The ‘third space’: an introduction to Bhabha

J’s neighbour stopped by today and soon into the conversation she asked me about my Masters research. In my haphazard way I was trying to describe the cross-cultural space that is generated on the Lurujarri Heritage Trail and during the Arnhem Weaving Workshops, and how I wanted to explore experiences of ‘being with’ (people/county) from the perspectives of those participating/creating/performing (???) in this space. K jumped straight in and began to ask me if I had read any Bharba or Bourdieu… “no, not yet.” This week I’ve been attempting to comprehend the ideas of Addleson, Stengers, Whitehead, Latour, Muecke and others, but not Bharba and Bourdieu. Lucky for me K is very good at giving an applied interpretation of theory and very quickly I realised that this Bharbha fellow might be onto something.
Enter, ‘the third space’, a place (?) in which people from multiple cultures engage and co-create a cultural reality that is somehow ‘new’. I have only just lightly scratched the surface of Bharbha’s ideas on hybridity and a third space. Has anyone out there applied or critiqued his theory???
K used Bharbha’s idea of a ‘third space’ as a theoretical platform for her PhD and in the end disagreed with his ideas. In her research with Indigenous people and miners at the Argyle Mine in W.A. she found that Indigenous people were, “‘incorporating’ Miners and the mine into their cultural ‘reality’ in order to engage with the Miners and mine is ways that are consistent with, and indeed reinforce, their own laws and customs” (Doohan, 2006:78). Straight away the practice of adopting non-Indigenous people, so that they are incorporated into a kinship system and have a place in an Indigenous universe, came to mind.  In reference to her quote above, K resists that idea that there is any cultural enmeshing that happens in this space.
As for Bourdieu, Doohan (2006: 79) writes of the various intellectual tools for social research, ‘habitus,’ ‘fields,’ and ‘social and cultural capital’, which he offers as a ways of,  “reconciling the sometimes contradictory and always-complex data regarding peoples lived lives… His analysis of fields of engagement and the inevitable transformative effects of social science practice has influenced my own practice in the field and in writing about Aborigines and Miners” (Doohan, 2006: 79). I am interested in questioning the whether there are any transformations that happen in my research space… what’s happening? For whom? What is catalysing the transformation? Needs? Maintenance of a social order?


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2 responses to “The ‘third space’: an introduction to Bhabha

  1. I agree that the notion of cultural enmeshing is not very useful. What we need is an understanding of how the world and time emerge out of collective action. To achieve that, according to Addelson, we need to accept that the cultures which are at work (presumably Bhabha’s first and second spaces) emerge out of action, rather than precede it. She also argues that the primary unit of meaning is the collective act (not the space or being) which I think helps us to understand what Yolŋu are often trying to teach us. So the question of what transformations happen in your research space is a question of how ‘in collective action … time and the world are created’ (Moral Passages, xi). You could either do this as the ‘judging observer’ – as K has done in ‘Making things come good’, or as a ‘participant in collective action’ – Addelson’s activist researcher. It could be done either way. To me the key words are the act, and emergence.

  2. Michael, thanks again for your provoking comments. I've gone back to Addelson and re-read part of 'Moral Passages'. Some of Addelson's ideas are starting to get some traction amongst my own thoughts. My first question, relating to my own inquiry, is what are the collective acts that are at the heart of the what it is I want to explore? Definitely acts that somehow speak of BEING WITH. I like the idea that I as researcher am a participant in collective action. Knowing this is important because it allows practices, like being reflexive, to be valued in research practice/method. It also calls into question the troubled notion of creating 'objective knowledge'… whatever that means… So, if the world is created through collective action, how conscious are the co-creators of these acts (aside from the reflexive activist researcher)? Does an awareness only emerge when the creation of a "we" is being negotiated? I like the quote below, because it highlights the things/actors that people bring with them into collection action: "That people enter into collective action together does not at all mean that they agree on official definitions of what they are doing, or that they share a meaning of their "rules" and language. It does not mean that they have the same point of view. These differences are what must be sought out in order to understand the processes by which a "we" is made. These differences are the root of conflict, oppression and freedom" (Addelson, 1994: 23).

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