity depending on class structure and totalitarian model of power structure in relation to the bourgeoisie domination have confined the entire model into a sort of ideological rigidness and provocative paradigms. Here in all these theoretical postulations and positions, the tension is apparent in not only the reflective levels of these moments but also in the kind and type of causal factors of stimulus of those positions. As critical review of those positions and debates, the present paper initially needs to accentuate the basic facets of those ‘theoretical moments’ for negotiating in-between all those conjectural crossroads.


The camera obscura: Ideology as a Totalizing Force:
The basic problem in defining ideology in concrete terms which can explicitly bring into fore the inherent elements of stimulation and ascendancy is that the notion of ideology is itself an abstract term that comprehensively incorporates variety of strategies and dialectical relationships, assorted points of views and causal factors beyond the reach of general human ken. Its obscurity is the obscurity of fecundity and its inscrutability is the inscrutability of unconstructiveness. It’s both the mentioned qualities are fused together in such an implicit way that often restricts any straightforward definition of the notion as a politicized dominative strategy. In reading the dialectical relationship between colonialism and postcolonialism, Ania Loomba has engaged herself with this ideology debate and has rigorously analyzed the notion of ideology in all detail:

Ideology does not . . . refer to political ideas alone. It includes all our ‘mental frameworks’, our beliefs, concepts, and ways of experiencing our relationship to the world. It is one of the most complex and elusive terms in social thoughts and the object of continuing debates. Yet the central question at the heart of these debates is fairly straightforward: how can we give an account of how our social ideas arise. (26-27)

In Loomba’s reading of ideology, it is manifestly unequivocal that the professed straightforwardness in the entire debate is only marked with its consequential upshots, but is not directed by innate structures. After any thorough discussion, there always remain some sorts of remnants engendering new possibilities of squabbles and provocative inquisition. Even when Marx and Engels through their historico-material perspective have sought to define it as a false or distorted consciousness of the world misguiding or misleading people’s relation with the real world, they simply vindicated its repressive nature, not the structure (whereas ‘structure’ is the most vital concept of Marxist philosophy). For them it is the material reality that constitutes individual consciousness. Like Stanley Fish’s notion of “Interpretive Community” where culture constitutes the boundary of thought and ideas for a community’s participants, in the Marxian paradigm, material reality as the product of human labour reflexively composes an ideological community and ideological boundary beyond what people cannot able to reach the truth (319). This reflexivity is the direct consequence of the demanding interest of the dominant classes for whose sake ideologies speak and circulate.

Corresponding to its disguising nature and obfuscation, Marx and Engels have used the metaphor of ‘camera obscura’: “If in ideology men and their realizations appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much as from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on their retina does from the physical life-process” (Vil. 5 37, emphasis original). The lethal metaphor unequivocally shows how both the philosophers have calculatingly accentuated the inscrutability lying hidden in the notion of ideology as a consciousness controlling force. The life of individual cannot be separated from the material context within which it is embedded; and it is the material context which thoroughly speaks on behalf of the profit of the dominant class. Hence both the philosophers were unanimous in the view that ideology is not reality, but reality is ideological. Within the ambit of such ideological nature of reality, both the thinkers have remarked that it “is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness” (ibid 36). The falsifying nature of reality merging with aggravated consciousness impels individuals to submit his/her consent voluntarily to the dominant ideologies of the society without the use of coercion. However within the paradigm of consciousness and ideological determination, some questions still are emerged with exigency in relation to their emotive and simulative factors. Inside the Marxian paradigm, class consciousness is always apparent within the ambit of social existence of individuals; but individuals seeks to politically stimulate or use that class consciousness to obtain multiple subject positions corresponding to the need and demands of the context and surrounding. Hence in the domain of material reality determining the consciousness of individuals, the notion of static, centralized identity is really a problematic one. On the other hand, in that specific paradigm of ideology which constitutes the reality and thereby the surrounding of living, it is the ideology which itself fuels up politicized maneuvers, motivations and thought distraction. Within the realm of such politicized maneuvers, the notions of passivity and voluntary consent as propagated by the ideological nature of reality are needed to be addressed critically with novel theoretical paradigm. It cannot be discarded that the motivating power of ideology is inherited within its power of creating knowledge and reasoning about one’s own state as a dominated one. That mode of reasoning always exists in a state of perpetual tension with individual intuitive power and art of existence. Within the socio-cultural sphere, that tension is boosted up by counter hegemonic texts, discursive practices and textual reality on the rampage.  
Ideology, Culture Industry and the Frankfurt School:

The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry . . . . The culture industry as a whole has moulded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product.
(Adorno and Horkheimer  35)
Now, after entering into the theoretical zone of the Frankfurt school, the question that is raised is that is ideology an independent deception standing outside the control of cognition? Does really the proletariat have the logical insight for grilling the bourgeois ideology? The ideology debates demand a discussion of that conjectural zone from where all sorts of dominations are produced.
What we say as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School is that critical insight of the theorists like Max Horkheimeer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Herbert Mercuse where they have thoroughly discussed the causes of failure of the proletariat in converting the capitalist mode of productions through radical activities. However in discussing the Marxist ideology, these theorists like the postmodernists are not totally parochial or pessimistic; even they have not considered that failure of the proletariat as the failure of grand-narrative. Unlike the postmodernists, they marked a departure from the theoretical world of abstract reasoning, and inquired the socio-cultural causation of such failures within the ambit of the socio-cultural sphere itself. In doing so, they have opted the traditional base-superstructure model but have more concentrated on the ideological superstructure vis-à-vis popular cultural forms and psychoanalysis. Andrew Bowie describes its endeavours in this way: “Critical Theory analyses why that culture (modern culture) develops in that ways it does, tries to show how it can negatively affect people’s ability to think critically about their actions and evaluations, and suggests of thinking about positive alternatives to the existing state of society” (189). The chief endeavour of the Critical Theorists is to think critically about individuals’ inability to promote individuality and true freedom by representing the real condition of existence.

