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In the second part of my presentation, I moved on to the particular field where I hung around and conducted anthropological fieldwork proper; thus participated as I observed or vice versa. As some will already know, that field is a slam poetry scene in Paris. I’ve written about it here already, and I’ll surely return to it, so I’ve not found it worth translating that part of my presentation here. Instead, I’ll reflect a little around the comparison I’m intending to make between the slam poetry phenomenon in Paris and the cultural expressions which constituted a core element in my study in London. In the third and final part of this post, I’ll try to recall the questions I got after my presentation.
In my MA/MPhil thesis I looked at the creation (i.e. the ethnogenesis) of a home-grown British Asian identity – thus a new way of being British –, where cultural expressions, particularly music, with influences from south Asia played an important part. Without cutting corners in my future analysis, these two artistic phenomena – the wave of British Asian music, London 1999, and the slam poetry scene, Paris 2006 – show interesting similarities and differences.
In both phenomena, people create a space where they can express themselves. I’d say that it can be described as a, more or less, free space, and it reminds me of my favourite (anarcho-)philosophical quote:
Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover who we are, but to refuse what we are. We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of political “double bind,” which is the simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures. The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual form the state, and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality which has been imposed on us for several centuries (Foucault 1982, “The subject and power”).
I’ve already sketched the outline of an analysis of to what degree some British Asian cosmopolitans in my study, represented attempts at such new forms of subjectivities. I think Foucault’s perspective can be a constructive approach to my Parisian field as well.
Another similarity between the two phenomena is that they were in vogue (when I did my research), seemingly just about to reach the top before they get commercialised, get too big and turn stale, with too many jump the bandwagon… The knowledge of how trends, commercial forces and bourgeoisation work probably worry participants in all such artistic waves.
On the other hand, the differences are also interesting: The slam poetry scene in Paris seems to have little to do with identity politics, and its cosmopolitan and heterogeneous (thus non ethnic/communitarian) nature is striking. All this, I find characteristic of the French society, and in contrast to the British.
I know this overview of the two fields is extremely sketchy, but this theme is not at all what I will be working on at the moment. The point has just been to justify my choice of the slam scene as suitable for a comparison with my London ethnography.
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