Ned Rossiter on 9 Feb 2001 15:13:51 -0000

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Re: <nettime> review of Thomas Frank/Cultural Studies

Critiques of cultural studies are welcome and warrented, imo, Brian, 
especially in regard to the interrelation b/w cultural and commodity 

As I assume we all know, there's the curious historical phenomenon 
(with quite devestating social, political and intellectual 
consequences) of neoliberalism's ideology of privatising state 
services/institutions (health, education) in the name, among others, 
of 'consumer choice' - a logic that is coextensive with a general 
presupposition (more often than not) within CS that the consumer is a 
'radical'/subversive figure.  In both cases, the valourisation of the 
consumer participates in a dominant discursive space that too easily 
overlooks other material and immaterial forces at work and, in the 
case of CS, has resulted in a lot of very sloppy, boring, 
plagiaristic and dumb writing/conferences.

Certainly I think pronouncements by the likes of John Hartley in a 
recent Cult Stud Assoc of Aust newsletter that these are 'good times' 
for students and academics working in the area need to be challenged 
not only for their poverty of intellectual rigour & self-serving 
nature but also, more significantly, they function to  reproduce the 
culture of managerialism that dominates university governance (in 
Aust, and elsewhere I would have thought).

A kind of unconscious collusion is at work between the 
managerial/neoliberal phantasy of a 'free market' and the 
'pomo/post-structuralist/cult stud' logic of the floating signifier - 
a line iterated enough times before by others,  and one not 
unfamiliar to nettimers,  I would have thought.  One of the symptoms 
of this collusion: the disabling of universities as sites for 
creative thought, expression, practice and social 

Despite its various and inevitable problems, CS is a 'discipline' 
among others that  still provides tools for a basic counter position 
from which to contest the dumb persistance of old humanists and moral 
conservatives, managerial wackos, and has a host of techniques which 
enable students and teachers to open up other spaces of learning, 
growth and experience.

but with all due respect Brian, I think part of your crit. slides 
into the myopia of US-centrism (which seems to be where you ar e 
writing from).  In particular, when you write:

>You've been
>hearing about cult studs for 10 years because it took its current form
>almost exactly 10 yrs ago, with the publication of a huge anthology in the
>US. That form of cult studs has spread through the world (Latin America,
Australia, now Europe is getting it).

This line of argument needs correction on at least a couple of counts:

1.  at a theoretical level it suffers from a vulgar cultural 
imperialism thesis: to assume there is unnegotiated flow of  traffic 
from US to everywhere else is to overlook the ways in which local 
(non US) institutions, cultural practices and economies etc etc etc 
condition the reception of stuff.  I would have thought this would be 
a lesson learnt in any reasonable liberal arts 101 subject.

2. at an empirical level, your claim overlooks the historical 
emergence and development of cultural studies.  For instance: The 
Australian Journal of Cultural Studies came out in the mid 80s (and, 
incidentally, was produced  in Perth - "the most isolated city in the 
world") at a time when the university sector was undergoing stage 1 
of its current and long phase of restructuring and reform.  In the 
early 90s (though I stand to be corrected), this journal was taken 
over  by Routledge and published in the US under  the name Cultural 
Studies at a time when rapid market/university growth was occurring.

  So, this is just one instance among many of a cultural form from the 
peripheries being taken over by the centre ( a point Ken has written 
on frequently, indebted as he is to  the seminal work of Australian 
art historian Bernard Smith and Canadian political economist and 
communications theorist Harold Innis).  As for other work in 
Australia that could go under the rubric CS,  a heck of a lot of 
stuff was being published in numerous 'little magazines', art 
journals (including Art & Text, another case of a cultural form 
migrating to richer economic pastures),  long before I was aware that 
the US was aware that a thing called cultural studies existed.  Among 
other things, these journals were responsible for many translations 
of 'French theory', which the US then picked up on.  Curiously, a US 
based listserve like cultstud-l is often sensitive to the various 
legacies of cultural studies, as it should be.

3.  I missed Ben's post, but it seems to me that your comments are 
more directed to a 'young' (?) US audience/readership(?): how else 
might you assume that "you've [we] been hearing about cult studs for 
10  yrs" as  a result of the publication of that infamous 
'door-stop'?  In short, there's no need to dish out another bad 
lesson - not that I think there's anything wrong with that book per 
se - I find it quite a fascinating collection.

No doubt there are stories from Latin American, Europe and elsewhere 
that would further correct your flip remarks.  (And I'm not sure why 
your comments provoked me out of a mode of long-time lurking - but 
thanks, I probably need to get out a bit more.  Maybe the unusual 
heat and humidity of melbourne has something to do with it...)

Ned Rossiter
Lecturer, Mass Communications & Writing
School of Humanities, Communications and Social Sciences
Monash University
Berwick Campus
Clyde Rd
Berwick VIC 3806
tel. +61 3 9904 7023
fax. +61 3 9904 7037

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