Latin American Studies

Banality of Local / Global Knowledge in Convulsive London.

By Fernando Gómez Herrero,


Initial Quotes.

For history teaches us that Britain has a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities. It is this neglect that the current British government is determined to address.

In the eighteenth century British politicians were enticed by the wealth and natural riches of the hemisphere, but were reluctant to weigh in on the side of independence. They saw the region as a piece on a geopolitical chessboard dominated by rivalry with France and Spain, rather than on its own merits.

For much of the twentieth century Latin America was considered to lie within a sphere of influence outside Britain’s traditional interests. It was thought to be predominantly a concern for the United States, and over the last twenty years there has been a steady decline in UK interest and representation (William Hague, “Britain and Latin America: Historic friends, Future Partners,” 9 Nov. 2010)[1].


[T]he situation of LAC [Latin American and Caribbean] studies in the UK should first be understood in the light of the development and situation of area studies generally. This is not least because the original purpose of LAC studies some 50 years ago was fully concomitant with the overall value and purpose of area studies… For the creation of a new subject, Latin American studies (the Caribbean was added much later) was clearly underpinned by the then government’s awareness of the lack of knowledge about the region, particularly at a time of political change, when it became the focus of world attention (2014 LAC Report, pp. 9).

Contrary to the fantasies of the flag-wavers and chest-beaters, Brexit was always going to put the little in Little England rather than the great in Great Britain. But nobody realised our influence would shrink quite this fast and leave us looking quite this small…

Conventional wisdom has now developed a new convention of its own: first it states the uncertain with great certainty, only to be proven wrong by events, and then it embarks upon a period of narrowly tailored and very public retraction. After acknowledging an error of prediction, there are no efforts to address the underlying logic that produced that error. Their contrition only lasts until their next mistake (Gary Younge, “A Shock to the System” (The Guardian, The Long Read Journal Section, pp. 33-35): p. 35.


During my lifetime most of the problems the world has faced have come, in one fashion or another, from mainland Europe, and the solutions from outside it. That generalization is clearly true of the Second World War. (…). But my opening generalization is also in a different sense true of the Cold War. (…) Europe as a whole is fundamentally unreformable (Margaret Thatcher, On Europe (London: William Collins, 2002): pp. 3-4.



Thinking must go on regardless of horrendous events of violence in the metropolis of London. I joined proceedings in what was to be the last event of the season hosted by the Institute of Latin American Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study, at the University of London: the so-called LAGLOBAL/LASS Roundtable Workshop[3], directed by Mark Thurner, U.S. Latinamericanist historian linked to the University of Florida with most of his work credited to the Peruvian context, at least until recently. The Leverhulme Trust was acknowledged in the handout literature. What follows is the rendition of key aspects of this one-day event on 2 June 2017. I follow Chatham House rules of engagement seeking maximum circulation of the intellectual, political and social issues exceeding any individual unit or monad, discipline, academe and institution. To be sure, the issues raised will echo outside London. I follow my own notes and the perspective is undoubtedly, mine. The first person pronoun refers to the author of these pages. It is one succinct account, one truth and one story among others, surely not the whole picture. May others be equally forthcoming with their own versions of things.


Will Brexit Britain Withdraw its Studies Upon Itself?

It is not obvious why any organism would externalise or outsource its critical intelligence, particularly in moments of supreme difficulty, except perhaps in relation to tighter budgets, minor interests and secondary or tertiary set of pressures. Wouldn’t sensible organisations or good-oiled institutions commit their best endeavours to the most pressing needs and pass accordingly to others tasks deemed of lesser value or compromised worth? And we must surely look closer into the logic of outsourcing and assume that institutions qua bureaucratic creatures hide by the fowler behind the stalking horse underneath clouds of mystery and secrecy, unanswered emails and unreturned phone calls. Institutions may say they care very much about doing one thing and turn to doing many other contradictory things before the cock calls for the new day. Nobody’s perfect, as in the happy ending of the funny American comedy: thought and care may be outsourced to outsiders and foreigners who thus come to dominate the social interaction inside ambitious realms officially devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. The K-word is here the operative word, perhaps utopian.


Be as it may: entire areas, big and small, will be consigned to third parties, outsiders or foreigners of various types, hues, accents, distinctions and gradations, provided these will behave properly and no big disruption ensues, no irreparable damage is done unto the cultural furniture, the upholstery is not messed around with, the china is not broken, and Ferdinand, the bull, turns to do what he is reported to like best, to smell the flowers, and enters and leaves peacefully, whilst the topiaries are seasonally tendered. What is there to object? Who would complain? Are exchanges not civil? Aren’t things in the proper place? Will native self-confidence falter with torn ligaments, sore joints, jumpy heart beats? Will homegrown resilience still caress the sterling in the purse, follow the oblique trajectories of global history, feel the weight of a sense of general decline in the stomach after the light sandwich and the tea, still follow the popular-electoral demand to delink from the Continent? What about the other continental units? How many are they?



The immediate circumstance, i.e. Brexit Britain, is one of profound disorientation, born out of repeated violence in the streets, of sustained austerity and sudden General-Election resulting in a hung parliament with a small conservative majority, fog, rain, and record-hot temperatures against the vast landscape of Europe and the ”U.S. and the Americas,” as the aforementioned Chatham House has it. The violent attacks have been endured, I must say, with admirable calmness and the “island race” remains a belligerent one, and with no irony, this is another feather on the cap. Yet, the question is not rhetorical: why should anyone pay good-quality attention to other regions of the world, “Latin America” for example[4], delivering no immediate impact or direct significance over here? Indeed, why look elsewhere?


Foreignness: Early Considerations.

Deictics do not lie. If those foreign regions are indeed “there:” why bother with them over here? Would you go mentally elsewhere when you feel your brain is busy, your wallet, tight, your feet furiously pedalling away in the bicycle high in the air? But whither? How on this earth plan a big adventure when Brexit negotiations beckon? How to ”go foreign” when the domestic or native dimension is so terse, tense? Foreignness is a potentially good abstract category (topos or “place”) to consider not only in relation to holidays, unaccustomed food and expensive luxury products, clothes for example, but also in relation to scholarly and academic matters typically not rendering good monetary value. It is not atypical for foreignness to assume a subaltern place under nativistic assumptions, particularly when things get complicated.



Foreign-native and global-local are two inescapable binaries in the context of this LAGLOBAL roundtable / workshop: the interesting thing will be to see concrete or situated articulations. One early dilemma for the inquisitive mind will be whether to keep the typical binaries going  nicely ventilated under the air-conditioner of hot-weather conditions, also in the insurgent isles, or throw all of these binaries away into the muddy waters of the Thames and make a mess out of them (a río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores, as the saying goes). Consider the conventional partition of the subject of knowledge and the object of the knowledge tangled up among various nationalities: there will be many other mixed stages. Orwellian truth: some (subjects / objects of knowledge) are more foreign than others. Some localities are closer than others. Some languages possess the middle deictic in between here and there (Spanish “ahí,” for example). Some “places” are more crowded than others (the rule of thumb: pre-20th-Century authors and texts emerging from foreign locations will be less immediate or popular). Call this unpopular condition “minor subject.”

A typical defensive move will be to commission the studies of foreign parts to native or quasi-native practitioners (scholars, academics), those who have learned to transverse bureaucratic textures and amiably pass security controls holding the right documents. How decisively? How consistently? And how usable would that knowledge be?: this is the initial triangle of questions surrounding the  “to be or not to be” of what it is that we think we mean when we say we know this or that, and (fail to) say we do not do so at all, and this “negative” point may instead turn out to be a good point of departure to start off to better things in the knowledge department. It is easy to see that xenophilic messages finding limitations or faults with the immediate circumstance will be harder to come by.


The place of knowledge was occupied in the gathering in question by the social sciences, particularly the disciplines of history and anthropology in this stated order of preference. As far as I could see there was at least one uninvited guest, perhaps an interloper following the stalker to the forbidden Zone, according to the inspiration of Tarkovskij, having a look at the (para-) institutional conditions of sociability apropos “minority subjects.” Nothing can be taken for granted. Good kick-off question: what does “knowledge” stand for?


And What Does ”Knowledge”  Stand For?

You may feel inclined to turn nationally inward, become somewhat introspective, yield to defensive localism or resistant parochialism, perhaps even give in to imperial melancholia, as Paul Gilroy insists. And how many nationalities have you got? And is nationality really the defining factor, the fundamental playground where intellectual life also happens?  This existential-retreat reaction is up to a point understandable in the British conjuncture. And the immediate question will be the future configuration of knowledge in relation to its past and present? How would the significant past be reconfigured since the past is always already retrospective reconstruction attending to the fads, fashions, pressures, themes and inclinations of the ephemeral present overshooting its mark into possibilities in the future.



To be persuasive, such retrospective task would require radical contextualization, i.e. the concrete demarcation of the immediate circumstance inside which knowledge producers will be situated. Typically, the intentions of these participants will be inferred. But individual intentionality will only take us so far. Collective forces will be the real dilemma and greatest difficulty. In truth, who would turn in public its back to knowledge, the sapere aude? Indeed, knowledge remained something mysterious in its nominal abstraction, something like a ghost or a cipher, with or without the occasional pluralization, the province of a sub-group, elite, caste, subalterns or pariahs, since it was hardly demarcated by chronology and only summarily regionalized, initially about and from Latin America.


Indeed, the Latin American construct, or Latin America elsewhere, since we rub our eyes and we are still in London, or “timespace other,” ideological or not, within the immediate entities of Britain, Europe and the United States inside North Atlantic flows and tensions already mentioned[5]. Mark the underlined prepositions (about, from): the dual prepositional coexistence has become something of a must delivering the issues of referentiality and perspectivism.


The knowledge of and from Latin America was something that came and went, evanescent and mutational, ethereal, abstract, exotic and other, at least during the proceedings in this workshop, more gossamer than elephant to shoot and kill with white man’s burden, if only according to George Orwell’s famous story and this time with no demonstrative gestures of identity politics, or “native informers” passing reliable information elsewhere. Latin America, irrenounceable grand manner of a colossal timespace, at least by those self-appointed Latin Americanists, was here not interrogated or not properly historicized, except in the New-World. Now, this was to be a curious renaissance of a very old nomenclature reaching us in the new century, almost in the manner of a pristine Venus from the waters of historiography, still attractive and unscathed by the disputations of an Antonello Gerbi and most damagingly by Mexican historiography, Edmundo O’Gorman surely occupying the honorary place of pre-eminence, vis-à-vis his European and U.S. counterparts. “New World” was probably intended as quaint euphemism for the Americas pointing fingers in the direction of the birth of the national formations as we know them today (i.e. the long nineteenth century). My inference: there was the inspiration of the work of Cañizares Esguerra dealing with the Enlightenment until early 20th century, say, also in the effort to mediate the “America” of the U.S. and the América of the Spanish speakers. I would narrow it down to the demarcation of the late-colonial and the post-national moment of the Andes in Latin America reaching contemporary historiographies according to professional historians. It was as though no single sub-regional part and parcel of Latin America could sustain the global interest for the length of time of a morning or afternoon session: the jump was to go from the (sub-)continent to the totality of the history of knowledge, or that giant, the world. Where were its stages in between, its mediations?


Knowledge is the Business at Hand and One Wants to be There at Source.

