In my Master's thesis I used two concepts developed by Achille Mbembe that I think might help elucidate the narrative nature of tenure regimes; 1) The integral ties between spatiality and temporality he establishes in "At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in Africa" and 2) the form these ties take on in quotidian life, deemed by him conviviality.

Legal regimes are vast and convoluted rhetorical tapestries draped over reality until corrosion, crisis or mere circumstance lifts them up, shakes them out and judges whether they face a good washing or wholesale replacement. I'll need to look more into this, but I don't think this is a notion unknown to the legal field. The field is indeed rife with rich language that points to this fact. Take, for example the concept of “piercing the corporate veil”. Like any good yarn, that veil comes with refurbished subjectivities; it engenders a new economy of spatial configurations; and it constitutes its own temporality.

Mbembe asserts the relative nature of the interaction between spatiality and temporality as the primary explanation for the phenomenon of territoriality in Africa. Similar to the way that Bhabha posits the “ambivalence of modern society” that results from the instaneity of two conflicting temporalities as “the site of writing the nation,” (Bhabha 209) Mbembe employs the idea of instantaneous temporalities to explore the Nation’s physical limitations. Given that boundaries on the continent are in a continual state of flux—pulsating with the ebb and flow of ethnic, economic, religious, sexual and political determinants—territoriality, he argues, must always be conceived not merely in geographical terms, but in temporal ones, as well. Thus the “inviolability of boundaries among states” (Mbembe 2000: 267) (i.e. the semblance of permanence exuded by political boundaries) paints a two-tiered picture of the continent’s territorial divisions, with the static outlines of the colonial past hovering over a dynamic system of continual, relative expansions and contractions. The frequent result of this is a severing of regional idiosyncrasies—of a traditional, economic, or political nature—under the imposition of nation-state boundaries grandfathered in, and in the service of an increasingly distant colonial age.

In The Blood of Guatemala, Greg Grandin poses a hypothetical: “Would the [Guatemalan] revolution have endured if the United States had not interfered or would internal contradictions have forced its demise?” Rather than pursuing the counterfactual, Grandin goes on to admit the answer cannot be known. But he nonetheless defends the question’s utility for it “shifts the focus to include the role Guatemalans played in the making of their own history.” Thus, while Grandin is interested in understanding how “larger structures of power articulate with local interests and tensions,” he ultimately contends that the best way to do that is by closely examining the local, for “if capitalism and imperialism think globally, they need to act locally if they are to succeed.”[1]

Grandin’s concept of the local, however, is not simply global capitalist imperialism’s Other, nor is it a unified national polity. Instead it lies at the interstices of three assumptions: 1) that Nation is produced through social relations and thus a cultural artifact, not a superstructure; 2) that as a cultural artifact, nation is produced by multiple and competing processes, and thus can be localized; 3) the local is not only a site where nation is negotiated, but it is where hegemonic processes encounter global structures.

In this essay I examine three general and interwoven literatures as well as how they reflect these three ideas underlying the local. Beginning with a discussion of nationalism and Nation, I outline how ideas of imagining have extended the local beyond a mere spatial category. As part of the New Cultural History, the local has become an enunciation; more than just a town, or “the street,” literature and performance have been treated as sites of contestation and resistance. Next I look at the interventions of Subaltern Studies and the ways that “decentering” has produced a shift to the local. Finally, I explore how concepts of the “contact zone” and the encounter have infused the local with a global hue.

