||Poststructuralist social theory has challenged the singular (class-based) logic of Marxist analysis (see post-structuralism), advancing a more complex understanding of social differentiation which encompasses a wider range of human differences associated with culturally constructed notions of gender, race and sexuality (among other bases of inequality, identification and social action). Geographers have contributed to these debates by showing how this world of difference is articulated through ideas of space and place, including notions of diaspora, borderlands, centres and margins.
Exploring the geography of difference radically destabilizes the relationship between place and Identity, emphasizing cultural differences within as well as between places (from the scale of the nation to the neighbourhood). In a world of increasing multiculturality, where transnational connections are rapidly proliferating, the boundaries of the nation-state are increasingly porous (Appadurai, 1996). Likewise, at the neighbourhood scale, places can no longer be represented as stable, bounded and inward-looking communities. Rather, places are constantly in flux, requiring new ways of theorizing their external connections in the development of an increasingly global sense of place (Massey, 1995). From this perspective, understanding the connections between places is crucial to understanding the production of difference. A sense of \'Englishness\', for example, clearly exceeds the boundaries of the nation and cannot be understood apart from the history of British imperialism which established a range of connections between people and places across the globe whose many traces persist to this day (in commodity flows, migration patterns, cultural tastes etc.).
The production of difference involves a complex geography of displacement and juxtaposition, where the stable ties of people and place (often exaggerated in the past) are radically disrupted (but see Pratt and Hanson, 1994, on the persistence of place-based identities). The regimes of flexible accumulation and time-space compression that characterize the \'postmodern condition\' (Harvey, 1989) have produced a new and ever-changing set of territorializations where difference is commodified and re-presented to a voracious consumer public (see territoriality). In such a world of difference, ideas of depth and authenticity lose their purchase, to be replaced by a language of displacement and dislocation (Crang, 1996).
The play of difference is a pervasive feature of postmodern society, unsettling all kinds of apparent certainties and problematizing any stable sense of identity. But the politics of difference also involve material inequalities. Consumer culture provides a powerful illustration of this process in the commodification of \'exotic\' food, for example, which affords those with sufficient economic and cultural capital the opportunity to \'eat the other\' (hooks, 1992), engaging with otherness in a purely commercial way and entirely on its own terms.
The anthropological recognition that cultural difference is also present \'here at home\', and that \'the other\' need not be exotic or far away (Gupta and Ferguson, 1992) led to a \'crisis of representation\' across the human sciences. How to \'cross the divide\' between cultures in our increasingly post-colonial world has generated complex debates about positionality as social scientists are forced to reconsider their right to interpret cultures that are, in significant ways, different from their own. That these differences have been produced (through colonialism, through the work of Transnational Corporations or through earlier generations of scholarship) provides a critical \'handle\' in approaching the politics of difference. For \'difference\' does not exist in an a priori way; it is produced and reproduced through specific historical and political processes that are amenable to critical investigation. As Gupta and Ferguson assert: \'cultural difference is produced and maintained in a field of power relations in a world [that is] always already spatially interconnected\' (1992, p. 17).
Informed by recent work in feminist geographies, a new vocabulary has been evolved to explore this complex world of diversity and difference (Rose, 1993; WGSG, 1997). Rejecting all forms of essentialism, geographers and other social scientists have focused on places \'in between\': margins rather than centres, interstitial spaces and borderlands with their hybrid cultures, associated with migrants, refugees and displaced people (AnzaldÃºa, 1987; Bhabha, 1994). Indeed, in mapping the geography of difference, it has also become increasingly clear that the \'margins\' can be a very effective place from which to understand what is ostensibly at the \'centre\', though the use of such geographical metaphors is itself contentious (Pratt, 1992). Serious questions remain about whether it is possible to have a respect for difference while maintaining a commitment to equality (Young, 1990).Â (PAJ)
References AnzaldÃºa, G. 1987: Borderlands/La Frontera: the new mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.Â Appadurai, A. 1996: Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Â Bhabha, H.K. 1994: The location of culture. London: Routledge.Â Crang, P. 1996: Displacement, consumption and identity. Environment and Planning A 28: 47-67.Â Gupta, A. and Ferguson, J. 1992: Beyond \'culture\': space, identity, and the politics of difference. Cultural Anthropology 7: 6-23.Â Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell.Â hooks, b. 1992: Eating the other. In Black looks: race and representation. London: Turnaround, 21-39.Â Massey, D. 1995: Space, place and gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Pratt, G. 1992: Spatial metaphors and speaking positions. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10: 241-4.Â Pratt, G. and Hanson, S. 1994: Geography and the construction of difference. Gender, Place and Culture 1: 5-29.Â Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and geography. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Women and Geography Study Group 1997: Feminist geographies: explorations in diversity and difference. London: Longman.Â Young, I.M. 1990: Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, NJ: University of Princeton Press.
Suggested Reading Fincher, R. and Jacobs, J.M., eds, 1998: Cities of difference. New York: Guilford.Â Sibley, D. 1995: Geographies of exclusion. London: Routledge.