Other binaries can be brought near knowledge production in its typical envelope: official and non-official, institutional, para-institutional and non-institutional at all. Since we are dealing with processes, it is healthy to consider the latest form of knowledge against obsolete, antiquarian knowledge, even knowledge in ruins, for example inside museums. But there are also challenging processes jumping outside the limitations of the text, (de-)institutionalisations and destructive re-articulations not entirely always to be deplored.


Knowledge is the business at hand and one wants to be there at source, and get it from the horse’s mouth whenever possible, surely more often than not. Will the horse collaborate with us and always tell it straight? Probably not. It will be wise to assume a sociology of bureaucratic dealings apropos knowledge production, the general map of the regions of the world being no exception. The template of “Area Studies” must be summoned as condition sine qua non, particularly in fields of the social sciences. The emphasis was not to make the politics of knowledge production  explicit. But no one doubts that it is “there,” hardly ever coming out into the open, making itself visible and explicit, at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, surrounded by other entities such as Canning House, Chatham House and The Leverhulme Trust among others.


I realize that abstract formulations will be unsatisfactory but this is as far as I will be able to go for now in pointing fingers in the direction of politics of knowledge production. Knowledge may stand for officialdom or at least one of its modalities, perhaps even receiving the adjective “imperial” historically speaking in relation to knowledge practices with a global outreach, that travel and go many places. The meeting offered the suggestion of the encyclopedic and the “imperial” impetus in lexicons put together by John Boag and John Ogilvie, for example, and there will be correlatives in other languages. One can seek into associations and varieties of knowledge practices (knowledge, science, wisdom, wit, saber, sabiduría, conocimiento, ingenio, etc.). Who would be against it, right? Knowledge, but also History, enters the arena surrounded by its brass instruments, against its multiple claims, stories or narratives, and the hesitation happens immediately whether to capitalize or not these grand and venerable nouns, whilst fishing “the humanities” by the tail versus totality or Humanity. But the name in the previous quotation marks is largely odd, quaint and non-idiomatic, of philological pedigree, yet of a different kind to the one mentioned during this one-day gathering, and by its thin presence, unexceptionally negative, negligible field of quasi or non-knowledge also inside the School and University of the immediate metropolis. The humanities will still be making claims for the good thing, i.e. knowledge and one wonders what these foreshortened perspectives will render of significant value. Its predominant modality of being appears to be one of cultural-diversity stance.


Other modalities, non-governmental knowledge and non-statist science, not to mention knowledge that is not for profit, will have to be imagined like the outgrowth of vegetation inside controlled spaces, perhaps not worthy of a second look, a matter of negligible detail, or of personal idiosyncrasy that may refuse to yield to pragmatism. And what to say about practices not blessed with the institutional blessing? The main tune is hesitant, revealing uncertainty in the dance of the disciplines and not only in Great Britain. Brexit exacerbates a certain British moment of global uncertainty apropos the crisis of the university directly caught up in the transatlantic American-European axis. LAGLOBAL (LA stands for Latin America), is the final pick in the conventional binary (global / local): clear sign of the stronger push-and-pull and gravitational direction in case you had any doubts.


The Recurrent Global / Local Binary in the ”Indigenous”  Vicinity.

One fundamental theme: the binary of the global and the local left unresolved in the vicinity of the “indigenous” dimension raising more scepticism than enthusiasm, also left unresolved. And I suppose that short-term gatherings are all about spin-doctor irresolutions or soft lines or borders. This general theme configured the second half of the day. The first half was meant to bring attention to the history of knowledge, called a “new field” of inquiry. So this was a kind of a quinceañera meeting, if not celebration, in relation to one timespace, chronotope or more conventionally “region” called Latin America, albeit blurred in the abbreviated “LA” acronym, which is not Los Angeles, gravitationally pushing and pulling in the “indigenous” direction. The abbreviated LAGLOBAL is perhaps telling of organizational intentionality, a kind of plus-ultra regionalism hitting all other regions, but not quite. No knowledge and no history without its interrogation or critique: the question will be whether the critique will always aim to provide fuel to the operational “pragmatism” of the endeavour in question or not at all. How far in the critique then? And this is a general dilemma. Here, it did not go too far. Peter Burke became the initial name of reference, presented as a kind of lighthouse in these disorienting times, sitting at arms’ length, advocating the new field with impeccable British moderation and fair play.


The proper move is still, how could it not?, to pluralize ipso facto the main nouns involved: critiques or interrogations of the theories or comprehensions of plurality of knowledge or knowledges. One and many, identity and difference, Same and Other: here we are in the abstract tangle of more binary formulations in the age of fragmentation of narratives. The workshop did not quite put its finger on such fragmentation or even collapse.

With or without great conviction, the suggested horizon to contemplate was one of a big reunion of knowledges, a big, virtual Encyclopedia, a Summa Theologica of sorts, knowledges coming to settle together so to speak, leaving their silos (the word was explicitly mentioned more than once), criss-crossing roots and routes, overlapping trajectories, happily jumping fences, intersecting, collaborating, blending, more fusion than fission here. The abstraction to contemplate was one of academic units willing to leave their disciplinary micro-groups behind into the wilderness of ecumenic association (we will see shortly the small letters to these big capitals!). Abstract content of university brochures will give you the same general feeling of knowledge affirmation. Inter- or trans-disciplinarity is what was implied, yet the focus on the disciplines of history and anthropology was retained in this London gathering.


It is easy to see how managers of institutions with a finger on the budget would eagerly jump on all sorts of collaborations in theory left under-verbalized. Better one chair with a few additions and aggregates than separate labels and fields kept separate and distinct. Better a cheaper buffet option than each one with a fully served plate! Better sharing the same plate with one serving than multiple servings by each disciplinary field! The implied suggestion was of plural narrative possibilities, or histories. Better yet, the ghost of a historicism of sorts was summoned, a presentiment rather, almost Hamlet like vis-à-vis an unnamed father figure, who would put global things together, at least for the one-day duration of the workshop, call it short-term happiness, confluence, or “peace resolution” if you wish. But since there was no assigned social group carrying out the together-endeavour in no institution or locality, no working class carrying out the revolution of global liberation say, such “resolution” has to be called by the proper name of utopia. The implied subject position was, I suppose, occupied by historians and to a lesser degree by anthropologists of Latin America, by default occupying the Anglo-American sphere of transatlantic influence.


Such endeavour was begging for a good ideological name that could transcend, crazy idea, the precincts of this or that discipline practiced by few official representatives. But there was never an explicit frame. No chosen Pretorian guard of big-tent pan-disciplinary narrativity being brought to bear arms against other lesser barbarous modalities kept at a distance. I personally thought of the aforementioned “barbaric” humanities particularly in a language different from the one used in this piece of writing. I wonder if I was the only one with such incongruous and excessive thought. No account was to be had among competing options for schools of thought, narrative impulse, political goal, etc. either in the past and the fleeting present. LAGLOBAL delivered an implicit and latent desire for a new historicism, surely not near literary and cultural modalities[6].


When plagued by doubts, the little cherub flying around your eyes will whisper “be polite, particularly in these fast-passing circumstances.” Call it the liberal gesture: the contemplation of plurality of options, and leave the community of readers and interpreters at their wits’ ends, with a do-it-yourself of your own devices. It will be your own maps favourite authors and best bibliography, your own madness and method, your own conclusions, should you wish to reach any, but not so publicly. This is what was done and this is what we all do in transient places, hubs of public transport for instance. The implied ideology of the roundtable was thus in this sense “liberal,” not advancing a sustained narrative, not making preferences, name-dropping a bit, throwing high in the air gossamer-like possibilities whilst keeping repudiations warm under wraps, beyond sight and reach of ear, hidden under the table. Blow it up: such proceeding is quitessentially managerial, a bit like the U.N. against the larger background of the ”liberal West” and the rest. It makes an awful lot of sense within the matrix of development the focus on the indigenous (or non-West) subject position. No one I could see or hear would willingly assume such position at the discussion table of this workshop. And the name of the broker, or at least one of them, Marisol de la Cadena in relation to the Andes. Mediations were not established. Bridges were not built. Yet in another manner of speaking, our moment is one of fractures within this hitherto dominant West, the British context currently one of its most visible sites. Well, here, the construct of Latin America was presented as timespace other, peculiar in-between creature, tug-of-war, minority field of study to be sure, captured by the disciplines of history and anthropology, as well as others, the region that will engage the native-foreign dichotomy in myriad ways. The assumption was one of attention, perhaps assuming the qualifying of benign, to the detail of insubstantial generalities. No body of literature, no textual frame of intelligibility was circumscribed or made accessible, explicit.



The Anthropological Frame of Intelligibility of the Other of Europe: Typically Xenophobic.  

I would therefore generalise by saying that the common frame of intelligibility of this vast timespace synthesized under the rubric of the Other of Europe (Latin America being one sub-section of this vast Other) turned out to be anthropologically Eurocentric, if only by default. The operative invitation to a working assumption was that of the gigantic history of the discipline and where else if not within the rarefied label of the West. Against the generality that such Other than Europe is not uncommonly xenophobic rather than xenophilic, the roundtable would have begged to differ in the latter road less travelled, and would have surely made declarations on the goodness of the relative unconventionality typically situated in such minority fields. But no one has to assume good deeds at face value given there was no textual evidence or warm sociability of scholarly openness. It is by no means obvious what goodness to invoke for such minor-field endeavours: more plurality of cultural-diversity? The reconfiguration of the dominant model ever so slightly? Who would dare welcome the turning upside down of what is declared to be orthodoxy or the norm? We will soon see the momentous claim made.

We are Really Dealing with Foreign Studies.

But we are dealing with foreign studies, or studies of the foreign parts within, if not against the subjacent, implied matrix, call it by the opposing nativism. Neutrality or indifference , or even value-free, I suppose, is possible in relation to dimensions largely considered inconsequential and trivial. The possibility of xenophilia will have to handle to the best of its knowledge the typical declarations of nativism, i.e. xenophobia. One may remember the formulation of the “wound” of the Other coming from existential historicism simply for the mere fact of stubbornly sticking to their ways and refusing to be like us, the observing subject position coincidental with discursive production. Such unavoidable tension brings “home” the web of relations among subject positions, the assumed traditions and dependencies and future interests. These foreign studies have increasingly had to assume the carta de naturaleza of cultural relativity under the presumption of equal worth as long as their practice does not disrupt the pre-established arrangement. Such polite convention is also compensation for unequal representation and dim visibility in the study of the dimension abbreviated as “Other.” One equivalent can indeed be “indigenous” to a more liberal-cosmopolitan “Same” or even “West.” A second generalisation may add the split between “Anglos” and “Latins:” the former would not typically put the said construct of Latin America inside the West, whilst defending the bicontinentality of “America,” adding naturalising or identifying the sign with one of the nationalities of North America, and the astute reader instantly knows which one; whereas ”Latins”  would insert Latin America ever so naturally in the West, not without tensions, and wish to put together North and South in the same continental unit, whilst precisely demarcating such domineering nationality, unless they are already lost in the conventionally imperial and imperious English language with no significant epistemic trace of other languages and cultures. It is to the credit of the roundtable that such drastic split was blurred.


