Homi K. Bhabha
|Born||1 November 1949|
|Children||Two sons – Ishan, Satya, and a daughter – Leah|
|Alma mater||St. Mary's School, Mumbai|
University of Mumbai
Christ Church, Oxford
|School or tradition||Post-colonial theory|
|Institutions||University of Sussex|
|Main interests||History of ideas, Literature|
|Notable ideas||Hybridity as a strategy of the suppressed against their suppressors, mimicry as a strategy of colonial subjection, Third Space, postcolonial "enunciative" present|
Homi Kharshedji Bhabha (//; born 1 November 1949) is an Indian-British scholar and critical theorist. He is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is one of the most important figures in contemporary postcolonial studies, and has developed a number of the field's neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence. Such terms describe ways in which colonised people have resisted the power of the coloniser, according to Bhabha's theory. In 2012, he received the Padma Bhushan award in the field of literature and education from the Indian government. He is married to attorney and Harvard lecturer Jacqueline Bhabha, and they have three children.
Born in Bombay, India, into a Parsi family, Bhabha graduated with a B.A. from Elphinstone College at the University of Mumbai and an M.A., M.Phil., and D.Phil. in English Literature from Christ Church, Oxford University.
After lecturing in the Department of English at the University of Sussex for more than ten years, Bhabha received a senior fellowship at Princeton University where he was also made Old Dominion Visiting Professor. He was Steinberg Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he delivered the Richard Wright Lecture Series. At Dartmouth College, Bhabha was a faculty fellow at the School of Criticism and Theory. From 1997 to 2001 he served as Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. In 2001–02, he served as a distinguished visiting professor at University College, London. He has been the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University since 2001. Bhabha also serves on the Editorial Collective of Public Culture, an academic journal published by Duke University Press. He served on the Humanities jury for the Infosys Prize for three years. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India in 2012.
One of his central ideas is that of "hybridisation," which, taking up from Edward Said's work, describes the emergence of new cultural forms from multiculturalism. Instead of seeing colonialism as something locked in the past, Bhabha shows how its histories and cultures constantly intrude on the present, demanding that we transform our understanding of cross-cultural relations. His work transformed the study of colonialism by applying post-structuralist methodologies to colonial texts.
The idea of ambivalence sees culture as consisting of opposing perceptions and dimensions. Bhabha claims that this ambivalence—this duality that presents a split in the identity of the colonized other—allows for beings who are a hybrid of their own cultural identity and the colonizer's cultural identity. Ambivalence contributes to the reason why colonial power is characterized by its belatedness. Colonial signifiers of authority only acquire their meanings after the "traumatic scenario of colonial difference, cultural or racial, returns the eye of power to some prior archaic image or identity. Paradoxically, however, such an image can neither be 'original'—by virtue of the act of repetition that constructs it—nor identical—by virtue of the difference that defines it." Accordingly, the colonial presence remains ambivalent, split between its appearance as original and authoritative and its articulation as repetition and difference. This opens up the two dimensions of colonial discourse: that which is characterized by invention and mastery and that of displacement and fantasy.
Bhabha presents cultural difference as an alternative to cultural diversity. In cultural diversity, a culture is an "object of empirical knowledge" and pre-exists the knower while cultural difference sees culture as the point at which two or more cultures meet and it is also where most problems occur, discursively constructed rather than pre-given, a "process of enunciation of culture as 'knowledgeable.'" Enunciation is the act of utterance or expression of a culture that takes place in the Third Space. Since culture is never pre-given, it must be uttered. It is through enunciation that cultural difference is discovered and recognized. The enunciative process introduces a divide between the traditions of a stable system of reference and the negation of the certitude of culture in the articulation of new cultural, meanings, strategies, in the political present, as a practice of domination, or resistance.
Consequently, cultural difference is a process of identification, while cultural diversity is comparative and categorized. Moreover, it is that possibility of difference and articulation that could free the signifier of skin/culture from the fixations of racial typology, however, the stereotype impedes the circulation and articulation of the signifier of "race" as anything other than that. An important aspect of colonial and post-colonial discourse is their dependence on the concept of "fixity" in the construction of otherness. Fixity implies repetition, rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder. The stereotype depends on this notion of fixity. The stereotype creates an "identity" that stems as much from mastery and pleasure as it does from anxiety and defense of the dominant, "for it is a form of multiple and contradictory beliefs in its recognition of difference and disavowal of it."
