Hybridity is a term that has risen to prominence in articulations of social and cultural mix. We talk of hybridity as the fusion of distinct identities, foods, and languages but the result is often fluid and ambiguous. New hybrid forms hold no promise of permanence. To many critics hybridity is simply not workable, it is a “rhetorical cul-de-sac” (Hutnyk 2000, 36), an elite celebration (Ahmad 1995, 10-13), or it is presented as politically toothless, unable to provide answers or scenarios to build action upon (Kalra, Kaur and Hutnyk 2005, 85). The rebirth of hybridity as a celebrated descriptor of identity stands in contrast to its historic notions of miscegenation. In the present, mix is celebrated as a symbol of mobility whilst the purity championed by scientific racism has become associated with ideas of rigidity and inflexibility, as possible hindrances. The hybrid that was so troubling and damaging to notions of biological race has been recast as a positive asset of flexibility for the liquid modern world (Bauman 2006, 35). As business models espouse the marketing of new flavours and new styles, it has become clear that diversification is seen as preservation. The concept of hybridity has accordingly found its greatest purchase on the mantel of globalization. The interconnected, homogenised, and networked global world mirrors hybridity in multiple ways. In the work of Nederveen Pieterse (2000) and Kraidy (2005) we observe the retreat of hybridity from identity politics and its adoption as an adjunct theory of globalization. In these and other works, hybridity is debated, considered, and dissected. It appears that hybridity is something to critique and too seldom something to apply (Noble, Poynting, and Tabar 1999, 31). Kraidy (2005, 3) has called for hybridity to be operationalised in order to harness the concept’s analytical potential, and Ang has argued that hybridity must be mobilised to deal with the global moment of “togetherness-in-difference’ (2001, 200). This call has been answered in part by Kraidy’s (2005) critical transculturalism, and O’Connor’s “everyday hybridity” (2011). These works highlight the utility of developing critical perspectives for applying hybridity. Such research also demonstrates the need to activate hybridity in conjunction with other critical perspectives.
In this paper the focus moves beyond the critical debate on hybridity. It takes the premise that hybridity is an everyday fact of life, that it is relevant in all critical accounts of culture and humanity to some degree. From this assumption it moves to look at how hybridity can be applied in combination with other theoretical perspectives. It applies hybridity in conjunction with Lefebvre’s theory of rhythmanalysis (2004) and situates this perspective in Bauman’s (2000) liquid modernity. In demonstrating the potential of hybridity and rhythmanalysis, a thread is drawn on the disparate topics, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the social network and blogging platform Tumblr, and the surveillance “whistle blower” Edward Snowden. The utility of conjoining these topics rests in the need to demonstrate how applying hybridity facilitates analysis that is both broadly interdisciplinary and unconstrained by a linear focus. This method seeks to draw out different representations of hybridity, mixing themes, and ultimately presenting a montage of hybrid connections that operate at very different levels. The argument being that if the topic is hybrid the method can be also.
Hybridity in Rhythm
In previous work I argued that the rebirth of hybridity had led to its presentation in largely positive terms (O’Connor 2011). This “esteemed” form of hybridity lacked engagement with mundane examples of hybridity, the everyday interactions of people in culturally mixed scenarios. I argued that if hybridity is going to be a relevant analytical tool it must represent the esteemed and the dismissed. This was explored in ethnographic work on Muslim youth in Hong Kong who represent an uncelebrated and mundane hybridity in their daily navigation of the city, use of multiple languages, and practice of Islam in a Westernised secular Chinese city (O’Connor 2012). “Everyday hybridity” speaks of the daily experiences of cultural differences and the need to devise pragmatic strategies in navigating them.