The reader of these pages will pick their side inside this split which cannot be reconciled. The “modern foreign languages” in English-speaking countries follow identical othering anthropological frame of intelligibility vis-à-vis “English.” The Anglo-Latin difference is worth underlining: only very absent-minded Spanish speakers will call U.S. Citizens “Americans,” unlike conventional English speakers on both sides of the Atlantic and efforts such as “the Americas” remain something of an academic affectation failing to give a good shake to the institutional imagination (the immediate history of the Advanced Studies at the University of London being a case in point). Hence, the renaissance of the “New World” makes some sense if you hear the term with conventional English ears and you remain blind and deaf to the strength of Mexican historiography since the middle of last century (and there will be other contesting lines of demarcation I am less familiar with within the Latin American domain). Spatio-temporal demarcations are not to be taken for granted. Neither are resilient misnomers and the typical conditioning of the plural languages versus the lingua franca used in these pages.


Latin America Elsewhere: Perhaps Better Call it “Minority Subject.”

 The anthropological and historical object of knowledge of Latin America is one side of the expression ”minority subject.”  The other side refers to the individuals, the people, engaged in such endeavours of studying such themes and issues and/or the social groups or people theoretically covered, explained or represented in them. This minority-subject condition is, I would argue, particularly the case outside the timespace conventionally demarcated as “Latin America,” or Latin America elsewhere. We may imagine the use of instruments such as binoculars (or a believable second language) covering long distances away from the immediate circumstance, thus relativizing its total importance (the realm of the digital culture may bring timespace distances into question perhaps narrowing them in novel ways). Foreign-Area Studies will cover what is not immediately or easily available. Good reasons are needed for the sustained extra stretch or push in this expansive direction.   Adding some poignancy, bells are tolling (John Donne dixit) for the deliberate Brexit demarcation from its natural European interconnectedness. Will such shift augur greater connectedness with other big units, Latin America for example? Perhaps.



But the linguistic function of referentiality may indeed go in many directions, and it will find reverberations or echoes in other timespaces, the so-called butterfly effect in which the said delicate insect flies around beautiful flowers over here only to become a minor nuisance a bit further away and perhaps a natural disaster, a tornado, a hurricane over there. The academic interest may turn political, bring commotion and even spread unto the streets. Such desire to connect directly was nowhere to be seen in the workshop in question as though academic and political were on two different planes of reality. The global / local dichotomy is really about webs of relations and who gets to circulate in diverse social circles and who does not at all. The issue of referentiality is potentially multi-directional and only operative in relation to that demarcation over there. What about the provenance of the knowledge production? What about the source, the frames of legitimacy, intelligibility?


The productive image is that of a gun carried by any user, even a careless child. The shot can go in many directions. Studies of foreign regions (aka Area Studies) will claim to reveal many things about the timespace over there, but in equal measure it will speak volumes of many things over here. Crucially, there is no need to go with the assumption that there is immediate or direct correlation between the scholar subjects and the subjects studied, no matter the representational claims typically made along the way (in a quick manner of speaking, it is believable to contemplate a U.S. national speaking of old Iberian constructions of Andean subjects in the British context under the rubric of the history of knowledge). It is easy to foresee revolts embedded in unequal conditions of knowledge production inside institutions of higher learning the moment you tinker with the previous adjectives (it is less believable to contemplate an Andean national speaking of old and new constructions of U.S. subjects in the “American” context invoking the rubric of the history of knowledge). Some of these tensions were perceptible during the roundtable, how could they not?, whilst keeping politeness tied to the tail of the dog and the dog tied to the legs of the discussion table.



I was lucky to be surrounded by about twenty-odd colleagues in various configurations of public-private access, yet another binary that will not go away by the end of this piece. There were a couple of absences of the listed names among which the British natives were in the minority. Those present self-assigned themselves largely into the disciplines of history and anthropology. I doubt most individuals knew each other before the meeting. Their self-presentations were brief and professionally based for the most part. There had been no preambles and I doubt there was a common frame of textuality or even mission. We were mostly members of the European West, mostly white non-British, four or five U.S. citizens, no discernible difference either way in quantity of men and women, different ages and most capable of holding conversation in English and Spanish, some also in French, with the ”Latin” contingent (not the old language of the Romans, and also not the U.S. citizens or residents of Latin American extraction) forever young and firmly in the irregular and junior levels in the academic profession. I think I detected one squatter in the congregation, perhaps two. I do not know if there had been any hacking attempts. Will the roundtable prove to be long-lasting and decisive or entirely ephemeral? Will the organisation seek greater fraternity? LAGLOBAL was typical happenstance sociability in the world-famous Bloomsbury area of London.


History and anthropology were the disciplinary nouns of collective congregation, at least for some present, surely with awareness of its own different schools and subdivisions and possible overlaps, which were not made explicit. This social-science tandem, minus sociology, was the foreshortened disciplinary perspective, the little star in the sky-high constellation of the disciplines if you wish, making claims for the foregone conclusion of a grandiose synthesis surely to land in front of the eyes in the foreseeable future. Oasis by the University of London or purely fast and furious passing through this institution?



Yet, we can think of this synthesis in terms of any significant noun in the radical singular form, with or without the call for plurality of liberal options: all roads lead to Rome. We can perhaps make the connection between this God-like synthesis and the Freudian “oceanic feeling” of union with the Universe the Viennese thinker endeavoured to problematize as a form of immaturity or infantilism. And who would dare offer a big vision of the relations among the sciences (natural, social, human) in curricular offerings? But this was not the time and place for such monumental task. In relation to this concrete LAGLOBAL roundtable / workshop, inference of the comments exchanged takes me to the predominance of a ”history -of -ideas”  type of history, framed by the orthodoxy of the  comparative or cultural-relativistic type of anthropology in the vicinity of names such as Clifford and Geertz. There was the sprinkling of other names such as the French Levi Strauss and to a lesser degree, there was a deferential inclusion of the Mexican Manuel Gamio in relation to an organization of international impact. The spectre of Latin America that emerged here was not that of the Southern Cone, or the Mexican, or the Caribbean. It was the Andes, not exactly within an easy flight from London.


There was a Bit of “Othering” Going On.

 There was undoubtedly a bit of ”othering” going on, and perhaps we can think of the term in quotation marks as one public face of foreignness in which foreignness remains distant and far away with no immediate or direct impact in the immediacy. Latin America was “over there,” detached apparently from political events of significance, disinclined to do business transactions, largely “de-humanized.” Its content, thin. Its inevitability, theoretical.  It did not relate to its previous reincarnations. It was not entirely different Latin America or Latin America “otherwise.” No one should expect miracles from one-day roundtables failing to make explicit connections with agendas out there.

One super-big claim made was that “Latin America” may well constitute a desirable disruption to the matrix of intelligibility or history of knowledge. With some tweaking the Dusselian formulation may be warranted, but here? Such abstract or generic formulation invites to the valid assumption that we were dealing with the Eurocentrism of such history of knowledge (the conventional formula is that conventional “America” or the United States, is mere, late extension, offshoot, military-power and popular-culture version of capital accumulation, of the European West). I would have bet my money that we were in this ideological universe with or without its necessary restlessness. The sign “Latin America” showed teething troubles. It had no bite. The construct remained dangling by the skin of the teeth of discursive generality.

It is perhaps fair to say that the foreignness of these (Latin American) studies was not attenuated in the end, given the ties remained loose, the connections ever so discreet and even ephemeral, with any assumed “nativity” of persistent significance, be it England, Britain, Europe, the United States, this or that discipline or this or that “ground.” Interestingly, the U.S. remain in discreet second plane, yet ominous. Thin presence of the dominant English-speaking world and Britain throws the additional peculiarity of the official divide of “foreign and commonwealth,” the latter term referring to (closer, directly post-colonial and immigrant) parts of the historical British Empire; Latin America is thus foreign in this precise British way outside its direct area of purchase of imperial history.


The message passed to us was that Latin America was indeed fertile terrain for the anthropological type of knowledge, the typical knowledge about the “Third World” historically inherited division of intellectual labour vigorously since World War II, hegemonic things turning “American” since the 1950s[7]. Third world or more euphemistically, the developing world, that is where we were quickly perambulating imaginatively with or without the Latinization of the region born again as the new world. Truism: no single name will ever be good, trans-political name to everyone’s liking among those involved in (the politics of) knowledge production. Names and areas of coverage and partition will remain contentious. Misnomers abound: the sign “Latin America” for sure, ”Europe” was also talked about as being problematic. The “United States” was the white elephant in the room, how could it not?, and not only in relation to the nationality of a few participants. Yet this “America” entity was mostly missing in action as source of funding or part of the network of the LAGLOBAL initiative run by an American scholar with the main institutional site still listed at the University of Florida. How representative was this diasporic “American” Latin Americanism jumping up to catch the twigs of the global history of knowledge? I cannot possibly say but the U.S.-centric pull of world coverage is beyond doubt. Is this also the case for the world of university-level studies? And perhaps we are all adjusting at least in the transatlantic West to a transitional period of “American” retreat and gradual decline, which does not augur well for the “special relationship” with Brexit Britain.


Whose Protestations about Divisions Of Intellectual / Academic Labour?

The roundtable workshop offered few noticeable protestations pro or con. The general tone remained matter or fact, ever so tentative and discreet, polite and calm about general unequal access of knowledge production inside the division of social scientific labour in our immediate present. We were furnished with no map. We were tendered no cartographies or bibliographic corpus. There were no signs to no roads. There was no Rome to reach, no Cuzco, no Tenochtitlán. With no common origin and no teleology: where to go and what to do about it passing fast and furious through the institutions. It was as though the “stealing” of the “modernity” of these (foreign area) studies by the “Americans,” one among many, and some tongue-in-cheek is appropriate, since we were all operating in the lingua franca, did not exclude tact and tacit agreement by the guests playing nice to the hosts.


I missed something along the lines of a Pletschian rendering of the division of labour in the conjuncture. It was not to be had. I also missed something along the lines of Wallersteinian sociology of the reconfiguring of the social sciences. I wish I had had greater definition of what constitutes the good history as opposed to less good varieties. No attempt at periodising the possible histories of knowledges was forthcoming, except the referenced Peter Burke, one of his books cited in the preamble: beginnings matter. Who else will be around the birth of this “not yet field”?

I suppose this LAGLOBAL roundtable workshop would be happy to throw its weight around a new variety of the historical discipline and pick it up among other labels and subfields (global history, history of ideas, intellectual history, international thought, stepping ahead of what used to be called imperial or commonwealth history, international history, world history, social history, etc.). “Latin America” still has to contend with the default position, typically assumed, implicit or dominant, historically central or dominant, call it Europe if you wish, but there are other categories (the West, the English language, the “white” ethno-racial category, operative in the U.S., and the U.K., etc.). Pace the alliteration: how discordant, dissonant, indeed dissident did the workshop prove to be?



The Study of the Past May Register Discontent with the Present.

A promising expression of discontent was made in passing: the study of the past means, at least potentially to some, the discontent with the present in so far as the past is a world different and alternative to our present means and ways. The past is the Other, potentially disruptive force, besides evasion, nostalgia or antiquarian disposition. But here the wish was clear: the past is indeed foreign country in the famous expression of L. P. Hartley. The past is not even past yet, with the twist of the great writer Faulkner, in its destabilizing kernel, I suppose, comparatively speaking with our immediacy.

