"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
15th May 2017 / Article
The Crisis of Cosmopolitanism
By: Professor Jeremy Gilbert
The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election mark the crisis of?
"The question is - what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s..."
‘The Crisis of Cosmopolitanism’, an essay by Professor Jeremy Gilbert unearths the roots of the Brexit-Trump crisis in the neoliberal politics of the Third Way, and reflects on the continuing relevance of Hall’s ideas. The essay began life as a talk given at the launch of the book Stuart Hall: Selected Political Writings at the University of East London’s Stratford campus in March 2017.
For Stuart Hall.
The Crisis of What?
‘Crisis’ is a word that gets overused, not least by the likes of me. But if any year in recent memory marked some kind of crisis for both British and American politics and culture, it was 2016. And nobody taught us how to think through crises in general, or gave us the tools with which to understand this one in particular, more surely than Stuart Hall.
The question is – what exactly is it that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election mark the crisis of? There are several ways of answering this. Clearly, on one level, they mark the termination of a certain professional political class’ capacity to manage the sphere of formal politics. Cameron and Clinton, like Renzi in Italy, represent a technocratic elite committed to neoliberalism, globalisation, social liberalism and aspirational culture. They also share a commitment to a specific form of cosmopolitanism, that tends to favour open borders, multiculturalism and global mobility, provided they take forms which are always compatible with aspirational individualism. What we might call ‘neoliberal cosmopolitanism’ is happy for individuals to travel the world in search of work or profit – in fact it insists that they should. What it does not want is for those individuals to develop strong bonds of solidarity with others, either at home or far away, which might encourage them to think or organise in any way that could inhibit the smooth accumulation of capital. Because above all, this faltering professional political class is dedicated to serving the interests of it masters on Wall Street and in the City of London.
It is this professional political class first and foremost which, in the second half of 2016, appeared to completely lose control of the situation. This was true at least at the level of the nation state and of government’s capacity to manage and derive legitimacy from a general sense of national community, purpose and preferences (what Gramsci calls the ‘national-popular’). It is notable that at the level of the supra-national – the EU, the IMF, etc – the technocratic class has not shown any signs of wavering in its commitment to unadulterated neoliberalism, or its capacity to go on implementing it (although there have been disagreements about the scale and intensity of its implementation). This latter point might explain why, at present, the corporate masters whom these technocrats serve do not seem to be particularly alarmed by the failures of their viceroys in Washington and Westminster. Whoever or whatever this is a crisis for – it isn’t a crisis for the major corporations, the hedge funds or the banks. Or at least not yet.
But it is also not a crisis for the national political classes alone. Because the election of Trump and the Brexit vote have clearly been experienced as traumatic defeats not only for the specific members of those elite cadres (represented in the UK by the anguished Tony Blair), but also for many members of the liberal middle classes and of the radical metropolitan left. And the latter – the members of the radical metropolitan left – define themselves against the neoliberal political class as much as against anything else. So what is it that they have in common with that political class which renders this a shared crisis for all of them?
The answer lies, I think, in their shared commitment to certain forms of cosmopolitan culture and ethics. In fact, I would suggest that this shared commitment has been crucial in persuading sections of the population, especially in the major cities, who might otherwise have proven more resistant to neoliberal hegemony, to acquiesce to it more-or-less passively during long periods, especially under the Blair, Clinton and Obama regimes. The fact that such governments have at least been hostile to explicit racism and xenophobia – which have never been fully absent from popular news media or from the politics of the populist right – has played a significant role in diffusing popular resistance from some of those communities most historically inclined to organise against systematic exploitation. Despite all their other differences, these groups have shared with the neoliberal elite – and with sections of the suburban middle classes – an uneasy consensus in favour of open borders, liberal feminism, sexual liberalism and multiculturalism. It is specifically this cosmopolitan consensus which collapsed – or at least lost its power to define the political mainstream – in 2016. Despite coming from the heart of the political class herself, it is May’s rejection of neoliberal cosmopolitanism, in her embrace of Brexit, that has enabled her to distance herself from that failing technocratic elite while entirely marginalising the metropolitan left, thereby claiming ownership of the British political sphere.
I think this is a crucial situation to understand, and one that requires careful analysis. As Stuart Hall showed in some of his most acute and important political writing, issues relating to ‘race’ and immigration, while having been factors of British political discourse since the sixteenth century, emerged in a specific form in the post-war period to become crucial to objects of social contestation in the 70s and 80s . As he showed more clearly than anyone, Thatcherism specifically connected the economics of neoliberalism with an authoritarian populism, depending for its legitimacy on appeals to racism and to anti-immigrant, anti-welfare rhetorics that were deliberately amplified and circulated by the popular press. Anti-feminism and homophobia, normally coded in terms of appeals to ‘traditional’ ‘family values’, were also crucial elements of this assemblage. This obviously provoked violent reactions from certain sections of the left, and from the broader social groups whose interests they most closely represented.
