Theory and the West
On the Question of Humanitas and Anthropos
In the last two centuries the Humanities or human sciences have been built upon a broad scheme of classification that maps two distinct flows of academic knowledge. The first is a centripetal flow from peripheral sites to various metropolitan centers. This flow of factual data provided by the peripheries is, however, not immediately intelligible to those unfamiliar with local contexts. Such obstacles to transparent communication are often attributed conceptually to particular cultures. Such peripheral knowledge is assumed to be too "raw" or particularistic to be understood by a non-specialist metropolitan readership due to its dense empirical content; it requires translation into a more general theoretical language, most often, English.
The second is a centrifugal flow of information about how to classify domains of knowledge, how to evaluate given empirical data, how to negotiate with the variety and incommensurability inherent in the body of empirical data from the peripheries in relation to international generality, and how to render the details and trivia coming from particular peripheral sites intelligible to ‘a Western audience.’ Academic knowledge of this second kind is generally called ‘theory’ and its production has largely occurred according to a historically specific division of intellectual labor in which ‘theory’ is associated with ‘the West,’ a mythical and historical construct, and moves from there to the Rest of the world. This general scheme has been globally accepted and institutionalized as a system of disciplines in the educational, research, governmental, industrial and social welfare institutions.
The presumption that theory is the sole provenance of ‘the West’ presupposes various historical conditions of knowledge production that include the following: (i) as most clearly exemplified in postwar higher education in the United States, the disciplinary divisions in the humanities or human sciences institute general disciplines, not marked by the name of an area or ethnicity, concerned with what is universally human on the one hand, and area studies concerned with cultural particularity on the other; (ii) the distinction between theoretical or critical knowledge and positivistic or empirical knowledge; and (iii) the distinction between the metropolis and the ex-colonial, which has historically corresponded to the cultural or civilizational distinction between the West and the East or more generally the Rest, an extremely overdetermined distinction which is increasingly enmeshed in the geopolitical and economic distinction of North and South.
These distinctions are historically aligned insofar as theoretical knowledge has always been deemed as the highest form of knowledge, and the colonizing West has always seen itself as the site of production of this universal form of knowledge, with material from other geographical regions being simply the raw material of this higher form of knowledge. Moreover, it is impossible to overlook the fact that the classification of knowledge is intimately correlated with the classification of humanity.
By inquiring into the archaeology of colonial modernity, we now begin to comprehend why theory had to be so intimately associated with the West. There is a figure of ‘man’ or humanity, yet this humanity was not ‘man’ in general. Instead it had to be modified by an adjectival, ‘European’ or ‘Western.’ An archaeological analysis of colonial modernity thus discloses the participation of acertain humanism in modernity.
In what underlies the possibility of talking about the modern at all, it is essential to deal with an other of the modern, the pre-modern, with reference to which modernity has also been defined in a great many instances. Unless it is contrasted with the pre-modern, the modern cannot acquire any definitive sense as a periodic adjectival. This pairing, the modern – pre-modern, may suggest a chronological order. Yet, it must be remembered that this order has never been dissociated from the geopolitical configuration of the world. As is understood very well by now, this basically nineteenth-century historical scheme provides a perspective through which to comprehend the locations and statuses of nations, cultures, traditions, and races in a systematic manner. The historico-geopolitical pairing of the pre-modern and the modern has been one of the major organizing apparatuses of academic discourse in which modernity, modernization, and even modernism have been discussed. The emergence in the 1980’s of the third and enigmatic term, the postmodern, possibly testified not so much to a transition from one period to another as to the shift or transformation of our discourse, as a result of which the supposed indisputability of the historico-geopolitical pairing - modern and pre-modern - has become increasingly problematic and unsettling. Of course, it was not the first time the validity of this differentiation was challenged. Yet, surprisingly enough, the pre-modern – modern opposition has managed to survive many challenges, and it would be extremely optimistic to believe that it has finally been found ineffectual. Nevertheless, those who still want to presume that this historico-geopolitical pairing is somewhat ‘normal’ now suffer from a sense of insecurity. Particularly in those disciplines that deal with Asia in the West or in countries accustomed to regarding themselves as ‘modern,’ the level of anxiety has never been higher than today.
