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DECOLON I AL VO I C E S DECOLONIAL VOICES Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century ARTURO J. ALDAMA
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Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices Melissa Gregg
Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices
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Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices Melissa Gregg University of Queensland
© Melissa Gregg 2006 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. The author has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published 2006 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 Companies and representatives throughout the world PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave Macmillan division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. Macmillan® is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union and other countries. ISBN-13: 978–1–4039–9902–3 hardback ISBN-10: 1–4039– 9902–3 hardback This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gregg, Melissa, 1978Cultural studies’ affective voices / Melissa Gregg. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1–4039–9902–3 1. Culture—Study and teaching. 2. Culture—Study and teaching—History. I. Title. HM623.G74 2006 306.07–dc22 2006045713 10 15
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham and Eastbourne
For the regulars at Monthly MACS and Home Cooked Theory.
Without this strange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider; without this passion… without this, you have no calling for science and you should do something else. For nothing is worthy of man as man unless he can pursue it with passionate devotion. Max Weber, ‘Science as Vocation’
Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there. Radiohead, ‘There There’
Contents Acknowledgements 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Communicating Investment: Cultural Studies, Politics and Affect
Activating Empathy: Richard Hoggart, Ordinariness and the Persistence of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’
The Politics of Conjuncture: Stuart Hall, Articulation and the Commitment to Specificity
Fighting for the Future: Lawrence Grossberg, Messianic Zeal and the Challenge of Building a Legacy
Justice and Accountability: Andrew Ross, Intellectual Labour and the New Academic Activism
A Voice of Vigilance: Meaghan Morris, Anecdotal Critique and the Politics of Academic Speech
Acknowledgements This project began in a different town, at a different time. I would like to thank Elspeth Probyn for her support and guidance and for making academic life an exciting possibility (and eventual reality). I also thank readers of earlier versions of this argument, particularly Nick Couldry, James Donald, Catherine Driscoll and Linnell Secomb. In Sydney, thanks to Kate Crawford, Clifton Evers, Anna Gibbs, Natalya Lusty, Shane McGrath, Tara Mathey, Catriona Menzies-Pike, Michael Moller, Katrina Schlunke, Jane Simon and William Tregoning. Thanks also to Megan Watkins for drawing my attention to Teresa Brennan’s work. In Brisbane, thanks to Frances Bonner, Gerard Goggin, John Gunders, Ian Hunter, Andrea Mitchell, Fiona Nicoll, Ellie Rennie and Jo Tacchi. Particular thanks to Graeme Turner, Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, each of whom have made my move to Brisbane incredibly rewarding. Research for this book was supported by an Early Career Researcher Grant from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Queensland. I deeply appreciate the opportunity it provided. The reading of The Uses of Literacy offered in Chapter 2 has appeared previously in ‘A Neglected History: Richard Hoggart’s Discourse of Empathy’, Rethinking History vol 7 (3), 2003, while significant parts of Chapter 3 were first published in two separate articles: ‘Toolbox for Electric Fences’ in Cultural Studies Review, vol 10 (1), 2004; and, in collaboration with Glen Fuller, ‘Where is the Law in “Unlawful Combatant”? Resisting the Refrain of the Right-eous’, also in Cultural Studies Review, vol 11 (2), 2005. I sincerely appreciate the permission originally granted by Gary Highland of Amnesty International for use of the image in Chapter 3, and Martin Milne who confirmed permission for this publication. Some parts of Chapter 6 appear in ‘A Mundane Voice’, Cultural Studies vol 18 (2–3), 2004. Thank you to Gregory Seigworth and Michael Gardiner for commissioning that article and for helpful suggestions on improving it. Thanks especially to Greg for remaining a critical interlocutor for the past few years. On this front, I also want to thank Kris Cohen for being my best ‘virtual’ friend and for putting me up in Chicago. Thanks to my extended family in Hobart and Sydney for their support during this long project, and to my Dad for viii
support of the most practical kind. All other acknowledgements appear in endnotes to the text where relevant. The ideas expressed here have gained enormously from the generosity of Larry Grossberg, Meaghan Morris, Andrew Ross and Eve Sedgwick. What follows marks what I hope will be only the beginning of my attempts to express appropriate gratitude. Melissa Gregg
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1 Communicating Investment: Cultural Studies, Politics and Affect
Narratives matter and the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about cultural studies, about how it has or has not passed an epistemological, ethical or political threshold which differentiates it from its disciplinary forebears, will influence how we envisage its future trajectories and seek to contribute to their development. (Bennett, 1998: 42)
Introduction Over the past decade, publishers’ catalogues have continued to showcase an apparently ceaseless supply of introductory readers, taxonomies and evaluations of cultural studies. Writing this book I have often worried about the need to add yet another title to this by now surely satiated field. My anxieties only heightened recently when two respected mentors remarked (in a cultural studies conference plenary no less): ‘Nothing is more boring than when cultural studies talks about itself’.1 This was hardly the most encouraging thing to hear when finishing a manuscript, particularly when the book itself arises out of concern that something fundamental has been missing from existing accounts of cultural studies. I describe this ‘something’ as cultural studies’ particular investment and commitment to scholarly practice, its sense of vocation, which is communicated through a contagious ‘affect’ in the forms of address adopted by its key figures. This investment in what Bruce Robbins (1993) calls a ‘secular vocation’ must be acknowledged if cultural studies is to resolve its disciplinary as well as institutional ‘bashfulness’ (Bennett, 1998: 8). By taking the university as the principal site of cultural studies’ modest political ambitions, this book argues that one of the field’s key achievements has been to question the conventions of traditional academic discourse, reworking some of its expectations and 1
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functions to keep step with contemporary events. In doing so, I will suggest, cultural studies has widened the participants for scholarly debate, making the academic vocation a more attractive and likely prospect for different kinds of people. My approach does not seek to imply any inadequacy on the part of those who have provided the important theoretical and epistemological footing for cultural studies’ emergence. It merely admits that the focus on historical content and disciplinary method has had particular consequences. The most significant of these has been to postpone discussion of the wider ethical and political dimensions of cultural studies’ practice – dimensions which will be crucial to the field’s capacity to continue its project within markedly different institutional conditions than those of its beginnings.2 Combined with the publishing and administrative expectations of professional academic life, the various occupational pressures of the contemporary university environment work against efforts to describe, let alone facilitate, the collegial pleasures likely to ensure generational succession. Focusing on the content of its practice – on genealogy, on epistemology – cultural studies has paid substantially less attention to this ontological dimension accompanying its innovations in practice. Such an account has perhaps been an unaffordable luxury for a relatively new discipline. But the moment might now be right to attempt this different kind of inventory, if only because with the passing of time, things that may have seemed implicit and obvious may be increasingly difficult to recall and keep central. Tony Bennett summarises a key aspect of my concerns in this book when he writes: Most of the accounts of cultural studies that are so far available to us are ‘insider’ accounts written from within its framework of shared assumptions. Better, they are accounts which have helped forge and articulate those shared assumptions and to organise a ‘we’ whose members recognise the history of cultural studies as their own – the history of their trials and tribulations, setbacks and advances. As accounts which have thus been concerned to construct a particular sense of being ‘in the true’ that characterises and distinguishes the cultural studies enterprise, they have all (necessarily) been written from within that truth in the very process of forming it. (Bennett, 1998: 43) This passage offers a formulation that I recognise even if age precludes my interpellation as part of the ‘we’ Bennett identifies. While for his
purposes it serves a positioning function for subsequent arguments regarding institutional and disciplinary maturity, I find the passage useful for other reasons. In its attention to the default ‘we’ of cultural studies, Bennett indicates the difficulty for younger generations of emerging scholars to see the radical potential of something that has never been anything other than a university course, and an established discipline in some contexts. As I have argued in further detail elsewhere: For researchers inheriting cultural studies’ legacies today, there has never been a time before radical professionalism, before the strategic thinking required by institutional politics, a time when one might not have spent most of their energy navigating funding bodies. What’s more, many recent graduates have been politicised by their exposure to academic theory, which is to say that for the present generation there has never been a time ‘before’ or ‘after’ theory. (Gregg, 2006) A growing number of cultural studies practitioners neither witnessed nor participated in the formative debates about cultural studies mentioned by Bennett. Whatever significance one might accord the field’s ‘project’ (Grossberg, 2004a) demands to be repositioned for a generation whose ‘framework of shared assumptions’ instead include an all-pervasive neoliberal culture, not to mention a landscape ritually described in terms of ‘terror’. As leading figures in cultural studies’ initial mobilisation inevitably move away from the spotlight, Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices is written with all the biases and assumptions of this next generation. Rather than renouncing the field’s dominant traditions, however, it attempts to offer an overdue assessment of the continued hope to be drawn from them, as well as the university as the site of our ongoing investment as scholars. In the past, academic writing tended to avoid conscious displays of affect or emotion. As Teresa Brennan has written, the faculty of discernment involves a process ‘whereby affects pass from the state of sensory registration to a state of cognitive or intelligent reflection’ (2004: 120). Importantly, however, Brennan also argues that the process of reflection is not itself without affect, ‘just that the affect is other than the affect that is being reflected upon’ (ibid.). In Brennan’s view, the fact that ‘reason and passion or affect and cognition keep reappearing as binaries’ is evidence that scholarship aspires for ‘a real and necessary distinction between the ego and the faculty of discernment, between the passions and the “other I” who reflects on them’ (ibid.).
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Brennan’s scientific perspective is an important complement to recent debates within media and cultural studies focusing on affect and emotion. Yet her writing does not dwell on the history within institutions of knowledge and learning which has tended to associate particular kinds of people with affect and unreason. It is in this sense that I find affect’s relationship to cultural studies’ political ambitions well worth considering. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau (1984) recognises that the ‘scriptural economy’ operating in bourgeois institutions like the university has been central to the process whereby some voices are granted more authority than others. De Certeau’s account of the rise of the bourgeoisie attributes their great success to the decision to treat language as ‘a disorderly nature that has to be cultivated’: The mastery of language guarantees and isolates a new power, a “bourgeois” power, that of making history and fabricating languages. This power, which is essentially scriptural… defines the code governing socio-economic promotion and dominates, regulates, or selects according to its norms all those who do not possess this mastery of language. (de Certeau, 1984: 138–9) Drawing out the relationship between language, authority and class, de Certeau demonstrates how certain voices have been able to be dismissed by governing powers for the ‘lack of mastery’ betrayed in their speech. This ‘code of promotion and regulation’ has been central to securing the dominance of white, middle class, male voices in key institutions over time – it is no coincidence that women’s maternal capabilities were successfully articulated to the realm of hysteria and emotion. As Dale Spender forcefully argues, the ‘wholesale denial of education to women’ in the early days of the university forced women ‘to prove that they were capable of being educated, and that they were “fit” candidates for university’ (1995: 163). In today’s university context, then, cultural studies is part of a wider reaction to the class and gender privileges that have been involved in knowledge production, evaluation and dissemination in the past. Its commitment to self-reflexive scholarly practice shows an awareness of the historical conditions lending certain kinds of voices the most authentic claim to truth. Cultural studies attempts to democratise the strict rules of engagement that have typically characterised the university – rules which have often sought to tame the unwieldy or dangerous potential inherent within a speaking subject. In doing so, it often privileges the perspectives of those who have suffered
as a result of the scriptural economy of the past; particularly the voices of women, racial minorities and the poor. In this way, as bell hooks argues, cultural studies ‘can serve as an intervention, making a space for forms of intellectual discourse to emerge that have not been traditionally welcomed in the academy’ (hooks, 1990: 125). The mobilising defence of cultural studies hooks offers indicates that maintaining a representative community of scholars requires different forms of academic subjectivity and performance than those that have been associated with scholarly discourse in the past. To appreciate cultural studies’ impact does not require a wholesale abdication of scholarly ideals or the quest for verifiable knowledge, as its most stringent critics tend to claim. What it does demand is a thorough reckoning with the manner in which knowledge has been and continues to be expressed – and as such, assessed – within culturally specific terms (Bourdieu et al., 1994; Bourdieu, 1988). Subsequent chapters of this book document the ways cultural studies has questioned the habitual judgements and valueladen frameworks that have determined epistemological worth in the humanities; how it has highlighted the biases of class, race, gender and location which have limited established hermeneutics. This is part of a process Lawrence Grossberg describes as the attempt to ‘reclaim’ intellectual authority: ‘The fact that authority is socially constructed, that all knowledge is historically implicated with systems of power, does not mean that all authority can or should be rejected, or that all systems of power are equally condemnable’ (1997a: 267). As an argument for the significance of a politics aimed at discursive conventions, this book follows a tradition of thought which refuses the distinction between political theory and practice. Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze discuss the role of the intellectual in accordance with this ‘new relationship between theory and practice’ where ‘theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice’ (1977: 205–7).3 In my attention to voice, I am also identifying with a history of feminist writing which tests and reworks the forms of speech typically accepted as scholarly, which is to say, deserving of academic legitimacy. In The Pirate’s Fiancée, Meaghan Morris establishes a crucial difference between an uncomplicated deployment of subjectivity in scholarly discourse and the task of producing a speaking position as ‘a strategy of reference’ (1988a: 7). This distinction has been a critical step in overturning prevailing assumptions that the use of the first person in academic work is ideologically and analytically suspect. Some years later, Elspeth Probyn’s Sexing the Self (1993) interrogated the same presumption, arguing that theorised ‘selves’ bring situated
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and conjunctural insights to cultural studies. Both writers appreciate that generic choices have better or worse consequences. With disciplinary training, a performative voice can be used purposefully in particular contexts for concerted effects. My further suggestion, stemming from this crucial foundation, is that a collegially and politically important function arises in cultural studies’ distinctive combination of an affective address and critical rigour. The new voices cultural studies brings to the academy create the possibility of a mobilising and contagious discourse, one which sustains existing intellectual peers but also spreads the insights of scholarly work to new audiences.
