Homi K. Bhabha

This page is about the critical theorist, Homi K. Bhabha. For the physicist, see Homi J. Bhabha.

Homi K. Bhabha (born 1949) is an Indian-American postcolonial theorist. He currently teaches at Harvard University where he is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language and Director of the Humanities Center.

Early life

Bhabha was born into a Parsi family from Mumbai, India. He is an alumnus of St. Mary's High School (ISC,1967-68), Mazagoan, Mumbai . He graduated with a B.A. from Elphinstone College at the University of Mumbai (formerly University of Bombay) and a M.A. and D.Phil. 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.


Bhabha's work in postcolonial theory owes much to poststructuralism. Notable among Bhabha's influences include Jacques Derrida and deconstruction; Jacques Lacan and Lacanian psychoanalysis; and the works of Michel Foucault. Additionally, in a 1995 interview with W.J.T. Mitchell, Bhabha stated that Edward Said is the writer who has most influenced his thought.


Nation and Narration (editor 1990)

In Nation and Narration, Bhabha challenges the tendency to treat post-colonial countries as a homogeneous block. This leads, he argues, to the assumption that there is and was a shared identity amongst ex-colonial states. Bhabha argues that all senses of nationhood are narrativized.

Bhabha then goes on to identify a relationship of antagonism and ambivalence between colonizers and the colonized.

The Location of Culture (1994)

In The Location of Culture, Bhabha advocates a fundamental realignment of the methodology of cultural analysis in the West away from metaphysics and toward the "performative" and "enunciatory present Such a shift, he claims, provides a basis for the West to maintain less violent relationships with other cultures. In Bhabha's view, the source of the Western compulsion to colonize is due in large part to traditional Western representations of foreign cultures.

Bhabha's argument attacks the Western production and implementation of certain binary oppositions. The oppositions targeted by Bhabha include center/margin, civilized/savage, and enlightened/ignorant. Bhabha proceeds by destabilizing the binaries insofar as the first term of the binary is allowed to unthinkingly dominate the second.

Once the binaries are destabilized, Bhabha argues that cultures can be understood to interact, transgress, and transform each other in a much more complex manner than the traditional binary oppositions can allow. According to Bhabha, hybridity and "linguistic multivocality" have the potential to intervene and dislocate the process of colonization through the reinterpretation of political discourse.

Criticisms of Bhabha's work

Prose Style

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 his The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994), which reads:

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

Emeritus professor of English at Stanford University, Marjorie Perloff, said that her reaction to Bhabha's appointment at Harvard was one of "dismay," telling the New York Times "He doesn't have anything to say." While Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, commented on the meaning of Bhabha's writing: "One could finally argue that there is no there there, beyond the neologisms and Latinate buzzwords. Most of the time I don't know what he's talking about.

Bhabha's response to criticisms

In a 2005 interview, Bhabha was asked if he was annoyed by criticisms of his prose style. In response, he stated: "[I]t annoys me that people talk about easy access to a work and a notion of transparency without thinking of what is really involved. For instance, the science section of the New York Times is not immediately comprehensible. Do I therefore say that I am not interested in the whole article? The idea that sources from the humanities have no philosophical language of their own, that they must be continually speaking in the common language of the common person while the scientists can publish in a language that needs more time to get into, is problematic to me.

Selected works

Books by Bhabha

  • (1990) Nation and Narration (editor) ISBN 0-415-01483-2
  • (2004) The Location of Culture (1st edition 1994) ISBN 0-415-05406-0

Books edited by Bhabha

  • (1984) Identity: The Real Me, ed. ISBN 0-905263-46-4
  • (2000) "Cosmopolitanisms" in Public Culture 12.3, ed.
  • (2005) Edward Said Continuing the Conversation, ed. ISBN 0-226-53203-8

Journal articles & book chapters

  • (1998) Modernity, Culture, and The Jew, with Laura Marcus & Bryan Cheyette
  • (2004) The Third World of Theory with Henry Louis Gates
  • (2000) On Cultural Choice
  • (2001) V.S. Naipaul
  • (2002) Democracy De-Realized
  • (2003) On Writing Rights
  • (2003) Making Difference: The Legacy of the Culture Wars
  • (2004) Adagio
  • (2004) Still Life
  • (2004) 'Foreword' to The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, transl. Richard Philcox
  • (2005) Framing Fanon
  • (2006) Without Boundary, with Fereshteh Daftari & Orhan Pamuk
  • (2006) The Black Savant and the Dark Princess

See also

External links

Academic homepages and profiles





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