Hybridity refers in its most basic sense to mixture. The term originates from biology[1] and was subsequently employed in linguistics and in racial theory in the nineteenth century.[2] Its contemporary uses are scattered across numerous academic disciplines and is salient in popular culture.[3] This article explains the history of hybridity and its major theoretical discussion amongst the discourses of race, post-colonialism, identity, anti-racism and multiculturalism, and globalization. This article illustrates the development of hybridity rhetoric from biological to cultural discussions.

Hybridity in biology

Main article: Hybrid (biology)

Hybridity as racial mixing

Main article: Multiracial

Hybridity is a cross between two separate races or cultures.[4] A hybrid is something that is mixed, and hybridity is simply mixture. As an explicative term, hybridity became a useful tool in forming a fearful discourse of racial mixing that arose toward the end of the 18th Century.[5] Pseudo-scientific models of anatomy and craniometry were used to argue that Africans, Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders were racially inferior to Europeans. The fear of miscegenation that followed responds to the concern that the offspring of racial interbreeding would result in the dilution of the European race. Hybrids were seen as an aberration, worse than the inferior races, a weak and diseased mutation. Hybridity as a concern for racial purity responds clearly to the zeitgeist of colonialism where, despite the backdrop of the humanitarian age of enlightenment, social hierarchy was beyond contention as was the position of Europeans at its summit. The social transformations that followed the ending of colonial mandates, rising immigration, and economic liberalization profoundly altered the use and understanding of the term hybridity.[2]

Hybridity in post-colonial discourse

Hybrid talk, the rhetoric of hybridity, is fundamentally associated with the emergence of post-colonial discourse and its critiques of cultural imperialism. It is the second stage in the history of hybridity, characterized by literature and theory that study the effects of mixture (hybridity) upon identity and culture. The principal theorists of hybridity are Homi Bhabha, Néstor García Canclini, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, and Paul Gilroy, whose works respond to the multi-cultural awareness that emerged in the early 1990s.[6]

In the theoretic development of hybridity, the key text is The Location of Culture (1994), by Homi Bhabha, wherein the liminality of hybridity is presented as a paradigm of colonial anxiety.[7] The principal proposition is the hybridity of colonial identity, which, as a cultural form, made the colonial masters ambivalent, and, as such, altered the authority of power; as such, Bhabha’s arguments are important to the conceptual discussion of hybridity. Hybridity demonstrates how cultures come to be represented by processes of iteration and translation through which their meanings are vicariously addressed to –through—an Other. This contrasts any “essentialist claims for the inherent authenticity or purity of cultures which, when inscribed in the naturalistic sign of symbolic consciousness frequently become political arguments for the hierarchy and ascendary of powerful cultures.” [7] This also means that the colonial subject takes place, its subaltern position inscribed in that space of iteration. The colonial subject is located in a place of hybridity, its identity formed in a space of iteration and translation by the colonizer. Bhabha emphasizes that “the discriminatory effects of the discourse of cultural colonialism, for instance, do not simply or singly refer to a ‘person’… or to a discrimination between mother culture and alien culture…the reference of discrimination is always to a process of splitting as the condition of subjection: a discrimination between the mother and its bastards, the self and its doubles, where the trace of what is disavowed is not repressed but repeated as something different—a mutation.” [7] Like mimicry, hybridity is a metonymy of presence. Hybridity opens up a space, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the colonizer nor the Other, properly defies our political expectations. However, like Bhabha’s concept of mimicry, hybridity is a doubling, dissembling image of being in at least two places at once. This turn in the effect of hybridity makes the presence of colonist authority no longer immediately visible.

Bhabha includes interpretations of hybridity in postcolonial discourse. One is that he sees hybridity as a strategic reversal of the process domination through disavowal. Hybridity reevaluates the assumption of colonial identity through the repetition of discriminatory identity effects. In this way, hybridity can unsettle the narcissist demands of colonial power, but reforms its identifications in strategies of subversion that turn the gaze of the discriminated back upon the colonist. Therefore, with this interpretation, hybridity represents that ambivalent ‘turn’ of the subject into the anxiety-causing object of “paranoid classification—a disturbing questioning of the images and presences of authority”. The hybrid retains the actual semblance of the authoritative symbol but reforms its presence by denying it as the signifier of disfigurement—after the intervention of difference. In turn, mimicry is the effect of hybridity. First, the metonymy of presence supports the authoritarian voyeurism, but then as discrimination turns into the assertion of the hybrid, the sign of authority becomes a mask, a mockery. [7]

Although the original, theoretic development of hybridity addressed the narratives of cultural imperialism, Bhabha’s work also comprehends the cultural politics of the condition of being “a migrant” in the contemporary metropolis. Yet hybridity no longer is solely associated with migrant populations and with border towns, it also applies contextually to the flow of cultures and their interactions.