Investing in a vocation: Scholarly life and its affects The strength of popular perceptions associating scholarly endeavour with notions of objectivity, emotional detachment and rational thought have made discussion of affect’s place in the academy difficult. Yet given the amount of solitary dedication scholars often require to produce their work, it is hardly accurate to suggest that academics lack passion for their investigative concerns. As I will take some length to argue, it is a consciously partisan approach that has established new priorities for intellectual inquiry in emerging fields like cultural studies. In common parlance, affect is often aligned with charisma and emotion, and it is for this reason that affect can be viewed as having dangerous potential: it leaves individual scholars subject to the influence of compelling ideas or charismatic personalities. As Brian Massumi has observed, this confusion over affect’s etymology is largely the result of a reluctance to discuss affect with any great specificity, which is also to say in the plural (Massumi, 1996; see also Probyn, 2005). If it is broadly acknowledged that there are positive, negative, even innate forms of affect which constitute our normal psychic functioning – which simply constitute the very matter of being and existing – then the relative hysteria surrounding its function in academic practice suggests a critical blindness requiring explanation. Scholarly life is full of visceral experiences: the hopeful trajectories a writer’s voice can encourage as you read their work, the stimulus and provocation of peers, the confidence a mentor can inspire in a student are just some of the energies which help sustain what would otherwise seem a solitary vocation. Think too of the fear and adrenaline that come with presenting work in public, the ferocity with which disciplinary ideologues stake out their turf, the indignant soliloquies of aging colleagues faced with one more bureaucratic imposition or the consuming doubt that can descend on even the most
gifted writers. The immense range of affective scenarios in academia is formidable. To the extent that these rich and vital dimensions of scholarly life are rarely narrated or publicly acknowledged, however, academics continue to fight stereotypes of isolationism, leading to inaccurate clichés about university life. The point of recognising the affective nature of scholarly practice is to highlight the fundamentally social qualities it involves. As I will also suggest, it is to signal the importance of collegiality and community in assisting the difficult choice which is to make a living from thinking seriously and differently. Paying notice to the immediate levels of scholarly production and performance can help to understand the function it continues to serve for individual scholars and for colleagues collectively. Too often the affective dimensions of scholarly life are downplayed, even though they are central to securing professional solidarity and regeneration. Introducing a mode of analysis that distinguishes the ‘voice’ of individual intellectuals, I seek to establish a way of accessing the affective relationships that develop in the pursuit of knowledge, particularly how a writer’s investment in their subject often transmits to the page and can spread to readers of their work. The writers engaged with here – Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall, Larry Grossberg, Andrew Ross and Meaghan Morris – each develop an affective address that has been contagious and regenerative for cultural studies. There’s a distinct manner in the tone of each of these writers, a certain inflection to their voice, which lends urgency to the vocation. In quite different ways, these writers’ characteristic forms of intervention communicate investment and involvement. Their writing relates the significance of issues forming cultural studies’ critical agenda and mobilises textual strategies that make what’s dear to the writer a concern for the reader too. While my selection may appear to be an arbitrary group of scholars given cultural studies’ already rich history, I argue the mode of intervention each of these writers adopts is a crucial commentary on existing hermeneutics. How they write is symptomatic of what they attempt to convey, and each chapter offers a reading of the particular ‘voice’ that is used to do so. I use voice in a particular sense here. Firstly, it refers to the distinct and unique signature, the mode of address that identifies their intervention. But also, the idea of voice is an attempt to distance my readings from any simple equation with autobiographical subjectivity or personality. The writerly voice employed fits the wider message and political objectives of the author’s work; their style is a generic choice
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reflecting the substance of the message. This is an optimistic form of writing. It needs to believe it can have an effect. It aspires to touch the reader with words, questioning the institutional barriers which prevent the spreading of ideas. What is important about this, and why affect is an essential element of scholarly practice, is that such a discourse catalyses colleagues. It is crucial to professional regeneration. Morris herself suggests that often as academics ‘we ask of a discourse that has manifestly just inspired and strengthened people, “Yes, but what else can it do?”’ (1993a: 41). It’s a cogent observation, pertinent for those concerned with the historically fraught relationship between academic work and an ‘outside’ world which it might seek to influence. The concept of investment, or what might be called ‘scholarly affect’, is one response to Morris’s suspicion ‘that a cultural politics interested in influencing the future will benefit greatly from understanding better than in the past what it is that such a discourse – in inspiring and strengthening its audience – actually does, (ibid.). It is precisely this function of strengthening and catalysing others that I suggest warrants recognition as a situated form of politics, as a ‘specific’ intellectual practice in Foucault’s sense (Foucault, 1980). Looking at figures in cultural studies who fulfil this role and use it to create new spaces for speaking and studying culture in the academy, I argue that affective voices encourage solidarity and continuity in scholarly work. Creating links between a past, present and future community of writers and thinkers, scholarly affect emphasises the importance of imaginative, rousing writing in a sometimes technocratic world. Affective contagion Anna Gibbs has been quick to notice the trend that ‘in cultural studies, “affect” seems to be emerging as a key term in the wake of expressed feminist desires to “think through the body”’ (Gibbs, 2002: 335). While in other disciplines affect might be associated with notions of charisma, ideology or irrationality, affect’s critical uses are increasingly recognised in cultural studies. But ‘what is meant by the “emotions” in other disciplines and by “affect” in cultural studies is somewhat variable’ (ibid.). Clarifying these alternatives, Gibbs offers a reading of the psychologist Silvan Tomkins to describe his model of affect which responds to innate biological drives. This is an understanding of affect as ‘the primary human motivational system, amplifying the drives and lending them urgency’ (2002: 337). Gibbs’s reading is therefore a contrast to dominant understandings of affect in cultural studies, which she claims retain ‘a certain distance from affect in its biological sense’ (2002: 335). Moving
away from the textual emphasis of these approaches, Gibbs engages in a cross-disciplinary project with clinical and scientific theories, to rethink ‘the role of innate or categorical affect in human communication’ (2002: 335). I mention these different understandings of affect to pay heed to the term’s specific uses (see also Gregg, 2005). My notion of ‘scholarly affect’ is slightly different again. Just as Gibbs uses Tomkins’s concept of ‘affective contagion’ to describe relations between visual media and their audiences, and the communicative properties of the human face (Gibbs, 2001) I also seek to concentrate on the contagiousness of affects, but through the medium of the text. Teresa Brennan (2004) has argued that the transmission of affect has yet to be adequately theorised, because Western modes of perception are particularly challenged by the idea that we may not be in control of our feelings, moods and actions as individuals. She seeks to explain this process, which ‘is social in origin but biological and physical in effect’ (2004: 3). Brennan’s psychological and somatic focus differs from the mainly visual stimuli of Gibbs’s analysis. The acts of reading and comprehension I am interested in operate at a different level of cognitive processing again: reading is a longer feedback system relying on culturally specific literacies and hence a greater lag in response is likely. Furthermore, as critics of reader-response theory readily testify, the many factors conditioning the act of interpretation hardly guarantee a predictable response from every reader. Nonetheless, there is still a biological dimension to the responses a text can generate. Affect can exist within the text itself, and arise from the page as it is read (Young, 2005). This potential for affects to be generated, disseminated and caught through a textual voice, is what the following chapters seek to instantiate. To some, this may sound like an elaborately disguised return to the Author, in the critique of which a number of poststructuralist writers have been prominent. Barthes writes in his essay announcing ‘The Death of the Author’ that too often ‘the explanation of a work’ has been ‘sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us’ (Barthes, 1977: 143). Barthes’s essay certainly sounded the end of any innocent recourse to the idea of authorial intention, particularly when he wrote passages attesting that writing begins when ‘the voice loses its origin’ – this is the moment when ‘the author enters into his own death’ (1977: 142). Whether or not the author’s identity is assumed to reside in the text, I am suggesting there are still effects to be gleaned from the voice he or
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she employs. Even the most anti-subjective of critics, Gilles Deleuze, places faith in the writer’s ‘clinical’ function (1997) of diagnosing the troubled reality of the present: Whether through words, colors, sounds, or stone, art is the language of sensations. Art does not have opinions. Art undoes the triple organization of perceptions, affections, and opinions in order to substitute a monument composed of percepts, affects, and blocs of sensations that take the place of language. The writer uses words, but by creating a syntax that makes them pass into sensation that makes the standard language stammer, tremble, cry, or even sing: this is the style, the “tone,” the language of sensations, or the foreign language within language that summons forth a people to come, “Oh, people of old Catawba,” “Oh, people of Yoknapatawpha.” The writer twists language, makes it vibrate, seizes hold of it, and rends it in order to wrest the percept from perceptions, the affect from affections, the sensation from opinion – in view, one hopes, of that still-missing people. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 176) Twisting the language of academic speech, rescuing the affect that has been stripped of its prose, the cultural studies writers described here create a syntax to capture the sensuous detail of the subjects they study. As we will see, their writing puts claims upon a more invigorating future scholarship ‘to come’.
Affective criticism: Hearing the extratextual The grain of the voice When I say ‘textual voice’, the specific sense I have in mind is closest to Barthes’s idea of ‘the grain of the voice’ in his essay of the same name. Barthes formulated this mode of criticism in response to his perception that the long-playing (LP) record brought new ways of listening to musical performances. In his view, the increased number of songs the LP demanded of the singer prolonged the listening experience, but in doing so discounted sensitivity to the ‘grain’ of the voice. Barthes feared the consequence of this development would be that our means of listening to and engaging with cultural products would become implicated in the material dictates of the capitalism system. Capitalism ‘condemned’ criticism to the ‘adjective’, obscuring the individuality and uniqueness of a voice (1977: 181).
The approach to listening Barthes developed was directed not to ‘the tyranny of meaning’ which he claimed had colonised the genre of music criticism but one which could produce an admittedly ‘impossible account of an individual thrill’ experienced when listening to certain performers (1977: 181–2). This ‘climactic pleasure’, according to Barthes, would be an appreciation of ‘the diction of the language’ taking into account the tone, the pitch, the overall ‘feel’ of a performer’s persona (1997: 182–3). This listening disposition goes against ‘everything which it is customary to talk about – the matter of acknowledged tastes, of fashions, of critical commentaries’. It rails against preconceived ideas of what ‘can be said: what is said about it, predicatively, by Institution, Criticism, Opinion’ (1997: 185). It asks that conventional parameters of critical judgment be suspended to enact an ‘encounter between a language and a voice’ (1977: 181–2). For Barthes, this encounter between language and voice is necessary in order to leave oneself open to the possibility of jouissance: the definitive sensation of overwhelming affect. For my purposes here, I argue that the close reading conditions required of scholarly practice summon a similar degree of attention to the diction of a writer’s language: the particular timbre and cadence of a writer’s voice has the capacity to affect a reader in a number of ways. One need only think of Derrida’s playful theatrics or Bourdieu’s multitudinous clauses to follow Barthes’s idea that a voice is like a signature in its uniqueness. But what I am suggesting is that certain voices, particularly when they address issues about which we are also passionate, are capable of affecting us in ways that stimulate, arouse and thrill. In this way reading can be quite a physical and moving experience: it can summon delight, exhilaration or inspiration. Of course, not all writers provoke the same affective response in all people, nor are the responses themselves necessarily positive ones. But when they are, such an encounter between language and voice can make scholarly work seem important and worthwhile. It can make the momentum of the work infectious. In this sense affect differs from charisma because its consequences are neither mindless nor fatalistic.4 The grain of the voice has the effect of mobilising a reader, contributing to further acts of scholarship. Its affective dimension, once enjoyed, is sublimated to critical ends. The further point to be taken from Barthes’s paradigm is that the voices he identifies are engaged in exercises that pass beyond a mere adoption of ‘style’, but demonstrate ‘a practical reflection (if one may put it like that) on the language’ used (1977: 186). At the time of his writing,
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Barthes was concerned that the French were no longer using their language in a characteristic way, that is, ‘as a space of pleasure, of thrill, a site where language works for nothing, that is, in perversion’ (1977: 187). My similar concern in this book is with the modes of criticism and performance accompanying academic writing. I question whether the institutional strength of multinational scholarly publishing might be leading to a proliferation in publishing avenues at the expense of any diversity in discursive address. As Morris and Muecke (1995) argue, in the inaugural editorial of their journal, UTS Review, the safely reproducible scholarly voices dominating the critical landscape risk the likelihood of experimental forms of writing and research in the future. And as the university becomes increasingly managed by corporate models of accountability, there are fewer chances to use language for unprofitable, felicitous purposes. I share Barthes’s interest in a criticism that can resist the stultifying effects of mass commercialisation, institutionalisation and utility. I too want to draw out ‘the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs’ (1977: 188). If this new scheme of evaluation is personal and individual in nature, this is not to say that it is ‘subjective’ in the sense one usually defines it. As Barthes elaborates: ‘it is not the psychological “subject” in me who is listening; the climactic pleasure hoped for is not going to reinforce – to express – that subject but, on the contrary, to lose it’ (1977: 188). The mimetic double Another productive guide in my attempt to access the extratextual properties of cultural studies writing is film theorist Laleen Jayamanne. In a move that resembles Barthes’s focus on voice, Jayamanne describes criticism as the matter of reading and relating a text’s ‘enunciative strategies’ (2001: 15). A method informed by early moves in feminist theory,5 Jayamanne’s is an attempt to shake up the ‘critical assumptions solidly in place’ before one encounters a text (ibid.). Writing from within the field of film studies, Jayamanne finds that the strength of preconceptions often brought to viewing means ‘no film can ever shift them’ (ibid.). Here the habitual methods of the supposedly ‘critical’ practices brought to an object prevent it from making an impact to change received modes of thinking. To counter this trend, Jayamanne’s strategy is to individualise the textual address, what she calls (again echoing Barthes) the ‘activation of an encounter’ (2001: xi). Suspending one’s preconceptions for the duration of the encounter activates a sensitivity to the individual properties of a film – how the film immediately
grabs you as a viewer, regardless of theoretical fashion. This form of viewing is ‘a means of entering the object, though not necessarily through the door marked “Enter”’ (ibid.). Jayamanne’s approach stems from her dissatisfaction with a particular mode of cultural studies criticism that reads film in terms of its narrative structure, and thus how it addresses pre-established investigative interests (class, race or gender, for instance). In her view, these methods are too narrow and presumptive. They leave little possibility for a film to be considered in its own terms: the particular way it appears and unfolds, how it concerns itself with the story it tells. In effect, approaches concentrating on narrative discount the very features which distinguish film as a medium. Jayamanne’s suggested alternative is to provide for the object of analysis a ‘mimetic double’, that is, a critical response appropriate to the gestures advanced in the text. The mimetic double begins as a response to a stimulus (a tracing of the text) but comes into its own as a work of criticism through the idiosyncrasy of the gestures it notices: If the description does not move, then criticism is no more than a dull copy or repetition of the object. The kind of descriptive act required cannot be determined before the encounter with a particular object, but certain guidelines (at least those that work for me) seem to emerge through this writing. One is to ride an impulsive move toward whatever draws one to something in the object … Enter through this and describe exactly what is heard and seen … Soon one’s own description begins not only to mimic the object, as a preliminary move, but also to redraw the object. (2001: xi) Jayamanne offers a number of affective directives here, firstly in the claim that the description of the text must itself try to move the reader. She suggests criticism is a form of writing or cultural production that requires its own creativity at the same time as it responds to a stimulus. Implied here too is the idea that criticism should aspire to communicate and make infectious just how a text affects the critic. A degree of openness is needed for this to happen. An encounter is therefore defined by the way one person reacts to a given piece of work in its singularity. For Jayamanne, the act of appraisal has its own particular mediating function: it is not a ‘dull copy’ of the object, but a means to prolong, extend or spread some of the possibilities a text can be seen to contain. The critic is inspired by – and seeks to share – what is most striking, ‘whatever draws one to something in the object’.
