The following is a reaction paper from my MFA critical theory course circa 2012. The selection that it is a reaction to is a section of “National \ Modern Preliminaries” by Geeta Kapur which can be found here – http://www.amazon.com/When-Was-Modernism-Contemporary-Cultural/dp/8185229481/
Reaction paper – “National/Modern Preliminaries”
After our in-class discussion of this reading, I feel that I have a pretty good idea of what it is about. The center periphery model as mentioned by Kapur seems to be the key to the whole paper. I want to say that this model is an effect of colonial ethnocentrism in the style of Herbert Spencer, but really it seems more like a parallel. After Franz Boas, most anthropologists have a good idea of what to watch out for in regards to the problem of ethnocentrism, but the mechanics of this type of perspective find homes in all walks of life, not just cultural anthropologists.
The result that Kapur talks about, I think, is a strange kind of marginalization that comes about by kinds of reverse ethnocentric views by a culture of another culture. It is almost as if small nations are locked into an exchange with only one larger nation culturally. One outcome of this is that the perception of “modern” culture is skewed in and by each nation.
For the larger nation, cultural elements from smaller nations are appropriated as novel, frequently without concern for the context with which that element belongs. The idea of modern then for the larger nation remains in that nations own terms and integrates the misappropriated cultural elements from the other as its own. For the smaller nation, this process marginalizes their identity, the large nation viewing them as being in a lower state of development, and to some extent, sees elements of the culture as obsolete. There is a cultural feedback loop in this arrangement such that as the smaller nation strives for modernity (as defined by the larger nation) they may grow to consider their national heritage in the same, negative light that the larger nation does.
The effect that I think Kapur is concerned about is the future inability of the smaller nations to arrive at their own, culture supported, view of modernity.
I think I mentioned in class that this discussion makes me feel guilty. I love learning about other cultures, however I feel like even my own good-intentioned attempts are shaded by American ethnocentrism. It might be an exaggeration, but I feel like all I know about India is food and religion, and even those are colored by my American experience. This leads me to my two big questions on the topic. Have I done due diligence in my learning about other cultures? If I haven’t, then how do I in terms of overcoming my perspective as well as getting access to the information? I can’t answer these myself, but I think they are worth considering.