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  • Introduction:Jewish Conceptions and Practices of Space
  • Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert (bio) and Vered Shemtov (bio)

This issue of Jewish Social Studies presents a collection of articles centering on the general theme of space in Jewish culture. In recent years, the connection between spatial practices and identity formations has come to play a prominent role in various fields in the humanities, such as in anthropology and its various subfields, which together establish what could more broadly be called critical cultural studies. Thus, anthropologists have begun to interrogate their own spatial practices and the constitutive role these play for representing cultures, as for instance the ethnographic practice of going into "the field." Accordingly, traditional conceptions of "the field" have been criticized as a "taken-for-granted space in which an 'other' culture or society lies waiting to be observed and written,"1 a space therefore that one supposedly enters and then leaves to return to one's own culture. As critical anthropologists now recognize, the very distinction between "home" and "field" tends to minimize, if not make invisible, the multiple ways in which these conceptual spaces are bound together, namely travel, colonialism and imperialism, and global cultural flows.2 But it is perhaps in anthropology that issues arising from the dynamics of economic and cultural globalization have been discussed [End Page 1] most intensely with respect to their role for constituting (and undermining) collective identities.3

Until recently, the nation has been the most prominent paradigm for thinking about the connection between territory and collective identity. Benedict Anderson's reflections on nationalism questioned this connection by recognizing (and theorizing) the nation as an "imagined community."4 Building on Anderson's fundamental insight, scholars such as Arjun Appadurai have come to diagnose a crisis of the nation-state in the era of globalization or transnationalism; moreover, he regards the very concept of "territory" as a "key site of the crisis of sovereignty."5 New conceptual questions that emerge from such insights concern the juxtaposition or relationship between the local and the global, strategies to establish and maintain collective identities of migratory groups, the migration of collective identities to new places and their subsequent transformations, and the complex relationship between the so-called homeland and transnational or diasporic communities. In other words, "space" has come to the foreground as a category of cultural analysis, at least as far as contemporary cultures are concerned. Accordingly, no political, social, or cultural space exists in isolation from others or can be considered in isolation from others. It makes sense, then, that discussions of these issues are developed in conversation with scholars from other disciplines, such as sociology, political sciences, and political geography.6

The renewed interest in space is not limited to the study of geopolitical, geographical, and therefore physical spaces but extends to their representations in texts. In addition to the study of literature on places and the ways in which political and ideological meanings are projected on spaces, literary scholars integrate concepts from anthropology and geography in order to study fictional spaces. This is, for example, the methodology suggested by Franco Moretti, who argues that "making the connection between geography and literature explicit by mapping it" sheds light both on the "internal logic of the narrative" and on the "place-bound nature of literary forms."7 The text and especially some forms of the novel do reflect and participate in the creation of "mental space."8 As such, it can become part of the process of nation-building.

At the same time, the postcolonial condition draws critics' attention to forms and categories that emphasize the fractured and hybrid nature of spaces. Critics seem to express interest in texts and literary categories that question the unity of language, space, and text. This is the case, for instance, in some of the studies of regionalism and literature that strive "to set marginal and vernacular cultures free from an all-equalizing nation."9 In other studies, the text becomes a space in itself and for itself, a [End Page 2] space in which we "move from word to word perpetual drifting, never being pinned down to anything outside language."10 Text, then, becomes a space in which collective...


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