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A poetic and innovative means to generate film theory, the concept of the ‘mimetic double’ also gives me a way to downplay the amount of deference I might otherwise attach to existing cultural studies accounts (these are examples of what draw other people to each writer’s work). It is also to pre-empt the inevitable limitations of my readings of Grossberg, Ross and Morris, who have so far received far less critical attention in comparison with Hall and Hoggart. What I find fascinating and irresistible about all five writers is their voice – that is, their ‘enunciative strategies’ – their characteristic styles of intervention. A focus on the individual appeal of their voice is a way to describe this personal dimension, as opposed to the established interpretations haunting discussions of cultural studies’ founding figures. I want to get the style of enunciation, the register and cadence of a writer into the conversation about a work’s importance. Employing Jayamanne’s technique will also mean that my readings try to create a response which accords with the unique project of each writer alongside the task of drawing out their signature voice. This embraces Jayamanne’s point that the act of criticism and response is itself a creative enterprise. It is most useful and stimulating when it generates its own examples, applications, lines of flight. As I describe ‘what draws me’ to each writer, I hope to do so in ways that can sit well with the spirit of their work but also embody a life of their own. Sympathetic reading From a different perspective I am attempting to produce what Morris calls a ‘sympathetic’ reading of cultural studies figures. Like Jayamanne’s, this is an approach that takes its cues from the style of the individual work. It tries to suspend judgements that might determine one’s initial reaction (in Morris’s case, her feminism). It is a sympathetic reading exercise in the sense that it tries to resist the temptation to ‘answer back’. Morris’s position approaches ‘the texts in question sympathetically in order to understand them as criticisms of those answers that my feminism might automatically provide, and so to use them to question my own assumptions and practices in the process of reading theirs’ (1988a: 6). This difficult task requires an ability to recognise one’s own biases in order to put them on a shelf and forget about them for the length of the ‘encounter’. Only by doing so, Morris seems to say, can we really hear another writer’s voice. In the terms I am using, reading sympathetically is the way to open oneself to the possibility of empathy (Chapter 2), of working out where a writer is coming from. Suspending judgement is a way to leave oneself
open to being moved, of learning something new. At worst, it provides the most positive rendering of someone else’s position in order to test the bases on which you decide not to pursue it yourself. In this way sympathetic reading offers a route for the possibility of maintaining affirmative relationships. It does away with the barriers that would prevent recognition of another’s position in the hope that new kinds of appreciation and improved understanding might be possible. Focusing on the failings of predecessors seems an easy way to further encourage an intellectual climate of hesitancy and fear, such that we might become scared ever to think or dream outside the paradigms of which we are sure. This scenario sets real limits on the kinds of possibilities academic work might contemplate in the future when there are already enough institutional expectations and government threats regarding the kind of research validated and endorsed in universities. Reading generously is also to remain mindful that from future perspectives, our own positions in the present may also be blind to omissions we cannot yet foresee. Intellectual hospitality In her reading of the laudatory essays of some of the past century’s leading philosophers, Eleanor Kaufman has described this form of criticism I am interested in as the practice of ‘intellectual hospitality’. Her book is a rare attempt to bestow significance to the positive affects of scholarly life, especially for the way that it reveals how complimentary writing often reiterates key elements of the work under discussion. In a gesture that clearly recalls Barthes’s desire for jouissance in the encounter with a voice, Kaufman also endorses the ‘possibility of desubjectification, or breakdown of identity’ in the laudatory exchanges of intellectual peers: This mode is something other than a critical dialectic in which the ideas of one thinker are positioned against those of another. Rather than an effort at one-upmanship or an attempt to repudiate or revise another thinker’s work, these essays work to a completely different end: praise and affirmation. In these laudatory essays there is no clear distinction between subject and object, but rather an exegetical celebration of the text at hand. The text is treated as if it were a holy text to be worshipped rather than one that might have human flaws … Moreover, this particular mode of exegesis is not one of restraint but rather of delirium – a delirium that signals the ecstatic breakdown of identity that occurs when it is no longer discernible what thought
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belongs to whom and whose voice is being heard at any given moment (2001: 7). While in this book I hope to have avoided an excessive amount of praise for the writers under discussion, I share Kaufman’s desire for a more affirmative means of engaging with the significance of colleagues’ work and influence. In her words, this would be a new form of intellectual hospitality, a mode of being in common that is not a form of correcting or out-mastering the other, but rather a way of joining with the other in language or in thought so that what is created is a community of thought that knows no bounds, a hospitality that liquidates identity, a communism of the soul. (2001: 141)
Historical generosity In order to ‘enact an encounter’ with these five voices, and suggest the ongoing usefulness of their interventionist strategies, my project faces a formidable literature of existing interpretation. In the case of Richard Hoggart (Chapter 2), this means tackling commonly held views that read his work as dangerously self-indulgent or nostalgic, as an elegy to a passing era of working-class values.6 For Stuart Hall (Chapter 3), the challenge is saying anything really new about his work given the mountain of existing literature and the degree of influence he commands in cultural studies (see Gilroy et al., 2000; Morley and Chen, 1996). The mythic status of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) as the founding home for the field and the recent backlash against Hall’s star status (see Rojek, 1998; 2003; 2005) all inflect the possibility of reading and responding to his work outside the inheritance of past responses. I hope that the inclusion of three contemporary figures is a way of providing some context and future trajectory for this established heritage, particularly for those who may not share the same emotional investment in earlier periods of the field’s development. Ultimately, in describing each of these figures I aim to offer a degree of generosity in my accounts, if only because it seems important that intellectual predecessors be recognised for creating the position from which critiques are now made.7 Reading these writers sympathetically, trying to hear the distinct voices mobilised in their writing, means suspending some of the perspectives of the present in order to appreciate each project in the context of its conjunctural moment (it also means I have had
to be painfully selective in approaching the extensive oeuvre of each writer). But the point is to assess their respective interventions in positive terms, to reflect their significance in cultural studies’ development. What distinguishes each writer I single out for discussion is that their particular voice makes a new form of academic discourse possible and acceptable within the university institution. A certain historical mindfulness is necessary to note the significance of this achievement.8 That said, I do not seek to offer these writers as role models for a particular version of cultural studies that is exemplary or right. This burden of representation is one of the key problems I suggest has plagued cultural studies’ history, and which contributes to its present dilemma of finding appropriate successors to the field’s ‘true’ vision (Bennett, 1998). This assemblage of writers from a range of historical conjunctures is an effort to resist a temporal narrative that often sees a narrative of progress in the intellectual ‘styles’ cultural studies intellectuals adopt.9 It is to treat these voices as resources within a wider cache of strategies the field can utilise depending on the circumstances. Specific examples draw to light the recurring emphases and themes in cultural studies’ development, and it will be clear that a number of the individual projects I focus on actually share aspects of each others’ voices at different moments in their career. The category of ‘voice’ is therefore offered as a way to appreciate that the different strands of cultural studies’ attention remain in constant and productive tension rather than as competing callings or paths that the field ought to follow.
What is at stake? The risks of being invested In Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi (2002) suggests that humanities research needs to change its priorities so that negative critique might be used more ‘sparingly’: ‘The balance has to shift to affirmative methods: techniques which embrace their own inventiveness and are not afraid to own up to the fact that they add (if so meagerly) to reality’ (2002: 12–3). Massumi aspires to take ‘seriously the idea that writing in the humanities can be affirmative or inventive’ (2002: 17), and questions the dominant mode of investment at work in scholarly practice generally: ‘Foster or debunk. It’s a strategic question. Like all strategic questions, it is basically a question of timing and proportion. Nothing to do with morals or moralising. Just pragmatic’ (2002: 13). In order to encourage writing that moves, sparks connections, and fosters exercises in imagining a better human future, Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices responds to Massumi’s provocation that established conventions of
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reception and critique need reassessment. The stakes are the capacity for our work to touch others. The affective properties of scholarly voices offer the chance to spread conceptual advances and theoretical insights further than might otherwise be the case. Adopting an affective register can build momentum for a particular claim, amplifying a message beyond the confines of institutional settings. An affective voice communicates a degree of investment and interest in the subject discussed. As Morris and Frow write, ‘the intellectual project of cultural studies is always at some level marked … by a discourse of social involvement’ (1993: xviii). Affective writing speaks directly, from the head and the heart, in response to something felt to be fundamentally important. It refuses a detached analysis. The ‘individual thrill’ of someone like Hall’s voice is its ‘will to connect’: the guiding principle he once suggested for cultural studies, arising from a sense that ‘there is something at stake in cultural studies, in a way I think, and hope, is not exactly true of many other very important intellectual and critical practices’ (Hall, 1992a: 278). Cultural studies’ particular commitment to communicating affect is an effort to convey the weightiness of its subject matter – weighty in that sense of a heavy heart – in ways unconventional, if not also treated with suspicion, in other disciplines. Viewed in this light, affective writing offers the chance for a wider project of intellectual engagement than methodological and disciplinary arguments. This is what I mean by the idea of empathy in Chapter 2. It is a form of discursive connection that comes from a spirit of compassion – precisely a will to connect – a concern for the plight of others, and an interest in the positions others hold. Margaret Morse describes this process as the human desire for reciprocity: ‘the reversibility of “I” and “you” in discourse – seeing and being seen, recognising others and being recognised, speaking, listening and being listened to’ (1998: 10). Writing with empathy seeks to create this kind of relationship for more people, for the many not well served by the current distribution of speaking opportunities and positions. As Nick Couldry indicates, this empathic ideal to which cultural studies aspires reveals it to be ‘a fully sceptical form of enquiry in which every attempt to speak in one’s own voice (inside and outside formal academic practice) is meshed with an obligation to listen to the voices of others’ (1996: 329). Here the importance of listening to individual voices cannot be overestimated. As Robbins also suggests, ‘even at our most private, even in what we hope or fear may be professional soliloquy, we are to some extent looking over our shoulders, listening for other voices and
adapting our own to what we think we hear’ (1993: 89). Robbins claims the intellectual listens ‘for’ the public in two senses: We listen so as to hear what the public may be saying, and we listen to ourselves, on behalf of the public, which is of course us too. Both senses invite us to surrender the illusion of a professional identity that is hermetically sealed and to recognise instead the social reality of an identity that is looser, less autonomous, more diversely populated. (ibid.) Both Couldry and Robbins advocate a professional stance which questions the unnecessary distinctions between speakers and listeners: Whether or not we are academics, we cannot avoid speaking ‘about’ others: indeed, if you take it as axiomatic that discursive resources are unequally distributed, then for academics to use their discursive resources to reveal the places where others are speaking may sometimes help those others to be heard. (Couldry, 1996: 324) Empathic, affective writing tries to overcome the alienation that prevents people from knowing each other in complex cultures segregated by resources, location and opportunity. This is the situated political role cultural studies’ interventionist voices achieve. Used ‘strategically’, as Couldry argues, the knowledge cultural studies produces with the discursive authority of the academic sphere ‘can displace other accounts, which may initially have greater authority or prevalence. By “cutting” into other accounts … it may create space for others to speak, far beyond the contemplation of the academic sphere itself’ (1996: 325). These gestures Couldry attributes to cultural studies are clearly in sympathy with hooks’s description of the field earlier in this chapter. The empathic discourse Couldry identifies demonstrates not only a willfulness in its use of affect, but a ‘will to connect’ differently placed people – those that society’s present arrangements leave distant from each other. The voices described in this book are examples of cultural studies’ democratic desire to seek avenues for identification and connection with many different readers. Each finds common concerns and values which might encourage understanding between disparate groups. This is a practice which forges dialogue between disciplines and cultural institutions while extending cultural debates to the everyday, to the mainstream reader.10
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A discourse of empathy relates what might be unfamiliar in approachable terms. This is not to say that empathy always or even often flows from those with ‘power’ to those without. It is to say that when the scriptural economy of speaking opportunities is unfairly weighted, an empathic and situated political practice might include an assessment of the unnecessary barriers maintained by scholarly discourse. An awareness and concerted use of the privilege of a sanctioned voice is an important step towards destabilising the continued existence of such barriers.11 As Morris puts it, this involves developing ‘deep, practical knowledge of what it means to speak differently with (not for or to) different people in different contexts’ (1998a: 506). For Morris, to be useful to a community means learning ‘as academics to use other social languages with grace, complexity and skill’ (ibid.).12 The fact about affect If affect and empathy trouble traditional epistemological foundations of rationality, detachment and objectivity, this adds weight to the political significance of the cultural studies intervention in the academy. As Michèle Barrett (2000) observes, some of the more established fields of the humanities and social sciences remain somewhat sceptical of these advances. In her own field of sociology, Barrett notes ‘an accommodation of sorts’ with the methods of cultural studies: But for many sociologists the screw is turning a bit too far and they don’t want it to go all the way round. There is a fightback currently under way which takes the form of an urging ‘let’s go back’ – let’s go back to political economy, let’s go back to the founding fathers, let’s go back to epistemological realism. But ‘going back’ is not usually the best option. The cultural turn is better thought of as a cultural revolution (2000: 14–5). Barrett describes the suspicion and discomfort of disciplinary colleagues faced with the sites and practices considered legitimate for investigation in cultural studies. But the idea that one might ‘go back’ to something considered to be pure political economy speaks of a wider reluctance to acknowledge the concrete political and economic consequences affect and emotion bring. As Massumi’s work consistently demonstrates (Massumi, 2002; 1996), ‘the ultimate foundation of the capitalist monetary system’ is nothing if not ‘faith’, if not ‘a mindset’ (2002: 45). The market is a daily barometer of sentiment, affect and expectation. Economic parameters for judgement are nothing if not
projections of confidence and of hope in the future. This is the danger to which we are all exposed in an increasingly global economy: The ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is a real condition, an intrinsic variable of the late capitalist system, as infrastructural as a factory… This fact about affect – its matter-of-factness needs to be taken into account in cultural and political theory. (ibid.) Massumi’s approach questions the presumption guiding the backwards glances of Barrett’s colleagues – the belief that political economy is somehow distanced from cultural studies’ emphasis on affect. Both Barrett and Massumi argue in favour of self-reflexivity in epistemological assumptions, calling for an honest appraisal of the procedural habits of their respective disciplines. As such, these two writers are attractive models for a new generation of scholars seeking an intellectual practice comfortable with interdisciplinary and poststructuralist methods. Considering Hall’s contribution over the decades, Barrett suggests that sociologists’ hostility towards cultural studies often stems from their dependence on a modernist imaginary, and hence, a lack of analytical revision in light of social change. As she writes, ‘things which we cannot control’, including ‘the imaginative, the sensual, the emotional, the other’ continue to pose challenging topics for sociological analysis (2000: 14). At transition times like these, when disciplinary guardians remain attached to preferred languages, I hope empathic writing and reading practices can make the changing functions of academic practice a less traumatic and hostile development. The affective contagion of the critical discourse I seek to outline makes matters of address, audience and assumption procedural. This facilitates a wider dissemination of new ideas while endorsing the benefits of sharing insights. Politically speaking Such empathic gestures are also vital in a political climate similarly hesitant to celebrate the positive new opportunities afforded by poststructuralism. The backlash against cultural studies from some disciplines strongly resembles the complaints of left-wing political actors who question the legitimacy of cultural politics as a form of radical engagement. Using Walter Benjamin’s work on melancholia, Wendy Brown (2000) sees such criticisms as representative of the Left’s inadequate response to the post-World War II political environment.
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Brown’s sophisticated appraisal argues that Left ideologues are troubled by changing political milieux because of a pathological attachment to revolutionary ideals that have failed. As she writes: Attachment to the object of one’s sorrowful loss supersedes any desire to recover from this loss, to live free of it in the present, to be unburdened by it. This is what renders melancholia a persistent condition, a state, indeed, a structure of desire, rather than a transient response to death or loss. (2000: 22) The structure of desire encapsulated in the idea of the workers’ movement here prevents any reckoning with the positive political potential harboured by post-structuralist insights. A circuit of mourning for the loss of revolutionary possibility thwarts any serious analysis of the new opportunities afforded in the present. This melancholy, which might also be seen as a form of nostalgia, has the effect of dismissing the significance of a new generation of progressive political actors – particularly when it is reinforced by left-wing sociologists who also advocate a return to the past certainties assumed in the idea of political economy. As long as these outdated ideas about revolution and radicality continue to be mourned, the paradigms which might consider current interventions as serving Leftist goals remain elusive. ‘What emerges’, according to Brown, is a Left that operates without either a substantive critique of the status quo or a ‘substantive alternative to it’. This is a Left ‘that has become more attached to its impossibility than to its potential fruitfulness, a Left that is most at home dwelling not in hopefulness but in its own marginality and failure, (2000: 27). Moving beyond the version of Left politics Brown describes, this book attempts to document the progressive alliances which are evident in the present, free from the nostalgia of preferred political interpretations. Indeed part of my justification for concentrating on Hoggart, Hall, Grossberg, Ross and Morris is that each refuses to accept the narrative of Left failure described by Brown.13 In this way, I seek to continue a tradition of intellectual interest first evident in formative debates of cultural studies, and insufficiently developed since. In the pages of Politics and Letters, Universities and Left Review and the early New Left Review, a guiding concern was to establish the political priorities encouraged by a more affluent society, one no longer marked by clear class categories.14 The British New Left were interested in the reasons why working-class voters preferred conservative governments. The writers’ fascination with the conceptual and
political consequences of greater social wealth – which they encapsulated in the term embourgeoisment – was a fear of the unknown: What parameters would influence political expression outside values of class? Would a classless society spell the end of any political movement led by the workers? With the end of the Cold War, and the beginning of the more recent ‘War on Terror’, the techniques for gauging a Leftist position have blurred even further. Yet the following chapters argue that the unpredictability of the contemporary political subject – the inability to ever assume a necessary ideological home – is something that might be embraced rather than mourned by progressives. An important history of political action and subversion risks being forgotten with the unreconstructed parameters for analysis advocated by the traditional Left. The challenge I take from Brown and others is to find the adequate modes of receptivity and reflexivity which can incorporate new forms of political practice to service a Left cause. Here I’ll suggest cultural studies’ affective, empathic voices are one way to illuminate these practices. Communicating investment In what follows, I do not mean to suggest that cultural studies ought to use affect at the expense of any other form of writing, that it should ever put considerations of style before substance. In fact, I am purposefully writing against the tendency for affect to appear as mere rhetoric or false accusation in the field’s history – the manufactured urgency of the imperative present often heard in demands that cultural studies put politics before theory. I am also opposed to employing affective writing in order to cover up the difficult and often unglamorous business of scholarly research. Pure affect is not a method, and the genre of metacommentary is one that, while convenient for the purposes of professional output, does not constitute the sort of impact I am describing here. The positive affects I am claiming for cultural studies are those of solidarity, commitment and hope. As Chapter 4 will argue, these are the forces required to maintain belief in the significance of human-centred scholarship in a world of pervasive cynicism, commerce and fear. The task of creating connections of ‘reciprocity’, of ushering empathic human relations cannot be reconciled with the mass-publication demands of bullet points and chapter goals. It means writing about the way the world can be thought and dreamt at a particular moment. Affective writing does not demand a fixed answer; it is not obliged to reach an externally generated learning outcome. Its function is to create wonder, interest and the desire to go on learning. This form of
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writing is content with the goal of moving people, making them invested in the world. At a time when the ‘anaesthetic writing’ evident in many other discursive contexts ‘lacks almost everything needed to put in words an opinion or emotion’ (Watson, 2003: 3), an important function cultural studies plays is to seek out more lively uses of language and amplify these voices for more listeners to hear. A founding tenet of cultural studies is the notion that ‘culture is ordinary’ and not a class privilege (Williams, 1958b). This fundamental lesson from Williams has led many to pursue a vocation that seeks ways to make obvious one’s similarity with others; to enable a project of mutual understanding through empathy. As he concludes: A writer’s job is with individual meanings, and with making these meanings common. I find these meanings in the expansion, there along the journey where the necessary changes are writing themselves into the land, and where the language changes but the voice is the same. (1958b: 92) As I try to make common what five writers mean to me, this is a thought to keep prominent. What attracts me to them, and what I seek to express in each ‘mimetic double’, is the solidarity they share despite different times and locations. Their voices speak a ‘will to connect’, but each voice is responsive to ‘the necessary changes’ brought with time. Describing the way their work speaks, and what it sparks in my head and heart, I hope to generate fresh insight and new life to their work. These are the constructive and empowering affects under-narrated in academic practice: the positive energies, the optimistic trajectories each passage encourages as you read. Hoggart mentions them in his own reflections on student life, recalling the lamentable effects of an education system which exposes its passionate material so fleetingly: It was as though, to get through to the point at university at which you sat those eight or nine papers on different periods and genres, you could not allow the force of the works to flood into you; you might have been pushed off course … You did not for those three years dare to release yourself to the power of the works; you controlled your responses to them, almost unconsciously. (1990: 196) Despite the pressures of institutional location, cultural studies must aspire to relate these moments of delight and wonder that play such an important role in our lives as scholars. For it is only by describing
the constructive qualities of the academic vocation that the pleasures of learning and sharing new ideas might be made plain to more people, and scholarly life appear a more plausible option for the many who have not always been welcome in the exclusive circles of the university. Hoggart and others in cultural studies instigate new voices for legitimate academic practice, recognising that much of the real joy of the profession is lost when its affective, inspiring and regenerative aspects are ignored. For those of us invested in the university as the appropriate location for cultural studies’ ongoing interventions, our challenge is to communicate the continued worth of scholarly life despite the difficulties of present conditions. Brett Neilson and Angela Mitropoulos (2005) recently argue that, ‘until now, an excess of passion has served as an ostensibly non-coercive means to bind the academic labourer to the university system’, but that ‘there is no necessity which decrees that it cannot be otherwise, facilitating an exodus, a demand for another university, here and now’. The following chapters gauge the extent to which cultural studies has succeeded in reforming entrenched discursive paradigms of academic practice to make the university a strategic home for the field. It remains to be seen whether a project premised on care, concern and empathy for the plight of others can survive in a system increasingly focused, like every other, on commercialisation imperatives; and whether, as a result, cultural studies scholars may be forced to take their investments elsewhere.
2 Activating Empathy: Richard Hoggart, Ordinariness and the Persistence of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’
Introduction I begin this account focusing on a writer who has attracted surprisingly little attention in histories of cultural studies, at least in his own right.1 Founder of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Richard Hoggart had an important influence on the British version of the field early in his career, yet his decision to pursue public service in France later in life took him away from the academic sphere and the institutional politics of cultural studies’ subsequent development. For my purposes, Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy serves as a clear point of origin for the form of affective address characteristic of cultural studies’ writing. Providing a bridge between middle class observers and the working class subjects at the heart of the book, Hoggart offers a leading instance of the way scholarly writing can generate empathy for unknown others. This chapter provides an appreciation of what I have termed Hoggart’s unique ‘discourse of empathy’ (Gregg, 2003). At a time of digital divides and red and blue states, a discourse of empathy seems an important ambition for cultural studies instead of the by now standard textbook vocabulary of pleasure, resistance and subversion. Hoggart’s project helps in understanding the tenacious appeal of the mainstream and the ordinary, the quiet dignity and resilience with which the majority of people go about their lives in conservative times. While in many ways premised on the presumption of a progressive political worldview, cultural studies has needed regular reminding that its own aspirations do not always meet those who are the subjects of its study (Miller and McHoul, 1998; Gregg and Burgess, 2006). Retaining an unflagging commitment to changing the status quo risks an avant-garde elitism when the majority of people are content with the way things are. 26
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Rather than pursuing a quietist strategy, and risk the uncritical populism of which cultural studies has also been charged, Hoggart’s work suggests that intellectuals must demonstrate that the privileges and contentment enjoyed by the happy majority have a political foundation. Those benefiting from conservative politics share a degree of complicity and acquiescence with the unnecessary disadvantages which continue to exist in society; yet the desire for change rests on a capacity to envisage what it would be like to be in a less fortunate situation. Hoggart’s challenge to cultural studies is for it to find a way of activating empathy for those who would otherwise remain outside of our usual sphere of concern. Hoggart’s working title for The Uses of Literacy was actually The Abuse of Literacy, but publishers considered its emotional pitch too dangerous (Owen, 2005). As Sue Owen documents, another title Hoggart suggested was a phrase from one of the book’s passages, ‘the feeling heart’, which indicates the appropriateness of reading the book on affective terms. Hoggart’s groundbreaking text shares his own emotional investment in the culture of working class life – a culture with which he had far more familiarity than that of the university – to draw attention to the many people whose lives had not been sufficiently appreciated by academic accounts. Indicating the depth and complexity of workingclass culture, it paints working people in a positive light. Hoggart’s appreciation of working-class values adds unknown and neglected details to existing historical records. Like his contemporary in E P Thompson, Hoggart creates a means to narrate history ‘from below’, widening the parameters of appreciation and acknowledgment that had been maintained by traditional academic markers of knowledge.2 Hoggart’s text exemplifies how an empathic voice can extend both the audience and the goals for scholarly discourse. It develops a sophisticated approach for narrating politics and history through empathy, an intervention that unsettled predominant descriptions of the English post-war political environment. Hoggart’s voice is marked by its singularity in contrast to other Leftist intellectual positions of his time. It demanded that scholarly practice come to terms with its own partiality and limited relevance to the majority of the population. As John Hartley notes, Hoggart’s book made ordinariness ‘a positive civic goal’ (1999: 16) as well as a vital paradigm for academic and political surveys. Andrew Goodwin’s introduction to an American edition of The Uses of Literacy also observes that it is worth reading ‘for its focus on the relation between texts and something else, something more important even than theory – how people live’ (1992: xvi). Concentrating on ordinary experience meant that Hoggart wrote against intellectual orthodoxy and chastened some of the assumptions that had
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hitherto accompanied scholarly reflections of the working class. As Goodwin’s comments suggest, Hoggart addressed different aims than those typically occupying the minds of scholars. He proudly wrote about his own culture when it was unfashionable to do so. It is not that Hoggart’s roots give him inherent authenticity and therefore authority to describe working-class people, but as we will see, his scholarly training combined with his situated perspective to create a useful and epistemologically novel point of view. In particular, Hoggart made debates about social change approachable and interesting for new kinds of readers. By exploring how he did this, I want to contemplate here some of the relationships contemporary cultural studies might seek to hasten by following his example. Exercises in empathy Recent cultural studies writing indicates a spike in interest in empathy (Azoulay, 1997; Boler, 1997; Kerr, 2003), while it also forms part of wider discussions about the politics of emotion (Ahmed, 2004) and compassion (Berlant, 2004).3 Given their often interchangeable use, Marjorie Garber has drawn important etymological distinctions between compassion, sympathy and empathy, noting that in contrast to the former two, empathy is a modern word: Coined in the early years of the twentieth century as a translation of German Einfühlung, it has come to denote the power of projecting one’s personality into the object of contemplation and has been a useful technical term in both psychology and aesthetics (Garber, 2004: 24). In a contemporary context, this usage is evident in a growing number of professional situations where empathy is cited as useful for improving relations between doctors and patients, managers and employees or teachers and students. Empathy has been an intrinsic part of consciousness-raising in the initial stages of identity-based political movements of recent decades, especially second-wave feminism. It also features as a means to foster identification with the plight of others in the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders in alternatives to traditional criminal prosecution. Megan Boler submits that this recent rush to embrace empathy’s beneficial properties might be seen to ‘reflect capitalism’s changed conceptions for human resource capital within globalisation,’ (1997: 269) reflecting a wider trend on the part of businesses seeking to profit from employee characteristics once denigrated as ‘feminine.’ She notes the broad consensus on empathy’s inherent goodness: ‘Across the political and disciplinary spectrum, conservatives and liberals alike advocate variations of empathy as a solution to society’s “ills”’ (Boler, 1997: 254).
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Garber suggests that the need for empathy is likely to have arisen ‘as the strongest sense of sympathy began to decline or become merged with compassion’: But empathy also seems to stress the matter of personal agency and individual emotion. A person who displays empathy is, it appears, to be congratulated for having fine feelings; a person who shows or expresses sympathy has good cultural instincts and training; a person who shows compassion seems motivated, at least in part, by values and precepts, often those learned from religion, philosophy or politics. (ibid.) Appearing in Lauren Berlant’s collection Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, Garber’s essay provides historical background for the book’s focus, which is the rise of ‘compassionate conservatism’ in recent US politics. In her introduction, Berlant seeks to describe the difficult task the Republicans’ use of compassion poses for critics seeking to highlight the ongoing abuses of power and privilege that can be papered over by partisan renderings of the term. For Berlant, to describe empathy as a matter of personal agency and individual emotion is an insufficient basis for a consequential ethics because there is no guarantee that merely displaying empathy will translate into anything practical. She seeks actions which would move beyond the realm of ‘individual emotion’ to intervene in the structural conditions which leave some people at the mercy of others’ compassion. Berlant’s earlier studies of the appeal of the sentimental narrative (Berlant, 1991) lead her to argue that an internalised form of empathy is a constitutive feature of the American psyche, especially as a way of reconciling white citizens’ culpability in relation to the history of slavery. As Katherine Woodward recounts in the same collection on compassion, the sentimental narrative appeals to the white reader because it ‘affords the pleasure of consuming the feeling of vicarious suffering – and its putative moral precipitate, the feeling of self-satisfaction that we wish to do the right thing and hence are virtuous’ (2004: 71). The danger this poses is that ‘the experience of being moved by these sentimental scenes of suffering, whose ostensible purpose is to awaken us to redress injustice, works instead to return us to a private world far removed from the public sphere’ (ibid.). Rather than spurring the reader to act, the empathetic identification encourages a ‘passive’ posture. Megan Boler also distinguishes between the ‘passive empathy’ some reading practices make likely and the kind of self-reflexive sensibility that might actually seek to change the power relations involved in representations of others. For both Boler and Berlant, the focus is on the reader’s
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response: how ‘the politics of personal feeling cannot address the institutional (or what Berlant calls the structural) reasons for injustice’ (Woodward, 2004: 71). In Boler’s account, passive empathy means ‘our concern is directed to a fairly distant other, whom we cannot directly help’ (Boler, 1997: 257). Appeals to empathy risk impeding the expression of trauma and containing its intensity to some inaccessible past. Not only does this disavow the structural dimension to individual suffering, she argues, it also prevents recognition of lasting culpability. Both Berlant and Boler seek strategies which would help readers not only to ‘empathise with the very distant other, but to recognise oneself as implicated in the social forces that create the climate of obstacles the other must confront’ (ibid.). As a different approach towards the same objectives, Hoggart’s example is useful for contemplating the role of the writer in generating empathy. While Boler and Berlant assess the success of narrative in developing an appropriate empathic sensibility on the part of the reader, I seek to consider the way that scholarly discourse can change to accommodate a more compassionate regard for its subjects of analysis. Hoggart’s evocative language invokes and critiques the limits of academic genres. It unsettles the relationship between an academic ‘self’ and a studied ‘other’, a sensibility which ‘produces no action towards justice’ but rather ‘situates the powerful Western eye/I as the judging subject, never called upon to cast her gaze at her own reflection’ (Boler, 1997: 259). The possibility that an empathic voice might be present within a text to start with is a different way of thinking about a reader’s response to the text because it acknowledges the author’s role in determining the possibilities for imagination. The depiction offered is always already the writer’s strategic composition; as I will argue for Hoggart, the writing style is chosen for its capacity to elicit a concerted empathic response. Dominick LaCapra’s idea of ‘empathetic unsettlement’ outlined in Writing History, Writing Trauma (2001) recognises the disruptive affects some forms of writing can generate. LaCapra’s theory describes a relationship of identification with the Other which avoids erasing or pathologising his or her identity – risks which haunt the forms of mimetic empathy outlined in Garber’s description and its popular manifestations – at the same time as it disturbs the ease with which the past can be distanced from the present. An overwhelming identification with the Other can risk jeopardising the distinct subjectivity, individual dignity and agency of both parties; alternatively, an identification with the historically distant Other from the safety of the present permits ‘the reader’s exoneration from privilege and complicities through the “ahhah” experience’ (Boler 1997: 255). LaCapra likewise endorses empathy’s
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appropriateness in scholarly work on occasions where a ‘complacent reasonableness or bland objectivism’ fit poorly with the subject matter (2001: xii). He submits empathetic unsettlement as a strategy that ‘poses a barrier to closure in discourse and places in jeopardy harmonising or spiritually uplifting accounts of extreme events from which we attempt to derive reassurance or a benefit’ (2001: 42). Such pernicious outcomes are precisely the ‘Risks of Empathy’ in the title to Boler’s essay. But for all of the writers mentioned, a concerted use of empathy must strive to avoid conditions of reception which would abrogate contemporary responsibility for past injustice. In this vein, LaCapra points to the ‘possibly thought-provoking and fruitful role of hyperbole in emphasising what one believes is given insufficient weight at a given time in the ongoing attempt to articulate possibilities in a discipline or in the broader culture’ (2001: 35). This is a distinction I would like to bring to the reflection on Hoggart’s work to follow. His ‘indisciplined’ overload of affect – which most commentators have attributed to nostalgia – seems fitting the point he makes, that generalisations about the working class were unacceptable and all too common among intellectuals on the Right and Left in the 1950s. Hoggart’s voice serves to question the lack of affect, the lack of care or concern characterising dominant descriptions of working class life. Hoggart brings a scholarly eye to the experiences ‘given insufficient weight’ within existing academic appraisals. In this sense his enunciative practice can be viewed in terms of LaCapra’s reckoning ‘that there is something inappropriate about modes of representation which in their very style or manner of address tend to overly objectify, smooth over, or obliterate the nature and impact of the events they treat’ (2001: 104). In what follows, I read Hoggart’s voice as an example of that ‘counterforce to numbing’ LaCapra describes as empathy’s great capacity of ‘attending to, even trying, in limited ways, to recapture the possibly split-off, affective dimension of the experience of others’ (2001: 40).4 Aiming for change Over the course of his career Hoggart enjoyed a number of institutional positions following his inaugural directorship of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Birmingham, including senior diplomat at UNESCO’s French office, and later, Warden of Goldsmith’s College at the University of London. What I take to be significant about this trajectory is that it contextualises the importance of academic practice in pursuing the objectives of cultural studies’ politics. Hoggart only makes use of scholarly genres in resolute ways at specific moments. He doesn’t choose academic work as
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his sole means of intervening in the public sphere, nor even his preferred mode, as the Preface to The Uses of Literacy attests: I have thought of myself as addressing first of all the serious ‘common reader’ or ‘intelligent layman’ from any class… I have written as clearly as my understanding of the subject allowed, and used technical terms and allusions only when they seemed likely, once known, to prove helpful and suggestive. The ‘intelligent layman’ is an elusive figure, and popularisation a dangerous undertaking: but it seems to me that those of us who feel that writing for him is an urgent necessity must go on trying to reach him. For one of the most striking and ominous features of our present cultural situation is the division between the technical languages of the experts and the extraordinarily low level of the organs of mass communication. (1958: 9–10) Popularisation is a ‘dangerous undertaking’ for two reasons here: it is dangerous because it might imply that scholarly work is not valuable in its most complex and fully manifested form (and Hoggart’s Leavisite sympathies prevent him from holding such a position); it also suggests that ordinary people haven’t the capacity to read complex ideas in ways expressed by intellectuals. Hoggart’s aspirations for a wide readership represent the argument developed throughout The Uses of Literacy, namely, that given the same opportunities of education and training enjoyed by the middle and upper classes, any interested reader would be able to understand and participate in debates about culture. The crux of Hoggart’s politics is that, when social structures of exclusivity remain in place, the writer’s task is to make the unfamiliar approachable and some of the strangeness of scholarly protocol less obtuse.5 From interviews with Hoggart (Corner, 1991; Gibson and Hartley, 1998) it is clear that he began writing The Uses of Literacy intending to use it as a textbook for his university extra-mural classes. Partly a practical decision, partly the result of observation, Hoggart perceived a disparity between the material typically constituting the curriculum he was teaching and the actual culture students participated in after class. At this stage the two sites – one of learned, the other of lived culture – were distinct, and pedagogically unrelated. Hoggart wanted to bridge the gap. The gulf between cultures stemmed from Britain’s history of exclusive middle and upper class access to higher education. But as education reform spread with Labour’s post-war initiatives and the composition of student populations started to change, Hoggart identified the need to adjust the methods of evaluation and discernment established in traditional forms of bourgeois teaching.