In pursuing a broader representation of hybridity, Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis (2004) offers great potential. In this respect a broader focus includes the esteemed, the everyday, the political, the global and the local. The theoretical position of rhythmanalysis includes an orientation of everyday life theory that is intrinsically hybrid. Lefebvre (2004, 27) notes that “when lives are lived and hence mixed together, they distinguish themselves badly from one another” they appear noisy and chaotic. The rhythmanalyst however, “develops tools to bring them together by perceiving interactions” (Lefebvre 2004, 27). The conjunction of hybridity and rhythmanalysis can therefore be regarded as one such tool. If we consider everyday life in terms of rhythm, a myriad of information becomes relevant. Our bodies are a microcosm of rhythms, heartbeats, breathing, digestion, sleep, and these in turn are placed in the world with other people forming the background to culture, to society, and global interactions. Lefebvre points out that rhythm is both the mundane repetition of daily routine, and also the grand narrative of history (Lefebvre 2004, 6). One need only consider the term “revolution” to note how human time is popularly understood as a pattern. The aphorism that “history doesn’t repeat itself, it just rhymes” provides a popular echo of Lefebvre’s thesis.
A rhythm is characterised by both repetition and difference, these conform to an “unfolding panoply” of binaries that rhythm represents; mechanical and organic, cyclical and linear, quantitative and qualitative (Lefebvre 2004, 9). Rhythm expresses hybridity and fits with Bauman’s notion of liquid modernity in which the permanence and solidity of the old world has been replaced by a global melange of impermanence and insecurity. The rhythm of globalization has brought the masses of the world to the same moment as they pursue “local solutions to globally conceived troubles” (Bauman 2007, 83). Culture in the liquid modern world is thus the global pacing to a rhythm of technologically mediated communication, where economic policies are all but mute in the face of the might of multinational corporations.
Lefebvre emphasises the hybridity of rhythmanalysis in stating that it is transdisciplinary (Lefebvre 2004, 87). He explores this potential in referring to science, music, anthropology, architecture and town planning. It is in the fields of geography and architecture that rhythmanalysis has been most widely critically discussed (Edensor 2010). However Lefebvre (2004) provides many more threads in his work that have received less academic scrutiny, culture being one. In observing bodily routine he notes the breaking in of humans by other humans, teaching repetition, rhythm, and ultimately culture (Lefebvre 2004, 39). He goes on to make further insights about how we learn to follow rhythms “of the other”, those that have been “turned outward” to the world. For Lefebvre, our private lives represent a rhythm turned inwards and as such they are more intimate (2004, 95). These remarks remind us of Goffman’s “backstage”, where privately individuals perform behaviour that can contradict their public persona (1990, 114). Ultimately Lefebvre calls to action the identification and appreciation of rhythm in everyday life and the social sciences. It is a request to act upon the fusion of social life, the body, and the elements that entwine us all.
The joining of hybridity and rhythmanalysis relates to the fact that both concepts navigate the awkward terrain of being recognisable and self evident aspects of human experience yet also ambiguous. Rhythm and hybridity are notions that provide patterns and paths to make sense of human culture, what they lack however is an analytical anchor, a method by which they can be applied. Rather than construct a methodological anchor, in this paper I am suggesting a conjunction of the two. By using them in an analytical combination the utility of both paradigms can be tempered and the two perspectives can work in a complimentary fashion. In applying hybridity in the following passages I am deliberately exploring tangents, pushing the significance of hybridity to engage with disparate ideas, and presenting an analysis that contrasts superficial elements of celebrated hybridity, everyday hybridity, and politics of a local and global nature.
Hybrid rhythms of the modern hajj
The subject of the pilgrimage to Mecca, or in Arabic the hajj, is a topic in which hybridity and rhythmanalysis can be joined. The annual hajj sees over 2 million Muslims travel to Mecca to take part in a set of pilgrimage rites. These rites have ancient origins and a distinct Islamic history of over 1,400 years. Falling on the twelfth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar there is a distinct rhythm in the physical execution and historic continuity of the practices. This is made more distinct by the fact that the word hajj originates from the Hebrew hag which means “to circle” (Turner 2011, 157). The rite of Tawaf in which pilgrims must make seven circumambulations of the Ka’ba, and the Sai where one must run between the two small hills of Safa and Marwa, demonstrate some of the rhythms of the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is a microcosm of repetitions and recurrences, occurring throughout the period of hajj but also embedded in an annual cycle and an historic macrocosm. Approaching the hajj in the liquid modern moment enables us to consider the hybridity of the pilgrimage, its social transformations, challenges, and meaning.