Either as a set of socioeconomic conditions or as a society’s adherence to selected values, the term ‘modernity’ can never be understood without reference to this dichotomy of the pre-modern and the modern. Historically, modernity has primarily been opposed to its historical precedent; geopolitically it has been contrasted to the non-modern, or, more specifically, to the non-West. Thus this periodic dichotomy has served as a historico-geopolitical scheme according to which a historical predicate is translated into a geopolitical one and vice versa. A propositional subject is posited through the attribution of these predicates, and thanks to the function of this discursive apparatus, two kinds of areas are diacritically discerned: the modern West and the pre-modern non-West. As a matter of course, this does not mean either that the West was never at pre-modern stages or that the non-West can never be modernized: it simply excludes the possibility of the simultaneous coexistence of the pre-modern West and the modern non-West. A temporal differentiation is turned into a cartographic trope, so that the geographic expanse of the globe is dissected into the stages of development, which in turn spatially represents a chronological series of World History.
A cursory examination of the chronological-cartographic tropics of modernity amply suggests a certain polarity or warp among the possible ways to conceive of the world historically and geopolitically. For the West to exist, there must be a world organized by polarity; this polarity continually reproduces unbalance or extra-ordinary one-sidedness between the West and the non-West or the Rest, so that the West is regarded as the source of global flow of commodities, ideas and institutions. The classic vision of modernization has never questioned this reproducibility of the polarity upon which not only the developmental teleology, but also the disciplines of area studies have wittingly or unwittingly relied. As some Asian intellectuals pointed out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there is no inherent reason why the West and the non-West opposition should determine the geographic perspective of modernity except for the fact that it definitely serves to establish the putative unity of the West, a nebulous but commanding positivity whose existence has been increasingly tainted with uncertainty in recent decades. After all, the West is a name for a positionality which I understand is postulated in the microphysics of power relations and is also an object constituted discursively.
Nevertheless, neither the West nor the non-West – or the Rest of the world - is arbitrarily determined because, as Antonio Gramsci argued, these relations are hegemonic.1 There cannot be any inherent reason why a certain geographical area should be designated as the West. In principle, every point on the earth could have its own west. While Gramsci was perspicacious in analyzing the hegemonic reality of the West, we tend to forget that this hegemonic nature implied another diagnosis of this peculiar reality. In his insistence upon its historical nature, Gramsci’s explanation seems to call into question the unity of the West as a given. One might therefore be made skeptical about whether, just as with the geographic area of Europe, the cartographic area of the West can in due course be a closure; or that, like a nation, it is composed of its members and excludes its non-members; or that, like the conventional notion of a language community, it is based upon a kind of shared commonality; or that, like a plant or animal species, its identity is determined by its common features and heritages.
However, what the globalized range of the West has rendered increasingly obvious all around the world is that the unity of the West every so often makes a suspicious shift according to the context of its discussion. Indisputably the West is a social reality: it exists. Certainly the West is a social imaginary of a global scale, but it is nonetheless existent because of its imaginary nature that operates variedly in the microphysics of power relations. The West is a real index. Nevertheless, it does not follow from its existence that it is an enduring tradition, a discernible collectivity based upon common physiognomy, or a social group with any recognizable stability. The West can be defined in so many different and contradictory ways that we can hardly persuade ourselves that its unity can ever correspond to a particular substance. Its unity remains putative because it can never correspond to any substance or find for itself any substratum .
Evidently, the West is a name always associating itself with those regions, communities, and peoples that appear politically or economically superior to other regions, communities, and peoples. Basically, it is just like the name ‘Europe,’ which reputedly designates a geographic area, a tradition, a religion, a culture, an ethnos, a market, a population, and so on; yet, unlike all the other names associated with geographic particularities, it also implies the refusal of its self-delimitation or particularistic determination; it claims that it is capable of sustaining, if not actually transcending, the impulse to transcend all the particularizations. This is to say that the West is never content with what it is recognized as by others; it is always urged to approach others in order to ceaselessly transform its self-image; it continually seeks itself in the midst of interaction with other peoples, civilizations, and races; it would never be satisfied with just being recognized but would also wish to recognize others; it would rather be a supplier of recognition than a receiver thereof. In short, the West must represent the moment of the universal, which subsumes the particular. It is the source of spontaneity, whose initiative must be received by its subordinates. Thus, the West is supposed to assume the positionality of universalistic activity by assigning to the Rest of the world the positionality of particularlistic passivity; more than a half century ago, Takeuchi Yoshimi, specialist of modern Chinese literature, clearly perceived this in the way in which Asia was identified as such in colonial modernity.2
In short, in this epistemic transaction, the West insists on being determined in terms, not of its characteristics as an object of knowledge, but rather its subjective faculties and productivity. Tentatively, let me attribute the name ‘theory’ to these certain subjective faculties and productivity, which distinguish European humanity from other ethnicities, the Western ‘man’ from the Rest of human kind.
