Thursday, July 29, 2010

standardisation aka cosmopolitan according to some

Around five years back Kwame Antony Appiah wrote an op-ed article in the NYT extolling the virtues of cosmopolitanism. I was so uncomfortable with that article. He seemed to think that there was a free, unencumbered mutual exchange of cultures, ideas etc. But surely it is not so? The rest adapts to the West and the West calls that cosmopolitan.

It just came back to me when I saw the pic of this Japanese woman interviewed over at Dilliwala. She was dressed in a T shirt and jeans. Pretty standard stuff. That got me thinking of 'traditional' clothing and how it is being replaced fast everywhere. Of course, these things are complicated and there is a gender dimension to it. I have noticed that women especially in a place like India take to Western clothing less easily than men ( a nod to Partha Chatterjee's famous "nationalist resolution of the women's question article) Then we should also problematise the term "Western" clothing. Where in Europe did what is now standard now emerge? How did it spread? Why did it spread?

Cultures change all the time. The Sari tying style that we are all famliar with is actually not that old and emerged in the nineteenth century. But it became popular and spread across India replacing other styles like the Tambrahm Madisar for instance. I am not arguing for "museumising" cultures by fiat, either by the state or some other agent. But I do feel very sad to see the homogenization that Appaih wrongly claims is cosmopolitanism.

No comments: