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In a powerful but frequently overlooked passage in The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon describes expressive culture as a register of incipient social relations. He maintains that long before liberation struggles assume organized political form, perceptive observers will detect the emergence of unusual kinds of expression popping up to summon the people to view the status quo as both unreal and unacceptable.1 The essays in this special issue dedicated to the theme of Inhabiting Cultures display precisely this evidence of incipient critique and transformation. They demonstrate that tomorrow is today; that the reigning cultural forms authored and authorized by domination, exclusion and oppression have become exhausted and obsolete; and that the stirrings of a new world in the making are already here.
For nearly a century, scholars, politicians, and social service workers in the United States have attributed high levels of poverty among Puerto Ricans, on both the island and the North American mainland, to deficiencies in the behavior, beliefs, and values of the Puerto Rican people. Carmen Teresa Whalen presents an exhaustively researched and carefully argued rebuttal to these “culture of poverty” arguments in From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia: Puerto Rican Farm Workers and Postwar Economies.
As we approach the end of the twentieth century, “socialist” states have disappeared and been replaced by governments based on market capitalism. Formerly antiimperialist and anticolonialist leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America compete with each other to make concessions to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in order to secure outside investment. The active oppositional movements of the 1960s no longer exist; mass protest and grass roots organizing no longer threaten the immediate interests of the powerful in any meaningful way. Trade unions in advanced capitalist countries have suffered sharp declines in membership and have systematically surrendered the gains they had made by midcentury.
Neoconservatives have secured control of state policy everywhere. They have cut state spending on education, health, and welfare; privatized public enterprises; liberalized trade; devalued currency; restricted credit; lowered wages; and eliminated significant areas of business regulation. For years, we have been told that all of these measures were necessary to bring about economic growth, social stability, and cultural unity. But what has actually taken place instead?
Lower wages and reduced public spending have led to less buying power, increased unemployment, unendurable debt, and economic austerity. During the social democratic era from 1948 to 1973, global gross national product (GNP) grew by almost 5 percent every year. But with the emergence of neoconservative policies between 1974 and 1989, it grew at only half the rate of the previous period. Since 1989, growth has been even slower.
Houston Baker locates the blues at the crossroads of lack and desire, at the place where the hurts of history encounter determined resistance from people who know they are entitled to something better (Baker 1984, pp. 7, 150). Like the blues singers from whom he learned so much, Hank Williams (1923 to 1953) spent a lot of time at that particular intersection. There he met others whose own struggles informed and shaped his music. Williams's voice expressed the contradictions of his historical moment – post Second World War America – a time when diverse currents of resistance to class, race and gender oppressions flowed together to form a contradictory, but nonetheless real, unity of opposites. Standing at a crossroads in history, at a fundamental turning point for relationships between men and women, whites and blacks, capital and labour, Williams's songs about heartbreak and failed personal relations indentified the body and the psyche as crucial terrains of political struggle in the post-war era.
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