Historically the hajj has been considered an arduous journey for which cautious preparation must be made. The disjunction between the modern hajj and that of the past is distinct when we look at the experiences of different generations within the same family. A British Pakistani man in his late twenties told me that he had made hajj a total of 18 times. He contrasted his great fortune with that of his grandfather who spent 6 months travelling from Pakistan to Mecca when he made his one and only hajj several decades previously (O’Connor 2010, 50). The increased accessibility of the pilgrimage in terms of affordable air travel has altered the significance of the hajj too. A collection of writings by Michael Wolfe (1997) provides insight to the hardships of the pilgrimage, of disease, thirst, robbery and death on route. The hajj has transformed the ancient caravan city of Mecca, a cosmopolitan hub throughout the ages, into a dynamic and untypical global city. All sorts of people, all sorts of languages and customs can be found in Mecca, but only followers of one faith. The hybridity of the hajj is remarkable on this point alone.
The modern hajj has only served to deepen the cosmopolitan milieu of Mecca. Although in 2013 a Lebanese Australian graphic designer will perform the same rites as a 10th century Persian merchant, their practical experiences of the pilgrimage differ enormously. The modern hajj is not so much one of danger and adventure but of the mundane processes of air travel, bus queues, hotels, and the pursuit of air conditioning. In researching the experiences of both British Muslims and Hong Kong Muslims making the contemporary pilgrimage to Mecca, both rhythm and hybridity are relevant in a variety of ways. Firstly modern progress in travel, infrastructure and medicine, and the incredible financial investment the Saudis have put in to the hajj have not provided a “hassle free” experience. Along with unscrupulous tour operators, extortionate hotels, and opportunist thieves, the modern hajj holds within it the frustrations one finds in other realms of everyday life. Esa, a 36 year old Hong Kong born and raised Indian Muslim explains this in reference to his experience of Tawaf. He recollects that this amazing and deeply religious experience, moving amongst a sea of Muslims around the sacred Ka’ba, was shattered by the ring tone of a mobile phone. He was shocked to see a man nearby answer his phone and speak briefly whilst circling the great cube building to which all Muslims face when they make their prayers. In a report by Malik (2005) an Algerian man performs his Tawaf whilst speaking on his phone to his wife back home in Algiers. In this instance the phone provides intimacy and becomes a contemporary example of how Muslims can perform the pilgrimage for family members who are unable to make the journey. The same report also refers to a Nigerian pilgrim who cherishes the fact that he can continue to take care of his business whilst making hajj via his mobile phone. Referring to the work of Mathews (2011, 106) it is quite plausible that the Nigerian’s mobile phone could have been sourced at Hong Kong’s notorious Chungking Mansions, a Mecca in itself for rhythms of “low-end” globalization. The Nigerian mixing business with pilgrimage demonstrates a compression of hybrid rhythms in three distinct ways, the connection of places through trade and material goods, the social aspect of real time communication between individuals in vastly different places and circumstances, and also the necessity of being always available and at hand in the online and networked liquid modern world.
In conversation with an African American female Muslim I enquired again about the popularity of phones on hajj. She declared that whilst you are not allowed to take phones into the Grand Mosque which houses the ka’ba, it is plain to see that people do. In order to get a cherished photo of herself in the Mosque she slipped her phone inside her bra and smuggled it in. Despite the ancient origins of the hajj, Mecca is an undeniably modern global city. Replete with opulent hotels and McDonald’s restaurants Mecca is not unlike other cities in which a mass of foreign travellers pass through. Pilgrims can now download one of a number of applications to their iPhone to help them navigate the hajj rites. Thus the rhythms of modern life echo in Mecca and the experience of the hajj. Non-Muslims may not be able to visit the holy city, but they can explore it via google maps. Similarly one can explore Facebook, and Instagram uploads of images in the Grand Mosque, people posing whilst in the ritual state of Ihram in the same postures that they make in photos at tourist spots, or with friends in a restaurant. These postures do not necessarily have any meaning, but when juxtaposed with other photos they generate questions of piety and the spiritual meaning of hajj. If the pilgrimage is the fulfilment of a sacred obligation and a critical moment in a Muslim’s religious biography, then how can this pilgrimage be given the appropriate gravity amidst the mundane use of phones, cameras, room service, and air conditioning? The question pursues what religion comes to mean in the liquid global moment.