Hence in our reading, I personally consider the basic backdrop of critical inquiry of these theorists is that seductive reality which is the consequence growing global capitalism in an industrial age. Because of technological changes and capitalist mode of mass production, cultural products like music, movies, books, newspaper, advertisement are so easily accessible to all sorts of populations including the working class  that ultimately enhance diverse forms of seductive reality and outward democratization neutralizing the perpetuated class distinction and individuality. In relation to this, Adorno and Horkheimer remarks: “Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries . . . .” (32). The “culture industry” circumspectly circulate the ideological products of global capitalism in such a fashion that seeks to socialize the capitalist mode of production as a neutral possible social system erroneously homogenizing class difference, individual identity and taste (33). In consequence of misleading democratization of taste and class structure, the working class as Marx’s historical factor for social change itself losses its rebellious strategies and willingly participates in the consumer society of capitalist mode of production. In his revolutionary creation namely One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1991), Herbert Marcuse considers such deception as “democratic domination” in a ‘one-dimensional society’; it is a type of society which is created by the false sense of cultural democratization diminishing the possibility of ‘great refusal’ (65). In such societies, the ideological function of ‘culture industry’ and technological domination impels individuals to believe the perpetuated social structure as unchangeable; if there is any alteration in the existing structure of the society, it is not due to revolutionary will, but because of technological and industrial control. Hence, what make the Frankfurt theorists separate from the classical Marxists are their thorough review of the cultural and the scientific realm as the sites of domination and exploitation instead of Marx’s economic realm. It is through that cultural and scientific realm through which the dominant class circulates their ideological domination and oppression for economic profit.                   

Cognition Vs ISAs: from Lukacs to Althusser:
In the midst of all such debates, the Hungarian born critic Georg Lukacs has given a different view of ideology corresponding to his notions of totality and cognition. For Lukacs human life is a social process constituted through all those actions done by human beings; and the whole process as a historical period constitutes the so called totality. That totality is always marked with heterogeneity and multihued actions. The bourgeois society is not aware of that multihuedness of that totality as their lives are fixed on some specific points of action. And it is the ideology that always hides that totality from consciousness. Hence he believes ideology is not always a false consciousness as it reveals a fractional cognition. The class condition or situation of the collective subject, whose interest and views it represents, eventually determines the legitimacy of that ideology. One can clasp the real nature of ideology whether it is distorted or dominative by using the power of cognition. The proletariat has the logical ability to be acquainted with the real nature of bourgeois ideology which distorts the real nature of reality in order to own the consent of the dominated. Hence, in comparison to the Frankfurt School, Lukacs is considered as more optimistic and psychoanalytic regarding the proletariat’s existence and situation in society.

Hence, it is true to say that the ideology debates in the course of historical dissention were actually fueled up by the rigid paradigm of ideology proliferated by the classical Marxism. The structural Marxist Louis Althusser in his most celebrated essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus” contained in his book Lenin and Philosophy (1971) sought to retrace all the facets of ideology as an enabling force of disabling reality within the ambit of a society manifesting the dialectical relationship between the dominant and dominated. In discussing the elusive structure of and human’s relation with ideology, Althusser in that essay has promulgated three different all-embracing perspectives related with his structuralist notion of ideology: firstly, he discusses the nature and structure of society; secondly, the nature of state power and state apparatuses; and thirdly, the structure and nature of ideology with the help of psychoanalysis from Freud to Lacan. However, in his reading all the three subjects i.e. society, state and ideology are intimately connected with each other through reflexivity and basic conditions of human existence. What makes Althusser different from classical Marxism is his deviation from the rigid and centralized notions of base and superstructure model and of ideology. Althusser finds the root of ideology in the basic structure of society; discussing the difference between the Marxist’s “conception of social whole” and “the Hegelian totality”, he remarks (134):

Marx conceived the structure of every society as constituted by ‘levels’ or ‘instances’ articulated by a specific determination: the infrastructure, or economic base . . . and the superstructure, which itself contains two ‘levels’ or ‘instances’: the politico-legal (law and the State) and ideology (the different ideologies, religious, ethical, legal, political etc. (ibid, emphasis original)

Bringing the allusion of Marx’s topographical metaphor of “edifice” (ibid) i.e. base and of the “upper floor” (135) i.e. superstructure, Althusser questions the “relative autonomy” (ibid) of the superstructure and accentuates the need to rethink the “existence and nature of the superstructure on the basis of reproduction” of the condition of production through its various effects or functions (136, emphasis original). The cause is less important than its function as the state itself is an apparatus or instrument of the ruling class in order to perpetuate their hold over the powerless. The state as the base of creating superstructure is less mobilized than the functions of the superstructures. Hence he distinguishes the “State power” from “the State apparatuses” and discusses various types of State apparatus in function. Differentiating the “Repressive State Apparatus” (RSA) from “Ideological State Apparatus” (ISA) with respect to effect or function, Althusser further discusses relatively eight different ISAs which “function massively and predominantly by ideology” (145): such as the “religious ISA”, the “educational ISA”, the “family ISA”, the “legal ISA”, the “political ISA”, the “trade-union ISA”, the “communication ISA”, and the “cultural ISA” (143). In achieving the same goal of “reproduction of the relations of production, i.e. of capitalist relations of exploitation”, whereas RSA works through “repression”, the ISA predominantly works through “ideology” (145). Whereas Marx and Engels read the superstructure as a unidirectional effect of the base manifesting the ideology of the dominant class, for Althusser, these ISAs are “multiple, distinct, ‘relatively autonomous’ and capable of providing an objective field to contradiction which express . . . the effects of the classes between the capitalist class struggle and the proletariat class struggle” (149). Hence, the class struggle is not only apparent in between the two classes; rather it is an obvious factor within the same class consisting of multiple subjectivities and standard. The base and superstructure cannot be separated vis-à-vis their autonomy; rather there is always a reciprocal relation in-between the two. 

After theorizing the ‘State Apparatus’ in detailed way, Althusser then through the perspective of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis highlights basically four theses of ideology as an allusive force of domination. Firstly, differentiating ideology in general and particular ideologies, he contends that “ideology has no history”; whereas the later has definable histories. However, ideology in general cannot have any specific history as like Freud’s conception of dream, it is a fictionalized representation or “inverted reflection of real history” (160). It is like Freud’s unconscious which is equally trans-historical and devoid of any specific structure. After that thesis, secondly he remarks that ideology “represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (162). In the “falsified representation of the world”, ideology does not replicate the real condition of living but the relation of individual with that real condition; it is basically the means not tools of exploitation (163). It has a material existence having the power of “interpellation” (172). As an apparatus, it practice is essentially material.

What makes Althusser different from the classical Marxist paradigm is his understanding of ideology as more subtle, omnipresent and multidimensional phenomenon evaporating the real from the real world. It is not a centralized power-manifestation of the ruling class, but its function is to centralize individuals within the unchanged anti-egalitarian philosophy of domination. Its subversive nature incorporates all the details of human relationships and conditions of living starting from the familial, cultural, economic, and social to the political regimes. On the other hand, the optimistic agenda of Marxist philosophy regarding the proletariat’s role in social change is also apparently missing in Althusserian paradigm. If subjects are entirely the creation of ideology through the process of ‘interpellation’, then there remains nothing outside the control of ideology. The prevailing discourse concerning scopes and power of individuals in social change is simply a demoniac myth manifesting the falsifying dream of the Marxian project.


