MEET NESTOR GARCIA CANCLINI!!!! I am reading his book, Hybrid Cultures, recommended to me by Christena Turner - thank you for the recommendation! I love this guy! I found an interview online that he gave in 2006, and I have translated two of his responses that particularly resonated with me. He speaks about how intellectuals are treated in the US versus in Latin America. Read his response, and I think you will see that in America intellectuals are misplaced.
His answer made me think about my friends in the US who study the Humanities = like literature - who seem to have a tough time figuring out how to bridge their work to the "everyday." My perspective is that most of the time, their work is more real and accessible than the academic publications that come out of Sociology or whatever social science journal. To me, my Alexandras, Adrianas, Sofias, and Elishas speak more widely and genuinely than academic articles that explain how post-marxian economic theory explains inner-city economic stratification. It's not that this kind of research and writing isn't important, but I think we forget that stories are not as far removed from social theories, just like how science is much closer to mysticism than we would like to admit. Many of times, I think the social sciences forget that you have to move people's hearts before their feet - something that writers already know.
So I think the problem is less about my friends with literature Phds
figuring out how to connect their work to the everyday, and more about
how society doesn't have a place for intellectual work that does connect to the everyday. My friends and I joke around and ask what do you do with a PhD in Sociology. Or even something that seems more removed like a PhD in World Literature or Historical Memories? What do you do other than work in teaching job at a college? The fact that the question is posed that way is just ridiculous! Because in the US it really seems like the ONLY answer is to work as a professor at a university! And that's all! That is what we are pushed to do from day one as graduate students - you either follow the tenure professor route or you are outcasted. You either carry on the university's name or you have no right of learning the knowledge of the field. It's absolutely horrible - because we are made to think that the only honorable and respectable route in life for those with precious PhDs is to become a professor. And really we are told this is the ONLY route for academics in the US. We are mentally pigeonholed from day one. There is no place in society for the "soft sciences" or the humanities other than the university on the hill, with an invisible electric fence around it. But universities in other parts of the world are not all like America, and the social position of intellectuals are not always armchair revolutionaries or ivory tower products.
Writers and Poets in Latin America have no problem bridging their art to the "everyday." For example - my favorite Latin American writers - Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Eduardo Galeano - are all amazing novelists and poets - but they are also social critics!!! They have media outlets publishing their journalistic work. They write about daily injustices - and they also write beautiful poetry that is popular! They are equally known for both their art and their social activism - because these two are analytically and practically inseparable concepts and practices. They speak of revolutions, they inspire people to demand more social rights. Their words are so dangerous that they at times are persecuted!!!
In the US, an artist's words are benign. They may sing or rap about revolutions, but at the end of the day they go home and play. Intellectuals in the US are hidden in the ivory towers of the University - their work remains esoteric and they fail to reach policy makers most of the time. What work does get out, is the rational theory and the least sociological thinkers that policy makers engage with - like cost-benefit analysis experts.
Intellectuals here in the US truly don't speak to the everyday! That is because in the US - I just don't think we have "place" for the politicized academic. Not that they don't exist - but they are far and few between. These kind of academics are usually not popular with the masses - they usually are accepted by a specifically defined community, but not by a nation. It is not a socially accepted position to be a socialized and politicized academic - and many departments discourage active participation in the community - especially top research univerisites! They worry that your community ties will affect your objective research! So it seems like they want you to cut ties with the "community" - but at the same time produce research about "communities." And we wonder why in the US the social sciences in particular are so removed from the everyday. Interestingly, the social sciences strives to be so different from the Humanities - and more like the "hard sciences." In a earlier post I wrote that Paul Feyerbard argued that there is a tendency for epistemological anarchism in the West - that modern science's crutch on rationalism is not "better" or more modern or advanced than mysticism. On that same note, I think intellectuals, writers, poets are no less "logical" than economists, corporate managers and etc.
For now, I will be in support of academic work that connects to the "everyday." I will also be supportive of friends who produce beautiful intellectual work that doesn't seem to have a place in the social sciences - you know I could only dream of having the abilities of a writer who could reach people's hearts and move them off the couch. And above all, my very personal goal is to always make sure my own academic work connects to my grandma, to my students in the S. Bronx, and to my friends with a diversity of physical and mental immigration stories from around the world. Thank you Nestor for your writing - you make me feel less crazy. :)
- —¿Y dentro del propio terreno latinoamericano, son escuchados, son influyentes?
- —Canclini: Existe una tradición larga de presencia de los intelectuales en la esfera pública. Hay una circulación fluida entre la academia y el periodismo, y en algunos casos con medios audiovisuales como la radio y la televisión. Por el contrario, los intelectuales anglosajones rarísimas veces son interlocutores de los políticos. En Estados Unidos un intelectual no es invitado a la televisión y menos si tiene un pensamiento crítico.
And inside Latin America - are intellectuals listened to? Are they influential?
Canclini: [In Latin America], there is a long tradition of intellectual presence in the public sphere. There is a fluidity between academia and journalism, and some cases with the audio visual media like the radio and television. On the contrary, Anglo-saxon intellectuals rarely engage and speak to politicians. In the United Sates, an intellectual is not invited on teleivion, unless s/he has a critique.
- —¿En qué etapa del modernismo o posmodernismo cree que se encuentra nuestro continente cuando la brecha entre ricos y pobres no deja de crecer y cuándo también aparece y se profundiza la llamada "brecha digital"?
Canclini: Hay cambios significativos en el carácter de esas brechas socioeconómicas y culturales. Hasta hace unos 20 años eran sobre todo brechas étnicas y económicas, o divisiones regionales o lingüísticas, como entre hispanohablantes y brasileños. Ultimamente la brecha digital se ha vuelto decisiva y han acentuado algunas distancias o asimetrías anteriores. No llega al 20% la población latinoamericana que tiene acceso a Internet. Y sabemos que eso está asociado a una serie de destrezas, capacidades de acceso a la información, entretenimientos e innovaciones que agrava las distancias que antes eran generadas por las desigualdades internas de cada nación. Son diferencias y desigualdades internacionales, y a veces hay más proximidad entre las elites de las grandes ciudades latinoamericanas, con las elites de Europa y Estados Unidos, que con las masas populares de cada país.
In what phase of modernity and postmodernity do you think is found in our continent when the gap between the rich and poor is not stopping, and when the digital gap is also profound?
Canclini: There are significant changes in the character of the socio-economic and cultural gap. Up until the last 20 years, it was all about the ethnic or economic gaps, or regional divisions, or linguistic divisions like between the spanish speaking and the Brazilians. Ultimately, the digital gap has decisively brought back and accentuated some distances and internal asymmetries. Only 20% of Latin Americans have access to the Internet. And we know that this is associated with a series of other dexterities, like the capacity to access information, entertainment and innovations - aggravates distances that were previously generated by the internal inequalities of each nation! There are international differences and inequalities, and at times the elites of the big urban Latin American cities have more in common with the elites of Europe and the US, than with the popular masses of their own country.
Read the rest of this amazing interview here.