The (Vulgar) Global Subject

“Imperialist expansion is not just differentiated but differentiating; the calculation of “difference” is part and parcel of the strategies of imperial expansion.”

In his chapter on “Toward a Vulgar Theory of Imperialism,” architectural historian Arindam Dutta examines the various spokes that comprised Britain’s wheel of imperialism. His argument: nothing is inconsequential. Even the simple act of taking tea potentially sequesters an attempt at anti-colonial insurgency (or instigates colonial insurgency for that matter). The lesson: there is nothing innocent about the everyday mundane.

Dutta’s quote, which falls on the last page of the chapter, is an interesting conclusion to a fascinating topic; the reader is left wondering whether imperialism may be substituted with globalization. More specifically, what is the relationship between 19th century imperialism, “difference,” and 21st century globalization? The “difference” Dutta alludes to, and I’m blatantly referring to is the difference of Derrida, as it applies to the time and space of what I will call the global everyday.

Both imperialism and globalization are acts of expansion, precariously balancing ideological differentiation, homogenization, and the politics of the mundane.

Imperial Britain in India expanded through a central government (to be discussed in later entries) that advocated policies of both integration and perpetual deferral. The result is, as Dutta states, “the native can ‘not yet’ represent itself as subject.”

In his recent essay, “Variations of Urban Environmental Transitions,” author Peter Marcotullio uses the idea of time-space telescoping to discuss urban environments. While ‘development’ in Europe and North America has followed a historically linear pattern, the same cannot be said of many post-colonial countries. Changes in speed and efficiency of human activity means technological development is occurring simultaneously with environmental (and thus social) degradation.

Might we use the idea of time-space telescoping to look at the post-colonial Indian citizen/subject and the crises of representation in relation to variations of urban globalization?

In the developed world, globalization expands through symbolic capital—the art of differentiating par excellence. We purchase products that help defer homogenization by defining our individuality. Yet,  within the ideology of ‘free choice,’ people largely define themselves not through what they are but through what they are not. Williamsburg, Brooklyn is one example of the endless chain of signifiers. The irony of 21st century globalization is that differentiation through the individualization of the everyday products we consume, in fact make us more homogenous.

But can the same be said about the cultural context within the post-colonial developing world? Imperialism works under the guise of homogenization but promotes differentiation. Globalization works under the guise of differentiation but promotes homogenization. Both have the ability to make a certain vulgarity out of our everyday practices. Did Barthes’s Death of the Author come too soon or too late for Dutta’s native?

Returning now to that mundane cup of tea I will soon fix for myself.  Having a cup of tea allows me to punctuate my act of moving through the temporal linearity of the day. However, my tea, imported from China, also speaks to the vulgarity of global time, global space, and the continual indeterminacy of the subject.

Dutta, Atrindam. 2007. The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of its Global Reproducibility. New York: Routledge.

One Response to “The (Vulgar) Global Subject”
  1. Very interesting post; and I would not have discovered that book title without it. Thanks

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