 The articulation of this disruptive potential of the construction of the past was left tantalizingly underdeveloped, stimulating the appetite. Its abstraction, also its ghost of the subject position following no discernible interpellation in the Althusserian sense of the term, does not take anything away from the grand possibility of the upset of the here-and-now that is negatively accordingly not the best of all possible worlds, not utopian at all, but paltry, niggardly, wanting. With no faces, names, geographies, it is impossible to say for certain how to take this provocation: the other timespace, the time and place other, will perhaps deliver things you have not yet imagined. Is this “other” compensatory function responding to our miseries and allowing us to cope better with our (un-)acknowledged failures? Is “Latin America” the continental sign of condemnation of the insufficiencies of other timespaces (Europe, the U.S., etc.)? Is such insinuation of a construct of an alternative world instead entirely delusory, desultory sign of weakness to look at reality in the face and change it, feeble coping mechanism, perhaps privatized mirage and angelic sublimation? Apolitical heaven of earthly delights? Projection of sunny sky under unpredictable weather? Externality of sorry interiority? Escapism? There will be many possibilities.


The part re-arranges the whole picture: LAGLOBAL wanted to push in the direction of this provocation. The engagement with the region in question will re-arrange the totality. This reconstruction of the past will find fault in the present and change it for the better in the near future. The workshop perhaps attempted to propose a possibility of liberation that did not dare speak its name making its way as anyone would cheerfully do caught up in throngs of people in the metropolis, perhaps safely released into the vomitorium of the business of knowledge production. With no proper names invoked, no concrete social groups alluded to, no proliferation of images, with politics seemingly evaporated, it is impossible to say for certain what to do with any of this. Allegorically speaking, seduction and persuasion were not seen riding in tandem around the brutalist skyscraper of the University of London. One example of visual decoration of the LAGLOBAL roundtable may release extra information. It refers to a rare cultural object, to be disclosed soon, within the Hispanic encyclopedic tradition hiding away in a Madrid Museum.



Rare Instances of Academic Declaration of Belief or Intent.

It is rare to witness strong declarations of intent and belief, also among academics and scholars, and only the brave and the free, I suppose, will publicize intellectual tensions and repudiations, I am of course ironically referencing the lyrics of the U.S. anthem. Such decisiviness was not to be had the 2 June 2017. The LAGLOBAL roundtable was no exception in this regard towards explicitness of intent and genuine belief in the pursuit of “regional” studies. The matrix of intelligibility was never made explicit; ergo, one must always already assume the default or hegemonic position (the West, Europe & the U.S., the category of “white,” the sciences minus the human sciences, the foreign-policy priority of interest among geopolitically influential nation-states, etc.).


There was a supremely cautious attitude on the organizational front keeping faith with the proceedings of the day apolitically moving the conversation along so to speak until the safe landing in irresolution to maps and routes left undisclosed. Let us instead carve out some tensions, areas of difference and demarcations. One, the humanities, or the liberal arts. Two, Area Studies and its connections with state or government interests. ”Culture”  was not a term often invoked.  Neither was ”cultural studies,” perhaps too compromised and militant for some on either side of the Atlantic[8]. There was none of this literature-and-culture “stuff” flying around the University of London this time.


And there was some resistance to what was called the ”colonial divide.” The why was not clear to me. Was it  because such binary demarcations (West and non-West, or First and Third Worlds, say) were typically poorly historicised? Would this be too crude, too elementary, too pedagogic a heuristic device? I did not perceive receptivity to the postcolonial-school suggestions. Few and oblique were the references to the legacy of post-structuralism with thick silences. The apprehensive philosophical dimension, not quite the natural habitat, or happy purchase, in this type of conventional social-science congregation tied up somehow somewhat to the region of Latin America, despite or because of the sprinkling of names such as Foucault and Derrida.  Were we conscious to be in the premiership level of the national football competitions, to use the sports analogy?


About Amiable Collaborations with the History of Science.

There was mention of collaborations with the history of science, here clearly differentiated from knowledge. And this is perceptible tendency in recent years among “humanists,” perhaps it is still valid to use the old word, not without too much self-loathing, who come out into the open and allegedly give a hand to the history of medicine, for example. Acronyms such as “STEM” (previously SMET) give fair warning of official constructions of requirements embedded in collaborative endeavours which will bring fragile disciplines to the tight embrace of the natural sciences and to a lesser degree of the social sciences. Would this survival strategy hold for the length of time?

The University setting was naturalized in the workshop; that is, such was the only space contemplated, yet without playing out national demarcations and differences. There was no insinuation of the comparative problematization of knowledge production (structures, requirements) in Britain, Latin America or elsewhere (Latin American Studies will be largely  inside an ideology of Foreign Area Studies in Britain, idem in the U.S., but not inside Latin America, changing clothes and credentials at the national ports of entry and one can easily play with labels and studies as they get to circulate in different locations; somehow I doubt that English studies outside Anglophone societies will be labelled Area Studies in quite the same way as the situation we have got in our hands here with LAGLOBAL passing quickly through the University of London). One excellent reference was made in relation to the direction of influences and contacts in relation to the visibility of the indigenous category via Mexican anthropology, passing through French anthropology and reaching the world thanks to UNESCO funding.


Yet again, is this seeking umbrage in the history of the sciences fatigue duty of the beleaguered humanitie? Are they trying to “pass” for ancillary support system to something more serious than just the mere human sciences or the liberal arts? The alert reader will not miss the wry humour in italics.  But the option that caught more interest and echo, if not the most fire, was the call for a “new philology,” which meant nothing less than the desirable accomplishment of global textual rigour. Was this new-philology promise the best option for the fusion between history and anthropology in the context of Latin American studies? Is this invocation to the ghost of the possible apparition, this ”new philology,”  the small-letter concretisation of the aforementioned Summa Theologica, some unassuming stitching together of minor subjects with or without loud disruptive claims?


Did You Say “New Philology”?

This invocation to a “new philology” felt to me to be polite and tentative apolitical road to follow in uncertain times. Politeness is no a priori virtue to celebrate irrespective of the situational exchanges that may be taking place in diverse cultural settings. The immediate context was here, the one-day LAGLOBAL workshop, offered no open-access to its digital archives to help us out with the invocation to the return of the living dead of the old discipline (philology) from the limbo of banal inexistence in the European domain where I come from. The call was made by the Americans in the room and the situation is all the more paradoxical, given the dire straits since the 1980s-1990s (aforementioned Paul W. Drake and Lisa Hilbink dixit in the context of Area Studies, you only have to turn to the carcass of the Modern Language Association and its statistics for amiable companionship).Philology was / is indeed the old-fashioned, generic name of the degree one would receive in the humanities inside which rhetoric, linguistics, classical and modern languages, etc. would be housed. In my experience, the term is certainly not common or typical, little understood in relation to the historicist impulse embedded in the discipline of letters, preferably old. The older, the better. Philology, unless I am very much mistaken, was

never really the cup of tea in the English-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic I encountered in departments of “English” and of “Romance Studies.” And comparative literature was the purview of expatriates typically coming from non-dominant nations. In London, I was sitting not among those with a philology degree who could invoke foreign names such as Francisco Rico in the Spanish-language tradition among others. There was something of a feeble “cultural appropriation” going on here which was trying to impress but who, with the dusting of the archaic noun, sounding to some a poly-syllable Latinate, indeed a neologism, adorned with the feather on the cap of the “new.”


Someone was doing this new philology elsewhere. I will have to investigate. There was something of a hearsay account. I suspect it comes from the U.S. since it was the Americans in the room with the advocacy. I bet my little humanist money on the intuition that this “new philology” is tactical invocation aimed at ruffling no feathers, tickling no funny bones of funding entities. Could it be that we are dealing with an attempt at a jargon of authenticity particularly when things are ever so political? This “new philology,” let us run with the intuition, is tactful discourse, a captatio benevolentiae of sorts, pallid dictum for parlous posts, wanting to go through as resoundingly apolitical across the channel, called English, and the Atlantic ocean, affectionately called pond. “New philology” sounds like a resuscitated neologism among those non-humanists (Rico is tout court humanist in the Early Italian near Dante kind of way and I doubt my interlocutors would have early Italian Humanism in mind!). The coupling: the not yet field of the history of knowledge with the new philology. In case of doubt, invoke the new or the modern or the latest thing and that will suffice. How did such invocation relate to the legacy of (post-)structuralism, they gave no indication of this alleged textual rigour (as opposed to loose or lazy textual violations?) in this context of area-studies of a big region typically underrepresented in international fora.


Calls for the “philological revival” and of a “decentring” kind were made. The name of James Turner was mentioned here, also the “World philology” approach by Sheldon Pollock et al, and the advocacy of “close reading of texts,” in which Chinese and Indian examples, etc. also have their own philologies inside some type of ecumenical tent of theoretical zero exclusion. The Derridian difference was mentioned in what felt to me to be unstoppable proliferation of irresolvable, unmeltable, also desirable cultural differences. I almost turned around to see if the ghost of old philologists from the old country, Francisco Rico being a dignified example still kicking around, would show up from behind the door. How to take this invocation to a new philology not made by trained philologists, but by (ethno-)historians in a dire moment of slim numbers of students in the humanities and surely the social sciences as well[9]? The invocation was to disciplinary rigour.



But this ”new philology” emerging apparently from nowhere may indeed be the most pragmatic and neutral way of seeking institutional acceptability circling around red-yellow-green signs of stop-pass-and-trespass in what appears to be conservative revival in the conjuncture. This post-cultural-studies conservative ethos can be imagined as “consolidation,” one euphemism among others, also retreat from making explicitly diverse ideological positions among competing schools of thought, generally shrinking to smaller dimensions deemed more manageable or spaces more bearable. Aren’t we all “just about managing” in the formula of the conservative Prime Minister? Why going for the outstretch, the overloading, the complexifying of the studies?

A certain institutional rigidification has undoubtedly taken place. And it is as though a number of disciplines had been prompted to hold hands with a feigned cultural-relativist all-welcome inclusion gesture, call it United Nations if you wish, peacefully sharing dwindling plateaus, playing musical chairs and entertaining each other sitting round the floor around the campfire, occasionally holding hands, eating marshmallows, talking past each other under the ecumenical tent of the total history of knowledge, which may or may not be called science. Aren’t disciplines instead more like cats and dogs of diverse stock, provenance, class, race and gender? Such is the liberal fallacy of theoretical all-inclusiveness vanishing as soon as something is at stake and risks are to be assumed.


The polite fallacy will however keep itself going, pedalling in its own imaginary vehicle in the thin air, as long as the knowledge button is not pressed hard, and knowledge is banalized and trivialized, deconcretized and desocialized, ornament in the official cap, decoration and little else and there is no threat and institutional things remain largely in place with or without occasional initiatives such as the one that concerns me here passing through the institution typically failing to make good local connections with perceptible disruptions in the House of Commons, the streets and the disciplines inside higher learning spaces undergoing “reorganizations,” as the euphemism has it.

Perhaps Americanization at least in relation to labour relations and privatizations is one valid synthesis for these transformations and we are all in it together “just about managing,” but some are more so than others. Using culinary language, there was here no cut to the bone of knowledge, sumum bonum no one can do without, but it is certain that the closer you get to it, things become funnier and more ticklish, almost more unpleasant and real and your favourite type of knowledge will be my source of curiosity and my favourite knowledge is your permanent state of ignorance, your hobby horse is not mine, and you despise my obsession as much as I despise yours, my pain is mine and yours is yours and my freedom fighter is your terrorist and your favourite drink is my poison, etc. In short, the door is open for the “us versus them,” or the politics of knowledge production, and I would rather look in the horizon illuminated by Szanton and others. Truism: it will not be a case of understanding at first sight, the political formula will not be grasped ipso facto, but even after a few hours you get an idea sifting the grain and husk, the things said and unsaid.


