[csaa-forum] Re: but wait, it just keeps going on and on

Ben Hourigan mail at benhourigan.com
Sun Feb 27 20:52:49 CST 2005

This post does eventually get back to the question of how we could  
respond to critics of Cultural Studies, so bear with me...

In some off-list correspondence, Danny wrote to me and suggested that I  
couldn't reasonably suggest that we drop Marxist political theory from  
cultural studies in order to politically re-align it (I'm  

(Excerpts from the email that prompted this is reproduced at the bottom  
of this post.)

By writing this, Danny's reiterating a point from that post of Terry  
Flew's that started the whole "Is cultural studies inherently  
left-wing?" thread  
000592.html). I don't think that's at all unfortunate. For the record,  
I agree: I don't think a Cultural Studies without Marxist theory would  
be the same kind of discipline we know today. Though part of the reason  
that Marxist theory is so central is that the far-reaching (and  
arguably totalitarian) scope of Marxism has caused that tradition of  
thought to produce a quantity of cultural theory that is probably  
unrivalled by any ideology active in the 20th century. As a  
non-leftist, however, this reliance on Marxism bothers me more than a  

No doubt it bothers our 'right-wing' critics, too. As you can see  
below, I'm no subscriber to Melleuish's particular grievances. But,  
while we are doing the work of refuting the particular arguments he and  
others put forward against Cultural Studies, could we perhaps make some  
conciliatory gestures towards them, rather than lambasting them for  
being 'right wing'? Could anyone ever add, to the current, 'leftist'  
brand of Cultural Studies, a liberal (à la Thomas Jefferson, rather  
than John Kerry) Cultural Studies? A conservative (à la Edmund Burke,  
not Andrew Bolt) Cultural Studies?

In other words, could we invite Melleuish, Windschuttle, Miranda  
Devine, and their like, to join us (at least from time to time), rather  
than try to beat us?

(I hear you, Charles, with regard to the attitudes of some to your work  
on popular music. I once wrote to Windschuttle asking for some  
references on writing against Marxist cultural theory, and his  
suggestion was that the people he knew [and I suspect Keith himself]  
wouldn't have much sympathy for that element of my work. Still, he  
passed over it tactfully, and I ended up getting my references from  
someone he knew.)


Charles wrote:

> The right is all for fairness and liberal education, when their
> compatriots are on the soapbox or at the lectern.

I take this to imply that, in taking a position against cultural  
studies, 'the right' is against 'fairness and liberal education'  
because their compatriots are *not* at the lectern. If cultural studies  
lecturers are not the compatriots of 'the right,' then the left/right  
spectrum can allow them only two other positions: centre or left. My  
experiences with the teaching of cultural studies at Melbourne Uni,  
which have involved heavy emphasis on Marxist cultural theory, lead me  
to believe that it is not the centre that the discipline is trying to  
occupy. Charles doesn't necessarily _need_ to mention the left, since  
when Cultural Studies people gather, the assumption is often already  
there that they are all leftists, for whom those on the 'right wing'  
are natural opponents in debate.

Despite this, sometimes people *do* mention it, as Jason Jacobs did on  
the list on 6 January 2005, saying:

> Still, I think all cultural studies scholars believe themselves to be
> left-wing. Whatever that means.

This was in the context of the "Is cultural studies inherently  
left-wing?" thread. Then there was Laurie Duggan on Jan 6:

> It's probably true that Humanities academics (over and above cultural  
> studies practitioners) are mainly of the left.

and Terry Flew on 7 Jan:

> the globalisation of cultural studies through the
> academic publishing market is, if anything, tightening the linkage  
> between
> cultural studies and a version of left politics.

Are the alliances and enmities implied by these statements imaginary? I  
don't think so.

Personally, I find Melleuish's attack on Cultural Studies just as  
ridiculous as I suppose everyone else does, though it doesn't bother me  
that he or the newspaper he publishes in might be 'right wing.' Rather,  
it's because he doesn't seem to have a clear idea of the lines between  
disciplines (why should Cultural Studies be concerned with Thucydides,  
or whether or not students could write a constitution?), and that he  
forgets that although students might not be studying Thucydides in CS,  
there's nothing to stop them from taking some Classics subjects at the  
same time, or taking Politics and learning about constitutions.

Ben Hourigan, B.A. (Hons) (Melb.)
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