The Rise of Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism
What marked the distinctive politics of the ‘Third Way’ – the name given in the 1990s to the programmes of Clinton, Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder – was its disconnection of neoliberal economics from social conservatism. Instead of authoritarian populism, the Third Way embraced neoliberal cosmopolitanism. I always remember Stuart remarking, some time in the early 2000s, how disconcerting this had initially been. He said that Tony Blair had seemed like he might be a welcome change from previous Labour leaders because ‘he looked like someone who might have a gay person to dinner’. That feeling of slight disorientation, and that certain sense of relief, which even Stuart admitted to, I think explains a great deal about the subsequent reactions of key sections of the Left to the Blair, Clinton, and later Obama regimes. It’s not that all of the problems with them were not on full display. It’s not that we didn’t oppose, complain, resist and protest where we could. But those of us doing so were often very isolated and completely unable to effectuate significant change, in part because the broader social groups who had once been mobilised against Thatcherism were largely passive in the face of generally rising living standards and the absence of a clearly authoritarian cultural agenda from government.
These constituencies are mostly based in our multicultural cities, and are made of groups of people historically influenced by the politics of the New Left and by the radicalisation of trade unionism and municipal socialism in the 70s and early 80s. They include public sector workers and members of the more militant trade unions, as well as low paid and precarious workers in many sectors who are influenced by the culture of the urban milieu in which they live. Altogether they add up to a far more considerable section of the population than was widely believed prior to the emergence of Corbynism, which has made this ‘metropolitan left’ distinctively visible for the first time in many years.
Historically, of course, these social and political groups have not been bound together by any commitment to neoliberal individualism, and have tended to look for far more democratic, egalitarian and collectivist answers to the question of how to live together in a globalised, liberalised world. The original use of the term ‘multiculturalism’ was never supposed to designate, as Blairites like Trevor Phillips would later claim, a policy of encouraging communities to live parallel but separate lives. When deployed by progressive local government bodies in the 70s and 80s, the term was generally taken to imply a policy which assumed that interaction and intermixing between different cultural and ethnic groups, in order to build general cross-community solidarity, was the ultimately desired objective. It was a cosmopolitan acknowledgement of the inevitably hybrid nature of all identities, of what Stuart would call, quoting Salman Rushdie, ‘our mongrel selves’. This was an idea directly influenced by forms of ant-racist, anti-imperialist and Black Power politics, which always understood cosmopolitanism not simply as an end in itself, but as a necessary feature of any real culture of working class solidarity in a multi-ethnic society and an internationalised economy. The idea was never simply to give everyone an equal chance to become a successful liberal subject of advanced consumer capitalism.
The same can be said of radical forms of feminism and sexual politics. For example in the early 70s the British Gay Liberation Front famously rejected the terms of the Wolfenden report (the government report recommending the decriminalising of homosexual acts between consenting adults) because it was predicated on the classical liberal claim that sex was a private matter. Heavily influenced by the feminist assertion that ‘the personal is political’, the GLF argued for sexuality as a feature of human life that should be politicised and democratised – subject to open discussion, negotiation, experimentation and evaluation – not simply confined to the de-politicised sphere of the private. The women’s movement was always predicated on a set of similar claims that issues as intimate as sex itself must be up for discussion and debate, if it is to be possible to address the most basic and intense forms of oppression. At the same time, the movement made a set of claims and demands which, in countries like the US And the UK, have been achieved or not almost precisely to the extent that they can be contained within a neoliberal policy regime. Equal access to the labour market for qualified professional women without children? Pretty much. Socialised free 24-hour childcare? Forget it.
Despite the obvious gaps between these democratic aspirations and what neoliberal cosmopolitanism was prepared to offer, the voices still calling for the former became very weak and isolated in the 1990s and 2000s. Even in relatively protected areas such as universities, forms of personalised identity politics often substituted for any kind of movement-oriented radicalism. There were many reasons for this and the main one was the sheer weakness of the global Left after the massive defeats that it suffered in the mid 1980s. My purpose here is not blame anyone for this situation, but to understand its effects.
One such consequence was that there was no collectivist alternative offered to those other social constituencies who increasingly found themselves losing out from the implementation of Third-Way cosmopolitan neoliberalism. Working class citizens in impoverished post-industrial regions not only did not see any serious attempts to rebuild their local economies, but experienced rising levels of immigration, especially from countries joining the EU from the former Soviet bloc, as an uninvited imposition. As such, and with much encouragement from the popular press, it easily became an explanation and a metonym for all of their grievances and sense of disenfranchisement.