Common Sense Vs Common Men: Gramsci, Hegemony, and Ideological Openness:
The apparent rigidness and the pessimistic agenda in Althusserian ISAs along with in Frankfurt School’s reading of the ‘culture industry’ are thoroughly resisted by Gramsci’s notion of ‘hegemony’ where the prevailing firmness has moved towards the sanguine agenda of ideological candidness. What is really fascinating in Gramsci is that he does not consider class as a delineator of fixed unitary ideology; rather, for him a single class can mark out conflicting ideologies. Even he questions the dominance of the economic base over the ideological superstructure. The traditional base-superstructure model fails to comprehend the commonplace activities of common man in a reliable form. The economic base can simply generate precise conditions for nourishing certain types of ideologies in society at large; not those which are purposely functional in our routine activities.

What makes Gramsci different from his preceding social theorists is his emphasis on the paradoxical nature of ideological dominance. For him, if there are dominant ideologies speaking on behalf of the interest of the dominant sides, there are too particular kinds of ideologies which may afford scopes for resistance to the dominated ones. Gramsci believes that if ideologies are means of perceiving social reality, the same may provide realms for social resistance or struggle. According to Gramsci, hegemony as a power of control and domination cannot be achieved through the practice of coercive power. It too cannot be achieved through physical punishment or holistic power structure. For him, it is a type of power that specifically aims at voluntary capitulation of the target subjects through consent. And in order to achieve this voluntary capitulation, hegemony aims at manipulating the subjects by playing upon their “common sense” (Gramsci 333). This ‘common sense’, for Gramsci is a body of beliefs and ideas which are historically being formed and on which the practical consciousness of common people rests. Hence, he believes that ideology is always crucial in constituting and creating the subject and consent respectively. It is the reason why in Gramscian hegemony, ideology is not simply the reflections of the material reality; rather, ideologies reflect all the important cross-fertilization of enduring social actions which replicate power in social spheres. In this way, hegemony itself becomes a locus of contestation of the ruling elites and the subaltern groups. As the traditional Marxians believe, ideology is not a totalitarian system of domination; rather, within the realm of the same society, hegemony and counter hegemony may survive in apprehension. Such tensions locating within the socio-cultural terrain of a given society are the prolific and dynamic spaces for the masses, especially the subaltern classes to resist and contest to the power of the powerful.


Foucault’s Subject, power-knowledge and Discursive Openness:
Now, the basic hindrance in critiquing that trajectory between dominance to resistance by assimilating both the paradigms i.e. Marxian ideology or Gramscian hegemony and Foucault’s notions of power and subject formation is itself Foucault’s rejection of the notion of ideology within the ambit of all sorts of power relations and social practices including colonialism and postcolonialism. For Foucault, ideas and material existence cannot be clubbed together; rather, as he believes all sorts of ideas and knowledge are structured by some “laws of a certain code and knowledge” (The Order of, ix). There cannot be any predetermined truth behind any knowledge or ideological formations as most of the Marxists consider the material domain as the proprietor of ideologies. Even there is no possibility of conceiving any predestined source of fabrication of any type of power-relation (like elite and subaltern). Without power knowledge, we cannot speak about ideology. In order to understand the persisting social relations or power relations, we need to focus on all types of heterogeneous aspects of power relations instead of the Marxian or Althusserian totalitarian ideological structures.   

Foucault believes that it is not labour that determines the essence of individuals; rather, subjectivity is constructed through our engagement with multitude of discourses. He also discards the notion of power propagated by the Marxist so far as centralized unidirectional bludgeon of the capitalist class; even, it is not a macro-social phenomenon. For him power is generated and working through assortment of sites in local level. It flows in numerous directions. Hence power is not entirely repressive, but positive in the sense that it enables scopes for resistance and transformations. Whereas traditional Marxism believes that ideology stands in opposition to truth, Foucault believes that the notion of truth is itself problematical. Truth is produced in social relations not in social structures. It is produced out of social and political relations of power which are the very domain of configuration of subject and knowledge. The use of discourse will decide what kind of knowledge will be utilized in producing truth. This knowledge is not separated from power; because power cannot be exercised or worked unless knowledge is formed. Instead of such deterministic philosophies, Foucault believes that every idea is ordered “through some material mediums” and which imposes an explicit pattern on that idea (100). It is this pattern which Foucault calls as discourse.

Even he also negates the idea of subject as the sole source of meaning. He believes that fixed notion of subjectivity is a coercive delusion created by the material process of subjection. He believes that individual is a self-determining agent capable of challenging and resisting the structures of dominion in modern society. An individual is not a docile body, but an active agent. In the very process of livelihood, an individual can have the reason for self-fashioning and identity assertion. It is not an entity, but a form which is changed depending on sources accessible to him/her. Within the ambit of the power-structure, subjects are always in continuous struggle with technologies of power and they cannot live beyond such struggles. And in such constant struggles, the cohesive subject is lost and subjects are constantly transformed into subject positions. Within the realm of those power relations, individuals have the “technologies of the self” (“Technologies of the” 19) and “ethics of the self” as early discussed and through which they can refashion their art of existence of daily practices (“History of the” 342).


Discursive Openness: Towards New Beginning…
The paradigmatic shifts thoughts within the arena of the ideological debates primarily focus on three distinctive phases of paradigm shifts: firstly, it is a movement from ideological closure to discursive openness; secondly, it is a movement from ideological essentialism to multiple political subject positions; and thirdly, it a movement from unified totalizing power position to networks of power. However, that network as fostered by Foucault is not the end of the ideological debates. Rather, the discursive openness in Foucault’s discourse fostered a fangled of new thoughts and philosophico-theoretical positions within the intellectual world. The post-Marxian notions of hegemonic moments of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, the notion of T-discourse of Dorothy Smith, and Donna Haraway’s notion of Cyborg Manifesto fostered innovative agendas in the ideology debates where ruling and the unidirectional base superstructure models are thoroughly resisted. The latter developments in the debates not only accentuate new hope and scopes for the subalterns but also denies the economic base as the foundation of ideological power structure and resistance. It is the reason why in most of the post-Marxian theoretical positions like Gramsci’s ‘hegemony’ and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s notions of “a variety of hegemonic nodal points” (139) along with “radical democracy”, the monstrous finality of Marxian ideology is thoroughly challenged and reanalyzed (176). Even in Laclau and Mouffe’s model of post-Marxism, the ideas of class struggle and of class as the only source of power blocs and identity are sought to be replaced by the notion of equivalent participation of multiple subject positions for the sake of creating counter-hegemonic discourses and moments against ‘hegemony’. Whereas Gramsci, going against the confining rigidness and repression of Marxian ideology, conceived ideology as the motivating power which can “organize human masses, and create the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of the position, struggle, etc,” the Laclau-Mouffe model has more highlighted the nature of discursive formation of dominance and resistance within the ambit of socio-cultural realm by conscious abolition of the essentialist elements in Marxist ideology (324).

