In defence of hybridity

9 Oct

A few recent conference experiences and conversations have got me thinking about hybridity again. The term certainly seems to be popular in Peace and Conflict studies circles, and it has been the subject of recent special issues of the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, and Global Governance, and was the subject of quite a few papers and panels at the International Studies Association.

Like any concept that has become popular (and it’s worth noting that the concept is by no means new) there is a danger of conceptual drift, with different people using it in very different ways. From my recent conversations, I’ve picked up disillusionment with the concept among some quarters, as though it is not delivering all that it promised. According to one colleague ‘It is not a magic bullet after all.’

I find this rather odd. While my exploration of hybridity has allowed me to see it as a very useful explanatory tool, I have never thought of it as a ‘magic bullet’. It is a way of helping us interpret complexity, and the interaction between bottom-up and top-down dynamics in peacebuilding contexts. It encourages us to look within categories, to interrogate the interfaces between categories, and to recognize the fluidity in situations that are often characterised as unchanging. It encourages us to think of social negotiation in the widest sense. Moreover, and crucially, it helps us get beyond very simplistic views of two separate entities joining together to produce a third. To underline this point perhaps we should adopt Mike Pugh’s term ‘multibridity’.

At a recent conference in Manchester, Thania Paffenholz noted that the message of hybridity is ‘rather obvious’. She’s absolutely right. As I see the term, it is a way of understanding a phenomenon that is the hallmark of humankind: the long-term story of the accommodation of different norms and practices. Certainly this process is accelerated and put under more pressure during international peace-support interventions, but we have seen it in colonization and globalization. It is in our very DNA. So I would propose a defence of hybridity as a conceptual lens but in the knowledge that the concept was never an all-conquering tool. Such an analytical device does not exist. Instead, hybridity (as I understand it in my four part model (see International Peacebuilding and Local Resistance)) offers us simplicity in attempting to understand complex phenomenon.

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2 Responses to “In defence of hybridity”

  1. Construcción de Paz (@Temasdepaz) 09/10/2012 at 5:45 pm #

    So, if it is that obvious why some scholars resist it?

    • rogermacginty 14/10/2012 at 12:06 pm #

      That’s a good question. My thinking is that a lot of scholars adopt a very narrow view of hybridity and they reject the concept as too unsophisticated or perhaps as somehow essentialist. Patrick Chabal’s otherwise excellent book ‘The end of conceit’ is a good example. He dismisses hybridity as a concept but his view of hybridity is not the same as mine. I hold a more expansive view of the concept..

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