I think it is essential to be very careful and clear in our analysis of what takes place in such situations. There are clearly important strands of genuine racism and genuine xenophobia (though I’m not sure that the two are always the same thing) informing British political culture, as Stuart showed us with such extraordinary acuity. But I think that these strands are often quite latent and are often activated by other, more immediate grievances. And in this case I think the grievance is one which is simply barely registered by a broader political culture within which the very idea of democracy has suffered a degree of degradation, as liberal individualist norms have become so hegemonic as to be almost invisible. That grievance is simply this: nobody asked them. Nobody asked these people if they wanted a significant cultural recomposition of their communities and nobody talked to them about why it might be happening and why it might be beneficial or necessary and on what terms it might be managed so as to make it feel like less of an immediate threat.
Community, Democracy, Liberalism
I know that many people reading me say this will already be feeling uncomfortable, even slightly shocked, and I would ask you to reflect for a moment on why that might be the case. If I were talking about the members of a housing co-op, then the idea that they might be consulted before new members join their community would not be seen as shocking by anyone. So why is it shocking to consider the possibility that members of an ordinary local community might be given some such say? We might tell ourselves that it is because of our fear that such communities might make decisions informed by racism or xenophobia. I have several responses to make to this.
The first is that I’m not sure that is the reason for a certain basic, intuitive rejection of this idea from many middle-class British people, including those who might think of themselves as left-wing. I would suggest that in fact the first reason for such a response is that many of our assumptions – too many – are shaped by a tradition of liberal individualism which has a very impoverished idea of the public, while regarding the domain of the private as sacrosanct and inviolable. From this perspective, it is simply a vulgar idea to have any opinion at all about who your neighbours are. One is supposed to be supremely indifferent to the question of whether one has any cultural commonality with them, because to have any feeling at all about the matter is to break the cardinal rule of minding one’s own business. Of course, minding one’s own business is much easier for a homeowner with a private garden than a council-flat occupant whose only outdoor spaces is a park shared with all of their neighbours. But that is precisely why both traditional liberalism and neoliberal individualism tend to the view that, among other things, nobody can really be a successful human being if they are not a homeowner with a private garden.
Of course for most people reading to this, there will be something much more complicated going on. Most of us live in highly multi-cultural and international urban environments and we positively welcome it. We are not just indifferent to having neighbours who might be different from ourselves. We actively welcome it as an enriching, educational and entertaining aspect of our lives. The lack of any direct input into the question of how our communities are composed is not experienced by us as directly disempowering, because we have the resources – educational, social, cultural and material – which enable us to benefit directly from a culture of free movement and to constitute robust networks of friendship and support which are not dependent on locality. We don’t need strong local ties but where we are able to form them, we get a special and real sense of empowerment from our ability to do so despite and across differences of culture, ethnicity, age and ideology.
The problem is that people who don’t have those resources, outside of the metropolitan centres, do not experience the situation in the same way, and they generally do not get much sympathy from us when they express that. What they have experienced, at least until recently, is a culture in which various agents – from government and corporations to whatever representatives of the metropolitan left they might happen to encounter – are basically just telling them that they ought to be more like them, and more like us; and that if they were, then everything would be all right. And I think that we, the metropolitan left, have been largely complicit with this. We have been complicit with a situation in which neoliberal cosmopolitanism has been imposed on communities both as an ideology and as the lived reality of immigration appearing to lead to increased competition for access to resources. We have been complicit mainly because we have been too weak and disorganised to be anything else, but partly because we didn’t really have a problem with cosmopolitanism being imposed on people – even if it was neoliberal cosmopolitanism – because we believe very sincerely that cosmopolitanism as such is a good thing.
Well, with the Brexit vote, as with Trump’s election in the US, we have come up against the limit of this complicity. At the same time, the metropolitan Left, in the form of Corbynism in the UK, the Sanders campaign in the US, and the new left in various parts of Europe has already withdrawn its consent for the broad cosmopolitan-neoliberal consensus. So it is no surprise at all that, with the power of the right-wing press behind it, it is the anti-cosmopolitanism of the Brexit agenda which has made the most headway amongst those disenfranchised voters. The question is – what can we do about it?
For Democratic Cosmopolitanism
The answer, I think, is to return to the animating spirit of the New Left. This spirit will always insist on politicising and democratising issues which conservatism, liberalism, neoliberalism and Labourism (to name, I think, all four of Stuart’s key objects of opposition throughout his career) would like to keep locked in a discursive space which is de-politicised and not democratic. Because let’s be clear about this. When the Right ‘plays the race card’ (to use an appropriately vintage term for such an antiquated manoeuvre), they do not, as some liberals like to object, ‘politicise’ race or immigration in any real sense. They do not open these issues up for interrogation and examination – they merely seek to use them to close down any proper discussion of the issues at stake. Our response should not be merely a liberal depoliticisation of the issues to counter a conservative depoliticisation – it should be a proper politicisation of them. Most importantly this would mean we, the metropolitan Left, developing, or recovering a robust democratic politics which is cosmopolitan, but without predicating that cosmopolitanism on any commitment to liberalism.
