- Emancipatory Hybridity
A well-known predicament of freedom is that it evades attempts to give it a fixed definition. Once rigidly defined, it is no longer real freedom. The first issue of Ab Imperio within the annual thematic program “Freedom and Empire: Dialectics of Diversity and Homogeneity in Complex Societies” was dedicated to an analytical framework and language that allowed scholars to discuss freedom in principle. The second issue focused on those individuals and groups – political activists or scholars – who define and interpret for society what freedom is. The third issue focused on the problem of the asymmetrical and contextual perception and misperception of freedom and coercion in society: what is freedom to one, is often arbitrariness to the other. Finally, in the fourth issue we discuss yet another aspect of freedom – the freedom of scholars from their own analytical language, models, and interpretations. Of all sorts of freedom, this is the most elusive one. It cannot be demonstrated directly (unless a text violates all of the authoritative norms and conventions of academic writing). Arguably, we can only feel that a scholar is free when a study demonstrates a degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the historiographic tradition that it represents. Autonomy – or rather subjectivity – is an important manifestation of freedom that can be more or less formally assessed. The dialectics of freedom implies that a scholar is emancipated from dominant habits of thought not just by revising (or even rejecting) them but also by acknowledging the autonomous subjectivity of his or her object of study. This is not metaphysics, just empirically proven regularity: to apply explanatory models self-consciously (that is, autonomously), one [End Page 16] has to acknowledge that they only partially explain the interests and logic of his or her objects of study (hence the need to find a more suitable model out of the many available ones). This means that the people we study are more complex and multidimensional than any single model or theory can account for. They are autonomous subjects not only of the historical process but also of a historical study.
This point is well illustrated by Satoshi Mizutani, whose article published in the “Methodology and Theory” section presents a rare attempt by a historian to seriously engage the concept of “hybridity” by postcolonial theorist (which almost by definition means a literary scholar) Homi K. Bhabha. “Hybridity” seems to be a useful category for historians, who never observe “pure forms” in their research, but, as Mizutani suggests, the way Bhabha framed this concept is not just ill-suited to a regular historical inquiry, it is fundamentally hostile to the very mode of historical thinking. Briefly put, “hybridity” serves Bhabha as a concept that debases colonialism as episteme, along the way destroying “history” as a repressive manifestation of this episteme. Historians may simply ignore this as the speculative generalizations of a “literary scholar,” but Mizutani takes Bhabha’s argument seriously and salvages the potentially useful concept by accepting the rules of the game being offered and demonstrating the deficiency of Bhabha’s approach on its own terms. Mizutani is known for his research on so-called Eurasians – people of mixed descent in the Indian Raj, who after 1911 were called “Anglo-Indians.”1 He points to the paradoxical situation of a postcolonial scholar and activist, Bhabha, who aspires to debase the colonial claim to hegemony in the name of the colonized – and yet, he shows no interest in their own autonomous subjectivity. Looking at Eurasians as Bhabha’s “hybrids,” Mizutani emancipates himself from the limitations of the orthodox understanding of this phenomenon, and by the same token returns historical agency and human autonomy to the people who interest postcolonial theoreticians more as conceptual “cannon fodder” in the battle with Eurocentric hegemonic discourses.
Of course, “Eurasians” in Mizutani’s study immediately remind one of the Eurasianist movement of the 1920s among emigrants from the collapsed Russian Empire. While Eurasians in Mizutani’s study lacked an elaborated self-conscious ideology, Eurasianists had to invent their hybrid subject (called Turanians). From a historical perspective, however, we can see that the project of hybridity had every chance of...