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Unlike the middle-class students in the more established universities, Hoggart’s students ‘lived in another world’: ‘They lived in the world of newspapers and magazines and radio (not television at the time) and pop song… there was a side interest in making sense of that among many extramural tutors’ (Hoggart in Corner, 1991: 139). To assist in making courses more relevant, Hoggart dedicated half his book to an analysis of just these examples from the students’ own cultural repertoire. This was a way of making the tools of literary analysis useful for new purposes; of responding to social change in reflexive and accommodating ways. As a Leavisite, the idea of academic literary criticism was not problematic for Hoggart, but he perceived the benefits of applying these hermeneutics to texts other than those held to be worthy of study by his predecessors. Hoggart wanted to reform teaching practices so that the realm of popular culture and the cultural choices of the working classes could be appreciated in critical terms. Until this point in history, the experiences of the bourgeoisie featured predominantly on reading lists. It was time for these new students to have their own heroes. Of course, this was ultimately a challenge to the idea of the canon – an idea revolutionary enough in its time, and still reverberating among high schools and Right wing columns. Hoggart’s own empathy with pupils made him especially concerned to make teaching useful for their needs, for their interests, and presumably their different life chances. The exemplary status of existing university texts and their accompanying modes of valuing came from a world unknown to those seeking further education in the extramural classes. Hoggart’s controversial assertion was that material for study needed to connect with students’ everyday knowledge, and further, that working-class life told as much about society as any other. This was a risky proposition, and Hoggart faced strong criticism from colleagues accordingly. One friend reckoned that the book ‘would damage fatally’ his chances of becoming a Professor of English (Hoggart in Corner, 1991: 141). In his own disciplinary field, ‘people kept fairly quiet about it, as though a shabby cat from the council house next door had brought an odd – even a smelly – object into the house’ (Hoggart, 1990: 143). These reactions hint at the innovative new ground Hoggart stakes out in The Uses of Literacy. They also hint at the way the book’s political motivations tended to win out over thoughts about career progress or ‘standing’ within the academic institution. The book takes risks in its aim to establish new methods of epistemological insight. The first chapter of The Uses of Literacy argues that the tradition of scholarly analysis pertaining to working-class life was in the 1950s a pale and bloodless reflection of its subject. Available paradigms for representation
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offered no scale to register the affect, the feeling or the histories of belief behind the class-distinctive practices recorded by other disciplines: historical accounts accorded too much emphasis on purely ‘political’ manifestations of working-class cultural investments and achievements, while sociological studies quantified cultural dispositions and preferences with little feel for the ‘grass-roots’ of working-class culture (1958: 16). In both cases, categorical descriptions take away the dignity of the individual as well as any sense of variety and depth to working-class experience. The critic’s distance from the culture hinders attempts to reflect it adequately. Hoggart’s empathic voice instead asks that the reader cares about and be invested in the lives of the people discussed, directly attacking the distance of the scrutinising bourgeois gaze. Hoggart’s study localises in order to con front broad claims that can be made for ‘the’ working class as a whole. He writes against the generalisations of ‘middle-class Marxists’, who he claims, in spite of their best intentions, hold romantic perceptions of working-class people, ‘part-pitying’ and ‘part-patronising’ them ‘beyond any semblance of reality’ (ibid.). Ordinariness Hoggart’s own style distinguishes itself from orthodoxies of both disciplinary and political correctness. He instigates a situated, partisan account of working-class life to counter the assumptions produced by commentaries far removed from the culture itself. He brings a context to bear on the actions and opinions recorded by other scholarly accounts, providing what he calls ‘a landscape with figures’ to describe the quotidian circumstances that influence working-class behaviour. What is different about this angle is its attention to ordinariness: I am writing particularly of the majority who take their lives much as they find them, and in that way are not different from the majority in other classes; of what some trade union leaders, when they are regretting a lack of interest in their movements, call ‘the vast apathetic mass’; of what, song-writers call, by way of compliment, ‘just plain folk’; of what the working-classes themselves describe, more soberly, as ‘the general run of people’ (1958: 22). For Hoggart, these are the experiences clearly missing from academic appraisal, a circumstance which raises questions about epistemological value. Hoggart asks whether the categories for scholarly analysis are so narrow that only the exceptional in society are worthy of study. That the majority of working-class lives remain unworthy of analytic attention pointed to a fundamental problem to the academic value
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system: it simply could not account for the experiences of large numbers of people. What is also unique about his approach is the way it interrogates the political imperatives of even leftist academics. Hoggart purposefully avoids reference to the outwardly political actors within the working class (whom he considers a minority), keen to distinguish between the working-class movement and the entire culture.6 Critics have played into Hoggart’s hand by suggesting that his writing lacks discipline; that his book is ‘deceptively descriptive to the point of casualness’ (in Hoggart, 1992: 95); or that he neglects the force of the labour movement (Thompson, 1959). Precisely in avoiding these conventional genres and emphases Hoggart makes strange the ‘scriptural economy’, the hierarchy of value underpinning the academic institution and its preferred criteria for acceptable knowledge. His chosen mode of address shifts investigative attention to the realm of the unspectacular everyday, the ordinary – one of the key interventions for which cultural studies would become known. Complicating matters, however, and adding to his singular vision, is Hoggart’s evident attachment to the value of certain bourgeois pedagogical legacies. This is the tension at the heart of his project. In his denunciation of classed access to education, Hoggart nonetheless holds that the working classes can gain greater freedom of choice through the critical methods of literary training. He sees these resources increasingly necessary to counter the persuasive tendencies developing in post-war commercial and advertising discourses, and proposes a ‘critical literacy’ as key in the face of these new challenges. In Hoggart’s definition, a critical literacy grants people the confidence and comfort of feeling proximate to and practised in the information necessary to make decisions about their lives. This is the foundational requirement Hoggart demands of a functioning democracy, and the key political position that can be deduced in his work. Seeing how others see So Hoggart’s voice essentially combines a belief in the best values of two distinct cultures: that of the working- and middle-class. As John Hartley has noted, Hoggart’s great legacy has been to offer strategies by which scholars might bridge the spatial, institutional, economic and cultural divides which separate them. Hartley calls this the function of ‘crossdemographic communication’. It’s a way to learn how others we may not normally encounter go about their everyday lives, and how ‘to communicate respectfully and equitably’ with different people as a result (Hartley, 1999: 28). Hoggart’s pedagogical gift is ‘to teach how to see; how ‘I’ see; how others see. He is reaching for access to the inner life of
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populations’ (ibid.). Hoggart provides a window on a world often outside the imagination of his reader, but ‘instead of addressing the fears, hopes and vested interests of onlookers’, Hartley upholds Hoggart’s mission: was to teach his readers how to see ‘them’ (contemporary populations) as ‘we’ (fellow-readers); how to make seeing into knowledge; how to ‘know’ how others see. He made the relation between analyst and analysed convivial not conflictual. He addressed the common reader as a ‘we’ identity. For him the analysis of ‘media and society’ is not abstract sociological knowledge got by some formal(ist) method; it is an analysis of the relations between writer, reader and the culture both inhabit – striving to make that world inhabitable for both (1999: 28). Hartley’s description of Hoggart’s project fits well with Boler’s desire for empathy as a discourse encouraging a shared responsibility on the part of both writer and reader. As I am arguing, in the context of academic writing, it is a measure by which to impart investment in the culture under analysis. Making the ‘relation between analyst and analysed convivial not conflictual’ aspires to make academic work capable of allowing others to make sense of as well as participate in the studies it conducts. It is a form of scholarship that wants to pique interest far and wide; a discourse not concerned to speak for others, because its interest is to draw out similarities between different audiences. As we will see in Hoggart’s example, through this process, a lot of what ‘we’ see can be shown to bear resonance with others’ view. Remembering this, and seeking out such similarities, builds momentum for a hopeful politics.