What this would mean in practice would be something complex, uncertain, possibly frightening, something, to misuse another famous phrase of Stuart’s, ‘without guarantees’. In short it would mean demanding and initiating processes whereby communities around the country could actually be engaged in meaningful discussion about issues such as globalisation, the EU, international conflict, etc, and empowered to take some ownership over the policies affecting the composition of their own communities, while being given access to information about these issues through channels not controlled by Murdoch, Dacre et al. It would mean opening ourselves up to the risk that there might be genuine racism and xenophobia out there, as Stuart always said there was, but also having enough confidence in our own convictions to believe that we could actually win support for our positions if we articulated them explicitly, rather than having some distorted neoliberal version of them imposed on unwilling communities on our behalf.
The importance of recognising this as a distinctive position has never been greater than it is today. We can see this if we consider the problems inherent in most of the available responses to the political and social changes to which I have referred. There have effectively been two such types of response prevalent on the political Left in Britain in recent times. The first is simply to insist that Blair was right – in the world of the twenty-first century, we face a choice between a cosmopolitan neoliberalism and various kind of revanchist nativism; nothing else is really on the table. Neoliberal cosmopolitan centrists, such as Macron in France, present themselves as the only realistic bulwark against a rising tide of proto-fascism, and their projects as the only achievable form of modernisation. Where they cannot plausibly play that role any longer, they appear willing to allow the Right to gain ascendancy rather than permit the Left to take leadership of a new coalition which might resist conservative nationalism. The Parliamentary Labour Party’s sabotage of the Corbyn project – and The Democratic National Committee’s strenuous efforts to prevent Sanders from winning the presidential nomination, despite polls showing that he would have beaten Trump amongst the very blue-collar voters who eventually handed him the White House – followed precisely the same logic.
The other typical response to the situation that we have been describing is one which argues for the Left actively to reject cosmopolitan values in favour of some kind of progressive nativism. In the UK, advocates for ‘Blue Labour’ have argued that the Labour Party should present itself as the protector of communities whose integrity and way of life have been threatened by globalisation, neoliberalism and multiculturalism, advocating for immigration controls on the grounds that free movement of labour only facilitates the exploitation of workers. Perhaps the most intellectually ambitious thinker to have been associated with this current, Jon Cruddas M.P., specifically identifies cosmopolitanism with the politics of Blairism and other ‘Third Way’ projects of the 1990s. Cruddas makes a strong case that the Left simply cannot entirely abandon ‘ownership of political categories such as home, community and nation’ to the political Right. Although he explicitly argues for an ‘inclusive’ patriotism, Cruddas seems to counterpose this to any form of cosmopolitanism.
The problem with this approach, as interesting as it is, is that it tends to argue as if neoliberal cosmopolitanism were the only form of cosmopolitanism that had ever existed or could ever be imagined. But this rather seems to overlook the possibility that communities might have coherent relationships to each other, to their localities and their histories, which are also informed by a commitment to open relationships with others. The history of human culture is full of examples of violent and exclusive tribalism, but it also furnishes many examples of cultures wherein hospitality to strangers is regarded a key normative ethic. Critics of contemporary cosmopolitanism seem to struggle with taking seriously the fact that for many inhabitants of cities like London and Glasgow – including many poor and working-class people – cosmopolitanism is just as real and authentic a characteristic of our identities, our histories and our communities as localism and nativism might be for others.
In fact this is a key reason why the emergence of Corbynism came as such a shock to so many political commentators: they simply didn’t believe, and still don’t believe, that the culture of the metropolitan left has any kind of reality or existential purchase. In this, they are simply, demonstrably mistaken. There is a long history of what Stuart, among others called ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ – what Mica Nava has called ‘visceral cosmopolitanism’ – in the everyday lives and popular culture of urban and suburban Britain, which cannot be dismissed from any attempt to make sense of that history or the culture which it has produced.