Probing attempts were kept out of sight of the LAGLOBAL workshop. The point was not to “bite” too much, too hard. Continuing with the culinary language: critical knives were kept under the table so to speak. The “meat” was not presented. It was tenderized. There was no time to make things more sustainable and substantial, more definite and biting. Isn’t time, or the lack of it, always the problem? There was accordingly an inescapable feeling in the air that the proceedings were of enormous inconsequence and Latin America, surely one vast timespace among others, did not leave the walking boots of the evanescent Other to go for a good walk in the immediate London circumstance. LAGLOBAL was mostly, at least from my foreshortened perspective, a publicity exercise of discreet face-to-face impact put together for the main purpose of individual circulation from place to place, as though one could really do it solo convincingly, winningly as in those early aviation attempts in sci-fi-looking vehicles giving it a go in prime instances of real science or perhaps knowledge.

Note: This is half of the entire piece of writing. For any comments, suggestions, criticisms, do not hesitate to get in touch with Fernando Game Herrero,

Warwick, Great Britain 20 July 2017


[1] The complete official record was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government; Foreign Secretary William Hague in the Cameron-Clegg era discussed the UK’s relationship with Latin America (Canning House Lecture, 9 Nov 2010): (access 14 July 2017).


[4] See the “Report on the state of UK-based research on Latin America and the Caribbean 2014” edited by Antoni Kapcia and Linda Newson (Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2014). The study includes the words of Foreign Secretary William Hague, Conservative figure serving under PM David Cameron, aiming at ending the diplomatic retreat and improving British relations with Latin America, citing the scarcely 1% of international exports. Lib-Dem ex-MP Nick Clegg is mentioned in relation to a delegation to Mexico to export the “British success story” of the “educational industry.” The insertion of LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) is firmly within the shadow of State interests and correspondingly of Area Studies, typically in the context of business investments and of “official” politics in organizations such as Canning House and Chatham House. It is clear that the ties between U.S. and Latin America are closer, tighter, bigger, and many more than the ones between the Latin region and the U.K., historically in more intimate, if awkward relationship with Europe (see the Thatcher quote), made ever so evident with Brexit. This English channel still is where the proximity, the bulk of economic ties and of diplomacy, politics, culture and commerce, the alliances and demarcations have played central role. Correspondingly, the unbalance between America-based and U.K.-based studies on the Latin American region is clear within the Western-bound sphere of influence invoking the name of “special relationship” reaching until Theresa May’s government. Will the gradual detachment from Europe (Brexit) mean a more convincing opening up to other regions? Following the official line of communication, I am not aware of proclamations about reinvigorating relations with Latin America that could correspondingly support such studies. The pre-Brexit 2014 Report offers a sober register of institutional reorganizations, funding cuts, declining numbers of staff and students in the appropriate languages, etc.


[5] See the panoramic vision furnished by “Latin American Studies: Theory and Practice” by Paul W. Drake and Lisa Hilbink, in David Szanton’s The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines (U of California, Berkeley: GAIA Books, 2002): pp. 1-27. It is not a rosy picture: the authors speak of a severe decline in intellectual and material support, of threatened specialization in the immediate future, of extremely difficult time for scholars in the subfield, of heavy cuts in funding already in the 1980s-1990s, etc.  See the panorama and policy proposals on U.S.-Latin America relations until the first term of the Obama administration in “Depening Regionalism and the US response” by Victor Bulmer Thomas, included in America and a Changed World: A Question of Leadership, credited to the current director of the Chatham House, Robin Niblett (Chatham House & Wiley, Blackwell: May 2010): pp. 1-17. See the complementary vision included in my “The U.S. Area Studies’ Frame of Intelligibility of Latin American Studies (Or, Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto, Rolena como Fernando),”

[6] See one historicist option and my critique, “On Stephen Greenblatt’s historicism: Double Take;”

[7] See the panorama laid out by Carl Pletsch’s “The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, circa 1950-1975,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (1981): pp. 565-590. I do not know if Pletsch has done any follow-ups to this superb article post 1975.

[8] See three possibilities: Fredric Jameson’s “On Cultural Studies,” Social Text No. 34 (1993): pp. 17-52; a second, Stuart Hall and a third, John Beverley, in my blog,

[9] See the so-called “Humanities Indicators,” the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, State of the Humanities: Higher Education 2015; date July 2017), also the “Enrollments in Languages other than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2009,” by Nelly Furman, David Goldberg and Natalia Lusin (Web publication, December 2010), Modern Language Association (2010): hardly a cheerful read. I suppose there will be comparable collective data appertaining to Great Britain somewhere. Is it fair to assume smaller numbers tout court in the second smaller Anglophone country not historically dealing with massive migrations? Is it fair to assume USA-gravitational pull within Area Studies and also the liberal studies & cultural studies at least since mid-20th century? Will Brexit change things drastically towards a radical openness to other larger dimensions, without letting go of the European dimension not anymore in a position of historical dominance? We will all climb up to our best observation platforms holding tight to our binoculars.

Hacer Acopio del Legado de los Estudios Culturales: Stuart Hall y Néstor García Canclini. Parte Primera. Por Fernando Gómez Herrero (


Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History, By Stuart Hall. Edited and with an Introduction by Jennifer Daryl Slack and Lawrence Grossberg (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2016).

Imagined Globalization by Néstor García Canclini. Translated and with an Introduction by George Yúdice (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2014).


Hagamos acopio, siquiera de manera apresurada, del quehacer intelectual de dos figuras sobresalientes, Stuart Hall (1932-2014) y Néstor García Canclini (1939-), como si miráramos por el espejo retrovisor el camino del que venimos, sin saber a ciencia cierta qué va a pasar con todo esto en los próximas años. Llamemos estos espacios británicos y latinoamericanos al menos al inicio, si queremos prestar atención a la procedencia de ambos pensadores, si nos interesa ver el enfoque primario, o el radio inmediato de preocupación y acción directa, si bien los encontramos, los escritores y sus escritos, dispersos cual hojas volanderas entre flores y maleza por una geografía más amplia, desordenada y plural a ambos lados del Atlántico. Sinteticemos algunos de estos logros, montamos algunas tramoyas comparativas de semejanza y diferencia, y hagámoslo sin añoranza alguna por ningún tiempo pasado en relación a las sociedades que van a ser nombradas en estas páginas, que serán más de una. Empecemos por Stuart Hall. Este ciclo de conferencias llamadas “estudios culturales (1983)” las dio en la Universidad pública de Illinois, Chicago, EEUU, la “tripa del ogro,” que diría Octavio Paz, con unos cincuenta años. Las publica la Universidad de Duke, sita en Carolina del Norte, en idéntico contexto nacional, en donde nos formamos en los años 90, con una demora de treinta y tres años. Muchas cosas han pasado ciertamente en estas tres o cuatro décadas que constituyen el nacimiento y tal vez debilitamiento, sino función de ciertos impulsos intelectuales y académicos llamados estudios culturales, oferta académica standard y mayoritaria con cierta incidencia más allá de circuitos universitarios. ¿O me equivoco?

El segundo texto, titulado Globalización imaginada, salió originalmente en español en Buenos Aires y México D.F. en 1999. Se publica traducido al inglés, quince años después, también por Duke, en el 2014. Uso exclusivamente de la versión en inglés, sin tener acceso al original en español en mis actuales estadías británicas. Vierto estas reflexiones a la lengua primera de Canclini, con una sensación extraña, tal vez saludable, con respecto al inglés de George Yúdice[i]. El Canclini más conocido en los EEUU, creo yo, es el de las culturas híbridas, libro también publicado por Duke: el de las mezclas de todo tipo, de entrecruzamientos infinitos, préstamos promiscuos, de modalidades significativas desiguales y prácticas sociales, sobre todo consumistas, combinatorias. Es el encomio de la hibridez y la transculturación, ahora interculturalidad, o atadura de formas dispares, como si éstas ofrecieran escapatorias, creíbles o increíbles, de todos las represiones, apresamientos, silenciamientos o ninguneos. La invocación a la “imaginación” de García Canclini la ponemos al lado de la tan manoseada moneda de la “cultura,” que Stuart Hall considera concepto ineludible, resbaladizo, vago, amorfo, polivalente, evanescente, de espacio desplazado (“misplaced field”), desplazante, interdisciplinar (p. 4). Nos la jugamos todos, parece ser, en estas aguas revueltas.


Leemos tarde, y vertido al inglés, el primer libro de Canclini, así viene y va la cosa intelectual, desordenada, volandera, y migrante como cualidad fundamental también de la biografía dual de un pensador caribeño asentado en la Inglaterra thatcheriana conferenciando en Illinois sobre el mundo intelectual marxista europeo de los 1960, y un argentino emigrado a México, paseante observador de los desórdenes propios de la globalización capitalista actuando no sólo por el espacio hegemónico del Atlántico Norte. Hay leve contacto de referencia derridiana entre ambos que mencionaremos en breve. Parece que no tenemos opción: nos tenemos que apelotonar todos en la “cultura,” palabra lábil, resbaladiza, poco confiable, con escasas maniobras a la contra[ii], al menos desde la época de Thatcher y Reagan, como si todas las demás (política, religión, historia, literatura, “humanidades,” etc.), se nos hayan hecho impresentables o inservibles.


Cultural Studies (1983) son ocho conferencias de densa intensidad. El registro y transcripción ha tenido que ser laborioso. Se interrumpió por la reticencia del propio Hall que Jennifer Daryl Slack y Lawrence Grossberg no aclaran del todo (p. xiii-xiv). Salen ahora a la luz dos años de la muerte de Hall con una cierta sensación de envaine y desenarbolamiento de los estudios culturales. Hay cierta retirada y tal vez huida estratégica de éstos. Hay también “americanización,” digámoslo con el grueso y grosero anglicismo estadounidense naturalizado incluso al español transatlántico, de pensamiento crítico de procedencia británica, sito en la segunda ciudad del país, Birmingham, con memorias caribeñas no amainadas en el caso de Hall. La visibilidad institucional: Hall hereda la dirección del Centro de Estudios Contemporáneos Británicos de la Universidad de Birmingham de manos de Richard Hoggart del 1969 al 1980. Es el comienzo del thatcherismo, el “sapo en el jardín,” según el título de su artículo incluido en el volumen famoso que recopila dicho encuentro en Ilinois[iii]. Estos vaivenes son importantes y tenemos la gestión de Lawrence Grossberg en aquel entonces y en la preparación del volumen de Duke. Cierta periferia institutional estadounidense da cabida a este pensamiento crítico por partida doble, Hall y García Canclini, extranjero y extranjerizante, más correoso el primero, y podemos decir que de impacto desigual, futbolísticamente hablando lo podemos llamar de niveles de English premier league y championship por este orden, en mi estimación, al menos dentro del espacio anglo-parlante del Atlántico norte. Los estudios culturales de Stuart Hall son explícitamente anti-thatcherianos en un sentido político amplio (Thatcher en el poder, 1979-1990). Encuentran conexiones con un anti-reaganismo de izquierdas estadounidenses que van a soplar nuevos vientos con los “estudios culturales” durante todos los post-esctructuralismos a la contra de ciertas normas académicas del momento (Reagan en el poder, 1981-1989). Veo a Canclini más accesible, digerible, y menos explícito, más cauteloso con respecto a montarse en el carro de una ideología política explícita de fuerte cuestionamiento de la globalización en un contexto internacional de mayor radio o cobertura. El español nativo lo coloca en el nivel subordinado de Premiership antes aludido.