Adorno, Theodor & Max Horkheimer. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” The Cultural Studies Reader. Simon During ed. London and New Yorks: Routledge Publication., 1993. Pg 31-41.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays. trans. by Ben Brewster. London: New Left Books, 1971. 127-188. Print.
Foucault, Michael. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. tans. by A. Sheridan-Smith. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970. Print.
---“History of the Project” The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thoughts. Ed. Paul Rabinow. London: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.
---. “Technologies of the self.” Technologies of the self. Ed. L H Martin, H Gutman and P H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. 16-49. Print.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Q. Hoare, G.N. Smith (eds). London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971. Print.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legecies” in Simon During edt. The Cultural Studies Reader. Simon During ed. London and New Yorks: Routledge Publication., 1993. Pg 97-109.
Laclau, Ernesto & Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso, 1985.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991
Marx, K. and F. Engels. Collected Works. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976.   

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Whose discourses are these...?
The Gender Genealogy and Women Issues in Northeast India
questions of tradition and cultural identity


The biggest threats to women studies within the locus of the cultural practices of Northeast India can be counted as follows: (i) firstly, its peripheral existence vis-à-vis other Indian demographic existence and (ii) secondly, it’s untiring distance from the ‘second’ and the ‘third’ wave feminist movements of Western intelligentsia, (iii) thirdly, its multi-ethnic accumulation devoid of complimentarity and the ethos of multiculturalism beyond ethnic boundary maintenance, and (iv) fourthly, its overemphasis on the prevailing customary dominant discourses relating to women as custodian of cultural identity. These threats are so haphazardly traversed with one another that any straightforward analysis of women issues irrespective of race, tribe or community is comprehensively hindered by the web of issues arising out of those hazards in the location.      

Gendered body vs. Cultural nobody
The basic question that may arise in the trajectory between gender to women studies in this specific context is that what kind of women identity or existence is represented by the cultural practices in Northeast India? Do the social edifice of gender and its socio-political representation paradoxically undercut the feminist goal of representation of women in Northeast India? However, it is needless to say that corresponding to the demographical diversity, the stable and unified notion of gender is required to be undermined for tracing women issues and representational politics in Northeast India. On the other hand, in mapping out the women issues in this segregated area, a genealogical critique is always a prime requisite as the perspective refuses to search for the origin and the foundational truth of gender and female desire; rather the perspective seeks to investigate the complex course of descent and the effect of various institutions, practices and discourses with assorted number of origins that constitute the identity categories. Within the ambit of Northeast India, the search for the origin of gender categories vis-à-vis their social existence and identity cannot be accompanied with exhaustive criticism; Northeast is a location where the gendered existence is the cynosure of one’s socio-cultural identity and the way to cultural practices. And it is the gendered existence through which the society recognizes one’s sexual identity, belonging and even the status quo.
What is universally acknowledged as the fundamental continuum for practicing feminism is hypothetically fundamental to the female of the Northeast region. But does it signature the cause of female liberation and the exigencies of women studies in this location? If we consider Simon de Beauvoir’s provocative comment in The Second Sex that “one is not born as a woman, but, rather, becomes one” is essentially true, this is essentially true to the Northeast Indian cultural practices (301). The gender bias of the cultural practices in Northeast India is so exhaustively institutionalized in the socio-cultural arena of the tribes and communities that thoroughly accentuates the gendered existence of femininity and masculinity at all. It is meticulously constructed by the womanizing practices in institutionalized structure. The foundational institution of that womanizing mission is the family itself and the mother (or elsewhere the grandmother or sisters) are the trailblazers of that institution. The gendered boundary being a female is inculcated within a ‘girl’ child right from the beginning and thereby she starts to familiarize with the gendered practices and customary behaviours. Bodo women teach their girls the art of weaving from a young age. The Dokhnas are made by themselves. One’s arriving at the puberty is the culmination of her womanizing process. The ‘girl’ is inculcated with stock behaviours, ethics, norms and practices which are typically considered typical to be a ‘woman’ in the civil society of most of the communities and tribes of Northeast India. It is a process of feminization through which a girl is impelled to feel that ‘she’ is all feminine from inside and thereby needs some restrictions and confinements as well. In consequence of such feminization, determinism curtains the nature of free will. Besides the repression of phallogocentrism, heterosexuality and other related fields like poverty, illiteracy or the downbeat causes of popular culture, her cultural practices and behaviour are methodically genderised in a patriarchic society which is based on traditional determinism.
Considering the havoc of these terms like determinism and construction, Butler reveals her anxiety in a clear voice:
Within those terms, “the body” appears as a passive medium on which cultural meanings are inscribed or as the instrument through which an appropriative and interpretive will determines a cultural meaning for itself. In either case, the body is figured as a mere instrument or medium for which a set of cultural meanings are only externally related. (emph. original, 8)               
The customary practices like dress codes, ornament, hair-style and even the way of talking, behaving or smiling are customarily inculcated into that ‘body’ emblematical to the stigmata of tradition and cultural identity. As C.S. Lakshmi believes, even if in the time-space continuum the body is an active agent, it is forcefully stigmatized with the attempt to write “the notion of an unbroken tradition” and a well-preserved essential cultural identity on the body (55). Hence the female dancers of the cultural festival of various communities and tribes are always considered as the romanticized heroines of tradition and cultural identity. The direct impact of that over romanticisation is found in the high capital of the dresses of those romanticized heroines. The price of the dress of an Assamese naxoni (female dancer) is more than triple of a dhulia (male counterpart); the dress of a Mompa female dancer is valued more than eighty thousand. A traditional Bugun dancer wears ornaments of precious stones and gold. Same is the case with the other tribes like Rabha, Sherdukpen, Adi, Bodo and so on. A traditional Mompa woman wears precious stones of different colors for maintaining cultural ethos and tradition along with a traditional dress namely Shrinka. These stones are so precious that cost more than lakh rupees. Likewise every tribe of NE India has specialized dress code representing cultural identity. The veil system, so pertinent in Assamese and Bengali societies, itself becomes a metaphor for “closed mind, parochialism and orthodoxy” along with the oppressive structure of the society as well (Nayar 143). The old Adi woman always wear yellow necklace and spiral earrings, whereas the unmarried Adi girls wear Beyop- an ornament consisting of five brass plates symbolizing womanliness. The older Apatani women mark tattoo in hands, arms and face for cultural significance. The same tribe considers that their women are so beautiful and hence to save them from other tribes, the Apatani women wear large wooden plugs in their noses namely Yapin Hulu. The stock dresses, ornaments and other wearing are customized in such a way that thoroughly essentialised the cultural identity of the respective tribe or community. In such cultural practices, the body is itself converted into a customized space for writing cultural identity and history as well. The personal identity is lost in such writings converting the subjective body into a cultural nobody representing simply race, class or cultural identity. But can such a body used as a territory in the name of guardianship of cultural identity, be liberated from the trap of hegemony!    