What I’m arguing, in short, is that while neoliberal cosmopolitanism clearly has to be rejected, it would be a mistake to throw out the cosmopolitan baby with the neoliberal bathwater. The alternative is for us to reclaim the idea of a democratic cosmopolitanism. By ‘democratic’ it is crucial to appreciate that we cannot simply mean ‘demotic and widely available’. A widely-available demotic cosmopolitanism is precisely what cosmopolitan neoliberalism offers as one of the principle rewards for participation in contemporary consumer culture. Anybody can buy themselves a bit of cosmopolitan culture – ordering a take-away, taking a cheap holiday, downloading music from around the world – provided they have the means. A democratic cosmopolitanism must imply something more than this. ‘Democratic’ in this sense must designate a certain rejection of individualism and privatised culture in favour of the idea that people should be able to deliberate, make decisions and take action as members of groups, about the things that affect their lives. The appeal of Brexit for almost everyone who voted for it is the feeling – however misplaced – of democratic efficacy that it offers them. It’s no accident that ‘take back control’ became the Brexit slogan. The Left will never counter it without offering people more control than Brexit does. But there is no future either for the Left in going along the with fairy-tale that the democratic agency people so desperately want will actually accrue to them simply by virtue of laving the European Union. Only a truly democratic politics, willing to confront entrenched inequalities of power in both the economy and our venerable political institutions, could take us beyond the current impasse for the Left.
What would it even mean to make such a politics the basis for a political programme in relation to issues such as Brexit and UK immigration policy? I don’t claim to have all the answers to this question, but I do insist that it is the right question, and that is a start. I suspect that any political programme informed by this analysis would have to begin with our leaders acknowledging both that the Brexit vote was a democratic one which must be accorded some legitimacy, and the demonstrable fact that it was shaped by a 30-year campaign of propaganda and misinformation by the right-wing press. I suspect that policy ideas which have barely been discussed in this country, such as the regional devolution of immigration policy, would have to be considered. If Stoke wants to reject immigrants but London wants to welcome them, then why not? Perhaps this would force government to address the desperate inequality within urban centres like London, rather than effectively forcing immigrants to move to parts of the country where property and labour are cheap. Obviously all kinds of objections could be made to such an idea, but this is merely an example. I strongly suspect that a government committed to the kind of project that I am proposing would have to implement a large-scale programme of political education and public deliberation in order to try to overcome the demonstrable ignorance of the public on a number of crucial issues, before making any attempts to shift the political direction away from euroscpetic nativism. Either way, these are the kinds of questions which a democratic cosmopolitanism would raise, and that almost nobody in mainstream British politics is raising today at all. A rare and valuable exception, deserving of all our support, has been the Take Back Control project (https://takebackrealcontrol.com/about/) organised by The World Transformed (http://theworldtransformed.org) an inspiring and inspired series of participatory political education events organised specifically in Leave-voting areas this year.
Such a politics must obviously take seriously the conditions which gave rise to Brexit and the reasons why so many have been alienated from the cosmopolitan neoliberal agenda of the Third Way. This is why I doubt that those political and social groups still committed to that project and its assumptions are ever likely to be sympathetic to a genuinely democratic alternative, however genuinely cosmopolitan it may be. Their inability and unwillingness to process the situation was made clear during the period immediately following the Brexit vote, when Labour MPs and their supporters took to blaming Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed lack of enthusiasm during the Referendum campaign for the failure of enough working class voters to support Remain.
This is a position so absurd that it is difficult to discuss it in measured terms. For one thing, it was put forward by precisely the same sets of people who repeatedly complained that Corbyn could not connect with ‘ordinary’ voters (so how would his greater enthusiasm for EU membership have persuaded them?). More fundamentally, it simply ignored altogether all of the history which I have referred to here, as well as ignoring some key contextual facts. One of these was Corbyn’s historic euroscpeticism, which he had never hidden. Another was the fact that the referendum campaign was being fought while memories were still fresh – especially on the radical Left – of Syriza’s humiliation by the EU heads of state. This understandably dampened the enthusiasm of many on the Labour left for EU membership, or at least their emotional ability to campaign vigorously for it.
It was clear enough, given how irrational it was, that this blaming of Corbyn was never motivated by any genuine belief that Brexit was Corbyn’s fault. In actuality it was motivated by the fact that, to a certain cosmopolitan neoliberal elite, Corbyn represented something similar to Brexit. What both Corbyn’s capture of the Labour leadership, and Leave’s victory in the referendum, represented, was the end of their capacity to dictate the political and cultural agenda for the UK, including the Labour Party. This was a privilege which they had long since come to take for granted, and they are never likely to be reconciled to giving up any of those privileges at all. That is why, in the medium to long term, I suspect that a democratic cosmopolitan politics is more likely to find support amongst the working-class communities who recently voted Leave than among the furious disenfranchised elites who assumed that EU-membership, like control of the Labour Party, would always be their birthright. It is never likely to be in their material interests to endorse a genuinely democratic, genuinely egalitarian form of cosmopolitan politics
But I think that this is precisely the kind of politics that Stuart’s analyses and their informing assumptions were always implicitly committed to – experimental, future-oriented, and radically democratic; never merely defensive, never merely complacent with the limited forms of liberation offered to us by advanced consumer capitalism. Stuart’s analyses of authoritarian populism in the popular press of the 70s remain astonishingly relevant today. Brexit is simply the ultimate end result of exactly the campaign for right-wing xenophobic populism which he saw beginning then and which, frankly, the Left has never had any organised plan to counter. His arguments for a politics of New Times which would be radically democratic, technologically liberated, egalitarian and cosmopolitan at the same time remain more relevant than ever in a moment when the emergence of ‘platform capitalism’ makes both the possibilities of such a future, and the dangers implicit in every possible alternative to it, more vivid and immediate than ever. As we carry on the struggles for democracy, for justice, for cosmopolitanism and for socialism, into the 21st century, there will be no more important set of tools than those he has left us with, for many years to come.