Accordingly, we used to discern two radically different ways for people to relate themselves to the production of knowledge in the humanities. The first group of people whose regional, civilizational, national, or ethnic identity constitutes the objective legitimacy of the discipline would participate in the production of knowledge within that discipline, primarily as suppliers of raw data and factual information. Information thus supplied by them helps identify their ethnic particularities and types, but they remain positive and empirical in their production of knowledge. They need to engage neither in the application of a classificatory system or of the evaluative methods in the processing of such data, nor the preparation of an epistemic framework through which the data are appropriated into a general interpretative narrative. In not engaging in these tasks, they do not need to participate in the critical review or innovation of those means of knowledge-production. In this respect, their attitude toward knowledge production is ‘traditional’ in the old sense of the word in Modernization Theory. They inherit the methods of scholarship from their mentors and are devoted to the conservation of what has been handed on to them. Their scholarship is characterized as a sort of apprenticeship rather than by its scientificity. In due course it is beyond apprentices’ expectation to criticize their mentors, to desire to overcome their accomplishments, or to continually innovate the means and scope of knowing. In this sense, the traditional scholars are undoubtedly hostile to theory. Since they are supposedly not held responsible for this kind of critical review and innovation, they rarely confront the reality of existing knowledge in the humanities, namely, the reality that the presumptions and procedures circulated within the disciplines are far from being systematically coherent or complete.
Indeed, as ‘modern’ – supposedly opposed to ‘traditional’ - scholarly disciplines, these are under trenchant scrutiny and constant revision, and, moreover, the humanities are maintained and revitalized by constant revision and innovation of their own means of knowledge-production. What keeps the sciences of man going is this insatiable movement of self-overcoming; in this respect, the sciences are totally subordinate to the locus of modernity, an ambiguous position occupied by what Michel Foucault called the ‘empirico-transcendental doublet - ‘man.’
Thus the humanities are produced in the element of the historicity of ‘man,’ and must be a part of historical knowledge. Hence, unless one engages in the historical overcoming of knowledge, one cannot be said to be actively participating in the discourse of modern man, not to mention ‘the spirit of European humanity.’ The suppliers of raw data and factual information are involved in the production of knowledge in the humanities, but are not participating there as ‘men.’ Certainly they are humans, and, in that capacity, offer information concerning the particular cases of humanity and human nature. And, most often, they are found outside the West, or more precisely, they are supposed to constitute the outside of the putative unity of the West. They are disqualified as European humanity because they are unfit for the mission endowed to the West.
On the other hand, there is a second sort of people who seek to know about humanity and human nature, but who would never be content as suppliers of information. They refuse to be content with the accumulation of factual and empirical knowledge. For them, knowing is an essential part of their being, so that their way of life will be affected as their relationship to knowledge-production changes. They necessarily engage in the collection, evaluation, comparison, or analysis of raw data, but, more importantly, they are continually involved in the critical review of the existing means of knowing and the invention of new ones. Their concern for their subjective conditions in knowing carries the weight of an almost moral imperative. For them, knowledge about humanity and human nature must not only consist of the variety of particular cases, but must also entail commitment to a critical inspection of existing knowledge, and to the project of changing and creating the means of knowing about humanity and human nature. They must constantly strive to overcome the limits of their own accomplishments. Not everyone within the putative unity of the West is automatically inside this group of people. The project of changing and creating the means of knowing is commonly called ‘theory,’ and it is taken to be a distinguishing mark or even mission of the West. In this sense, ‘theory’ is presumably the essence of Western humanity.