Gendered northeast vs. Endangered identity       
In the Cultures of Peace - Festival of the Northeast, 2014, Jarjum Ete- one of the female activists of this location remarks in a pessimistic tone: "(T)he value of being a feminist is yet to get into our DNA. The identities of tribes, families and political groups take precedence. We must see how we change our mindsets as feminists" (Times of India, Feb 1, 2014). If this will be the condition of the female activists of this region, then what will be the scope for discussion of postcolonial geography and feminism vis-à-vis the social reality and literature of Northeast India? Postcolonial geography and feminism are not only instrumental in resisting colonial representation of geography and women in discursive practices but also productive in generating consciousness-raising and recovering private spaces dominated by hegemonic institutions of power and discourses. With special focus on the operation of the dominant discourses in the complex course of decent of culture, these innovative approaches have been credited with the effort of exploring the marginalized voices and hidden spaces. And for the same, it is required to explore the dominant discourses working in this location in marginalizing women. On the other hand, as Jonathan Crush has remarked, postcolonial geographies are marked with the agenda of “de-linking of local geographical enterprise from metropolitan theory and its totalizing systems of representation” (336). Hence while resisting the dominant discourses and the hegemonic forms of power, postcolonial geographies re-read the hidden spaces and places and endeavors to trace new cultural and geographical meanings.
In relation to women issues, the postcolonial geographies of Northeast India fastidiously point out that the dominant discourses like of gender are not only the creation of colonial hegemony, but also the products of the institutional patriarchy. The gendered division of socio-cultural and political labour and allocation of specific forms of labour to women is not new to this region; rather it is a nationwide patriarchal ‘project’. Likewise in India, patriarchy is not limited to familial relations and marriage only; it becomes a whole sets of institutions based on the ideology of patriarchy. The Zemei Naga males are prohibited to touch the meat of an animal killed by a woman, because bravery is the quality of male only (Zehol 302). The Zeliangrong Naga men believe that sleeping with one’s wife before going to hunting may bring bad luck. In traditional Assamese and Bengali society, the religious and cultural rituals of marriage and death ceremony are thoroughly gendered; female virginity is worshiped in Kumari Puja; Xeng Bihu or the Kartik Puja of Koch-Rajbangshi are that imaginative spaces of women where they celebrate their femininity and autonomy casting away them from institutional patriarchy. The greatest slogan of Assam Sahitya Sabha namely “Chira Chenehi Mor Bhasa Janani”, the slogan of AASU (All Assam Students Union) namely “Jai Aai Asom”, are highly gendered slogans of transforming women into the guardian and biological reproducer of language and statehood respectively. Even the Northeast India itself is introduced as “Saat-Bhani” or “Seven-Sisters” which is the metonym of Mother-India.  
These iconographies not only bear testimonies to a community’s cultural past and identity, but also constant efforts in vindicating the stability and safety of cultural identity in terms of gendered ideology. As everything in a postcolonial and modern geography is in “a state of flux”, woman is the only symbol always required to be projected as “stable and safe” (Nayar 125). And what seems really fascinating in such discourses is that the gendered cultural practices not only differentiate labor in terms of gender but also impel the process of creation of imaginative spaces of female autonomy and new iconography of gendered identity and moral.  

Tense space vs. Intense pace
Let us see how these two poetic passages reflect the paradox in reality:

I will not unfasten my hair
I am a village girl
Village girls do not unfasten their hair
Village girls
Do not look up towards the sky
(Gambhini Devi, “A Village Girl” 1-4, 10-11)

The reality of music is a problem
Waiting to be solved by the black guitar
Not the girl, nor the jug of blue hibiscus
(Mona Zote, “Girl with Black Guitar and Blue Hibiscus, 1-3)

Though a ‘village girl’ and a ‘city girl’ cannot be generalized in terms of gender and sexuality, the two passages epitomize the way of life style, body politics and cultural constructs of gendered identity in two different geographies. If the issues related to women are different in village and metropolis, the policies of resistance to the dominant discourses are unlike as well. In a nutshell, these issues are different in relation to two different cohorts of women- one represents tradition, other breaks-up with tradition; one represents tense space of femininity, other intense pace of modernity; one succumbs to the body politics, other re-writes new language of body politics; one considers identity as essential, other as anti-essential. This clash between essential and anti-essential agendas of race and cultural identity often modulate any precise analysis of women issues in Northeast India and in other parts of the country as well. Although most of the customary practices are similar in both village and metropolis, in educated and uneducated, tribal and non-tribal societies, the division in-between them is mostly created by changed world views, tastes and cultural practices. For example, in most of the tribal societies like the Mompas in Arunachal Pradesh, polygamy is considered customary; but in Assamese or Bengali societies, it is not permissible. Even in gender-neutral cultural practices like nun and monk of the Buddhist tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, gendered or sexual identities are thrown away with uniform dress-code and appearance; but within that gender-neutral geography, till date nun cannot become a Geshe (PhD holder).       
These paradoxes are the clashes between orthodoxy and liberalism, between rigid and egalitarian perceptions. When the new Assamese Bihu VCDs depict the Assamese life and society in a traditional way showing a village with open rice field, fishing, or reaping women, female Bihu dancer under Bunyan tree, or women to fetch water from river, these not only reinforce traditionality over modernity but also reinstate gendered cultural practices and the notion of romantic heroines bearing cultural identity in digital ways. Such practices and ways of life strongly stand in opposite to the lives in cities and metropolis. Now the question is which women society is represented by those VCDs and who’s Assameseness? The issues of women empowerment like illiteracy, unemployment can be treated with proper governmental or non-governmental policies; but what sorts of enforcement is required to resist those discursive formations relating to gendered identity and marginality? Historical legacies are quite extraneous in such contexts. For example, in traditional Naga societies, women were given a superior place in social power structure. In villages like Thowai and Kangpot, women were the village chiefs. A woman namely Maram Harkhosita was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the village army. But in our present patriarchal structure, such generative examples are found atypical. In metropolis, a woman can be appointed as the mayor of the municipality, but in village councils, the concept of a Gawnburhi (female head of village) instead of a Gawnburah (male head of village) will surely sound redundant, especially in Assamese and most of the tribal societies.  

Whose discourses are these…?