 I see from a quick google search that I didn’t invent this phrase. Peter Gowan has used it widely, but more in the International Relations sense of ‘cosmopolitanism’, designating an internationalist approach to relations between states, than in the sense of specific particular modes of living in specific local environments – see https://newleftreview.org/II/11/peter-gowan-neoliberal-cosmopolitanism. Emily Johansen uses the phrase in a much more similar way to how I am using it here, in her 2015 article ‘The Banal Conviviality of Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism’ in Textual Practice , Volume 29, No.2, London: Taylor & Francis.
 Stuart Hall (1978) ‘Racism and Reaction’; (1982) ‘The Empire Strikes Back’; (1992) ‘Our Mongrel Selves’ in Stuart Hall (2017) Selected Political Writings: The Great Moving Right Show and Other Essays. Durham: Duke University Press.
 Selected Political Writings pp. 275-82.
 Selected Political Writings chapters 5,9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21
 See http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/reclaiming-modernity-beyond-markets-beyond-machines/
 Nava, Mica (2007) Visceral Cosmopolitanism: London, Bloomsbury.
 https://www.ipsos-mori.com/DownloadPublication/1634_sri-perceptions-and-reality-immigration-report-2013.pdf; http://www.septicisle.info/labels/migrants.html; http://www.anorak.co.uk/422965/news/hurrah-for-the-migrants-daily-mail-cheers-for-murderous-scrounging-asylum-seeking-scum.html; Peter J Anderson ‘A Flag of Convenience? Discourse and Motivations of the London-Based Eurosceptic Press’ in European Studies: A Journal of European Culture, History and Politics, Volume 20, Number 1, 1 January 2004, pp. 151-170(20); Oliver Daddow ‘The UK media and ‘Europe’: from permissive consensus to destructive dissent’ in International Affairs 88: 6 (2012) 1219–1236
 Stuart Hall (1989) ‘The Meaning of New Times’ in Selected Political Writings.
 https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/sites/default/files/nf8485_11murray_gilbert_goffey.pdf; Nick Srnicek (2016) Platform Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity
"The challenge of the 21st century would be "how to live with difference""
"The challenge of the 21st century would be "how to live with difference""
16th March 2020 / Article
Haitian immigrant artists in Brazil
By: Caetano Maschio Santos
The challenge of the 21st century would be "how to live with difference"
"The challenge of the 21st century would be "how to live with difference""
Diasporic Negotiations of Belonging and Citizenship, Cosmopolitanism from Below and the Political Aesthetics of Migration
By Caetano Maschio Santos
Echoing W.E.B. Dubois, Stuart Hall once said that the fundamental challenge of the 21st century would be “how to live with difference”. In this brief excursion through parts of my work with the Haitian diaspora in Brazil, I’ll try to showcase how music making provides us with valuable insights to reflect on how this specific black migration wave has spurred processes of negotiation and construction of cultural identities, and is struggling to be recognized as a legitimate part of Brazilian society. In the processes of creating its own spaces and pathways for political action, we find complex entanglements of Hall’s Fateful Triangle: race, ethnicity, and nation.
Haitian immigration to Brazil
Albeit still little known within the Global North, Haitian migration to Brazil has an important place within that which some name as the global “crisis” of migrants and refugees. In the Haitian case, a combination of the longue durée effects of colonialism and imperialism, restrictive immigration policies, internal political crisis (Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ousting in 2004), international occupation through United Nations’ MINUSTAH mission from 2004 to 2017, and natural catastrophes (the Port-au-Prince 2010 earthquake) has come to affect time-honoured migration routes to the US, Canada and France that stretched back at least to the 1950s, now bent towards South America, specially to Brazil and Chile. Scholars researching Haitian migration to Brazil have linked it to the country’s significant economic growth in the first decade of the millennium, its military presence in Haiti leading MINUSTAH, to Haitians perception of or belief in a cultural affinity between Haiti and Brazil (centred on the sharing of African roots) and to restrictive immigration policies in the Global North (Audebert, 2017).
