Alison Hearn on 10 Feb 2001 01:52:39 -0000

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Re: <nettime> In Defence of Cultural Studies

>From: McKenzie Wark <>

> 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',


I teach in the only free-standing 'Cultural Studies' undergraduate program in
Canada at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.  The department itself is
notoriously odd - founded twenty years ago by English scholars, sociologists
and political theorists. These scholars - while influenced by the CCCS in
Birmingham, German aesthetic Marxism, French social theory, and Canadian
communication theory, have never worked to formalize or insist on the
'rightness' of any one academic line.  The department is constantly morphing -
embodying the idea of 'heterogeneity' more elegantly than any other academic
arena I have known.  It can be infuriating - (departmental meetings can be
hell) - as we constantly work on what we 'are' in order to reassure the
institutional authorities around us. Of course, we never can agree.  The
department houses cultural theorists, filmmakers, theatre specialists,
musicians, media and communications critics, and writers, among others.

I am struck by how this discussion on nettime understands 'cultural studies' so
narrowly - as solely the 'reading' (politicized or not) of cultural texts. What
about practice, production, intervention, transformation, intepretation,
mapping, innovative re-iterations, pedagogical challenges....and all the
combinations in-between?  It strikes me that the 'democratic impulse' cited
above must apply to the 'doing' of cultural studies - not just to authorized
types of cultural 'readings.' The political content of Cultural Studies is not
only in the theoretical approaches taken in the production of texts for
Routledge to publish.  The politics of cultural studies lies in the doing - the
teaching, making, reading, writing, performing, acting up, dressing down, and
general shit disturbing -  in the cultural world at large.  I'm not interested
in the latest reading of 'Survivor' in the Journal of Popular Culture - it
generally tells me nothing. But I suspect the 'nothingness' of the experience
comes more from the rigid context of institutionalized cultstud, than the
content of the article itself.

In this day and age, any activity that works to challenge the real material
(institutional) parameters of the 'already given' is political, and in this
sense is 'all that special.'


Alison Hearn
Asst. Professor
Cultural Studies Program
Trent University
Peterborough, Ontario
K9J 7B8  

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