Mallon, Florencia

Mallon, Florencia E. Peasant and Nation the Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

In Peasant and Nation, Mallon’s treatment of the central highlands takes a turn toward what she deems political history from below. By examining the way in which ethnicity- and gender-based hierarchies influenced the way rural communities generated nationalist discourses (she calls this communal hegemony), Mallon foregrounds the agency of rural actors in the process by which a state becomes hegemonic. This time comparing the case of Junin with cases from Puebla and Morelos, Mexico, and Cajamarca, Peru, she concludes that the Peruvian state would not become hegemonic until the Velasco regime based on the way hegemonic national discourses played out at the local, regional and national level. In the case of the central highlands of Junin, the separatist tendencies of the Comas Federation and the inherent rejection of Lima articulated at the regional level made the achievement of regional consent for state policy impossible until well into the middle of the twentieth century, even despite the flourishing communal political culture that arose in the fight against Chile. What I want to highlight about this case is that in her treatment of this three-tiered conflation of hegemonic processes, Mallon is still reliant on the articulation approach.

For text online click HERE (login to UBC Library required)

Appelbaum, Nancy P., Anne S. Macpherson and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt eds.

Appelbaum, Nancy P., Anne S. Macpherson and Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt eds. Race & Nation in Modern Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

As the title implies, this volume takes on nation and race. In dealing with both, the approach taken involves looking at articulation and process in a way that challenges static notions of either category. Thus Anderson’s theory of imagining nation is complicated by examining how that imagining took on different forms at different times, and the authors focus on racialization—the process of contention and negotiation by which meanings of race are articulated—as a conceptual tool used to approach the general question of why different articulations of race arose at different points in time.

With regard to the use of Nation as a conceptual tool, the aim of this volume it to more clearly historicize the way different discourses of nation have been mobilized. To this end the editors resort to a loose periodization that goes past Anderson’s prioritizing of the independence movements to look at how new definitions of nation emerged with the commodity booms, mass migrations and processes of proletarianization of the late nineteenth century, or the populist projects of the depression era, or the post-war rise of modernization schemes and social movements.

Sommer, Doris

Sommer, Doris. Foundational Fictions: the National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991

Doris Sommer expands the import of print media by suggesting that the newspaper was not only a site of collective imagining, but a space of national consolidation in which the ideological predispositions were negotiated through allegory. Moreover, Sommer underlines the function of romantic novels, published as folletines, in this process. Novels, she argued, especially due to their serialized publication in newspapers, did not merely condition the process of collective imagining, but via the national allegories that they perpetuated, novels influenced the ideological make-up and social values of the very communities they sought to reflect.

Like Anderson, Sommer deals with print media as a communal space, where national allegories transformed with time. For instance, she argues that over the course of the nineteenth century, the transformation of the archetypical male hero presented a blueprint for societal conduct with regard to Spanish imperialism (this was embodied by the soldier figure), then the project of national consolidation (portrayed by the patriarch) and right up to a newly kindled rejection of imperialist intervention, this time coming from the North (seen in the revival of the soldier-fighter-resister).

Note: If interested, there is more on Sommer in the second section of my Master's Thesis.

Unzueta, Fernando

Unzueta, Fernando. “Escenas de lectura: naciones imaginadas y el romance de la historia en hispanoamérica”. Araucaria, vol. 6, no. 13 (2005)
Note: this is a Spanish version of Unzueta’s chapter in Beyond Imagined Communities.

Unzueta is trying to fuse Sommer, Anderson and Jauss to advance a constructivist analysis of the Nation as culturally produced. He argues that the novelistic conventions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century romances “seduced readers toward the pertinence of the nation”. (5)

For most of the first half of the article, Unzueta echoes a familiar chorus, highlighting the programmatic function of the novel and the way romantic relations were symbolically infused with national meanings. Once he begins to develop his notion of the “escenas de lectura”, however, things get interesting. He begins by arguing for the novel as representing a true popular culture that comes into its own in the mid part of the nineteenth century. To substantiate this clam he goes to numbers, arguing that novels not only reached the letrados, but that as folletines they most likely were passed around, and were also read in public readings, thus permeating oral culture as well. He also argues that beyond reaching new and broader publics, novels spurred new forms of reading (here he draws from Auerbach and echoes Said). Foundational novels had to be “original” and thus focused on Spanish American nature, customs and history. (12) As such they conditioned a horizonal change that retooled the readers' expectations.