Within these institutions of power and discursive formations, main problems are not with the increased crime against women; but with the dominant discourses and ideologies that constitute women as a gendered subject of inferiority, flaw and consummation. The fundamental problems are lying with the mentality and attitudes which are flanged by such discourses pertaining to the existing social structure. Within the dome of these haphazard encumbrances, what the women studies in present context seek globally to investigate in the name of cultural meanings of being a woman or the socio-political meaning of the apophthegm ‘the personal is political’ seem empirically disruptive and impenetrable. In traditional societies of NE India, concealing personal is the moral. All these levelheaded hindrances have engendered serious impediments in studying the issues related with women of Northeast India in a global podium. Although, the problems are not restricted to these practical issues only; concerning the haphazard objectives of women studies or feminism as well, Simon During raises an exigent query:
The question now is: what does feminism want? Feminism’s early forms had clear visions: equality of rights and opportunities; an end to the dominance of the male gaze; the unfolding of a woman’s culture on its own terms. The right and opportunities agenda is (albeit slowly) being met, and the culture of gender and sexuality has been transformed since the advent of feminism, although not in ways that the early feminists would have foreseen or for the most part approved. But what now? (emph. original, 177) 
In the global platform, especially within a cohort of educated women, women studies have emphasised on gender issues and queer politics theorizing a politics of sexuality for generating an anti-essentialist agenda of women identity. But for us, the question of prime importance is that have these developments empowered the women of Northeast India or are these developments converted into a mass movement in Northeast India?
            In Northeast India, women as a category are living in different communities, tribes, ethnicities and places; and crossing these different boundaries, ‘women’ as a class is found empirically outsized to generalize within a specific group of shared issues. Apart from mutual sexual or bodily issues, the socio-cultural and political questions are totally diversified and ethnically oriented. Hence, beyond these diversified questions and belongings, we need a set of shared agendas and constraints in order to solidify the races of women within a single group. If we cannot have such collective agenda and policy, the etymological issues of women studies or feminist politics will seem itself redundant and exclusive.                           



Beauvoir, Simon de. The Second Sex. trans. E.M. Parshley. New York: Vintage, 1973. Print.
Butler, Judith. Gender Studies: Feminism and Subversion of Identity. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
During, Simon. Cultural Studies: a critical introduction. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Lakshmi, C.S. “Bodies Called Women: Some Thoughts on Gender, Ethnicity and Nation”, in Selvy Thiruchandran (ed.), Women, narration and Nation: Collective Images and Multiple Identities. New Delhi: Vikas. 1999. Print.
Mishra, Tilottoma ed. The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-east India: Poetry and Essays. 1st ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Nayar, Pramod Kumar. Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction. 1st ed. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. Ltd., 2008. Print.
Zehol, Lucy 2003. ‘Status of Tribal Women’, in Tanka Bahadur Subba (ed.): Anthropology of northeast India: A Textbook (293-306). New Delhi: Orient Longman.

Ethnicity, Ethnoscapes and
Dialectics of Positioning/Positionality, Identification/Identity:
A Reading of Select Fictional Writings from Northeast India

Manash Pratim Borah, PhD
Assistant Professor in English
Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies
(An Autonomous Institute under the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India)
 Dahung, West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh- 790116

Ethnicity, as a paradoxical locus of contestation between the primordialists and the instrumentalists and ethnoscapes as enduring dynamism of cultural negotiation and territorialisation of ethnic memory vis-à-vis cultural communities and folk-traits are two generative parameters, which, in turn, not only bear testimony to a community’s cultural and spatial traits but also a tactic towards ‘politics of location’, narratives of re-territorialisation and dialectics of positioning/positionality, identification/identity. Being internally destabilized with cognitive dissonance and lack of sync between positioning and positionality, both the notions can be categorized as enabling fictions within Queer politics converting them into catalysts of productivity and strategic maneuvers. Emerging as two focal considerations in a critical realist identity politics of Northeast India, both the notions are seen to be indispensable in documenting cultural and socio-political experiences of the region manifesting ideology of agency and the mentioned trajectories as dialectic discourses, which, in turn, brings into context the trajectories between identification to identity as discursive processes linking group or collectivity within a specific social space. It is the socio-spatial and structural positioning of collectivities of individuals that give rise to discourses of identification and take apart ‘ascriptive identities’ from subjective one. Within the arena of fictional writings of Northeast India, it seems always provocative how the writers from this marginalized zone manifest their ethnically oriented identitarian maneuvers, negotiation and reflexivity within fictional narratives in handling the dialectic of positioning/positionality and identification/identity for understanding ideological construct of ethnoscapes, ethnic identity and its contingencies. Within the ambit of ethnicity, these writers are also fascinated in reading socio-spatial structural positioning and restrains of positionality in constructing location and withstanding pressures of cultural expulsion. The present paper will discuss how these notions about positioning/positionality, identification/identity are revealed, queered and problamatized in select fictional narratives of Northeast India in terms of ethnoscapes and the epistemic value of ethnicity. (Total Words- 304)

Key Words: Ethnicity, Ethnoscapes, Positioning/Positionality, Identification/Identity, Queer/Identity Politics, Northeast India

Ethnicity, as a paradoxical locus of contestation between the primordialists and the instrumentalists and ethnoscapes as enduring dynamism of cultural negotiation and territorialisation of ethnic memory vis-à-vis cultural communities and folk-traits are two generative parameters, which, in turn, not only bear testimony to a community’s cultural and spatial traits but also a tactic towards “politics of location” (qtd in Mankekar 63), narratives of de/re-territorialisation and dialectics of positioning/positionality, identification/identity. Within the ambit of ethnic scholarship and intercultural ethnoscapes, if the eventual struggle is against forms of ideological and material dominations and processes of marginalization, then what is indispensable in such situations is definitely a ‘politics of location’, queer/identity politics and above all a postpositivist approach towards socio-spatial and structural positionality and identity for “generating agency and for creating spaces from which to resist and contest hegemonic shaping and defining “reality”” (Sanchez 31). Such hegemonic shaping and subjective definition of reality can be discussed under the head of identification/identity as two discursive paradoxical processes of identity inculcation and formation respectively. While all proponents and contingencies of ethnicity, ethnoscapes and identity are considered as ideological though economically discursive processes of dynamism and construction leaving many times stigmatized or debilitating effects of our life-chances, there are many critics who find these consequences as traumatic experiences coterminous to productivity and rehabilitation. In the very outset of this discussion, such critics will not be enlivened with any pleasing reply, which may too bear justification for the need of a postpositivist approach towards such ideological/economic constructions. My main objective behind writing this essay is to address and to interrogate those challenging aspects of ethnically oriented marginal sites of production having the constituent mix of contingency and blind spots which are ultimately grounded in social reality but are curtained and fossilized by hegemonic forces. If such locations are not explicitly visible and audible in  public experience and discourses, the fictional writings and voices of violence, marginality and ethnic identity from Northeast India symptomatic to those locations are now emerging as intercultural ethnoscapes, which can also be considered and understood as Bakhtinian ‘chronotopes’ as a markers of intrinsic bond between spatial and temporal dimensions. Since Bakhtin initially meant to apply the concept of ‘chronotopes’ to the “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature”, ‘chronotopes’ actually provide an entry point of all forms of pragmatic meaning (81). Bakhtin remarks that, “without such temporal-spatial expression, even abstract thought is impossible. Consequently, every entry into the sphere of meaning is accomplished through the gates of chronotope” (258). Hence for the convenience of our discussion, we can consider those fictional narratives created by the socially committed writers of this marginalized zone as ‘chronotopes’ as well as ‘ethnoscapes’ where literary artists draw how ethnic groups make geography and produce space to legitimize their existence in space and time and how such spaces are modified and de/re-territorialised in due course of time.

