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IIn The Fateful Triangle--drawn from lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1994--one of the founding figures of cultural studies reflects on the divisive, often deadly consequences of our contemporary politics of identification. As he untangles the power relations that permeate categories of race, ethnicity, and nationhood, Stuart Hall shows how old hierarchies of human identity in Western culture were forcefully broken apart when oppressed groups introduced new meanings to the representation of difference.

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the concept of race stressed distinctions of color as fixed and unchangeable. But for Hall, twentieth-century redefinitions of blackness reveal how identities and attitudes can be transformed through the medium of language itself. Like the "badge of color" W. E. B. Du Bois evoked in the anticolonial era, "black" became a sign of solidarity for Caribbean and South Asian migrants who fought discrimination in 1980s Britain. Hall sees such manifestations of "new ethnicities" as grounds for optimism in the face of worldwide fundamentalisms that respond with fear to social change.

Identities are not something we are born with, Hall argues, but are formed and transformed in the discourses of nation, ethnicity, and race. Casting his glance over the modern age, he shows how the imperial view of civilized-versus-barbarian gave way to a politics of identification that grew ever more unpredictable under late 20th century conditions of globalization. Race was long ago discredited by science yet it persists because it operates as a signifier, making meanings out of the binary representation of difference. From Renaissance to Enlightenment, stability prevailed in a West-centric order that fixed "their difference" against "our modernity," but the multi-accentual slide of signifiers also gave rise to new identities among subordinated subjects as well. Ethnicities that exclude others close down the multiple voicing built into every discourse, whereas Hall shows that "black" took on alternative meaning when Caribbean and South Asian migrants fought racism through alliances based not on genetic or cultural grounds but by opening the signifying chain to recodings. Migration is today at the heart of the contradictory tensions thrown up by global dislocations that have unsettled traditional bonds of collective belonging, although when nations make the rights of citizenship conditional on cultural homogeniety what Hall reveals is the extent to which liberal democracy's universalist values were grounded in an assimilationist worldview that has yet to be fully dismantled.--
Migration was at the heart of Hall's diagnosis of the global predicaments taking shape around him. Explaining more than two decades ago why migrants are the target of new nationalisms, Hall's prescient vision helps us to understand today's crisis of liberal democracy. As he challenges us to find sustainable ways of living with difference, Hall gives us the concept of diaspora as a metaphor with which to enact fresh possibilities for redefining nation, race, and identity in the twenty-first century.