27 Mar

The stranger in the West

Posted By Politybooks

aha29 Land of Strangers offers a diagnosis of attitudes towards the stranger in the West since 9/11, when some visible minorities have been increasingly targeted as the focal point of subcutaneous fear, aversion and envy about all manner of things, and the object of punitive measures of surveillance, control and exclusion.  It explains the current situation as the play between a new biopolitics of catastrophism making its way into state cultures of security, and enduring vernacular anxieties over difference and diversity that simmer but remain largely non-violent. 

In particular, the book dissents with the language of cooperation, contact and togetherness that progressives have invented as a counter-measure to the disciplinary society. Taking the West as constitutively hybrid and impersonal, the book argues for a politics of ‘civility’ of indifference towards difference, as a way forward, so that the convivialities of multiculture in everyday life that Paul Gilroy speaks of can be reinforced, naturalised, given affective surge in the public imaginary as the matrix of community and collective agency towards an uncertain future.  

The book traces a series of sites for such a politics, including, for example, a return to the social state, a narrative of community as a plural and agonistic public sphere, commonalities born out of joint work and plural uses of public space, a renewed social democratic critique of ‘catastrophism’, and public and political clamour against discrimination, exclusion and vilification of minorities and subalterns. 

Thus, for example, the city is offered up as both a space of closure and possibility: historically a space of many boltholes and possibility for minorities and dissidents, especially in spaces of incomplete surveillance or exclusion by disciplining public authorities, states and colonising elites. 

Its shared public spaces are often the ground of convivial indifference or agonistic compromises.  But the provisions and deprivations of public policy and public culture are crucial arbiters, of both the vernacular of ties between majorities and strangers, and the material openings available for strangers and subalterns.  This is why the balance between the culture of catastrophism and the culture of provisioning is judged to be so crucial in this book.

Ash Amin is the 1931 Chair of Geography at the University of Cambridge.