Ethnicity, Ethnoscapes and Ethnic Identity
“…ethnicity is the way individuals and groups characterize themselves on the basis of their language, race, place of origin, shared culture, values, and history... Central to the notion of ethnicity is a conception of a common descent, often of a mythic character" (Ali and Weiner 2-3).

In their views, what remains central to the notion of ethnicity is a triangular reciprocity among collectivity, context and a historical sense of that collectivity for the sake of sustaining and promoting shared consciousness. Such efforts of sustenance and augmentation of ethnicity are optimistically culminated with the forces of economic and cultural globalization as a matter of counteracts movement which may be termed as ‘ethnicity boom’. In the context of Northeast India, that ‘ethnicity boom’, in many cases is emerged with high levels of violence and separatist conflicts promulgated by various inter-group ethnic clashes and movements leading to the establishment of sovereign territories or councils and identity assertion. As it has been mentioned earlier that ethnicity as a locus of contestation between the primordialists and the instrumentalists arouses a lot many vital issues regarding ‘politics of location’ and dialectic of positioning/positionality, identification/identity, the primordialists’ notions of ineffable and hereditary or historical aspects of ethnicity in our modern debates are always placed in tough assessment in front of instrumentalists’ noninterventionist and postpositivist views of ethnicity. For the instrumentalists, owing to historical circumstances such as migration and colonization, ethnicity is considered as socially constructed, malleable, and often deliberately produced or manifold. As a paradoxical locus of contestation, hence, if ethnicity, on the one hand renders the promise of social recognition of pious attachment and cultural difference; on the other, illuminating its fictionality produced in the process of nationalization, it shows the underlying social hybridization and internal contingencies.
Fredrik Barth have sought to foster those “socially effective” ways in which notions of ethnic group identities and boundaries were fashioned and maintained vis-à-vis the fixed or primordial cultural traits of ethnic communities (10). Understanding an ethnic community, hence, needs a methodical framework which may present various principles concerning ethnic stereotyping and differences with other ethnic groups and how such notions and principles are formed, hackneyed and thereby traditionalized in changing historical context and location. In shifting historical context, ethnic communities not only concoct their locations but also transport memories and pattern behavior with them. Such reterritorailisation may be occurred in terms of spatial or chronotopic dimension indicating the “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships” (Bakhtin 84). In consequence of such ethnic reterritorialisation as result of migration and global changes, new “ethnoscapes” are emerged as ways of cultural and territorial production of ethnic identity (Appadurai 221).  As Appadurai remarks, “landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live” and transnational and intercultural phenomenon, new ways of territorial and cultural reproduction of group identity are emerged through ‘ethnoscapes’ (222). Hence we need to think about ethnicity or ethnic identity in terms of distinct flows or ‘scpaes’ as unrestrained dynamic interconnectedness between the temporal and spatial. It is the ongoing dynamism that fosters cultural renegotiation and thereby creates threats to ideologies of static homogenized ethnic communities. Due to this enduring dynamism ethnic identities must be analyzed in terms of specific historical context and locality in which they are re/produced, transformed and maintained as indefinite cultural traits.
Positioning/Positionality, Identification/Identities
As categories of identity formations, in both the binaries, the secondary one is always endowed with contingency and ongoing dynamism. If positioning is one’s social location within a specific historico-economic context reverberating precise discourse and ethics of objective identification, positionality, by contrast is one’s imagined relation and stance to that objectively determined positioning. Whereas one’s positionality is conditioned by his/her positioning, but “not strictly determined…moreover, positionality is always at variance with other positionalities”, including one’s multiple perspectives (Sanchez 38-39). Whereas positioning is a kind of enabling discourse of subject formation with respect to other location, positionality is always marked with a kind of transcendent bravado depending on the dynamic context of living and ideology (Here ideology is manifested to us through Marxian base/superstructure model). Appadurai’s ‘constant flows’ or ‘scapes’ are hence marked with varied kinds of positionalities as makers of ethnic, technical, media oriented or ideological ‘scapes’. As socio-spatial positioning is not necessarily unitary and singular, such distributions of collective communities are found to be providing specific linkage and stipulation to individual for credentials. It is through relative contestation which in turn labels individual with specific grouping and thereby differs him/her from others. One’s socio-spatial identification, hence, is always collectively drawn vis-à-vis socio-spatial and constitutive positioning. Such positioning, in turn, incorporates constitutive mix of social, political, economic and cultural forces within a global context. On the other hand, fostering the inherent “cognitive dissonance, asymmetry or lack of sync between one’s positioning and one’s positionality”, the discourse too enhances politically productive spaces for queer identity and global hybridity (Sanchez 39). Unraveling inherent tension in both the dialectics, hence, needs postpositivist realist approach that may fastidiously provide a global justification of ethnic identities. Within a tapered paradigm of individuation/identification, a realist view of identity may provide the material basis for understanding the reflexive and agential acts of individual identity formations.
With this framing at my disposal, I will also consider the fact that as ‘ethnoscapes’ are subjected to redefining ethnicity along with territorial and cultural reproduction signaling the social construction of ethnicity and ethnic identity within the domain of globalism, the scaffolding for those intercultural facsimileing is actually constituted by ‘chronotopes’. The entire process of that facsimileing is based on a material basis of cultural transformation beyond all sorts of ideological paradigms of identity formation and artistic creations. And what seems really fascinating in such formations and creation processes is that as identity, itself as a discursive process and discourse is grounded in social reality and context of belonging, i.e. all forms of social structures and relations, reality, by contrast is not based on such discursive domains and not reducible to those discursive discourses. Discourse cannot discus that structure in a nutshell. It is the inescapable relationality of identity formation for which we need postpositivist realist approach to scan the dialectical nature of identity construction by situating identity both in a “radical universalist” and a “multicultural” world view (Mohanty xii). The approach will provide a material basis of identity formation in relation to social structure incorporating the dialectic of positioning/positionality and identification/identity as discursive processes.

