Vol. 24 No. 2 (2018)

The Cultural and Intersectional Politics of Nomadism in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Published February 1, 2021
Malou Kürpick
University of Debrecen

Zadie Smith’s most recent novel, Swing Time (2016) continues her exploration of individual identity in relation to the broader social context by telling the story of an unnamed narrator and her childhood friend, Tracey, members of the second-generation British-Jamaican diaspora in London, whose cultural and racial hybridity positions them against hegemonic discourses in contemporary British society. The text vividly portrays the consequences of their deviance, particularly how the specific intersections of race, gender, and class they embody limit either their cultural or socio-economic agency, and impair their capacity to construct a sustainable identity. Since the desire to transcend bodily determination in performative ways is as crucial a dimension of the characters’ life journey as is the experience of the effects of socio-economic stratification arising out of intersectional difference, this essay explores the complex relationship between intersectional difference and agency in Swing Time through the double theoretical lens of Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic performative model of identity and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, arguing that Smith’s novel does not simply bear out Braidotti’s theory but rather interrogates it, especially its insufficient attention to the diverse and disempowering effects resulting from certain intersections of what Braidotti calls “variables” or “axes of differentiation.”  (MK)