That critique of cultural imperialist hybridity meant that the rhetoric of hybridity progressed to challenging essentialism, and is applied to sociological theories of identity, multiculturalism, and racism. Moreover, polyphony is another important element of hybridity theory, by Mikhail Bakhtin, which is applied to hybrid discourses presented in folklore and anthropology.[8]

Criticism of hybridity theory

The development of hybridity theory as a discourse of anti-essentialism marked the height of the popularity of academic "hybridity talk". However the usage of hybridity in theory to eliminate essentialist thinking and practices (namely racism) failed as hybridity itself is prone to the same essentialist framework and thus requires definition and placement. A number of arguments have followed in which promoters and detractors argue the uses of hybridity theory. Much of this debate can be criticized as being excessively bogged down in theory and pertaining to some unhelpful quarrels on the direction hybridity should progress e.g. attached to racial theory, post-colonialism, cultural studies, or globalization. Sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse highlights these core arguments in a debate that promotes hybridity.[9] Some on the left, such as cultural theorist John Hutnyk, have criticized hybridity as politically void.[3]

Hybridity as the cultural effect of globalization

The next phase in the use of the term has been to see hybridity as a cultural effect of globalization. For example, hybridity is presented by Kraidy as the ‘cultural logic’ of globalization as it "entails that traces of other cultures exist in every culture, thus offering foreign media and marketers transcultural wedges for forging affective links between their commodities and local communities."[10] Another promoter of hybridity as globalization is Jan Nederveen Pieterse, who asserts hybridity as the rhizome of culture.[9] He argues that globalization as hybridization opposes views which see the process as homogenizing, modernizing, and westernizing, and that it broadens the empirical history of the concept. However neither of these scholars have reinvigorated the hybridity theory debate in terms of solving its inherent problematics. The term hybridity remains contested precisely because it has resisted the appropriations of numerous discourses despite the fact that it is radically malleable. For example, young Muslims in Indonesia are followers of Islam but have "synthesized" trends from global culture in ways that respect religious tradition. These include drinking non-alcoholic beer, using Koranic apps on their iPhones, and buying halal cosmetics. In anti-Western countries, youth who try to create cultural hybridity through clothing conflict with the traditional views of modesty in their religion. Conflict occurs across generations when older adults clash with youth over youth attempts to change traditions. [11][12]

Hybridity in linguistics

Linguistic hybridity and the case of mixed languages challenge the Tree Model in linguistics. For example, "Israeli" (a term for Modern Hebrew) has been argued to be a Semito-European hybrid language that "demonstrates that the reality of linguistic genesis is far more complex than a simple family tree system allows. 'Revived' languages are unlikely to have a single parent."[13]

Hybridity in art

Presently, human beings are immersed in a hybridised environment of reality and augmented reality on a daily basis, considering the proliferation of physical and digital media (i.e. print books vs. e-books, music downloads vs. physical formats). Many people attend performances intending to place a digital recording device between them and the performers, intentionally "layering a digital reality on top of the real world."[14] For artists working with and responding to new technologies, the hybridisation of physical and digital elements has become a reflexive reaction to this strange dichotomy.[15] For example, in Rooms by Sara Ludy computer-generated effects process physical spaces into abstractions, making familiar environments and items such as carpets, doors and windows disorientating, set to the sound of an industrial hum. In effect, the distinction between real and virtual space in art is deconstructed.[16][15][17]

See also


  1. Hermsen, J. G. Th., and M. S. Ramanna. 'Barriers to hybridization of Solanum bulbocastanum Dun. and S. Verrucosum Schlechtd. and structural hybridity in their F1 plants.' Euphytica, Volume 25, Number 1 / January, 1976, Springer Netherlands, ISSN 0014-2336 (Print), 1573-5060 (Online), pp.1-10.
  2. 1 2 Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, 1995, Putnam, ISBN 0-415-05374-9.
  3. 1 2 pp.106-136. Hutnyk, John. ‘Adorno at Womad: South Asian crossovers and the limits of hybridity-talk’, in Debating Cultural Hybridity, ed. by Tariq Modood and Pnina Werbner, 1997, Zed Books, ISBN 1856494241.
  4. Lusty, Natalya. Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis 2007, Ashgate, ISBN 978-0-7546-5336-3, p. 77.
  5. Carvalheiro, José. Is the Discourse of Hybridity a Celebration of Mixing, or a Reformulation of Racial Division? A Multimodal Analysis of the Portuguese Magazine Afro. Forum: Qualitative Social Research [Online], 11.2 (2010)
  6. Hall, Stuart. ‘New Ethnicities’ in ‘Race’, Culture and Difference, James Donald, James, and Ali Rattansi, eds. (London: Sage 1992) pp. 252-259.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. 1994. London: Routledge.
  8. Kapchan, Deborah and Turner Strong, Pauline, eds. Theorizing the Hybrid. Special issue, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 112, no. 445 (1999).
  9. 1 2 Nederveen Pieterse, Jan, Globalization and Culture: global mélange. 2004, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield
  10. Kraidy, Marwan Hybridity: or the cultural logic of globalization 2005, Philadelphia: Temple, ISBN 81-317-1100-5
  11. García Canclini, Néstor. Hybrid Cultures. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990
  12. Furlong, Andy. Youth Studies: An introduction (1 ed.). USA: Routledge. p. 237-238. ISBN 978-0-415-56479-3.
  13. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad. 'Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns' in Journal of Language Contact, 2009, Varia 2, pp. 40-67.
  14. Tsukayama, Hayley (21 June 2011). "Apple patent would stop iPhone concert recordings". The Washington Post.
  15. 1 2 Knight, Amy. "Hybridity in new art". Dazed & Confused.
  16. Rooms by Sara Ludy TRIANGULATION BLOG
  17. Docufictions: an interview with Martin Scorsese on documentary film by Raffaele Donato at Film History: An International Journal Volume 19, Number 2, 2007 pp. 199-207)
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