The ethnoscapic as well as the chronotopic analysis of most of the “tales of ethnographic representations” from Northeast India have fastidiously manifested how artistically such narratives are incorporating territorial and cultural reproduction of ethnic identity within the arena of a global podium along with the dialectics of positioning/positionality, identification/identity (Bhattacharjee 244). Beyond the quotidian discourse of ethnicity propagated by the primordialists, such narratives are centred around the notion of ethnic reterritorialisation in consequence of transnational and intercultural phenomenon as sites of cultural and territorial productions.
Two such stories from Assam manifesting the notion of ethnoscapes as moving melting ground of the old and new are Rong Bong Terang’s “A Smiling Village” and Maushumi Kandali’s “The Crossroads of Mukindon”- as two fine pieces of literary imagination presenting the Karbis of Assam in a crucial juncture of lived history, where the ethnic ‘community’ is found under the legacy of displacement and identity crisis provoked by European civilizing mission, Western cultural impact and global changes afterward. If in the ‘smiling village’ of Baithalangshu, Saroika- the leading character of Terrang has “wondered whether conversion implied that one had to change one’s name as well?” (76), the leading character in Kandali’s version namely Hangmizi is himself uncertainly oscillating in between two poles: “At one was the woman set against the dense forest and mysterious hill, and at the other a gyrating metallic world- two parallel canvasses: one a naturalistic landscape and the other a futuristic city-scape with its thousand lights and million sounds” (126). The characters soaked with the sweet and scent of essential Karbihood have revealed a deep sense of loss and despondency while speaking about the territorial and intercultural changes and about a new generation living at the crossroad of lived history. The “scapes” of the Karbis’ ethnic identity become more explicit to us when a distracted Karbi namely Chomang in Kandali’s narration reveals his Karbi ethics- “Life is like that column in the Sunday Supplement of the Asian Age, What’s In What’s Out. Every week, ins go out and the outs come in” (129).
In the context of both the ethnographic representations, an explicit travesty of time has come into view when memory and orality are placed alongside the present changes which, in turn, has brought the characters into the ‘crossroads’ of ideological stance of being rooted and uprooted at the same time. Presenting a crucial historical rupture of a secluded community through the method of paradox, hence, both the narratives have located the community in an arena of in-betweeness of real and imagined or rooted and uprooted simultaneously irrespective to any fixed notion of identity.
Mamang Dai’s “Travel the Road” is also a story of an ethnic community living in the village Komsing of Arunachal Pradesh. With this symbolic title, the narrator accounts the ethnic historiography of the community in the changing context starting with the time of British invasion to rehabilitation of ethnic settlement focusing on the essential cultural traits of the community in a way that easily brings into the context the ethnoscapic dimension of territorial and intercultural negotiation and production. The narrator speaks the voice of the shaman, the Miri- “Out of this place of great stillness, the first flicker of thought began to shine like a light in the soul of man. It became a shimmering trail, too shape and expanded and became the pathway” (19). The community starting with “nothingness” came into being as an ethnic community with new cultural and territorial location through perplexing processes of mythmaking and resistance (ibid). Such contestation vis-à-vis positioning and identification is explicitly revealed to us when addressing the whites the Miri remarks “They think we are a village of horror, but it is not true! The leaves of the orange trees glisten…we are not a village of shame” (18). In due course of reterritorialisation, what is needed is territorialisation of ethnic memory in the form of therapeutic re-membering.
Temsula Ao’s “The Curfew Man”, though embedded in the troubled time of Naga history, presents the territorial and intercultural changes in the ethnic identity of the Naga community in the course of time as consequences of deterritorialisation of ethnic belonging and global changes. The narrator through his epistemic construction of Naga identity fictionalizes the notion of travelling identities of Naga villagers through two representative characters namely Satemba and Jemtila, who going against their will move from one location to another in search of livelihood and thereby debunk the notion of unwavering ethnic identity. What is vindicated in varied locations of Satemba’s livelihood is not the essential Nagahood, but a dynamic hybrid identity decentered from the very center. In every location, the past one is always customized and new work and identity is re-invented.

In all these four ethnographic narratives, ethnic identity is itself set against a global podium of inherent dynamism to focus on intercultural and territorial productions which eventually counteract ethics of stable/imposed identity. In these fictions, ethnoscapes are emerged not only as consequences of transnational and intercultural phenomenon but also through intrinsic reciprocity within the dialectics of positioning/positionality and identification/identity and which in turn bear testimony for reterritorialisation of ethnic memory signaling creativity and vulnerability of ethnic identity at the same time. But what seems interesting all these stories is that starting with Terrang to Ao, ethnoscapic rehabilitation is occurred in case of both stable and mobile races. Karbis are the inhabitants of the Tika Pahar of Baithalangshu since three centuries back but the new generation Kabis considers their territory is reterritorised many times in due course. Those shifting ethnoscapes emerged out of the process of transnational and intercultural reproduction discard the primordialists’ notions of stable positioning and identification and thereby triumph the second ones in both the binaries as dynamic categories. In Kandali’s account of newly emerged Karbi myths, identity is itself varied within the same ethnic community, same generation. The enunciation of memory and orality in both the stories, as two empowering devices which enable a bygone time to re-affirm its value and the sense of loss in present, hence, has located the community in a verge of identity crisis and displacement and too has opened newer spaces and contexts in the present for the younger generation to reclaim and affirm what have been lost and disappeared. In case of Temsula Ao, Satemba not only invents locations but also identities and in turn memories. If they reinvent territories and new myth of ethnicity, they too are reinvented by territories and ethnic mythology.
In this way, the loss-gain-crisis trilogy becomes an intrinsic part of every ethnic community writing own history within the history of mankind. Every community explores new locations, memory and identity in due course and set narratives for articulation of new beginnings. I find Prof. B. K. Danta’s one comment very useful in this regard-
“…when we see narratives trying to retain or to return to the beginnings of the subject, we sense an admission of defeat, uncertainties on account of late arrival in the scene. Similarly, when we see narratives trying to celebrate the moment of arrival, we sense a crisis. The euphoria of arrival is undercut by an allegory of loss” (109).
The saga continues throughout ages. New ethnoscapes, mythology, narratives are created and recreated in due course; once local, ethnic is converted into a global commodity and global is melted within the local as commonality. What we loss is curtained by what we gain and thereby welcome new ontology of hi/stories and identities to explore newer abode to re-explore.
Works Cited

Primary Source
Mishra, Tilottoma. Ed. The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-east India: Fiction. 1st ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Secondary Sources
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