Friday, September 25, 2009

Berube, Michael. "What's the Matter With Cultural Studies?" CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION September 14, 2009.

I'm saying this baldly and polemically for a reason. I know there are worthy programs in cultural studies at some North American universities, like Kansas State and George Mason, where there were once no programs at all. I know that there is more interdisciplinary work than there was 25 years ago; there is even an entire Cultural Studies Association, dating all the way back to 2003. But I want to accentuate the negative in order to point out that over the past 25 years, there has been a great deal of cultural-studies triumphalism that now seems unwarranted and embarrassing. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we heard (and I believed) that cultural studies would fan out across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, inducing them to become at once more self-critical and more open to public engagement. Some people even suggested, in either hope or fear, that cultural studies would become the name for the humanities and social sciences in toto. Lest that sound grandiose, I want to insist that there was, at the time, good reason to think that way. The period of theoretical ferment that began in the late 1960s and gained traction in the 1970s seemed to have reached the boiling point. In 1990, my first year as an assistant professor there, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign held a conference on "Cultural Studies Now and in the Future." The program included historians, media theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and AIDS activists; and the theoretical terrain—over which cultural studies had held earlier skirmishes with deconstruction, psychoanalysis, feminism, and, of course, in an epochal struggle, with Althusserians and neo-Gramscians—had lately been enriched by the arrival of Foucauldian historicism and queer theory. It really did seem plausible that cultural studies could be the start of something big. I'm not saying that it has had no impact. Cultural critics like Marc Bousquet, Cary Nelson, Andrew Ross, and Jeffrey Williams have written indispensable accounts of academic labor in America, and each has been inspired, in part, by some of the best work in the cultural-studies tradition, the branch that analyzes the social foundations of intellectual labor. But if you compare the institutional achievements of cultural studies with its initial hopes, I don't see how you can't be disappointed. . . . Read the rest here:

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