Sunday, July 11, 2010


For me, this week’s reading brought together a number of the concepts we’ve been studying in class: notions of authenticity, power, biopolitics, representation, language, and difference.

Foucault argues that from the 18th century onward, the taboos of the “age of repression,” disappeared, and discourses concerning sex proliferated – in the church, medical establishments, government, legal and educational institutions, and so on. He further adds that this shift was in no means accidental: One had to speak of sex so that it could be “managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all…” (24).

How does Foucault’s analysis of this “incitement to discourse” relate to his theories on biopower? To shifting conceptions of the individual body vs. populations? public vs. private? discipline vs. regulation?

Is this “discursive growth” around the subject of sex a good thing, a bad thing, or both? What does Foucault think?

Chow draws on Foucault’s theories to reveal and problematize the seemingly enlightened yet ultimately racist assumptions that the discourse of ethnic/cultural difference can generate. She argues that liberal anthropological (multi)culturalism, with its “regard for cultural difference, (17)” can often serve to reinforce racism instead of challenging it. As example, she points to the paradox that racial violence is often most apparent in places where people give the most lip service to issues of “diversity” and “awareness.”

She also addresses the problem of mimeticism (imitation) in cross-cultural representation. Many post-colonial scholars have addressed the ways in which the ethnic subject is expected to “copy” the ways of the colonizer, but fail to note that they are also expected to resemble what is recognizably ethnic: “the original that is supposed to be replicated is no longer the white man or his culture, but rather an image, a stereotyped view of the ethnic” (107). Chow goes on to illustrate how ethnic people and minorities can internalize and perpetuate these stereotypes, particularly through the process of self-representation (what she calls self-mimicry).

I found her critique of self-representational texts an interesting contrast to Fabian, and also thought-provoking in the context of the autoethnographies and indigenous media films we’ve been watching.

Can you recall examples where ethnographies written/created by a colonized or ethnic subject seemed to reinforce stereotypes? Conversely, can you think of examples in which a colonized or ethnic subject has reclaimed a stereotype in a way that challenged or resisted the status quo?

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