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

Hybridity as racial mixing

Hybridity originates from the Latin "hybrida", a term used to classify the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. 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. Scientific models of anatomy and craniometry were used to argue that Africans and Asians 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 liberalisation profoundly altered the use and understanding of the term hybridity. (For the history of hybridity as a concept, see Robert J.C. Young's "Colonial Desire", 1995)

The postcolonial turn

The rhetoric of hybridity, sometimes referred to as "hybrid talk" is fundamentally associated with the emergence of postcolonial discourse and its critiques of cultural imperialism. This second stage in the history of hybridity is characterised by literature and theory that focuses on the effects of mixture upon identity and culture. Key theorists in this realm are Homi Bhabha, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, and Paul Gilroy, whose work responds to the increasing multicultural awareness of the early nineteen nineties. Often the literature of postcolonial and magical realist authors such as Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, and J. M. Coetzee recur in their discussions. A key text in the development of hybridity theory is Homi Bhabha’s "the location of culture" (1994) which analyses the liminality of hybridity as a paradigm of colonial anxiety. His key argument is that colonial hybridity, as a cultural form, produced ambivalence in the colonial masters and as such altered the authority of power. Bhabha’s arguments have become key in the discussion of hybridity. While he originally developed his thesis with respect to narratives of cultural imperialism, his work also develops the concept with respect to the cultural politics of migrancy in the contemporary metropolis. This critique of cultural imperialist hybridity meant that the rhetoric of hybridity became more concerned with challenging essentialism and has been applied to sociological theories of identity, multiculturalism, and racism. Another key component of hybridity theory is Mikhail Bakhtin, whose concept of polyphony is employed by many analysts of hybrid discourses in folklore and anthropology (see "Theorizing the Hybrid").

A rhetorical cul-de-sac

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 criticised 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 (2004) highlights these core arguments in a debate that promotes hybridity. Some on the left, such as cultural theorist John Hutnyk, have criticised hybridity as politically void.

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 (2005:148) 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’. Another promoter of hybridity as globalization is Nederveen Pieterse, who asserts hybridity as the rhizome of culture. He argues that globalization as hybridization opposes views which see the process as homogenising, modernising, and westernising, and that it broadens the empirical history of the concept. However neither of the 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.

ee also

* Cross-cultural
* Post-colonial theory
* Migrant literature


* Bhabha, Homi K.. "The Location of Culture". London: Routledge, 1994.
* García Canclini, Néstor. "Hybrid Cultures". Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
* Hall, Stuart, ‘New Ethnicities’ in "‘Race’, Culture and Difference", ed. by, James Donald, James, and Ali Rattansi (London: Sage 1992), pp. 252-259.
* 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 (London: Zed Books 1997), pp.106-136.
* Kapchan, Deborah A., and Pauline Turner Strong, eds. (1999) "Theorizing the Hybrid." Special issue, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 112, no. 445 (1999).
* Kraidy, Marwan M., "Hybridity: or the cultural logic of globalization ("Philadelphia: Temple 2005).
* Nederveen Pieterse, Jan, "Globalization and Culture: global mélange" (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield 2004).
* Young, Robert. "Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race" (London: Routledge, 1995)

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