Landscape with figures The first half of The Uses of Literacy describes the scene of reception for the artefacts of popular culture discussed in greater subsequent detail. As Hoggart relates: It became necessary to create a context in which people lived, the context in which they received this mass material but also ‘received’ many other things. And that’s why it’s fair to say that The Uses of Literacy was written back to front in that I started to write a textbook and then decided to write a description of the culture that became the first part of the book. (Hoggart in Corner, 1991: 140)
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Part I provides a textured exposition of the lifestyle often assumed of the working class in other discourses. Hoggart creates a landscape of urban density imbued with poverty, a highly populated, cramped environment where people’s practices of resilience serve to make the extremes of their circumstances more palatable. Hoggart notes their distinctive attitudes and positive engagement with life despite the difficulties brought on by industrialisation. He accentuates the strength of the oral tradition before the mass penetration of the press, radio or television (1958: 27–33). Traditional phrases, superstitions and myths are given extra attention, to show how people come to terms with the mundane features of life (‘their lot’). Family and neighbourhood rituals are discussed extensively, while the regular activities for the mother, father and children of the family are all portrayed, from the weekly shopping trip, to religious festivals, and the excitement of Bonfire Night (1958: 41–71). The smells, sounds and tastes of the local area are enumerated to give a full account of the complexity of life (1958: 65). Amassing a catalogue of sensations and affects overlooked in the accounts earlier condemned, Hoggart reveals the absolute depth, the pervasiveness of working-class culture. Each further detail reiterates his aim and intensifies his point, that this dynamic culture has been either unacknowledged or subject to inaccurate generalisations in dominant intellectual representations. To this end, while I share Carolyn Steedman’s general concern with the division of labour in Hoggart’s working-class families, it is misleading to suggest ‘a psychological simplicity’ is depicted ‘in the lives lived out in Hoggart’s endless streets of little houses’ (Steedman, 1986: 7). Hoggart’s descriptions are in fact incredibly dense, and serve resolute functions: the sheer amount of detail exorcises the abstraction of so many middle-class assumptions about working-class life, and the theoretical distinctions such assumptions served to justify. Them and us The section titled ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ (1958: 72–101) is perhaps the most critical component of The Uses of Literacy in this regard. It acts as the foundation for Hoggart’s concluding sentiments which warn of the potential threat to the working-class attitudes so fondly depicted in this first half of the book. The them/us distinction refers to the working-class habits of speech that exercise an ideological closure, separating their world from those that, to all outside appearances, run it. Drawing a barrier between ‘them’ and ‘us’ in everyday dealings is a way of making a subordinate position acceptable. It relegates the surveillant Other to a distant and therefore comfortable space in the imagination – a feasible
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accomplishment, as I will shortly indicate, in pre-World War II England. Hoggart describes the process in this way: When people feel that they cannot do much about the main elements in their situation, feel it not necessarily with despair or disappointment or resentment but simply as a fact of life, they adopt attitudes towards that situation which allow them to have a liveable life under its shadow, a life without a constant and pressing sense of the larger situation. (1958: 92) The them/us equation is the leading instance of such an attitude. In Hoggart’s account those to be labelled ‘them’ include work bosses and managers, police, magistrates, doctors, means test officials and employment exchange bureaucrats. The term refers to those representatives of the outside world with whom working-class people might have some contact. In Hoggart’s reading the separation has the effect of marginalising ‘them’, because ‘they’ have no place in ‘our’ world. It’s therefore a device for deflating authority, but significantly, it is a means to designate and pinpoint those who are seen as a threat to the separation (them/us) itself. It is here that Hoggart’s discourse of empathy really starts to develop. The writer seems to wager that anyone reading might feel outrage at the prospect of an outside force influencing access to loved ones, or dictating the terms on which a life can be conducted. These bureaucratic Others in pre-World War II Britain had the power to break up families, to incarcerate members away from the otherwise self-contained, tight community of neighbourhood and kin. With his insider’s perspective on the insecurity and instability of this world, Hoggart encourages readers to empathise with the lack of power these families feel in protecting their own, a vulnerability many other, involuntary members of the British Empire also suffered at a similar period in history. Hoggart reveals how these people come to terms with what is a negligible agency; he writes so that the reader might engage emotionally with the subject. Hoggart’s empathic voice is most successful when it articulates values shared by both the working and middle class – in particular the privileged place of family – so as to maximise an affective response to the illustrated circumstances. For the characters Hoggart describes, the them/us divide works as a defence mechanism to maintain dignity and self-respect in everyday encounters. As Beverley Skeggs’s work explains in more detail, the need to maintain ‘respectable’ appearances is a fundamental aspect of particularly working-class women’s experience (Skeggs, 1997). But the distinction between them/us is born of a fundamental injustice, where the
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less educated, resource-deprived members of society have little recourse or outlet for just treatment. The preoccupation with ‘passing’ as respectable in Skeggs’s work is another instance of how relations of status and esteem are created within a community incapable of gaining access to institutionally rewarded forms of cultural capital. For the reader unfamiliar with this kind of life, Hoggart’s discourse of empathy seeks a projection of one’s own likely reaction to these influences on normal domestic freedoms, threats that otherwise might not be contemplated, much less realised. It relies on the shared cross-cultural appeal of family as a trigger that might generate empathy with the position of working-class people yet to see the effects of post-war economic improvements. Connecting two audiences Hoggart deploys a strategic display, a consciously affective performance of self and experience, in order to advance a favourable impression of ordinary working-class life. He does so, I am proposing, for the purpose of finding a mode of connecting between two distinct audiences. Stressing positivity is a generic choice Hoggart makes to generate a ‘convivial’ relation between his material audience (extra-mural students) and potential readers (fellow academics). The impression Hoggart tries to effect is that the great majority of working-class people are decent, honest and hard working. While working-class students might recognise aspects of the description, middle-class readers might share some of their values, gain a sense of their motivations, given the sympathetic portrayal of their routines. The following description, of the typical working-class living room, is one instance that expands our understanding of the warmth and security family life offers: It is a cluttered and congested setting, a burrow deeply away from the outside world. There is no telephone to ring, and knocks at the door in the evening are rare. But the group, though restricted, is not private: it is a gregarious group, in which most things are shared, including personality; ‘our Mam’, ‘our Dad’, ‘our Alice’ are normal forms of address. To be alone, to think alone, to read quietly is difficult. There is the wireless or television, things being done in odd bouts, or intermittent snatches of talk (but rarely a sustained conversation); the iron thumps on the table, the dog scratches and yawns or the cat miaows to be let out; the son drying himself on the family towel near the fire whistles, or rustles the communal letter from his brother in the army which has been lying on the mantelpiece behind the photo of his
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sister’s wedding; the little girl bursts into a whine because she is too tired to be up at all, the budgerigar twitters. (1958: 36) There is a deceptive amount happening in this passage. The cluttered room filled with beloved knick-knacks that pile up over time contrasts the slick, streamlined living areas that would come to characterise utopian images of modernity and consumer culture. The hidden ‘burrow’ attracts few visitors, indeed there’s little hint or acknowledgement of another kind of life elsewhere. The room encapsulates the life-world of its inhabitants: there is no escape, but that’s the point. Hoggart suggests the burrow is built as the recompense for the little effect one can hope to have in the outside world. As we have seen, this is the way of dealing with – by not needing to recognise – the reality of being part of a subordinate class. Insularity is the result of a long process of coping with a lower place in society, and in Hoggart’s estimation, is clearly preferable to an exhausting contempt of one’s superiors. It’s the family’s actions that constitute History here. The sister’s wedding and the brother’s war service are the primary commitments to wider society and hence prominent fixtures in the family imagination. This means of humanising and personifying world events will prove important in Hoggart’s speculations on working-class uses of mass media in the second half of the book. The phone is not there to ring, a reflection of the financial position of the working class at this time in history, but by mentioning it Hoggart also indicates more of their characteristic self-sufficiency. This is a local, neighbourhood society in which contact across greater distances than the next street are infrequent. All of one’s needs are met by a reciprocal reliance on proximate others. So one neighbour: is known to be something of a ‘scholar’ and has a bound set of encyclopedias which he will always gladly refer to when asked; another is a good ‘penman’ and very helpful at filling in forms; another is particularly ‘good with his hands’, in wood or metal or as a general repairer; this woman is expert at fine needlework and will be called in on special occasions (1958: 22). Hoggart engages with the particularities otherwise dismissed in stereotypes about the working class. Their capacities cannot be essentialised in terms of manual labour. In mentioning the encyclopedia, that archetype of knowledge, an interest in learning new things is rendered common. Learning, interest and engagement in new knowledge is not the sole terrain of academics – from this point, as it finds ways to recognise
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culturally specific epistemologies, values and desires, cultural studies will expand the limitations of institutionalised scholarly categories. The exclusivity of educational opportunity is made palpable in Hoggart’s description of the sole ‘penman’ who fills in forms for others. But men and women both have gifts to offer the community and they are revered and respected as such. Hoggart shows the intricate patterns of specialisation, ability and skill within this diverse group collectively termed the working class on Left and Right. These are the details other political discourses overlook, and which cultural studies’ empathic voices will be called upon to provide. Hoggart shows a whole network of relationships exists in this microcosm, separate and protected from the greater structures of middle-class surveillance and governmentality. Family first The ‘restricted’ nature of the family group, and the few night-time visitors, are details unveiling other conventions that generalisations tend to miss. There are levels of status within the group and there are appropriate behaviours – standards and codes specific to each situation. In contrast to other romantic assumptions, there is no evidence here of an inevitable working-class solidarity which welcomes anyone at any time. ‘You want good neighbours but a good neighbour is not always “coming in and out”: if she does that, she may have to be “frozen off”. The half-length lace curtains keep out most of what little sun there is, but they establish your privacy’ (1958: 34). Family is the primordial allegiance Hoggart brings out. Loyalty to family comes first, a value which manifests in the contempt for the means test officials and magistrates referred to earlier. The attitude is also reified in the working-class aphorisms Hoggart cites throughout the book, such as ‘There’s no place like home’ (1958: 33). An obligation to family comes before class, but the two are intimately intertwined. In these descriptions of family, Hoggart’s discourse of empathy gains momentum. He uses family as a way to frame the major social changes occurring after the war, making complex generational processes appreciable in terms of their effects on everyday human relations. Looking closely at the extended passage above, notice that the family bond underpins the difficulty of being ‘alone’ in Hoggart’s living room. Solitude is a near impossible position to inhabit. To want ‘to be alone, to think alone, to read quietly’ is to suggest that the family group is not all there is, that something else demands one’s interest, that there is a world outside the precious living-room. Here we begin to notice the significance of the depiction above. Once Hoggart mentions the desire for
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solitude, the action of the room is henceforth characterised by an incessant soundtrack. There is a perpetual string of noises: the wireless, the television, the iron that ‘thumps’, the dog that ‘scratches and yawns’; the cat ‘miaows’, the son ‘whistles’ and ‘rustles’ the letter, the girl ‘whines’ and the budgerigar ‘twitters’. Following the suggestion of reading as an activity, the passage builds to an acoustic crescendo which makes this very suggestion unimaginable. This is what Hoggart seems to vividly remember of his own experience as a student. But the enumeration of noises, and their concentration in this one instance, hints that he seeks to create in readers a heightened sensitivity to the potential for distraction. Hoggart shows the difficulty posed by reading to the reader, who in turn might therefore empathise that this is a problem for anyone contemplating a scholarly life. In this respect, the scene is almost unbearable in its claustrophobia; there is just no relief from the numerous sounds. In effect, what the scene does is to make the scholarly life, in all of its bourgeois confinement, appear strange. Hoggart’s empathic voice is multilayered. Its experiential address has a basic and allegorical function: to draw attention and respect to the working-class way of life as he sees it. The world hidden within the ‘smoking and huddled’ rented ‘backs-to-backs’ (1958: 19) is revealed to more privileged readers for just how different – and difficult – it is. This kind of life demands an active mind and an exhaustive concentration; but it demands them for matters far removed from academic recognition: figuring bills and rent in weekly instalments (1958: 20) and endlessly ‘calculating’ how far the groceries can stretch (1958: 42–9). This is how the book can be appreciated by a working-class reader – the student in the night class who identifies with these scenes and the life described. Such a response (what Raymond Williams calls the ‘shock of recognition’ of a developing ‘structure of feeling’) would also prove common for many first-generation university students entering the academy on scholarships after the war (Hoggart, 1990: 140). One kind of reader can empathise with the insularity of the family, the stabilising structures of affinity which counter the lack of hope for social mobility. But for readers of the next generation, perhaps harbouring a drive to avoid this same fate, there is a certain kind of empathy too. For students embarking on a new trajectory made possible by further education and for the established middle-class reader who can see the ladder of opportunity education will allow, Hoggart’s voice suggests it is understandable that one would want to escape to enjoy a better kind of life; a life that might involve the material success and cosmopolitanism promised by academia.
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This particular style offers the chance for a momentary connection between classes – even enacting a textual staging of the tensions involved in moving from one to another – making plain the fact that class progression is full of complicated choices and negotiations. In the figure of the Scholarship Boy, Hoggart finds a way to articulate that unforgiving double bind, where the potential to escape one life ultimately beckons, but the reality of a kind of betrayal will always haunt. Figuring history through empathy The Scholarship Boy signifies some of the dilemmas of identity, both personal and political, that the British post-war conjuncture would pose. As I will argue shortly, it also marks a historical shift in the kinds of functions served by academic work. While it has been discussed at length, the figure of the Scholarship Boy loses theoretical potency and contemporary usefulness when associated too closely with Hoggart’s personal experience. Its impact as a way of framing class mobility and evoking the trauma of ruptured familial bonds is lessened when read within the self-evident, common sense autobiographical framework often accompanying The Uses of Literacy.7 Certainly Hoggart’s personal experience adds weight to his musings and his intimacy with the material lends him to some flights of confession. But autobiographical discourse is not unreflective on the role of the writer, nor does it claim to be reflective of Reality. Speaking the self is always a careful projection, a process of selection. As Probyn demonstrates, it has been a key form of intellectual practice since cultural studies’ beginnings: The self in an ensemble of techniques and practices enacted on an everyday basis and entails the necessary problematisation of these practices. The self is not simply put forward, but rather it is reworked in its enunciation … cultural studies and feminism offer the necessary elements needed to think the immediacy of theory – of thinking the social through my self … the tools with which to think through the pleasures and pains of being in the social. (1993: 2–3) Reading early cultural studies work through contemporary theoretical paradigms, Probyn maintains that all articulations of ‘selves’ are particular displays. Far from being natural, uncensored, or passive intimations of a fixed identity, the enunciative act reveals limited aspects of a complex whole. All the while it offers a means to think ‘the immediacy of theory’ – our reactions to the social – in embodied, contextualised, relatable ways.
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For a unique moment, the Scholarship Boy partakes of this practice by conveying the ‘immediate’ anxieties generated by the artificial social progression fostered by the scholarship system. Reaching down and wresting the individual out of a complex, intricately structured ‘way of life’ (Williams, 1958a), the benefactor initiates a significant rupture in familial and social relations, placing the student in a culture for which his gestures, expressions and attitudes are ill-prepared: He begins to see life, for as far as he can envisage it, as a series of hurdle-jumps, the hurdles of scholarships which are won by learning how to amass and manipulate the new currency… He begins to see life as a ladder, as a permanent examination with some praise and some further exhortation at each stage… He has been trained like a circus horse, for scholarship winning. (Hoggart, 1958: 229–30) A lonely figure, Hoggart’s scholarship student exchanges the poverty of his own upbringing for an assured and better future. The path is put in front of him, but the frightening trade-off, given the gregariousness of his accustomed family life, is that he can only go alone. This is a single race of ‘hurdle-jumps’, a ‘ladder’ of opportunity, a series of tricks to accomplish. In each case the student is called upon to perform for appreciative masters – the kind of learning that resembles an unquestioned regurgitation of knowledge, and the kind of scholarly endeavour this book wishes to argue against. The seemingly ‘better’ life that awaits the Scholarship Boy is presented as predetermined, in the same sense that staying in the working-class neighbourhood is also futile. Hoggart implies neither option has any bearing on the British class structure itself. Nor at this stage does the interstitial position held by the student appear capable of bridging the space between the two cultures. It is a trade off, a zero-sum game. He must learn the new rules and assimilate into the academic milieux, leaving behind the competencies of his past life. What Hoggart’s own example shows, however, is that a scholarly project can take place at this in-between juncture, never fully inhabiting either culture but mediating, translating and facilitating speech between the two. This is the kind of academic practice I am claiming to be increasingly common in the context of the mass availability of higher education. But in the specific context of the post-war conjuncture, the student’s individual progression brings a radical displacement, estranging all familiar terms of cultural reference. The Scholarship Boy’s experience is a succession of disruptions which follow from an initial dislocation. Cognisant of the intimate details about working-class
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values and attitudes already laid out in the book’s opening sections, Hoggart’s readers might feel empathy for the poisoned chalice of obligation that the scholarship’s benevolence brings. The traditions constituting the student’s original cultural world establish grounds for understanding ‘through his eyes’ why he might struggle to conform to the solitude of academia. Such an atomised, isolated life goes against the shared personality and warmth of the working-class family and neighbourhood. The Scholarship Boy embodies the antagonism defining two different, and differently classed, modes of valuing. The Scholarship Boy, as a figure for thinking through ‘the pleasures and pains of the social’, encapsulates the unenviable, torn position of a unique historical moment where what is initially a family betrayal becomes, on the scale of Hoggart’s generation, a class betrayal. Taking up new opportunities in ‘their’ ranks destabilises the ideological closure that for so long had made the working-class social position bearable. The Scholarship Boy’s elevation to the ranks of a different culture was, in a sense, too fast: the speed of the trajectory out of one set of values into another did not match the amount of time it would take for appropriate attitudes to catch up. As Hartley’s work suggests, and I will discuss further, it is perhaps the case that these attitudes now have caught up, particularly with the assistance of television. But the post-war choice to move away from a working-class neighbourhood would not be made on the same grounds as it would at a different time. Ultimately this is why Hoggart writes this important experience, why he ‘thinks the social’ through his own experience: ‘because the difficulties of some people illuminate much in the wider discussion of social change’ (1958: 293). Breaking ranks The Scholarship Boy shows how some of the barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’ were breaking down in mid-1950s Britain. But following World War II, these divisions were crumbling in other ways. The sacrifices demanded by war and the unprecedented amount of inter-class encounters such camaraderie generated really ensured that the loyalties of the past could not continue unaffected (World War I had been characterised by trench warfare, thus sustaining much of the them/us distinction). As Hoggart’s autobiography recounts: By 1944 there was an unusual feeling in the air among servicemen, not often articulated cogently, but indicated by banal-sounding phrases: ‘We don’t mean to go back to what it was like before’; ‘Things have got to change’; ‘I’m not standing for that lot again’; ‘We didn’t
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go through all this just to settle back where we were’. There had been a sea-change among men who had been, most of them, ill-educated, not encouraged to have many expectations or to look forward to any change for the better, to progress, to movement. (1990: 60) In these ‘banal-sounding phrases’ – in his attention to the ordinary – Hoggart notices the significant social shifts that were afoot. The chaos of war and the distance from comfortable surroundings brings a crystallisation of thought for many servicemen. Forced into combat by higher powers, with whom their day-to-day contact had been minimal, Hoggart evokes the shifting attitude which comes from having been summoned to fight ‘their’ war. The accommodating them/us border had been breached. Men were drawn into the ‘other’ world of the middle and upper classes to settle unknown disputes and foreign objectives. In the passage above, we are invited to ‘see how others see’ the terms of engagement in war, we are encouraged to empathise with the soldiers’ plight. Here the futility to which lives had been reduced as combatants or, back home, as civilians, exacerbates the need to recapture and retain a sense of self-worth. Hoggart’s writing expresses how understandable it was that these soldiers might demand new forms of dignity and contemplate greater expectations returning home. Suggestions of ‘progress’ or ‘movement’, once unthinkable in the prism of the cluttered lounge room and neighbourhood microcosm, begin to lose their previously taboo status. Relating the soldiers’ reaction to the compulsory current affairs discussions initiated in the barracks, Hoggart’s autobiography also communicates the excitement and sense of possibility new knowledge awakens in the men: There they all sat, month after month, being introduced not only to the main issues in social security policy or educational planning or industrial prospects or trade unionism or local government, but – more importantly – being introduced also to the idea that these things concerned them and that they could have, should have, a say in the discussion and resolution of them. (1990: 62) This lengthy list of different policies and concepts serves to indicate the extent of the soldiers’ ignorance. The education system’s restricted nature is made clear by these details. There was so much they just did not know. The issues that ought to have pertained most to their lives had never been made plain to them before. To ‘have a say’ in these matters would have broken the traditional walls of physical and ideological separation between ‘them’ and ‘us’. In the above passage, ‘the pressing
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sense of a larger situation’ – the wider reality the them/us divide had blocked out – starts to come into play. While temporarily successful as a self-defence mechanism, the insularity and safety of the home and neighbourhood community is shown here as implicated in a lack of any public, political self-determination. In this way, Hoggart’s ‘landscape with figures’ puts a new spin on debates about voter apathy which were circulating in Left circles in post-war Britain. Apathy did not explain why Labour took so long to win a majority; rather, it was because people had not been educated about political issues and about which party might represent their interests. Access to this new knowledge would make such a choice become clear – at least for a time. New education initiatives made it possible for some of the opportunities of ‘their’ world to be glimpsed, perhaps even reached. To be able to learn and to conceive of one’s place in the wider context of society, and in light of this to actualise and advance one’s priorities, were related necessities previously denied to the working class.