Thus, these two different relationships to the production of knowledge presuppose two different conceptions of humanity in the humanities. The classification of knowledge thus ends with the classification of humanity. Humanity is studied through many cases of, and particular manifestations of man’s nature. It is presumed that, by extracting what many peoples in the world have in common, ultimately knowledge about ‘human nature’ will be attained. In such an instance, the notion of humanity as the guiding principle is that of general humanity which inheres in every particular manifestation of man. Yet a completely different relationship is also possible. It relates to the reflective production of knowledge and tries to set new conditions of knowing, thereby transforming both the constitution of the object for knowledge and the subjective conditions of knowing. In this latter relationship to knowledge-production, humanity is problematized not only as a generality encompassing all the particular cases but also in the aspect of subjective conditions: humanity manifests itself in self-reflective knowing about knowing and in the legislation of the new means of knowing to which ‘man’ willingly subjects himself. The humanity sought in the second relationship is therefore not only epistemic but also practical: what is at issue here is not general but universal humanity, to use the Kantian distinction between generality and universality. And this rift of the epistemic and the practical is probably the site where modern ‘man’ resides; this was the topos where European humanity was perceived as being in crisis by many in the first half of the 20th century.
Since the nineteenth century, as Dipesh Chakrabarty and Osamu Nishitani have observed independently of one another,3 the difference between these two relationships to knowledge-production in the humanities has been hinted at by the juxtaposition of two classical analogues, humanitas and anthropos. As the historical evolution of anthropology suggests, humanitas has meant people who could engage in knowledge-production in both the first and the second relationships, while anthropos has been gradually reserved for peoples who participate in knowledge-production only in the first of these. Thus, humanity in the sense of humanitas has come to designate Western or European humanity, to be distinguished from the rest of humanity as long as we trust in and insist upon the putative unity of the West. This means that humanity in the sense of humanitas authorizes the very distinction of the West from what Stuart Hall incisively called ‘the Rest.’4
This is one reason why I have suspected that, as ethnic studies generally implied a disciplinary knowledge imposed on anthropos, the idea of the ethnic studies of European Americans would not be welcome in American academie. In fact, until recently, North America and Western Europe were not ‘areas’ (where only anthropos live) in higher education in the United States, since supposedly the objects of area studies could only be found outside the West. The ethnic studies of European Americans or the area studies of North America could have undermined this configured division of humanitas and anthropos, and thus opened up the way for treating European Americans as ‘anthropological types.’ This might potentially conjure up some resistance.
This is, however, an old story. I believe that this disposition of ‘theory’ and ‘culture’ is impossible; it is both politically dubious and epistemologically inadequate. It is increasingly undeniable that the classification of knowledge operating in the human sciences at universities proves unsustainable today. This prevailing view of global academic exchange is no longer sustainable because its material conditions are in the process of being undermined. Its definition of theory is inadequate in view of the academic conversation ongoing between various locations in the world. Global modernization has not only accelerated cultural, economic and political exchange between different regions and brought different forms of power-knowledge into more intense interaction, but has also given rise to schisms in cultural capital that cannot be summarized in the old configuration of ethnicities, cultures and traditions. The globality of theoretical production in these various sites cannot be understood in a uniform way in terms of Western Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment forms of power-knowledge. These forms of ‘theory,’ which are no longer merely ‘indigenous,’ make up the power-knowledge in everyday life, not only in the Euro-American world, but also in many parts of the world including East and South Asia. What once appeared exclusively European no longer belongs to the Euro-American world; there are an increasing number of instances in which non-Euro-American sites are more ‘Western’ than some aspects of North American and European life.
The globality of theory calls for a genuinely comparative cultural theory. By this, we mean a form of theorizing attentive to the transnational lineages and global traces within the theoretical knowledge produced in socio-politically specific locales, and that explores how theories are themselves transformed by their practical effects when performed in other sites. This comparative enterprise is also political insofar as it seeks to examine the theoretical bases and conflicting desires at the heart of contemporary politics and forms of violence. The globality in question here is not necessarily the more trendy and well-trodden path of migrancy: hybridity, transcultural or post-national talk.
On the contrary, the form of comparative cultural theory envisaged here is already being produced by many intellectuals and cultural workers firmly located in the South and the Rest--Asia, Africa and Latin America--as well as those from the North Atlantic who are concerned with the transformative dissemination and living-on of Euro-American ideas in non-Euro-American sites, as well as the legacies and political futures of non-European theories in Northern locations. It is a form of theorizing based on the acknowledgment of the traces of the other in a specifically local text.
