[csaa-forum] Re: terry flew on CS

gary hall gary.hall at connectfree.co.uk
Tue Jan 11 20:23:15 CST 2005

Thanks, Mark. That's helpful.

Yes, what your describe as the ridiculing of cultural studies, even from
its own margins, is intriguing. As well as the answers you provide, I
wonder if it also hasn't got something to do with the kind of 'moralism
as anti-politics' Wendy Brown writes about in Politics Out of History
(and which nevertheless often thinks that it's very political, be that
of the Right, Centre or Left variety). Although it would take too long
to trace out an analysis here, that would seem to offer one point of
connection between the reactions of Andrew Bolt, Terry Flew's really
very helpful questions regarding the Left politics of cultural studies,
Ned and Geert's interesting and provocative responses, and your idea
that what people in cultural studies do and what politicians do might be
different things.

It's also interesting that so many people are (still) bothered enough by
cultural studies for one reason or another to react to it so strongly.


Mark Gibson wrote:

> Good response, Gary. It interests me that cultural studies seems so
> often to be made an object of ridicule -- just 'media hype' .... etc.
> To get to the bottom of it, I think we need to look past the Andrew
> Bolts and Keith Windschuttles and recognise that the tendency can even
> be found among those who wear the CS label (or, like Geert, to
> participate in CS discussion lists). Internal criticism of CS has
> often been coruscating, implying some fundamental error, wrong turn or
> egregious error. One of the most characteristic positions in relation
> to CS is a kind of ironic detachment -- 'we wouldn't want to associate
> ourselves fully with this field, but it can be interesting or amusing
> to hang on the edges, listen in, throw in provocations from time to
> time'. (It sometimes seems to me that everyone is doing this. ie.
> no-one is actually in the middle.) Why is CS so prone to this? I don't
> see a similar tendency in say, anthropology, philosophy or media
> studies. The best answer I have is that the space it has sought to
> occupy -- somewhere between serious scholarship, the media, popular
> culture and mass education -- makes it inherently controversial. I'm
> often reminded in thinking about this, of Joshua Meyrowitz's argument
> about television -- that in its lack of respect for traditional
> boundaries, it ends up mildly offending everyone. Isn't our view of CS
> often rather like the common ironic detachment before TV? All that
> said, I think Geert is right in pointing out the strong 'Anglo'
> character of CS. Almost all the examples Gary cites of CS outside the
> US, UK and Australia are, when you look at them, offshoots of 'Anglo'
> formations: Kuan-Hsing Chen was a student of Larry Grossberg, who
> himself spent time at Birmingham; Koichi Iwabuchi did his PhD in
> Australia; Meaghan Morris is an Australian living in HK ... etc. The
> only problem is that pinning 'Anglo' on the field brings us back to
> the ridicule. We all know, don't we, that there are no serious Anglo
> intellectual traditions? Surely anything that is said in CS, then, has
> probably been said before, and better, by a German philosopher or
> French theorist. This, it seems to me, is where the 'media hype'
> analysis comes from. CS is flaky, derivative, second rate ... This is
> why, for me, it is worth going back to the early 'Anglo' roots of CS
> -- not just in the UK, but also Australia and the US. If you do, I
> think you begin to recognise that there is something distinctive there
> -- and something worth holding on to. You could call it empiricism if
> that term was not also, often, a term of abuse. Better to call it a
> tradition of close observation. There's a preface by Jean-Claude
> Passeron (one of Bourdieu's closest collaborators) in the French
> edition of Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy, which makes the
> point nicely:
>      The discussion of the realities of class is certainly to the
>      credit of numerous fractions of the French intellectual
>      milieu, but it is not altogether wrong to suppose that its
>      theoretical and abstract tone serves also to keep at bay a
>      whole set of realities at once simple and scandalous - or
>      worse than scandalous, vulgar. The whole empirical force of
>      these realities is evident when a description at once
>      ethnographic and autobiographical such as Richard Hoggart's
>      brings them into focus directly, above literary artifice and
>      scholarly exercises.
> In my view, one of the things that CS has been good at -- and still is
> -- is honest description of 'ordinary' realities. I'm prepared to be
> proven wrong, but I don't know of anyone doing this earlier or
> better. To circle back to Terry's original provocation on the
> 'leftness' of CS, it seems to me part of the anxiety about this is a
> simple misrecognition of who we are and what we do. Terry asks, in his
> last post, whether CS people would do any better than the Labor party
> in liberating us from Howard. His implicit answer, I think, and
> probably right, is 'no'. But should we get too worried by that? CS is
> not a political party -- or even, I would say, a political movement.
> It's a tradition of cultural analysis and criticism. We should value
> it for the quality of its engagement with 'stuff', not dwell on its
> failure to do things it is not constituted to do. -- Mg

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