The Candy-Floss World: Strategies of resilience in contemporary mass culture The second half of The Uses of Literacy introduces new principles for progressive pedagogy in line with these changing social circumstances. The goal of a ‘critical literacy’ becomes paramount for Hoggart, and it incorporates two dimensions. The first is to bring scholarly paradigms to the cultural choices of working class audiences, developing methods to recognise and recuperate their epistemological value. But the second, and that which I suggest has gained less traction in popular cultural studies approaches, is to offer resources for a new kind of resilience against imported popular culture, a self-defence system which would be informed of its place in the world and strong enough to combat the new forms of attention and address of a commercially driven culture. Hoggart describes consumer culture as ‘a candy-floss world’ (1958: 206–45). The phrase is evocative of the sweet, light and enjoyable aspects of post-war economic expansion but it also suggests the lack of substance in its expressions of community sentiment, its ultimate ambivalence towards fostering organic social bonds. Hoggart sees the proliferation of new cultural products marketed to an upwardly mobile working class as comforts too easily swallowed. His metaphor connotes the effortlessness of a superficial culture far removed from earlier practices which facilitated and maintained locality and self-reliance. The candy-floss world may promise freedom and improvement, but lacks long-term sustenance or the impetus for wider structural change. Hoggart wonders what is being
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lost with the economic good times. While improved financial prospects can only be welcomed, will the attitudes so sympathetically portrayed in the first half of the book withstand new temptations and opportunities? Given what his voice has led readers to understand about the history of working-class coping strategies – how certain values act as recompense for a lack of access to public political power – Hoggart invites speculation about what new cushions might soften the impact of the still existent inequalities of the emerging mass-mediatised society. In his appreciation of working-class ‘uses’ of new cultural products, Hoggart maintains a twinned focus. This is the capacity both to appreciate in a positive way what’s underplayed or frowned upon in appraisals of media use (the personalised mode of address typical of tabloid news, for example), while at the same time to remain vigilant for any moment when critical analysis assumes that a human interest slant is all that working-class people understand or desire. This is the two-fold approach we can see underpinning Hoggart’s position: a belief in the valuable legacy of bourgeois pedagogy held alongside a disdain for its selectivity and restricted access; a belief in the strong traditions of working-class culture and a fear of its insularity and political naivety; a belief in the real pleasures mass culture generates coupled with a concern for the greater consequences carved out by these short-lived ecstasies. It is this tension between two poles of investment that distinguishes Hoggart’s voice from others, and as I will shortly argue, it is a tension that continues to be a productive impetus for work in cultural studies. In discussing the sensationalist tastes of the ‘juke box boys’, readers of ‘spicy magazines’ and adherents of ‘sex-and-violence novels’ (1958: 246–73), Hoggart’s apparent moralising is more complicated than many critics infer. He doesn’t discount the validity of these choices, even though he may scorn the commercialised pop songs on the juke-box in contrast to the strong tradition of working-class folk singing mentioned in earlier sections of the book. In what is one of the first instances of a positive scholarly appraisal of the popular uses of the mass media, Hoggart recognises the degree of dignity and complexity behind people’s cultural predilections. This expands the realm of academic textual study to include sources other than the purely literary. His writing encourages an empathy for the gratification experienced by the jukebox boys – in many ways anticipating the subculture ethnographies that would characterise cultural studies for an extended period. Claiming legitimacy for these new forms of enjoyment, Hoggart attacks elitist assumptions distinguishing ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural spheres. His style helps readers ‘see how others see’, working to undo the accustomed judgements of a bourgeois mode of appraising culture.
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The empathic voice mobilised in the book’s initial descriptions gives readers access to the different mode of valuing that makes these new cultural products pleasurable. As I have indicated: The quite unusual degree of ‘personalisation’ in the newspapers designed for working-class people is derived, one can see immediately, not only from the common human interest in the detail of other people’s lives, but also from the peculiarly strong working-class attachment to the concrete, the emotionally bold and understandable, the local and particular. (1958: 197) The desire for personalisation stems from the long history of a selfcontained, parochial focus that has been the working-class means of coping with a less privileged place in the world. It is a preference for stories imaginable and understandable within this familiar context, a life that offers little chance of escape.8 Hoggart’s means of actualising a complex site of reception – ‘the context in which they received this mass material but also “received” many other things’ – is a clear riposte to existing academic assumptions of the time. Hoggart aims to show that ‘people are not living lives which are imaginatively as poor as a mere reading of their literature would suggest’ (1958: 324). Making a ‘landscape with figures’ pivotal to his intervention, Hoggart criticises the detachment of scholarly approaches that cannot envisage the human participants of their studies. This is his principal qualm with the Leavisite paradigm: ‘something was missing in those analyses but it took me years to discover what’ (Hoggart, 1990: 134). Until Hoggart’s intervention, writers had typically maintained a calculated distance in academic work. Hoggart introduced affect: he wanted to communicate care for others and to make readers invest in the subject matter being described. As Hall writes, from its inception with Hoggart’s text, cultural studies was ‘an “engaged” set of disciplines, addressing awkward but relevant issues about contemporary society and culture’ (1980a: 17). A ‘counterforce to numbing’, Hoggart’s empathic voice sought to recapture the ‘affective dimension of the experience of others’ (LaCapra, 2001: 40), a fitting gesture for the ambitious task of improving understanding between alienated cultures in class-segregated British society. Hoggart’s method only appears transparent in its simplicity. It disguises a complex, selective and politically motivated discourse deploying an insider’s perspective as a means to translate between different modes of valuing. The middle-class reader is taught to see how ‘they’ see; is encouraged to empathise with a history of financial hardship, stringency and struggle. In the very mode of ‘personalisation’ that he shows to be the
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preference of the working class, Hoggart uses identifiable images of the family, the neighbourhood or the war effort to share others’ different experience of social change. Situating the ‘self’ squarely within the analysis embodies in method a new perspective for scholarly studies: that all informants, of whatever class, are on an equal footing. Each experience is equally able to tell something of the wider social condition. For the predominantly working-class WEA students to whom The Uses of Literacy also speaks, Hoggart makes an awareness of historically produced values an imperative and a responsibility. He warns against an uncritical acceptance of the new media products which supposedly cater to their tastes, pointing out the long tradition of institutional discrimination that had been mobilised in judgment against them. Hoggart’s cautious voice implies that expanded educational opportunities alone will not be enough. With the penetration of capitalist rhetoric, a critical literacy must work to expose the limitations of a caring community based on commercial relations. Hoggart underlines the manipulative potential always present despite the pleasures of cultural material, hinting that the warmth and solidarity of another kind of relation must remain a prominent goal. The problem posed by pop-culture publications is in their half-way status, positioned as they are between the value system of a passing era and the structures of support still lacking in a developing consumer culture. Televising empathy This is where contemporary proponents of Hoggart’s approach offer suggestive new ground for cultural studies. Hartley’s Uses of Television (1999), for instance, effectively argues that the popular classes have come to terms with the significant changes brought by the post-World War II shift in social roles and opportunities. He claims that new political subjectivities, in the form of cultural and DIY citizenship, are the positive result of this shift – positive in that they destabilise the electorally dependent means of political representation characteristic of earlier times. Hartley sees the ‘convivial’ relations encouraged by television’s mass address as hopeful instances of cross-demographic communication of the form outlined in Hoggart’s work. As Hoggart also hoped, television offers viewers the chance to position themselves in the context of a wider world and to consider their desires and interests in light of this knowledge. Studying TV is, for Hartley, the appropriate contemporary site for a Hoggartian project:‘a “useful” way of checking out what’s happening’ (1999: 10). To watch TV is to realise that ‘humanity has hearkened to a Mandelan, Gorbachevian, Dianan, televisual tune; it looks to gather populations, not to defeat them’ showing that ‘cordialisation of the species has reached epidemic proportions’ (ibid.).
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Hartley’s conviction that television has a key role in furthering knowledge, empathy and understanding between vast audiences is a promising if challenging position for a progressive politics. Its celebratory standpoint follows Hoggart’s example in distinguishing itself from lingering orthodoxies of scholarly debate, as for instance this passage demonstrates: The point remains that broadcasting gathers different populations, politics and tastes, rather than choosing between them, and it is precisely this – the fact that everyone is exposed to points of view they don’t hold and cultural material they don’t like – that critics from both Left and Right have disliked about television’s textuality. (1999: 119–120) Hartley is the clearest successor to Hoggart’s legacy for the way that his work consistently seeks to draw out the possibility of connections between disparate groups and finding the cultural channels that achieve this in concrete ways. A focus on the similarities people share is a task often overlooked in the assertion of difference lately dominant in academic discourse, and yet it seems a vital part of a functioning society, and one we might say is important for non-commercial interests to be seen to be promoting. For despite Hartley’s optimism I am less convinced that today’s working classes are much better positioned to pursue their own interests, if this is understood in Hoggart’s sense of critical literacy. To the extent that the general address of global news media seeks always to maximise its audience, and does so with ever smaller sound bites, it is difficult to argue that the public ever gains enough information to be able to act on their best interests. Hoggart’s strategy of employing empathy was formulated because of an underlying conviction in ordinary people’s intelligence and thirst for knowledge. He argued that the media user needs the chance to test their own strengths and limitations rather than accept the projected estimate of their capacities that others dictate; culture is the place where people deserve the opportunity to extend themselves beyond even their own expectations. When the mass media audience is too undifferentiated and needs to cover too many conflicting interests, Hoggart suggests this can only water down the complexity of the cultural representations that are put forward. We get the safe average, with no extremes and no intimate engagement with the particularities of individual cultures. Hoggart wants culture to inspire and challenge him, to make him interested in what’s possible from the world. Writing after The Uses of Literacy, this is his lament for the potential failure of his critical literacy ideal: ‘You have sipped and looked and tasted; but nothing has happened. “Culture”
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has become a thing for display not exploration; a presentation not a challenge’ (1970: 148). Hartley maintains that media perform a useful pedagogic function in today’s multicultural, variously resourced societies. TV in particular translates across the social distances that patently still exist in contemporary life; across the distances between people ‘not only personally strangers to each other’, but also who ‘tend to occupy positions in society, and do jobs, that are literally unimaginable to others in the system’ (1999: 132). Television’s radical democratic role is in ‘increasing the intensity of information and experience available to more people and to an extent never before seen’ (1999: 133). In this sense, television has met some of Hoggart’s demands for active engagement and participation from audiences, and the recent rise of ‘Reality TV’ indicates the ground given and the degree to which people now influence the terms on which cultural products are experienced. However, Hoggart’s warnings also raise the question of whether such conciliatory measures come at the expense of other forms of agency. Do the powers and pleasures of interactive media culture relate to a decreasing sense of public political agency evident in the new reconfigurations of ‘them’ and ‘us’? In any case, the likelihood of televised empathy is lessened in the many contexts where televisual content fails to offer diversity in content. As Graeme Turner urges, in his own consideration of Hartley’s work, it is crucial to consider ‘the ethical failings’ that might occur ‘along the way’ to the new political subjectivities of DIY citizenship (2003: 94). We need to question the costs of the increased ‘proliferation of voices, access and diversity’ in media outlets when these come at the behest of globalised conglomerates ‘intent on controlling and reducing those elements which are profitable for a very small number of beneficiaries’ (2003: 95). It also appears to me troubling if televised empathy becomes the primordial form of empathy a population is able to summon. In the words of Grossberg: TV is a domestic medium; but it need not constantly domesticate every image, nor is it already domesticated, without any role in ongoing cultural struggles. TV is domestic in that it is indifferent to the difference between subordination and resistance. It is both immensely public and intensely private and, once again, its power lies precisely on the line that marks the indifference. Television is not often an active site of struggle, but that does not mean it is not involved, in important and constant ways, through indirection, in active struggles. (Grossberg 1997a: 144)
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If television risks a degree of insularism by being ‘intensely private’, it is an insularism and an intense privacy which marks Hoggart’s vision of working-class culture from the outset. While I have sought to acknowledge the positive aspects of this vision that have been overlooked in the past, a contemporary deployment of Hoggart’s empathetic voice would need to target working-class as much as middle-class discourses, precisely because the same outlets provide the basis for televised empathy in media-saturated societies. New connections Hoggart’s main fear was that the working classes might be kept satisfied – and in their unequal place – in a new articulation of ‘them’ and ‘us’. If the privileges of opportunity were simply reconfigured rather than overthrown following the major post-war changes in lifestyle, then the ‘overwhelming immobility of British working-class lives’ would remain: buttressed by a class-based and class-biased educational system at all levels and an apparatus of mass communications which appears to be open and sometimes even radical but which hardly ever takes on directly the major engines and processes which keep things as they so unacceptably appear to anyone who tries to stand apart and take stock (1988: 131). From this description it’s possible to argue that new media technologies are beginning to act in the capacity Hoggart sought, with the internet offering the leading example of the way ‘major engines’ of proprietorial culture are under sustained attack from the thriving ethics of file-sharing, DIY publishing and self-education and online. So too, increasingly cheap digital photography technology in cameras and mobile phones provide new opportunities for cross-demographic conviviality, whether through web-based social networking tools, or community television initiatives like digital storytelling (Burgess, 2006). The ubiquity of camera-ready mobile phones in many cultures is also affecting a redistribution of authorised witnesses to the production of news stories and a democratisation of the information channels by which people decide their political agency. The sheer amount of information at our disposal with new media technologies only indicates the number of new horizons for empathy currently tugging at our political sympathies, the number of new axes of power to which we have become sensitive since Hoggart’s initial intervention. In our satellite-linked world, ‘the pressing sense of a wider situation’ is that much harder to avoid, and the urgency of class grievance
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takes on further and interrelated dimensions, including race, gender, ethnicity, location and ability. As television assists other developing modes of delivering information to larger audiences, opening our eyes to the global configuration of power relations characterising our present moment, there are increasing numbers of others with whom we might desire connection. This expanded stage for political concern hardly discounts Hoggart’s instructive example of how to achieve fruitful, reciprocal relations of empathy between distant others. In fact it suggests that after an extensive period in the shadows while the political emphasis rested with considerations of hegemony and subversion, Hoggart’s modest and equally pressing political project is now coming to the fore. Perhaps too, the degree to which ‘the major engines and processes’ can ‘keep things as they so unacceptably appear’ depends on how comfortable all of us remain with the way ‘they’ run ‘our’ world. We need inventive measures to combat the ways government and economic depictions keep certain people far from our sight, whether it is dividing labour between North and South, or peaceful intent between Western nations and ‘Terror’. Watching Al-Jazeera TV does little to facilitate my desire to reach out, ‘fingers extended’, to Iraqi women, let alone the Muslim women suffering persecution in my own community as a result of alarmist current affairs coverage. Despite my wish to connect with their plight, they remain hidden. We are not given the chance to be seen through each other’s eyes. In these examples, the TV gaze is a one-way transaction. The relationship between watcher and watched cannot be reversed. There is always something wrong when only one party can participate in an empathic exchange. The ultimate ‘risk of empathy’ (Boler, 1997) is that the one-way gaze of the self/ reader/ TV eye might stay passive and palliate existing power relations. In this chapter I have proposed the political and epistemological usefulness of an empathic voice at those times when ‘complacent reasonableness or bland objectivism’ cannot convey the inadequacy of existing social arrangements LaCapra (2001: xii). Writing with empathy incites care and compassion for those who remain invisible or uninteresting through prevailing media or academic lenses. Cultural studies’ affective scholarly practice provides these humane connections often disavowed in available representations of others. Hoggart’s legacy for cultural studies has been his capacity to make subjects of the objects of scholarly and political diagnoses, to see how others see. The relevance of his project for contemporary conditions will continue just as long as the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ stays a prominent feature of the political landscape. Present indications only confirm that this will be a long time yet.