Althusser y Gramsci, los ahogados más hermosos del mundo, al menos para Stuart Hall, por decirlo con el lenguaje de realismo mágico de García Márquez, hay que verlo como afán intelectual extranjero y extranjerizante, anhelo y deseo de oxígeno e inspiración disidente aliados momentáneamente en Illinois. No se esconde la palabra “marxismo,” palabra inaceptable en los EEUU, tampoco se descubre a propios ni a extraños a bombo y platillo. García Canclini puede ser compañero de viaje de estos proyectos, yendo menos de “contracultural,” en lo que a mí se me alcanza, con o sin las apreciaciones de un Umberto Eco. El argentino se suma al tema cantante de los “estudios culturales” de los años 90 en adelante, la globalización. Aquí seguimos, con el Brexit Britain de Theresa May y la presidencia, imposible de imaginar de Donald Trump, con un mundo académico de generalizado vocabulario cultural, más cariacontecido y “tocado” al menos en el espacio angloparlante transatlánticos ¿Causan los subordinados espacios hispanohablantes menos desasosiego?


Mucho tiene que ver lo que uno estudia en su celda amorosa con la política con mayúsculas, o con las situaciones académico-burocráticas de limitada incidencia, aun cuando no se vean las conexiones directas todos los días luminosos. Hall pone en tela de juicio cierto empirismo británico “eterno,” por no disparar siempre a un racismo institucional cotidiano. Y se agarra de la mano de Althusser, tal vez la inspiración intelectual más perseguida en sus conferencias. Estas devuelven a los Estados Unidos una serie de preocupaciones intelectuales de la mano europea de la “americanización” del Reino Unido desde el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial: la desigualdad racial, clasista, los desplazamientos migratorios, el consumo generalizado o masivo de productos culturales saltadores de la página impresa, etc. Curiosamente, no hay hermanamiento explícito con grupos intelectuales negros o “diversos” o “minoritarios” en los EEUU. Stuart Hall no deja constancia de que América Latina pueda ser espacio disidente. García Canclini es consciente de Hall, pero no se quiere meter en sus mismos rediles. ¿Para qué? Hay importación de producto cultural europeo de izquierda (Althusser, Gramsci) dentro de un caldo de cultivo británico que se vierte a la fórmula estereotipada de los EEUU como experimento de mezcla social de disolución de diferencias apreciables, sostenibles (“melting pot”). La sociedad de masas, el consumismo, el mundo juvenil, todo lo que se abrevia como “popular” cabe en teoría aquí desde una abstracción filosófica a la expresividad contracultural de grupos juveniles. Y este doble enfoque reconfigura los enfoques, las perspectivas, los intereses de una cierta sociología que, al menos en el caso de Hall, se quiere pensar filosóficamente.


Filosofía aquí quiere decir recreación del legado marxista dentro del pensamiento europeo occidental, actualizado con el entrecruzamiento del pensamiento del francés Althusser y el italiano Gramsci. Y esta doble perspectiva “latina” franco-italiana tiende a la fuerza gravitacional de una cierta sensibilidad “minoritaria,” digámoslo así, que es curiosamente no lo que piensa la mayoría de la gente en tanto que pensamiento laborioso y abstracto sino lo que hace la mayoría de la gente en los momentos de creatividad, esparcimiento, etc. Esto es lo que se da en llamar “cultura popular” en los EEUU y que los estudios culturales van a priorizar. Se trata de bajar en la medida de lo posible las prácticas a pie de calle, de buscar las mayorías sociales, de desatender y descabalgar los gustos de todos los elitismos, de ponerle el sambenito a los grupos privilegiados, o mejor en la picota. Se trata de contextualizar social y políticamente unas maneras de significar, inicialmente de leer y escribir, pero también de escuchar música, bailar, comer, vestir, ir al cine, practica deporte, darse al esparcimiento y ocio sobre el negocio, al gusto sobre el disgusto, vamos, desde los años 1950 en adelante, y es aquí que nos encontramos la hegemonía mundial de la cultura angloparlante a ambos lados del Atlántico. ¿Representó el momento Blair un punto álgido de cierta Britania chic? ¿Fueron los juegos olímpicos en contexto londinense toque de queda de ciertas aprehensiones actuales en momentos de Brexit?


Mi generación en las periferias europeas aprende ya el inglés desoyendo el francés obligatorio de los padres. Insistamos en el gesto de Hall, deliberado y encomiable, de ir a buscar el producto intelectual deseable y disidente a otras sociedades, las “latinas” (el francés Althusser y el italiano Gramsci), relativizando lo que se encuentra más cerca, Richard Hoggart, E. P. Thompson, el grupo de “Past and Present” con el reconocido Eric Hobsbawn a la cabeza[iv]. García Canclini va más “desordenado,” más “descentrado,” a salto de mata sin quedarse en su nacionalidad ni quedarse prendado per se de ninguna nacionalidad influyente. No veo escuelas dominantes. Hay en ambos escasa presencia de mujeres. Hall analiza su contexto británico inmediato inserto en el contexto europeo sumido en unas transformaciones propias de una sociedad capitalista del período de posguerra, desde los años 50 en adelante. Esta sociología se va desligando paulatinamente de la prioridad del “texto” y privilegia la contemporaneidad audiovisual si bien sigue aupado a un pensamiento abstracto de origen continental europeo. A ésta se ata García Canclini y la desliga también de todo deseo de antiguo humanista de centralidad letrada. No salta ni con gusto ni con disgusto a lo último en el mundo digital, virtual, de aceleraciones y violaciones al estilo de un Paul Virilio, de hackers, gamers, etc. No veo figuras intelectuales centrales ni decisivas en García Canclini, ni una necesidad de defender una fé ciega en su formación francesa inicial. No veo su prosa a la altura filosófica, por mucho que se diga que ésta es su formación inicial. Las figuras de referencia local son, en Hall, Raymond Williams, y el ya mencionado Hoggart[v]. Este acercamiento “cultural” mira unas desigualdades sociales y sus correspondientes prácticas cognoscitivas dentro de marcos de práctica social posible. No hay utopías que valgan la pena y sí cierto pragmatismo que, sin humos, se encaran con una fehaciente posibilidad de supervivencia, aun en su condición vital subordinada. No es difícil ver cómo ciertos recipientes de nacionalismo y humanismo son propios de un privilegio social. Estos lo rompe Hall una y otra vez.


Stuart Hall empuja este quehacer hoggartiano en contra de un cierto liberalismo de corte social conservador leavisiano, aupado en los hombres decimonónicos de un Mathew Arnold dentro de los estudios literarios ingleses. No es difícil encontrar paralelos con otros nombres en otras lenguas en otros contextos nacionales. Per se trata (¿siempre?) de saltar los predios disciplinarios, ¿y qué mayor “naturalidad” que hacerlo desde espacios precarios (social, disciplinar, institucional, étnica, condición migrante, etc.)? Nuestro estudiante de origen jamaicano ya en Oxford participa de las críticas a un Leavis (“el puritano cejijunto”) ubicado en Cambridge, pero esto no se queda sólo en pasatiempo de competición de regata festiva en círculos de privilegio académico británico.


Hall trasciende todo esto y se sale de las letras y salta a la disciplina de la antropología, sobre todo la de procedencia estadounidense, y sobre todo a lo que podemos llamar una sociología de abstracción política. La condición inmigrante de Hall le hace cuestionar casi instintiva y automáticamente cualquier llamado al “nativismo,” sea político, cultural, gastronómico, arquitectónico o musical, mayor o menormente tergiversado de racismo implícito o no, cuatro décadas antes de Brexit. Es esta apertura de miras la que trae los contrastes entre lo nativo o lo propio y lo extranjero o ajeno, y también la posibilidad de tendencias de tensión y repudio o todo lo contrario, la xenofilia o admiración e incluso seducción extranjerizante. Hall no acepta un funcionalismo rígido de la antropología de Malinowski con respecto a la contemplación de las limitaciones existentes entre las relaciones sociales, sean las que sean. Se la juega, entonces, con estas aperturas, aun cuando éstas no suavicen desigualdades ni despejen incertidumbres e imprevistos (la atracción de la intervención en la coyuntura gramsciana puede ir por este deseo de apertura de toda cerrazón sistemática). Las “culturas” se pueden acercar, intercambiar bienes, acariciar, embelesarse, pero ciertamente las borrascas siguen a los rayos de sol, y también malviven, chocan, se pelean, se humillan, se intentan destruir e incluso celebran la destrucción ajena. Los estudios culturales que Hall fomenta buscan bien a las claras todas las desaveniencias “culturales” en la inminencia o contemporaneidad y no la transcendencia de estas tensiones en un más allá de las benditas bienaventuranzas. No hay grandes deseos de indagación en las teleologías distantes ni en los orígenes remotos o esencias, sean caribeñas o brummies. Se cortan las alas a los historicismos anteriores al siglo XIX y se cuelgan las raíces atávicas del aire frío de la mañana sin certeza del calor del sol. Entre las cuerdas antropológicas y las sociológicas, camina Hall con cierto tiento por los años de la Guerra Fría intentando vislumbrar un claro en el bosque thatcheriano que no verá. ¿Lo vemos nosotros tres o cuatro décadas después? Suyas son las bocanadas de la llamada Nueva Izquierda que provienen del estructuralismo althusseriano y el subalternismo gramsciano.


Es Althusser quien goza del centro de su atención, con dos capítulos, el cinco y el seis, para él. Para la fecha del 1983 ya poco o nada le queda de producción intelectual al francés, catorce años mayor que Hall e ignoro si hubo contacto directo entre ambos, y si fue consciente de su influencia en el mundo angloparlante fuera de su discípulo directo Etienne Balibar que se pasea por espacios como el Birkbeck College de la Universidad de Londres. Hay dos capítulos dedicados al estructuralismo, con recuento de antropólogos y sociólogos. Un capítulo versa sobre el problema marxista de la relación entre la base y la superestructura. El capítulo séptimo es carta de presentación del intelectual italiano apresado por Mussolini en la sociedad intelectual angloparlante (hay reverberaciones gramscianas en el postcolonialismo subalternista de la India y el latinoamericano que llegan hasta el día de hoy). El capítulo octavo y último puede verse como efectos gramscianas a pie de calle británica con introducción de elementos personales jamaicanos y subculturas marginales (Rastafarianos, mods y rockers, skinheads, música “ska,” etc.). Hall no se arredra y ofrece su propia interpretación de éstos, acusa recibo de críticas a esta primera generación de estudios culturales afincados institucionalmente en Birmingham, recientemente imputada de “capital jihadi de Gran Bretaña,” por la prensa amarilla británica.