Applying hybridity to the topic of hajj offers the opportunity to capture some of the complex intersections that occur. Here we have an historic pilgrimage in which the rites have remained unchanged for over 1,400 years. This however is juxtaposed with the accelerated modernism that now personifies the hajj. Hybridity exists in the mix of people partaking in the pilgrimage rites from all corners of the globe, the young, the old, the rich and the poor. It includes people making their first pilgrimage and people making the most recent of dozens of pilgrimages. Most distinctly the hajj is a hybrid fusion of the modern and the ancient. In applying hybridity some of the contradictions of this phenomenon become apparent and the distinct rhythms of the past and of the liquid modern moment run together. Rhythmanalysis in this instance aids the application of hybridity providing a way to make sense of the fusions and the politics they may suggest.
The bricolage of Tumblr
Tumblr is one of the world’s most visited social media blogging platforms. On August of 2013 it ranked the 25th most visited site globally (Alexa) hosting a total of 58 billion posts. Up to 75.8 million posts were made each day on Tumblr blogs. It is distinct as a short-form, or microblog, blogging platform enabling users to host and follow blogs, to reblog items from others, share, and discuss topics (Zhang 2011, 6). One feature that is notable about Tumblr is that unlike Facebook where people link primarily with existing friends, Tumblr excels in allowing people to follow topics of interest to them and connect with people who follow similar interests. A typical Tumblr blog is a hybrid entity involving an eclectic range of posts and material and often a wealth of features that have been originally posted by a variety of others. The “dashboard” is the main feature of the tumblr blog where users can scroll through the posts of people they follow, make their own posts, keep track people who follow their own blog, manage messages, and maintain an overview of their account. On the dashboard users can track a number of search terms that they follow with interest. These tracked tags are representative of a mix of interests. Other users are not able to access your tracked tags and they therefore represent a collection of personal interests rather than subscriptions, or fan pages on Facebook which are turned out towards the world and other users.
Lingering for a moment on the subject of hajj a juxtaposition between the modern hybrid rhythms of the Meccan pilgrimage can be made with the bricolage of the Tumblr platform. As I search the word “hajj”, Tumblr allows me to view a variety of recent posts on the subject. I scroll through evocative photos of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, posts with yearning prayers to Allah requesting the fortune to make hajj. Other posts include photos of users on hajj, one 16 year old girl (a piece of my mind) writes that she has saved enough money to send her parents on hajj this year. Tumblr allows you to visit the blogs of each of the users making these posts. On the blog of the 16 year old girl, the post about hajj is nestled in amongst a collection of photos of men’s fashion, a funny looking dog, a picture of an anonymous arm with a tape cassette tattoo, waffles with fruit and cream, Persian proverbs, a complaint about not being allowed to wear a headscarf in an exam, vintage Obama photos, and pictures of South Asian brides.
The hybridity of Tumblr is self-apparent, it is the celebrated hybridity of pic-n-mix, of cut and paste culture. It is at times gleefully light-hearted and often jarringly brutal and honest. As bloggers mix their personal lives amidst popular pictures, videos and music, they construct a virtual world that is cast back to others globally. What is important to acknowledge is that much of what is posted is superficial mix in league with notions of celebrated and “esteemed” hybridity. But parallel to these shallow mixtures are the challenges, voices against cultural appropriation, questions of authenticity and entitlement. Such is the register of hybridity, as Ang notes, that it is “not only about fusion and synthesis, but also about friction and tension, about ambivalence and incommensurability, about the contestations and interrogations” (2001, 200).