Like Bhabha's concept of hybridity, mimicry is a metonym of presence. Mimicry appears when members of a colonized society imitate and take on the culture of the colonizers. Jacques Lacan asserts, "The effect of mimicry is camouflage...it is not a question of harmonizing with the background, but against a mottled background." Colonial mimicry comes from the colonist's desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is, as Bhabha writes, "almost the same, but not quite." Thus, mimicry is a sign of a double articulation; a strategy which appropriates the Other as it visualizes power. Furthermore, mimicry is the sign of the inappropriate, "a difference or recalcitrance which coheres the dominant strategic function of colonial power, intensifies surveillance, and poses an imminent threat to both 'normalized' knowledges and disciplinary powers."
In this way, mimicry gives the colonial subject a partial presence, as if the 'colonial' is dependent for its representation within the authoritative discourse itself. Ironically, the colonists desire to emerge as 'authentic' through mimicry—through a process of writing and repetition—through this partial representation. On the other hand, Bhabha does not interpret mimicry as a narcissistic identification of the colonizer in which the colonized stops being a person without the colonizer present in his identity. He sees mimicry as a "double vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority. And it is a double vision that is a result of what [he has] described as the partial representation/recognition of the colonial object...the figures of a doubling, the part-objects of a metonymy of colonial desire which alienates the modality and normality of those dominate discourses in which they emerge as 'inappropriate colonial subjects'."
The colonized's desire is inverted as the colonial appropriation now produces a partial vision of the colonizer's presence; a gaze from the Other is the counterpart to the colonizer's gaze that shares the insight of genealogical gaze which frees the marginalized individual and breaks the unity of man's being through which he had extended his sovereignty. Thus, "the observer becomes the observed and 'partial' representation rearticulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it from essence."
The Third Space acts as an ambiguous area that develops when two or more individuals/cultures interact (compare this to urbanist Edward W. Soja's conceptualization of thirdspace). It "challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People." This ambivalent area of discourse, which serves as a site for the discursive conditions of enunciation, "displaces the narrative of the Western written in homogeneous, serial time." It does so through the "disruptive temporality of enunciation." Bhabha claims that "cultural statements and systems are constructed in this contradictory and ambivalent space of enunciation." As a result, the hierarchical claims to the innate originality or purity of cultures are invalid. Enunciation implies that culture has no fixity and even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew.
Bhabha's work in postcolonial theory owes much to post-structuralism. Notable among Bhabha's influences include Jacques Derrida and deconstruction; Jacques Lacan and Lacanian psychoanalysis; and Michel Foucault's notion of discursivity. Additionally, in a 1995 interview with W. J. T. Mitchell, Bhabha stated that Edward Said is the writer who has most influenced him. In the social sciences, Edward W. Soja has most thoroughly relied on and transformed Bhabha's approaches to understanding notion of space, action, and representation.
Bhabha has been criticized for using indecipherable jargon and dense prose. In 1998, the journal Philosophy and Literature awarded Bhabha second prize in its "Bad Writing Competition," which "celebrates bad writing from the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles." Bhabha was awarded the prize for a sentence in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994):
Professor Emeritus of English at Stanford University Marjorie Perloff said that her reaction to Bhabha's appointment to the Harvard faculty was one of "dismay," telling the New York Times that "He doesn't have anything to say." Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, remarked on Bhabha's writing: "One could finally argue that there is no meaning there, beyond the neologisms and Latinate buzzwords. Most of the time I don't know what he's talking about."
In a 2005 interview, Bhabha expressed his annoyance at such criticisms and the implied expectation that philosophers should use the "common language of the common person," while scientists are given a pass for the similar use of language that is not immediately comprehensible to casual readers. In his review entitled "Goodbye to the Enlightenment," Terry Eagleton provided a more substantive critique of Bhabha's work, explaining in The Guardian (8 February 1994) that "Bhabha's aim is to put the skids under every cherished doctrine of Western Enlightenment, from the idea of progress to the unity of the self, from the classical work of art to the notions of law and civility." Bhabha uses India, for instance, as an example of alternative possibilities when he argues that the very idea and practice of secularism is changing.
In February 2022, Bhabha was one of 38 Harvard faculty to sign a letter to the Harvard Crimson defending Professor John Comaroff, who had been found to have violated the university's sexual and professional conduct policies. The letter defended Comaroff as "an excellent colleague, advisor and committed university citizen" and expressed dismay over his being sanctioned by the university. After students filed a lawsuit with detailed allegations of Comaroff's actions and the university's failure to respond, Bhabha was one of several signatories to say that he wished to retract his signature. 
He is married to attorney and Harvard lecturer Jacqueline Bhabha. The couple have three children together named Leah Bhabha, Ishan Bhabha, and Satya Bhabha. Bhabha is famous for hosting dinner parties. He also prefers to cook meat with bones. As he told one reporter, "It's the bones that make a dish. I always use the bone, never without."