Althusser es para Stuart Hall la mejor ocasión para el ejercicio de la inteligencia más abstracta. Con estas galas extranjerizantes visita Illinois para no quedarse allí. Hay como mínimo dos o tres capas de extranjería en estas desapacibles tierras estadounidenses. El pensador francés le posibilita el endurecimiento de posicionamientos estructuralistas que no quieren someterse al yugo de humanismos ni historicismos. Se trata también de entablar diálogos con la teoría cultural marxista desviándola de Raymond Williams y de E.P. Thompson, y sacándola de atascos y puntos muertos, por ejemplo automatismos del modo de producción y predecibles atribuciones de falsa conciencia a todo lo que no quepa bien en la categoría de clase obrera militante en un comunismo revolucionario. Lo que le interesa es ver las relaciones, los procesos, las instituciones, el nudo de lo conocido y lo desconocido, lo cuantitativo pierde terreno ante un análisis ideológico. Digámoslo así, el anti-idealismo positivista durkheimiano, el proceso del mundo “objetivo” de los “hechos,” el entramado del orden social, la cuestión de la reproducción social, la gestación y el cultivo de las formas simbólicas, sean longevas y religiosas o no: todo esto se vierte en la prosa de Hall siempre cuestionadora, apretada, tensa. El estudio de sistema clasificatorio, el tomemismo de Lévi-Strauss, es punto de partida, la promesa de “cientificismo (scientificity)” y la “apariencia” del “rigor” (p. 61). La inspiración inicial le viene a Lévi-Strauss de la linguística histórica de Saussure, si bien no todo será regla internalizada, autosuficiente y enteramente consciente. Hay algo más que razón: mito, narrativa, inconsciente, aspectos que no cuadran, que no caben, fallas, vacíos, incongruencias, disonancias, silencios. Podemos añadir el mundo connotativo, la tonalidad emotiva con todas sus evocaciones disparando mensajes en mil y una direcciones dentro y fuera del pecho del observador en cuestión.


El quid de la cuestión no es la proveniencia, sino cómo se monta todo esto hacia un porvenir que no sea el thatcheriano o el reaganiano, o que se subordinen a la visión leavisiana/arnoldiana de modalidades culturales que merezcan la pena que sobrevivan en el panteón del logro artístico nacionalmente enmarcado en culminante marcha triunfante. Hay sin embargo cierta querencia de formalismo. La hermosa frase lo dice todo, “el placer de una gran porción de la cultura es retrotraerse a donde viene uno” (p. 69). Pero Hall no se queda aquí colgado, embelesado. Esto lo quiere reactivar, agilizar, pluralizar, colectivizar. Este “placer” se combina con la repetición, la insistencia, la posibilidad de innovación, o incluso la imposibilidad de escaparse de la ortodoxia política de los años 80 (vemos desde hoy el tremendo desgaste del PSOE en España desde los años de Felipe González, y del laborismo en el Reino Unido desde la época de Tony Blair a la actual de Jeremy Corbyn). Hall pone en cuestión el entramado de categorías de Lévi-Strauss: intuitivo y arbitrario es el aderezo de esta brillantez en solapado elogio a la contra (p. 69). Hall se distancia del doble humanismo británico representado por Thompson y Williams. Y siente predilección por la sincronía estructuralista (p. 71).


Hall quiere empujar la inversión del hegelianismo propia de Marx: quebrar la persecución de la imposibilidad de una historia universal o eterna. Toda época histórica es coyuntura, contingencia, especificidad no translaticia, serie de determinaciones. La cosa difícil es cómo aunar “el sujeto de la historia” con la estructura particular de la formación social y empujar, al mismo tiempo, una historia (radical) de cambio histórico a otra cosa radicalmente diferente (p. 76). Se desliga, por lo tanto, la base de la superestructura: la economía no es fundamento en última instancia, sino una dimensión más entre otras, ciertamente importante. Tenemos juegos combinatorios (p. 79), o niveles de intersección o articulación no reducibles a singularidades dialécticas. Culturalismo sería esta apertura a una pluralidad de posibilidad combinatoria y todos estos sustantivos hay que pensarlos en el plural radical (p. 81). Hay sospecha de todo sustantivo en esencia singular: “Su Majestad la Economía,” en la mofa althusseriana, no es asiento permanente, ni fuerza determinante, sino instancia, fuerte si se quiere, entre otras, diseminada por toda la formación social que se despliega ante nuestros ojos con obviedad o no. El concepto de determinación, o fuerza mayor, surge por lo tanto como deseable, si bien, contradictorio, controvertido (p. 81) como si fuera cuchillo de doble filo. No hay reduccionismo económico o clasista que valga. Hay fuerzas sociales mayores, por ejemplo, el Estado, con todos sus antagonismos, a los que no hay que descuidar. Hall pone en duda la idea marxista de la “falsa conciencia” (p. 83), o desviación de la “objetividad” de los intereses considerados como propios perseguidos de manera siempre consecuente[vi].


Marx empuja la filosofía idealista occidental con su inversión de Hegel. El estructuralismo althusseriano “tuerce la rama” (p. 85) marxista-hegeliana de manera clara, “pero no la rompe.” La idea es forzar el idealismo hacia el materialismo (p. 85), lo cual es más fácil decirlo que hacerlo en la vida del pensamiento. El hecho histórico que Marx intenta pensar es el 18 de Brumario (9 de Noviembre de 1799), el golpe de estado del Bonapartismo (p. 87), el corte de la libertad desencadenada por la revolución francesa, el avance del capitalismo, ralentizando las revoluciones del 1848 (¿qué se esconde detrás de esa fuerza militar alegorizada como Francia, capitalismo universal, por ejemplo en la hermosísima película de cine mudo celebratoria de Abel Gance, Napoléon (1927)?). El Thatcherismo /Reaganismo es el momento bonapartista de Stuart Hall (no hay pronunciamiento con respecto a la tensión entre Althusser y Thompson en relación al legado estalinista, a un siglo de la Revolución Soviética con varias conmemoraciones en el contexto londinense en las fechas en las que escribo esto). El nuestro será el de Theresa May y Donald Trump y la invitación es que cada lector lleve sus mejores deseos políticos a sus territorios favoritos. El Bonapartismo es también el momento de la retirada intelectual de Marx en la Biblioteca del Museo Británico. Hall concluye que las relaciones entre el mundo material e ideológico fue insuficientemente pensado por Marx. No hay unidad homogénea de construcción marxista, Althusser dixit.


Hall expresa su predilección por el poder explicativo de la diferencia sobre la identidad en Marx (p. 88). Se trata de buscar “lo concreto en el pensamiento” (pp. 89, 113): es decir, la aprehensión de las relaciones reales en la instancia histórica concreta según la mediación de la “teoría,” o el inevitable proceso de abstracción intelectual. Es decir, la clarificación conceptual añade, con suerte, determinaciones al material empírico, que se intentará alterar radical y colectivamente. Abstracción y concreción se incluyen, se corresponden, se suba o se baje de nivel de abstracción del pensamiento que no hay que abandonar nunca para pasar a otra cosa sola, llámese acción, praxis, etc. El endurecimiento althusseriano de presupuestos estructuralistas lo mueve a él también (ec tu, brutus!) a posiciones idealistas (p. 113, 115), según Hall. La intervención althusseriana es, sin embargo, ineludible. Su huella es permanente, aun con todos sus “errores.” Hall describe con cierta frialdad la diferencia humanista Thompsoniana en el contexto de la guerra fría y la fidelidad estalinista del francés, por la que parece apostar de manera velada. Hall se queda con las prendas intelectuales althusserianas: el anti-humanismo, la ruptura con el monismo marxista, la predilección por la “diferencia,” conceptos como contradicción, sobre-determinación [“over-determination,” p. 122], el sujeto ausente, la articulación de dos elementos disímiles, la ideología del aparato del estado, que no sólo actúa como fuerza represiva, diferencia de clase “en sí y para sí” (“in itself and for itself,” p. 126) etc. Hall reconoce su enorme deuda intelectual con el pensador francés. Lo califica de “inmensa revolución teórica” (p. 126).


Es ideología el toque de queda. Y se ata con clase social y adscripción étnica o “racial.” Hall recrea el famoso artículo de Althusser que pone al estado como uno de las instancias productoras inevitables, tal vez la definitoria, de unas subjectividades jerarquizadas y desiguales. El funcionalismo de Malinowski (p. 60) no aprehende nunca del todo la ductilidad ideológica de la función social de reproducción de relaciones de producción. Althusser pone la ideología “fuera,” dice Hall, del mundo de producción o el mundo del trabajo en un mundo capitalista. Hall subraya una y otra vez este estructuralismo funcionalista atribuido a Marx por Althusser (p. 130): lo abre, lo pluraliza, lo suelta de un binarismo rígido de base y superestructura, separa al francés en cierto sentido de Marx sin glorificar a este último. El énfasis será en las prácticas que no se entienden sin las ideas que las acompañan: no hay praxis sin pensamiento y éste no se entiende sólo en sí mismo sin unas relaciones, orgánicas o no, con prácticas sociales a favor o a la contra. La ideología se cuela, así, también en las instituciones de la sociedad civil, de intereses privados, con todos sus entramados de consensos y repudios, silencios, vacíos y desarticulaciones. Siguiendo a Althusser, las relaciones sociales son procesos sin sujeto (p. 133), que entiendo como la pulsante ausencia de un deseante sujeto colectivo hacedor de su propio destino trascendente o emancipador, ciertamente no el sujeto humanista universalizador y universalizante. Tiene que haber influencias del mundo del inconsciente del psiconálisis desplazando la dicotomía del sujeto / objeto del conocimiento que surge de la herencia clásica de la epistemología occidental, aunque esto es mucho menos perceptible en este “Stuart Hall de Illinois.” Este concepto de sujeto no es individual, tú o yo, sino el “yo” del pronunciamiento ideológico, aun con todas sus fallas, y Althusser pide prestado el concepto de “interpelación” lacaniana (p. 134). Toda una cierta fetichización de “agencia” en el contexto estadounidense de las últimas dos o tres décadas se puede pensar como reacción a esta incomodidad que parece constituirse en Althusser, que nos desposee de este querido quehacer individual que modifique dificultades, taras, etc. de una manera perceptible en el transcurso de nuestras vidas. Algo en Althusser nos hace fatalistas. Hay aquí algo de aroma kafkiano, algo incluso de hálito buñuelesco de Angel Exterminador, de no poder cambiar una situación dada por mucho que uno diga querer cambiarla.