In the borderline between economic migration and climate refuge, Haitians arriving in Brazil have been granted a special humanitarian visa that affords them right to work and reside, and the possibility of bringing relatives through family reunification processes. Even though a significant percentage of migrants held higher education degrees, the staggering majority ended
up taking very precarious work, becoming cheap labour force, in activities such as civil construction and meat processing. Whilst many have worked their way out of this, one is reminded of Hall’s powerful suggestion on how race is the modality through which classed is lived – something true not only for Haitians but also for Afro-Brazilians even today, more than a century after the abolition of slavery, as income statistics continue to demonstrate the structured racial and gender inequalities in Brazilian society. Last but not least, scholars studying Haitian migration have shown how a racializing gaze has been determinant in forging the native/other divide in Brazil (Uebel, 2015), and a common experience to Haitian migrants has been the sudden confrontation with the fact of their own blackness, underscoring once more the continuing importance of the work of Frantz Fanon.
Music and Migration: Haitian artists in Brazil
As it seems to be the case with most diasporas, with Haitians also came along music, or, shall I say, an overwhelming diversity of Haitian and Caribbean musics: konpa, rap kreyòl, reggae, bachata, reggaeton, merengue, twoubadou, gospel music, etc. Haitian immigrant artists’ music making is a noteworthy grassroots cultural industry, despite still barely visible (and audible), and has gradually increased its output and sophistication, specially during the last 3 years. It is all the more surprising if we stop to consider the intense work routine that most of these artists/workers live on a daily basis, having to find the time to compose and record, the latter mostly carried out in the home studios that they have been setting up through patient savings and collective efforts. Within the remarkable diversity of this diasporic musical output, what I wish to stress here is Haitian artists’ significant engagement with Brazilian reality, a reflexive and dialogic engagement that denotes the work of truly organic intellectuals, in the Gramscian sense, through the commentary, critique and interpretation of their own lived reality in Brazil. It’s the kind of intellectual workings of what Stuart Hall called a diasporic consciousness – of those who have one foot in and one foot out, are both here and there, constantly living in translation and remaking themselves (Hall & Werbner, 2008). Particularly, I’d like to briefly comment on two specific cases to illustrate what I’ve just said.
The first one is the song “Lula livre”, by Surprise69. Surprise69 is a musical group formed by Mariolove, Elnegroflow, and RealBlack, artistic names of three Haitians migrants living in São Paulo. According to them, Surprise69’s main aim is to help Haitian immigrants within and outside Brazil through art, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and vocations. In the final weeks of the 2018 presidential campaign, as right-wing candidate and now president Jair Bolsonaro approached victory, Surprise69 released in social media and Haitian WhatsApp groups a new song and video clip entitled “Lula livre” (Free Lula). Mixing freestyle hip hop verses and a sort of political campaign jingle chorus over a digitalized breakdance beat, the song was an overt manifestation of support for Workers Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad, and also a critique of Lula’s questionable imprisonment due to operation Car Wash. As a participant in some of the digital networks of the Haitian diaspora in Brazil, I was then witnessing Haitians’ apparent unease with Bolsonaro’s likely victory, and the compelling critiques they addressed him, facts connected to his openly xenophobic, racist and anti-minority posture. Surprise 69’s song, despite circulating mainly within the circles of the Haitian diaspora, nonetheless succeeded in converting a reading of the political moment into music that sought to enable political action, aligning itself with a powerful tradition of politically engaged music making in Haitian history known as mizik angaje (Averill, 1997), one of the most distinguished marks of cultural resistance against the Duvalier dictatorship. Since as migrants Haitians are dispossessed of the right to vote, Surprise69s’ musical agency can be viewed as manifesting a type of cultural and sonic citizenship, stemming from their own conjunctural reading and using the available means to craft belonging and make themselves heard as politically conscious subjects.
The second case I’d like to address here is overwhelmingly infused with particularities. It concerns the individual articulation of cultural identity through music by Alix Georges, a Haitian migrant living in Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. It concerns his strategic use of a popular regional song through lyric quotation in daily conversation and his translation of the song to French. The song, “Canto Alegretense” by the family-based ensemble “Os Fagundes”, refers their native town of Alegrete, close to the border with Argentina and Uruguay, and can be seen to stand as a synecdoche to the state’s hegemonic narrative of cultural identity, one in which discourses surrounding the symbolic figure of the gaúcho (the horse rider and ranch peon of the countryside) have historically invisibilized the state’s black population and culture, and highlighted amongst other things the conflicting qualities of hospitality and defense against foreign invaders (Oliven, 1996). Alix’s development of a personal identification with what is known as “gaúcho regional music” (Lucas, 2000) since his first years living in the state has rendered him able to articulate his belonging in a social and cultural environment significantly marked by the hegemony of Eurocentric and white cultural standards.