Now we face a number of questions concerning what Stuart Hall once called the discourse of the-West-and-the-Rest.5 On what grounds was theory considered as being European in origin? What sort of argument tried to justify the presumption that theory is something that we expect of Europe or the West? How has this presumption managed to remain unexposed until recently? What subjectivation does the theory of the European Humanity put forth? What would ensue if the conditions no longer existed by which we normally expect theory of Europe or the West? In other words, how can we possibly assess the disappearance of this civilizational ‘normalcy’?
And most importantly, how can we assess the set of conducts and tactics according to which the classification of humanity is coordinated with, or more precisely imbricated upon the classification of knowledge?
Now in the scope of theory and European humanity, it is possible to view a number of famous arguments that have attempted to explicate in one way or another why we somewhat presume that there ought to be some intimate link between theory – variously talked about under the headings of modern rationality, scientific reason, commitment to the spirit of rigor whereby universal openness to knowledge production has been sustained, return to the Greek origins - and Europe or the West: instantly a number of names - Max Weber, Paul Valéry, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, to mention only a few representatives – come to mind.
What is decisive in the putative unity of the West is the postulation of separation, an operation of inscribing a border – ‘bordering,’ as conceptualized by Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson - to make the world appear as if it was already and had always been divided between the West and the Rest, to presume that, somewhat naturally and essentially, the separation of the West from the Rest, or Asia had been preordained and prescribed. Therefore, in the discussions of European humanity during the first half of the 20th century, the anxiety concerning the crisis of the European spirit incited teleological investment for the poietic self-fashioning, self-formation, and self-production of the West too frequently accompanied by insistence upon the unity of the West; the essentialist insistence on the West’s unity had to seek the origin of the West – or Europe – as the Greek origin to which the Europeans ought to return to assert their future as Europeans.
In the fields of Asian studies, however, even this level of commitment to theory can seldom be expected, though many of the specialists frequently appeal to the opposition of the West and the Rest. As a matter of fact, many of the experts working in the fields of Asian studies, are least interested in theory and, in some cases, are positively hostile to it. Nevertheless, they do not have misgivings about the very binary of humanitas and anthropos; rarely do they challenge the presumption that we normally do not expect theory out of Asia.
Yet, this peculiar situation exists not only in ‘the West.’ Notwithstanding the fact that the binary serves to figure out not only the non-Western or Asian ‘other’ but also ‘the Western self’ of North American and European Asianists in the regime of self-referentiality, we must not overlook the fact that it also operates in a practical way in the production and reproduction of knowledge in countries in Asia (and other sites believed to be located in the Rest). In these places the institutions of human and social sciences, such as sociology and English departments at universities, wereestablished initially as local agents for the propagation and translation of European or North American knowledge which is euphemistically labelled as ‘Western’; even today, most of these institutions are still caught in the habit of regarding themselves as secondary or derivative, that is, as imitators or importers of Western theory; it is somewhat held as a truism that theory cannot be generated in the Rest, so that it must be imported from the West. What they have deliberately overlooked is that, in ‘the West’ too, scholars imitate, just as in natural sciences, engineering, mass media and fashion industries. They have yet to objectify the mythology of European humanity as being essentially spontaneous, creative and original.
In fact, the sense of separation between the West and the Rest is best demonstrated among scholars in Asian countries who feel somewhat excluded or rejected by the West. The West-and-the-Rest opposition does not only designate the boundary of one civilization from another fantastically; it is also interwoven into the texture of the imaginary reality of the ethnic nation as has been formulated in Asia. In other words, the national, civilizational, and racial identity of the nation in Asia requires the implicit and ubiquitous presence of the West, in reference to which their identity is postulated. The binary of humanitas and anthropos is indeed a matter of epistemic positionality, but it also serves as a trope for other power relations. Only insofar as the West is felt to be the point of counter-reference can nationality in the Rest be rendered sensible to its populace.
