- Globalization, Knowledge, and the Limits of (Inter)disciplinarity
The development of global capitalism and the seemingly inexorable spread of a Western (post)modernity (depending on one's critical standpoint) to all corners of the globe has met with multiple and often conflicting reactions. Does Western-inspired globalization lead to a creeping entropy, which swallows up all sense of cultural diversity? Or does globalization lead to a genuinely hybrid, multicultural and multipolar world in which Western dominance is inevitably challenged and broken down? A parallel tension is evidenced in the academic sphere [End Page 183] in which postmodern/postcolonial challenges to the truth claims of various academic disciplines have led to a growing fragmentation of academic structures. Consequently, the desire to break down the barriers between academic disciplines has been a marked feature of scholarly work over the past few decades. However, does this process represent an acceptance of the always partial, fragmented and provisional nature of knowledge or is the rise of interdisciplinarity, in fact, an attempt to develop new forms of knowledge that might tentatively provide a "global" understanding of the evolution of the contemporary world?
The essays in these two volumes, edited by the distinguished scholar Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi, engage with all of these issues in a complex, contradictory, but largely illuminating fashion. As its sub-title indicates, Beyond Dichotomies (which is published as part of the SUNY series "Explorations in Postcolonial Studies") is focused primarily on the exploration of the "challenge of globalization." In her preface, Mudimbe-Boyi begins with a brief discussion of Lévi-Strauss's ideas (from Tristes tropiques) on travel and diversity, which she views as emblematic of the "dialectic tension" produced by globalization: does this process represent the ultimate triumph of a Western "us" over a non-Western "them" or does it (potentially) lead to the development of a genuinely hybrid, global consciousness? As Mudimbe-Boyi herself puts it: "[H]ow can we articulate and reconceptualize particular social and cultural identities in a time of global and cultural economy" (xiii). The second volume, Remembering Africa, has a rather different focus, as it invites a range of scholars to reflect on the "textual inscription" of Africa in a range of media in order to provide tentative answers to the question: "How and where is Africa recollected?" (xv). However, alongside this diversity of focus, there exists a deep similarity in terms of her contributors' engagement with the issues. The questions raised by Mudimbe-Boyi in her introductions to both texts are interpreted in many different ways by the contributors, who deploy a wide range of (inter)disciplinary approaches, and the contributors share a desire not only to address these questions but also to challenge the disciplinary frameworks within which knowledge about these subjects might be produced. This is not to claim that these volumes display an absolute coherence in terms of their approach and structure: there are several occasions in both works on which the section headings seem somewhat strained in their attempt to render meaningfully the subject matter of the essays contained within them; moreover, there is an occasionally disconcerting imbalance in the treatment of certain subjects with some essays extending to more than thirty pages while others barely make it beyond ten. Despite these quibbles, both volumes do attain a strong coherence within their diversity of approach, and, Mudimbe-Boyi has assembled a stellar list of contributors, which makes the serendipity of dipping into either volume a genuine pleasure. (Refreshingly, the contributors are drawn from academic institutions around the world—including India and North Africa as well as North America and Europe—which makes them rather more inclusive than many other Atlantic-centered volumes on similar topics.) In the pages that follow, I will trace the main arguments that are developed in the two texts (although within the space available it will not be possible or desirable to give a full account of every single essay).
The four essays in the...