The main impulse for his use of the song came from daily intercultural encounters, in which his blackness would be the focus of racializing and othering gazes, epitomized by the question of: “Where are you from?”. In these dialogues framed by what Judith Butler has called “normative schemes of intelligibility” (Butler, 2005), in the crossroads of axis of race, ethnicity and nation, Alix’s answer with the initial lines of the song (“Don’t ask me where Alegrete is, follow the path of your own heart”) resulted in a powerful and effective claim to his right to be and to belong, momentarily disrupting power relations and his own othering as a black migrant through a form of conversational sampling (Roth-Gordon, 2012). He even came up with a hybrid identity moniker to mark the uniqueness of his position: Haitiúcho, a combination of Haitian and gaúcho. The final product of this process, his translated version of the song, achieved considerable popularity within the state, and, as a consequence, got him to know the composers of the song and get their authorization to include it free of copyright charge in his CD. Significantly, he later was invited to Alegrete and awarded the official prize of “Black Star of Alegrete” by the city’s municipal chamber, as part of the celebrations of the Brazilian Black Consciousness day. This second example allows us to see how, through the able use of what is regarded as an authentic asset of regional cultural identity, Alix musically played with identity through difference, effectively countering the binary native/migrant divide. This might be seen as a consequence of his cosmopolitan outlook and engagement with local culture, a cosmopolitanism from below, of those who had little or no choice as to whether become cosmopolitans, as Hall once said (Werbner & Hall, 2008). Amongst other things, then, Alix’s musical agency speaks loudly to Stuart Hall’s comments on cultural identity within the Caribbean diaspora (Hall, 1992): the matter of “becoming” as well as “being”, the unstable points of suture made within practices of representation, within discourses of history and culture – made through a politics of positioning affected by unequal power relations.
Despite having had set aside many of the complexities of these examples, in way of conclusion I wish to stress that the black labor migrant wave that characterizes the demographics of Brazil in the last decade, of which Haitians are perhaps the most significant part, has brought to the fore issues of race and identity in a unique way, questioning the hegemonic understanding of racial relations in Brazilian society, still today marked by the ideal of racial democracy, the harmonious interracial model of the three races owed to the thinking of Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre in the 1930s – consequences that, I might say, I’m not really sure that Freyre would unhesitatingly accept. However, in real life one is confronted by the enactment of a racially marked regime of differentiated citizenship, structurally lived and enforced, both formally and informally, affecting the daily lives of Afro-Brazilians and black migrants such as Haitians. It is in such a context that the musical production of Haitian artists such as Surprise69 and Alix Georges attests to what ethnomusicologist Phillip Bohlman has named the political aesthetics of migration (Bohlman, 2011), and stands out as a significant engaged grassroots musical phenomenon. In a global context of escalating nationalism, authoritarian and conservative right-wing populism, Haitian migrants’ aesthetic agency is providing us with valuable lessons on how to learn to live with difference.
- The song can be viewed at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTsE7oJIIgo> [16/03/2020].
- Alix’s version can be viewed at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRHKvQJQ80I> [16/03/2020].
Averill, Gage. A day for the hunter, a day for the prey: popular music and power in Haiti. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Audebert, Cedric. The recent geodynamics of Haitian migration in the Americas: refugees or economic migrants?. Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População. Belo Horizonte, vol. 34, n. 1, jan./abr. 2017, pp. (55-71). Available at: <http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rbepop/v34n1/0102-3098-rbepop-34-01-00055.pdf>. [04/11/2018]
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Lucas, Maria Elizabeth. “Gaucho Musical Regionalism”. British Journal of Ethnomusicology 9.1 (2000): 41-60.
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Roth-Gordon, Jennifer. “Linguistic Techniques of the Self: The Intertextual Language of Racial Empowerment in Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop.” Language and Communication, 32.1 (2012): 36-47.
Uebel, Roberto Rodolfo Georg. Analysis of the sociospacial profile of international migration to Rio Grande do Sul in the beginning of the 21st century: networks, actors and scenarios of Haitian and Senegalese immigration. Master thesis, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Geography Graduate Program, Brazil, 2015.
1st July 2020 / Audio
By: Caetano Maschio Santos
1st July 2020 / Audio
Caetano Maschio Santos on Haitian immigrant artists in Brazil
By: Caetano Maschio Santos
SHF DPhil Scholar's Caetano Santos talk 'Haitian immigrant artists in Brazil: diasporic negotiations of belonging and citizenship,...