Such hybrid experiences are available to users of other social networking sites, be they Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pininterest and many others. Those who reject the analytical potential of hybridity overlook its relevance in the contemporary networked world (Nunes 2006). Referring to how culturally mixed music forms become co-opted in political agendas, Hutnyk (2000, 6) argues that hybridity becomes a “diminutive version of a dominant ideology that works better than ever in complexity”. Hybridity is the modus-operandi of liquid modern consumption and marketing, both for the corporation and unsurprisingly as a narcissistic life project for the individual. Diversity and difference, fusion and change are precisely what people must evoke in order to remain relevant, socially connected, and employed. One need only consider reality television’s weekly cull of those who have been unable to adapt to the latest challenge in the guise of “Big Brother”, “The Apprentice”, or “Survivor”. Thus hybridity, which is a prosaic aspect of social and cultural life, has now become the very recipe for modern living, where a person can’t be just one thing, a world where despite finite resources the demand for more belittles environmental and social sustainability. Our lives are “mashups”, hybrid forms of physical, online, and networked interactions. Hybridity is the rhythm of the liquid modern moment.
In May of 2013 revelations by American computer system administrator Edward Snowden regarding the National Security Agency (NSA) disrupted the rhythms of everyday life. Evidence was provided that demonstrated the depth and capacity of the monitoring of individuals personal communications and the myth of online privacy. Speaking from a Hong Kong hotel room Snowden revealed the PRSIM data-mining programme. In the wake of such revelations individuals and sovereign states expressed deep concern with the actions of the United States. An international pantomime unfolded as President Obama sought Snowden’s extradition from Hong Kong, followed shortly by his departure from the territory and taking up of residence at Russia’s Sheremetyevo airport, the seeking of Asylum in a host of South American countries, and the subsequent rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane (Pilger 2013).
In identifying himself as the whistleblower in Hong Kong, Snowden’s story became part of a domestic political agenda regarding the fight for autonomy and universal suffrage. Hong Kong, which was transferred from British colonial rule to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, has recently undergone tremendous social and economic transformation. As the territory becomes ever more closely integrated with Mainland China, Hong Kongers have expressed discontent with the erosion of Hong Kong culture and challenges to the rule of. Edward Snowden chose Hong Kong specifically because of its civil freedoms and whilst in the city he revealed that the nsa had been hacking into Hong Kong internet users for years (Lam 2013). Citizens in the territory eagerly observed the unfolding saga watching the u.s., China, and the local Hong Kong government. Hong Kong media reported calls to protect Snowden in accordance with Hong Kong’s basic law (Rowse 2013) and the desire of Beijing that Hong Kong manage the issue independently (Zuo 2013). On June 15 2013 nearly 1000 citizens connected to over 27 different organisations marched through Hong Kong in support of Snowden (supportsnowden.org). The Support Snowden cause was as much, if not more, about championing freedoms in Hong Kong as it was about protecting Edward Snowden. The affair depicts a hybrid recasting of the Snowden revelations through their political co-option by Hong Kong activists.
In August of 2013 it was reported that Lavabit, the secure encrypted email service provider that Edward Snowden used, were shutting down and destroying their servers. This was followed by the announcement that Silent Circle, a similar provider, was also shutting down. The South China Morning Post reported that this indicated the US government were able to access encrypted email and the only method to prevent access to communications was to purge the servers on which they were stored. Lavabit’s owner Lavar Levison is now preparing for the legal repercussions of his actions and indicates that he unable to confide the full details of the situation even to his lawyer (Dredge 2013). This highlights how the original revelations made by Edward Snowden have had hybrid outcomes and developed a new rhythm of insecurity in which the last bastions of a surveillance free life are covertly stripped away. This type of hybridity (arguably more obviously political than others) reveals the apathy with which people subscribe to these actions (no exodus from facebook or google) and the pockets or resistance that seek to enact change (Lavabit, Wikileaks, The Guardian newspaper, supportsnowden.org) even if it for their own interests.