Let me take a moment to note, once again that the West thus disclosed is not a determinate position which exists prior to the anthropologizing gesture of equating ‘being different from us’ to ‘being Asian.’ In our encounter with people of unknown background, linguistic heritage, or intellectual tradition, we may well be incapable of comprehending what is going on between ‘them’ and ‘us’; we can be at a loss at the locale of incommensurability; we might go through an experience of non-sense as to what ‘they’ and ‘we’ are doing together. This is to say that the relationship of ‘them’ and ‘us’ cannot be subsumed under the existing system of comprehension, so that it fails to make sense within the common-sense making mechanism. Yet, this experience of non-sense or radical difference cannot be appropriated by the trope of gap, border or separation. On the contrary, in such an encounter, we come across the experience of discontinuity.6 By ascribing two distinct binary figures of the West and the Rest or Europe and Asia to ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the sense of incomprehensibility is appropriated into the tropics of civilizational difference, a difference already in the order of continuity. By locating the occasion of non-sense, incommensurability or incomprehensibility within the binary configuration of the West and the Rest, the very difference of discontinuity is anthropologized, and apprehended as if it bears the order of continuity from the outset. As I have argued elsewhere, the regime of co-figuration operates in the element of continuity, and the experience of discontinuity disrupts the schematism of co-figuration.7
This binary of the West and the Rest is made to imply a lot more than a contrast of epistemic attitudes; condensed in the opposition of humanitas and anthropos are other social and personal features such as gender, wealth, profession, social class background, and level of cultural capital, features which are most frequently appealed to so as to differentiate one individual from another, to classify people within a social hierarchy.
It is increasingly difficult to discover an organizing coherence among the varying definitions of the West, its spectral character can no longer be overlooked. But, precisely because of the overdetermination inherent in the unity of the West, the urge to naturalize or essentialize it is harder to resist. The more exposed ‘we’ are to the indisputably unstable reality of the putative unity of the West, the stronger ‘our’ desire is to restore the regulative normalcy by which ‘we’ can expect theory from the West and not from the Rest.
What is at stake here is twofold. The first set of questions is concerned with the subjective conditions for the performative installation of the strategic positionality called the West. The second set is about how to inscribe and prescribe distinctions between the West and the Rest. In this sense, the questions in the second set are concerned with the objective determinations of the West.
Finally allow me to address questions falling into the first group. The questions I want to submit here are as follows: How can ‘we’ possibly enunciate ‘we the Westerner’ as a collectivity for the West? How is it possible to ascribe the West, a collectivity variously defined as the First World consisting of societies that have achieved industrial modernization, a group of societies dominated by the dictates of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism,8 or peoples who support the doctrines of Liberal Capitalism, to mention a few of many definitions – to an enunciative positionality which allows one to present oneself as a Westerner and to speak as a member of the West?
A warning disclaimer must be issued, once again. I do not offer a concise description of how theory has been conceived of or what it ought to be. Nor do I imply by theory some regime in which a formula as a theorem be applied to individual empirical cases to draw some conclusive judgment in generality. First of all, I want to keep in mind that the relationship that regulates theory and experience is not one of generality and particularity. So theory is not something applied to an empirical given. To be theoretical is not to be in search of general formulae by which particular cases can be classified and subsumed under some general patterns. Theory does not demand an attitude of universalism, of universalism in the sense that we are obligated to arrive at some thesis that is valid everywhere and in all the relevant cases. On the contrary, what I mean by theory debunks and exposes universalism’s political agenda and pretence toward its omnipresent truthfulness.
Yet, by theory, I assume a certain openness to repetition and refutation. Unless it can be reproduced, reinscribed, or reinstated potentially by any person, I do not think it is worth examining as such. Thus, it is always concerned with knowledge production, but it is further involved in the reproduction and modification of the mode of knowledge production. In this sense, theory is universal. Theory is thus available to anybody; it must be institutionally warranted that the process of knowledge production must not be confined to a closed circle of connoisseurs or apprentices; it can be imitated, reproduced, reinscribed or modified by anybody; the type of knowledge that cannot withstand this open process of imitation, reproduction, reinscription and modification cannot be qualified as being theoretical.
Finally, with this exceedingly rough summary of what theory can mean, I would like to end this paper with two final questions for future consideration, one of which I have already asked en route:
1) What are the conducts and tactics whereby to imbricate the classification of humanity upon the classification of knowledge?
2) Is it possible to advocate the term ‘theory’ as a measure by which to dislocate one’s identification from a civilization, ethnicity, or tradition?