Los cambios ideológicos son de tiempos lentos y las cosas cambian, si es que cambian, a un ritmo y nivel aparentemente más allá de nuestros esfuerzos individuales. Estas frutas están más altas que lo que alcanzan nuestros brazos. Estos empeños empero nos constituyen y nos constituimos a nosotros mismos en y con ellos. Nos pintan la cara antes que nos la pintamos nosotros mismos. Vivimos ciertamente (en) la ideología consciente e inconscientemente, pero parece que ésta se nos escapa siempre de nuestros mejores esfuerzos de aprehensión como lo puede hacer el mercurio caído por el suelo tras haberse roto el termómetro. En tanto que sujetos, somos bandazos de conciencia e inconsciencia, haz de contradicciones en varias pulsiones y direcciones. No se ve en Althusser cómo las cosas pueden cambiar drásticamente para bien. La torsión a lo peor es más perceptible. Hall dice preferir el primer Althusser al tardío. Su preferencia es por la obligatoriedad, la estructura de necesidad que se impone a la arbitrariedad (“law of order, law of culture,”p. 141) ; es decir, el texto althusseriano de “Contradicción y sobre-determinación” antes que el más conocido de “Los aparatos ideológicos estatales” (p. 142). La cosa está en cómo intentar cortar epistemológica, vivencial e intelectualmente, una serie de situaciones, o contingencias, que parecen sucederse sin coherencia, razón o lógica aparente. Sin avisar, de sopetón, Hall cierra el capítulo sexto con unas perceptivas páginas sobre los Rastafarianos (pp. 144ff), los “negros del Nuevo Mundo.” Nos ofrece una serie de percepciones a flor de piel biográfica, sobre lo “negro” en el Caribe, sin buscar unos paralelos con los EEUU, y la gama existente en el mundo post-imperial británico (“black,” “coloured,” “West Indian,” “Negro,” “immigrant,” etc., pp. 144-541; p. 186)[vii]. Hall corrige a Althusser: ideología no es sólo el intento de buscar clarificar y reproducir, sino también repartir y suavizar, acomodar, acondicionar, no sólo desde el punto de vista privilegiado, relaciones sociales existentes y desiguales. Hall suspende el “ya desde siempre” althusseriano (“always already” en su versión típica en inglés, p. 154), dando prioridad (“shifts of accentuation”) a las marcas de desigualdad del posicionamiento de clase y etnia. Si el edificio althussseriano da sensación de querer blindarse con rigor estructuralista, la construcción de Stuart Hall busca con ansiedad las grietas de estos blindajes y abrirse a las posibilidades estratégias o tácticas propiciadas por toda contingencia que se antoja sorprendente, plural, incluso teóricamente infinita.


Esto desemboca en Gramsci con toda naturalidad en los dos últimos capítulos. Dominación, hegemonía, lucha y resistencia al lado del término ineludible de cultura: este es el vocabulario infinitamente repetible que hemos escuchado con mayor o menor credibilidad en los últimos años en ciertos sectores académicos, y también incluso a pie de calle, en medios de comunicación no convencionales. Gramsci parece posibilitar el desanudamiento de la tendencia a los endurecimientos propia del estructuralismo althusseriano (p. 155). Hall asume como propia la visión gramsciana de deseo de intervención decisiva en la coyuntura concreta. La acuciante persecución del aquí y ahora del prisionero de Mussolini, imposibilidad histórica desde nuestra perspectiva de espejo retrovisor, desoye todo grandilocuente transcendentalismo. Se puede equiparar a la imposibilidad vivencial de su contemporáneo, Walter Benjamin, de fuerte influencia en cierta crítica literaria y cultural hasta la fecha, y no sólo para estudiosos del Barroco. Se busca agilizar todo tipo de interpretación mecanística, predecible, de determinaciones inamovibles, de predicciones desesperanzantes, presentadas con o sin gusto por augurios nefastos. Las instancias sociales organizadoras de realidad, como el estado, por ejemplo, necesitan de contradicciones para poner en movimiento sus propios mecanismos normativos, ordenadores, subordinantes. Esto abre la posibilidad de concesiones, interrupciones, “expresividad” además de la norma represiva. La “contracultura” puede así avivar la cultura estatal. Se trata de modular con toda sagacidad este impulso “a la contra.”


A esto se la juegan Gramsci y Hall. prestanto atención a la filosofía, o nivel de abstracción más alto, si se quiere, y también a los pisos bajos del “sentido común,” las relaciones “orgánicas,” el día a día, la vida a pie de calle, la letra cotidiana en el rotativo y las posibles cumbres artísticas. Aquí es donde regresa con fuerza epistémica lo “popular:” lo mayoritario, lo colectivo, lo subordinado, no necesariamente coherente o deseable del todo. La función intelectual tal y como la entendió Gramsci es tratar de coordinar estos dos pisos del pensamiento o filosofía en momentos de derrota. No hay sujeto prefigurado universal, sea el proletariado o cualquier otro, sino entrecruzamientos de intereses, posiciones, pisos muebles, ideas más o menos conexas, etc. La situación de dominación no sólo se estila como represiva o coercitiva, sino que produce bienes como expresividades, gustos, querencias, lealtades, familiaridades, paisajes habitables, emociones de todo tipo. ¿Cómo no ver aquí la recreación del signo de “negro” (p. 186) que no cambia tan tranquilamente siguiendo las mejores formulaciones de un pensamiento perspicaz y brillante para uno mismo o para la colectividad sita en el Caribe y en el Reino Unido: la piel no es pret-a-porter. ni el constructo cultural de “raza o etnia” es ready to wear, que se pueda quitar y poner con facilidad. Hay todo tipo de significaciones explícitas e implícitas, connotaciones, relaciones visibles e invisibles activadas para con cada signo (“raza” o “etnia” entre otros, mucho más cerca en Hall que en García Canclini) en los espacios-tiempos sociohistóricos en donde los encontremos, o no. “Cultura” puede ser el espacio abierto de significativos alternativos a dominación y hegemonía. La lectura clasista de los “Mods y los Rockers” (pp. 191-194), y los “Skinheads” (p. 195-197), o el “ska” de los Rastafarianos (p. 199-203) le permite a Hall analizar comportamientos significativos propios de grupos marginales, sectores minoritarios abrumados, temerosos, resentidos, beligerantes, ante la posibilidad real de perder el ser que dicen ser recta o torcidamente (p. 203). Hall pone el dedo en la llaga de sectores jóvenes británicos, negros, desclasados, en peor estado con respecto a la generación de sus padres migrantes, inventándose “etiopías” o reinos imaginados (p. 205) que les ayuden de alguna manera a sobrellevar lo que les está cayendo encima. Hay aquí, algo o mucho, de función compensatoria, de quimera y de utopía, de mecanismos significativos de supervivencia “cultural” con todos sus dolores, desajustes, incoherencias, torpezas, violencias.


Warwick, Inglaterra a 16 de Mayo del 2017 (FGH,


[i] Lingua franca, imponente, si bien siempre insuficiente en un contexto amplio de miras internacionales. Consúltese el reciente documento America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century (2017) producido por la Commission on Language Learning de la American Academy of Arts and Sciences ubicada en Cambridge, Massachusetts. Se constata aquí la preocupación por parte de organismos oficiales estadounidenses, con firmas de congresistas y senadores, el mundo de negocios, el militar, etc. con respecto al monolinguismo estadounidense. El mundo oficial estadounidense se ve perdiendo pie y terreno competitivo con respecto a los retos mayúsculos de la “villa global” en el siglo XXI, desde la posición actual de fuerza del inglés dentro y fuera del contexto nacional estadounidense. El aliciente explicitado es la mejoría de oportunidades en el contexto mercantil, de los negocios y de beneficio económico y laboral a corto plazo. Se explicita algo que sólo los muy despistados no han digerido hace mucho tiempo, que los EEUU son nación negligente y deficitaria con el estudio de lenguas que no sean el inglés. Pero evaluemos conjuntamente la calidad del conocimiento de todas las “letras,” que dirían los antiguos, ¿cuán elevadas éstas, inglés incluido, para la inmensa mayoría de la población estadounidense?


[ii] El ya fallecido Umberto Eco, desde mediados de los 1960, ha escrito artículos válidos sobre la inflación del signo de “cultura,” a propósito de tendencias intelectuales de integrados y apocalípticos, necesitándose unos a otros, con espacios intermedios, y tendencias a la asimilación y el rechazo, sobre los posibles significados poco claros de “contracultura,” etc. He consultado sus libros en inglés, Apocalypse Postponed (London: Flamingo, [1994] 1995), y Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism (London: Harvill Secker, 2007). La inteligencia de Eco estaría más cerca de la sensibilidad de García Canclini que de la de Stuart Hall.

[iii] Dicho volumen es: Grossberg, Lawrence; Nelson, Cary (1988). Marxism and the interpretation of culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. No sé si hay traducción al español.


[iv] Hay una pintura, un tanto insulsa, de Stephen Frederick Godrey Farthing, titulada “Historians of ‘Past and Present’ ” del 1999 en la British Academy de Londres que nos ayuda a poner en contexto a algunos miembros de este grupo vinculado a la revista Past and Present, que surge de la amistad de historiadores marxistas en los años 1940, bajo la batuta de John Morris. Las descripciones de la pintura nos hablan de cierta artificialidad de la composición y de la frialdad en el trato entre ellos. Una figura importante de este grupo para la historia de la península ibérica y las Américas es indudablemente el longevo historiador no-Marxista John H. Elliott (1930-). Para una valoración crítica de su History in the Making, (2112), véase este anticipo:


[v] El hermoso e influyente libro de Hoggart, Uses of Literacy es del 1957. Este quehacer sociocultural lo podemos emparentar más tarde con la Ciudad Letrada (1984) de Angel Rama. Sus estudios sobre las prácticas culturales de sectores sociales obreros se pueden contextualizar con las casas llamadas “Back to Backs” en Birmingham, no muy lejos de la Universidad pública de la misma ciudad, espacios ciertamente dickensianos de vida dura de finales del XIX y la primera mitad del siglo XX. comparables a las viviendas, ahora museos de esparcimiento cultural, llamadas Tenements, en la zona de Lower East Side de Nueva York, donde se hacinaban variopintas multitudes multiculturales, huyendo de unos lugares originales, persiguiendo desesperadamente una mejoría de vida en las Américas. Uno puede buscar sus mejores equivalentes en sus sociedades favoritas. Tener en cuenta el contenido social desfavorecido imposibilita la celebración del formalismo literario del logro abstracto, al menos en referencia figuras como Hoggart, proveniente de esos mismos espacios sociales subordinados vertidos a estudios de tipo académico. No es difícil ver una tensión entre este desajuste o desplazamiento entre lugar de origen social, tema de estudio y quehacer académico profesional, con o sin condición migrante.


[vi] Habitamos, parece, un momento histórico de desorientación suprema, de desgajamiento de macrounidades económicas como la Comunidad Económica Europea dentro de globalizaciones, fenómeno Brexit es un síntoma claro, de temblores dentro de la hegemonía estadounidense con formulaciones violentas, xenófobas, racistas y sexistas explícitas por parte del responsable máximo con apoyo de ciertos sectores sociales, momento también de debilitación de alternativas de izquierda en un momento de crisis económica mundial, de proliferación de “noticias falsas,” de política por twitter, de revueltas, protestas y votos de castigo supuestamente contra grupos dirigentes, de resurgentes nacionalismos desapacibles. Recomiendo el libro What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004) de Thomas Frank y el más reciente de Justin Gest, The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality (2016), al respecto de esta (presunta) incongruencia de autocastigo de los intereses propios, con cerrazones (de mente) sin atender a coherencia o evidencia, con frecuentes invocaciones nacionalistas, repudios xenófobos a todo afuera, “placeres” de retorno a un pasado quimérico… Los estudios culturales de última hornada capean este panorama mayor persiguiendo sus propios intereses dentro de zarandeados espacios educativos con privatizaciones, escasos recursos, precariedad laboral generalizada, abandonos de los estudiantes de las ofertas de las malhadadas “humanidades,” etc…

[vii] Hall es estudiante, ‘Rhodes scholar,” en la Universidad de Oxford a principios de los años 50. La autobiografía póstuma Familiar Stranger: A Life between two Islands, acaba de ser publicada. Véanse dos reseñas significativas, en inglés, con jugosas anécdotas de significación más que anécdotica por parte de Colin Grant y Tim Adams, (; Hall da más autobiografía, y ésta es más doliente, que García Canclini, al menos en los dos textos incluidos.