Just as the critics of hybridity have argued that the concept is too often used as a liberal multicultural celebration of difference, the political co-option of issues make them hybrid, complex and with multiple fields of influence. The Snowden case shows that hybridity can be political and that, as previously noted by Ang, hybridity captures as much conflict as celebration. The everyday world of individual choices and international affairs are made political by their confluence, the political extends from hybridity.
As an advocate of the facility of hybridity as a mode of analysis in the social sciences I also have to vouch for its results. What hybridity informs us in analysis is less of a distilled and discrete truth and much more of broad conceptual vista in which threads can be traced. The aim of this work has been to highlight the scope available when hybridity is applied as an analytical tool. Too often critical works adopt a limited scope, a subject, a problem, a theory, and an analysis. Returning to Lefebvre once more, his declaration that “the history of a single day includes the history of the world and civilization” (1984, 4), is in itself an affirmation of hybridity. This sentiment is echoed by Eriksen (1994, 1) who states that the small scale focussed ethnography of social anthropologist delivers truths about much wider mechanisms of ethnicity and nationalism. Clifford Geertz similarly suggests that anthropologists are the “miniaturists” of the social sciences crafting small works that echo the world at large. If, as these theorists suggest, the microcosm represents the macrocosm, it allows us to consider that all issues are connected, and that by looking at disparate topics, we are able to temper our thoughts and analysis. Again I reiterate that if the subject is hybrid the analytical approach can adopt this hybridity also.
Applying hybridity as a mode of analysis in this short paper provides a method to bring quite unalike topics into the same critical focus. The pilgrimage to Mecca represents a cyclical hybrid rhythm where the interconnections of the modern world are very much relevant. As pilgrims use their smartphones to navigate the rites of hajj they can also take photos to upload to their social networking sites. In turn these images and reports from Mecca become part of a dense flow of information layered in blog posts, status updates, tweets and hashtags. These actions are always embedded in the larger world of international relations, global flows of capital, and cultural change. In the weeks following the Snowden revelations Tumblr users voiced their concern that the blogging site had recently been purchased by Yahoo, one of the companies to which prism claimed to have direct server access. A flurry of posts debated the political implications of the now undeniable levels of surveillance of web users. One aspect of the popularity of Tumblr identified by Zhang (2011) is that it provides open political debate in opposition to the muted voices of the media. Just as Academic work is built on the work of others, everyday life in the liquid modern world is a hybrid production of the sounds, images and words of the world, reflected outwards in individualised nuances. For all of its superficiality this hybridity is never devoid of politics. The Snowden affair reminds us that all our actions can be captured not just by cctv cameras in the urban jungle, but also by emails, cell-phones, and isps.
The application of hybridity in this paper provides a chance to gain a perspective by standing back and trying to make sense of the vast scale of our hybridity. This conjunction of hybridity and rhythmanalysis works as a signpost to activate new combinations of theory in analysis on cultural globalisation. It has shown how the sacred is situated in the liquid global in some contradictory representations, that lives online traverse an alarming amount of information that fluctuates in meaning and intensity compressing not simply time and space but also culture, politics, the private and the personal. It has also shown how global political issues are pulled into local experiences and reflected into the lives of individuals as parts of their daily lives.
In these manifestations hybridity is perhaps best articulated in terms of rhythm. Hybridity is signified by flux, it builds and destroys, crawls and leaps. This is why I believe that we must apply hybridity in combination with other theories in order to harness its potential and anchor its vitality. The conjunction with rhythmanalysis that I present here is just one-way in which hybridity can be used as a critical and analytical tool. In examples of rhythm, referents to hybridity open up debate. Similarly by evoking rhythm in discussion of hybridity we are able to consider patterns of change. The issues covered in this paper all present forms of hybridity, fusions of the modern, global and local. In articulating their diversity I have also provided examples where the topics intersect and become relevant to each other. This is somewhat more than ludic exploration; it highlights the most radical thing about hybridity, that it can bring ideas together. Hybridity works not so much as a discrete theoretical perspective but more as a lens to view and highlight the inherent fusion of the world at large. This is ardently not a reason to reject hybridity, but the most edifying reason to embrace it.