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Qxd 7/27/2007 11:53 AM Page 31 Arjun Appadurai 31 In fact, most approaches to culture do not ignore the future. But they smuggle it in indirectly, when they speak of norms, beliefs, and values as being central to cultures, conceived as specific and multiple designs for social life. But by not elaborating the implications of norms for futurity as a cultural capacity, these definitions tend to allow the sense of culture as pastness to dominate. Even the most interesting recent attempts, notably associated with the name of Pierre Bourdieu (1977), to bring practice, strategy, calculation, and a strong agonistic dimension to cultural action have been attacked for being too structuralist (that is, too formal and static) on the one hand, and too economistic on the other (Bourdieu 1977).

In these debates a good deal is laid at the door of capitalism, globalisation and digital technology. Their critics claim that what they share is the ability to strip distinctiveness from its context and make a profit from it. This is of particular concern with regard to the question of culture because once value is removed from its context it is no longer embedded within social institutions and norms. 2 Benjamin’s insight helps us to understand something of the politicisation of culture in contemporary public life, why it has become such a political battlefield.

Just these distant recollections, the heinous echolalia of Hitler’s high-pitched ravings, and a tired, overused phrase from Hannah Arendt – ‘the banality of evil’ – trailed along in my mind as we drove off the Autobahn, and after some innocuous suburban manoeuvering, arrived at the Zeppelinfeld, Hitler’s massive parade-ground. The vast stadium of soaring stone and empty crumbling terraces was almost soundless. Where hundreds of thousands once stood to rapturous, roaring * Homi K. Bhabha is the Anne F.

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