McKenzie Wark on 9 Feb 2001 05:07:37 -0000

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<nettime> In Defence of Cultural Studies

I would have to disagree with some of these
caricatures of cutltual studies. Take a classic
work like Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning
of Style. What it argues for is agency. People
are not 'cultural dopes'. People are not just
the mindless victims of ideology, just waiting
for the radical/theorist to come to their
rescue with the direct line to the correct line.
People particpate already in culture in ways
that are complex, subtle, and require that we
treat them with some respect. There is, in short,
a democratic impulse in cultural studies that
is totally absent in a lot of radical/avant
garde culture, which rests more often than not
on an aristocratic disdain for the 'masses'.
The capacity for 'reading', for making many
and different kinds of sense, is not something
all that 'special', that only the artist can
do. The capacity for analysis is, likewise,
not so special that only the theory-equipped
militant can do it right. These capacities are
always-already there in people, if one approaches
people with a open ear and mind.

All this is an obvious strain in British cultural
studies, although clearly not the only thing
going on it. Cultural studies too can be read and
used in lots of different ways. That it has been
taken up in a somewhat different way in the US
need not cast too long a shadow on the work of,
say, Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, Angela McRobbie,
and people not conencted with the 'Birmingham
school' who were like them reading Raymond Williams,
such as John Hartley.


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