3 The Politics of Conjuncture: Stuart Hall, Articulation and the Commitment to Specificity
There is no permanent hegemony: it can only be established, and analysed, in concrete historical conjunctures. (Hall, 1988: 333)
Introduction The previous chapter described the desire to communicate empathy as a recurring feature of cultural studies. The field’s affective voices seek to convey compassion for those that have not always been the focus for academic concern, encouraging readers to recognise their own complicity in the circumstances which keep people distant from each other in multi-ethnic, class- and resource-differentiated societies. Yet generating empathy is only one way that cultural studies contributes to this task. In this chapter, I want to describe the conjunctural emphasis that has also characterised the field from its inception, drawing out the ways in which a focus on the particularities of the present adds another unique dimension to cultural studies’ analyses. As my discussion of Hoggart showed, British cultural studies itself arises from a set of precise conjunctural conditions, including the experiences of World War II, education reform and increased class mobility. Whether these factors also spell an implicit time frame for cultural studies’ relevance and urgency is something I have raised in Chapter 1 and will explore further as the book progresses. But to appreciate the significance of the conjunctural dimension to cultural studies practice involves first of all reckoning with the formidable legacy of Stuart Hall. Hall’s voice is perhaps more difficult to distinguish than Hoggart’s, not because it fails to convey a unique signature but because as a result of historical circumstance and personal charisma it has borne an unenviable representative burden in the imagination of most cultural studies scholars (see Scott, 2005; Gilroy et al., 55
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2000; Davis, 2004). A voice that has been so vital in embodying the best hopes of cultural studies renders any new reading liable to fierce contestation. In this ‘mimetic double’ I therefore want to complement my reading with examples from contemporary politics that I believe reflect the priorities consistently demonstrated in Hall’s writing. If Hall’s voice was marked by the commitment to specificity, it is only appropriate that I use this chapter to consider political issues of the current moment with recourse to theoretical tools at hand. It is precisely this manoeuvre that Hall established to test the ideas of his own major influences. Hall’s manner of intervention has been celebrated for its attempt to mediate between scholarly and public concerns. He has consistently kept abreast of the latest theoretical developments and sought to test their efficacy in particular applications. Whereas Hoggart brought what was outside of scholarly attention into its terrain of surveillance and concern, Hall performs what might be seen as the reverse movement. He takes what is of use in existing academic discourse to tackle the concrete political challenges thrown up by discrete historical moments. This inaugurates an unceasing dialogue between political theory and everyday life, a rigorous exchange which observes changes in popular culture in order to move theory ‘a little on down the road’ (see Daryl Slack, 1996). A politics of conjuncture works in a systematic way to map shifts in the political landscape. Once Hall has identified a specific horizon for analysis, the task becomes one of pinpointing the axes on which the suppositions of that time period gain precedence. Following this process leads to an interrogation of the foundations which sustain dominant interpretations of the political landscape. Hall’s conjunctural politics is a method of describing the unique circumstances a particular moment poses – typically disheartening in terms of his own socialist ideals – while at the same time providing the grounds for a potential route out of such circumstances. These considerations are conducted above all as a contextualising endeavour, with the aim of establishing the significance of new political terrain in historical terms. While conjunctural intervention synthesises a number of theoretical influences, its particular combination is what makes it uniquely Hall’s voice. His affective emphases motivate and push theories to make them do something; Hall enables theory, pulling together and activating its most promising aspects. Hall stresses theory’s utility for thinking about culture as it currently exists and, in turn, how it could be. In Hall’s description, theory is the ‘necessary delay or detour’ (1992a: 283) needed to break open our ideas of ‘common sense’.1 Loyal to tenets of Gramscian Marxism, conjunctural analysis seeks to reveal how common sense knowledges are produced, cognisant that they are never naturally occurring ideas.
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Reading Hall’s work through the consistency of his means of intervention recognises the continuities at the heart of his project despite his eclectic theoretical influences over time. From the beginning of his involvement in the British New Left to the issues facing multicultural policy today, Hall has used a conjunctural focus to bring to light the issues characterising major political and epistemological developments. Through Hall’s re-articulation, the conjunctures on which I concentrate in this chapter are each translated out of their apparent hopelessness for a Leftist objective.2 Hall uses each scenario to test the premises of theoretical fashion and gain an intricate, historically mindful description of the political challenges of the present. One of the most important aspects of this contribution is that Hall’s voice acts as a catalysing influence among colleagues. The festschrifts written in his honour (Morley and Chen, 1996; Gilroy et al., 2000) testify to his capacity to inspire those who share his commitment to a socialist alternative at particularly those times when optimism is most difficult to summon. Angela McRobbie recently wonders whether Hall’s voice might in this sense be understood as something of a lonely presence or ‘productive singularity’ in the history of attempts to pursue a Left-leaning academic position not wholly tied to the university (2005: 38). In singling out his project, I do not wish to enhance the inevitability of such a reading, nor do I aim to boost the already strong mythology surrounding Hall’s legacy (see Rojek, 2005). What I am interested to discover is how Hall’s voice has functioned for cultural studies colleagues since the field began. For it is only by moving beyond the specific generational circumstances that currently flavour much of the writing about Hall that cultural studies can come to terms with the purpose his voice has come to serve, thereby ensure this purpose is fulfilled by many more successors.
Tracing the voice An initial indication of Hall’s conjunctural focus is evident in Resistance Through Rituals, the first collaborative publication produced by the CCCS. In their description of the context giving rise to subcultural practices, the authors quote a key passage from Gramsci which states: ‘in studying a structure, it is necessary to distinguish organic movements (relatively permanent) from movements which may be termed “conjunctural”, and which appear as occasional, immediate, almost accidental.’ The role of the intellectual is therefore to ‘find the correct relation between what is organic and what is conjunctural’ (Gramsci in Hall et al., 1976: 10).
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The distinction Gramsci institutes, between small changes in the political landscape and more consequential ones, was a way for Hall and his colleagues to appreciate the Left’s reluctance to change tack when faced with unforeseen or unexpected events in orthodox notions of revolutionary change. It showed the limitations of a teleological vision because the cumulative effect of slight shifts in the political landscape is to weaken the accuracy and relevance of consecrated visions of radical change. Developing these ideas in response to Thatcherism, Hall therefore asks: ‘What is specific and different about this moment?’ (1988: 162). His refusal to bow to Leftist fatalism was based on the Gramscian perspective that each new political development requires new analytical tools; the specific traits which characterise each conjunctural moment are crucial in defining and meeting its challenges. The refrain returns in more recent work still, such that we can begin to recognise it as Hall’s signature voice. His writing on black popular culture again begins with the claim: ‘the combination of what is similar and what is different defines not only the specificity of the moment, but the specificity of the question, and therefore the strategies with which we attempt to intervene’ (1996: 465). Throughout this 20-year period, then, Hall’s message is consistent. If political analysis is to be effective, it needs to meet existing conditions head-on – it must be attentive and respond in a suitably tailored manner.3 The reiteration evident in these and other instances attests to the consistency of Hall’s approach over time just as it also suggests the reluctance on the part of his colleagues to heed such directives. Yet there is also a consistency to the way in which Hall animated his conjunctural politics. In what follows, I want to highlight this unique mode of intervention, identifying the foundational formula upon which the ever changing political landscape is then assessed.
The components of conjunctural politics The conjunctural emphasis relies on three key theoretical insights which often become interrelated and overdetermined in Hall’s application. I want to briefly single out the theories as they appear in others’ work to establish my claim that Hall’s voice can be understood as a mediator between scholarly debates and concrete political issues. Arbitrary closure The first component of conjunctural politics is arbitrary closure. This is the initial recognition that a specific moment calls for a kind of clarification, an appraisal, as outlined in this passage taken from an early foray into theories of postmodernity:
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Potentially, discourse is endless: the infinite semiosis of meaning. But to say anything at all in particular, you do have to stop talking. Of course, every full stop is provisional. The next sentence will take nearly all of it back. So what is this ‘ending’? It’s a kind of stake, a kind of wager. It says. ‘I need to say something, something… just now.’ It is not forever, not totally universally true. It is not underpinned by any infinite guarantees. But just now, this is what I mean; this is who I am. (Hall, 1987: 45) Arbitrary closure accentuates the optimistic belief that certain moments are critical opportunities for unsettling the status quo. The notion foregrounds the necessity of a break in the constant dialogue of meaning-making arguing that in order to really say something with impact you need time to pause among the commotion. But acting also as a brake on history arbitrary closure is a way to stop momentarily – long enough to take a position. If silence amounts to consent within the framework of hegemonic rule, in Hall’s use, arbitrary closure embodies the principle that taking a position is crucial if the alternative is not speaking at all. This recognises the precariousness of a hastily formed speaking position but acknowledges that there must be a starting point from which an analysis might begin to be refined. Firm and fixed positions are not the goal: arbitrary closure is ‘a politics that is open to contingency but still able to act’ (1987: 45).4 Arbitrary closure is an explicit political application of Jacques Derrida’s position on the ‘necessary fiction’ entailed in language formation and communication generally. This is encapsulated in the idea of différance, with its double meaning both to defer (put off) and to differ (to contrast). Hall makes arbitrary closure for politics what différance is for language: a necessary fiction summoned in the service of a further project of sense-making. On the one hand a more rigorously formulated political assessment is put off or deferred; but this is in order to provide an immediate contrast, an alternative to the interpretation promoted by the ruling bloc. To intervene, Hall claims to need the freedom to take up a position, to identify as something. But this closure is always ‘strategic’ and arbitrary (Hall, 1990a: 230). The act of speaking out is the ‘different’ articulation of the conjuncture and the second component of conjunctural politics. Articulation Hall has taken pains to describe articulation in its quite specific cultural studies sense, given its often-unqualified use in humanities work. He emphasises it is doubled meaning in English, where ‘articulate’ means to utter, to speak forth, to be articulate. It carries that sense of language-ing,
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of expressing and so on. But we also speak of an ‘articulated’ lorry (truck): a lorry where the front (cab) and back (trailer) can, but need not necessarily, be connected to one another. The two parts are connected to each other, but through a specific linkage, that can be broken. An articulation is thus the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements, under certain conditions (Hall in Grossberg, 1996b: 141). Hall employs Ernesto Laclau’s axiomatic phrase, ‘no necessary correspondence’ to indicate that while common sense makes us think that certain things belong together, these viewpoints are the result of a series of identifiable moments of definition and fabrication. Laclau’s focus on class ideology sought to question the Left’s unwavering belief in the inevitability of revolution despite the fact that ‘there is no law which guarantees that the ideology of a class is already and unequivocally given in or corresponds to the position which that class holds in the economic relations of capitalist production’ (Hall, 1985: 94). Hall takes from Laclau the important recognition that people ‘are not irrevocably and indelibly inscribed with the ideas that they ought to think; the politics that they ought to have are not, as it were, already imprinted in their sociological genes.’ Ultimately, ‘there is no guarantee that classes will appear in their appointed political places, as Poulantzas so vividly described it, with their number plates on their backs’ (1985: 96). While classes have a predisposed degree of accordance with certain ideologies, just like the cab and trailer, these are not naturally arising propensities. Rather, they are framed destinies: the result of a history of conventionalised thinking which can just as easily be modified, rearranged or reversed. This is what’s hopeful about Laclau’s position, despite its critique of traditional revolutionary notions. Dis- and rearticulation can break apart the conventional understandings of society put forward by the ruling bloc. Stripping away their naturalness, their comforting common sense, these same elements can be reworked into an alternative conception. Articulation welds together the components which constitute society but in a different, more transparent shape, with holes and openings for change that would otherwise be papered over.
Testing theory The third aspect of Hall’s politics of conjuncture is the theoretical detour which gives weight and clarity to the re-articulation. To be clear, I have been arguing until now that the first two aspects of conjunctural analysis are themselves a result of a motivated use of theoretical concepts. Yet what Hall does in each intervention is to test out new frameworks for
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thinking in combination with the re-articulation. Hall applies Gramsci’s emphasis on the present to theoretical conditions as well as political issues. This receptivity to new critical tools allows for dynamism in Hall’s work while carrying out in practice the belief in strategic, rather than stable position-taking. The way Hall enters debates is consistent but his interpretations do not confirm any orthodoxy. In fact his distaste for such a practice could not be any clearer: ‘The bourgeoisie produces bourgeois culture which exercises bourgeois hegemony. Hooray! That is the last thing that anybody out there needs: to be told what they already know’ (1992a: 289). Against this potential for irrelevant cultural analysis, Hall sees cultural studies’ usefulness is in testing different paradigms, what he famously calls ‘wrestling with the angels’ (ibid.). It is a position that continues to annoy committed Marxists to write as Hall does: ‘the only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency’ (1992a: 280). If Hall’s voice is singular among radical theorists, it is because of his willingness to admit that theoretical and political positions have use-by dates at the same time as he remains a committed Leftist.5 Rather than bending present conditions to suit his theoretical outlook, Hall’s is a voice notable for its enthusiastic embrace of the task of ‘going on theorising’. As Jennifer Daryl Slack explains, this is the double sense theory has in cultural studies: It is a formal conceptual tool as well as a practising or ‘trying out’ of a way of theorising. In joining these two senses of practice, we commit to working with momentarily, temporarily ‘objectified’ theories, moments of ‘arbitrary closure’, recognising that in the ongoing analysis of the concrete, theory must be challenged and revised… Successful theorising is not measured by exact theoretical fit but by the ability to work with our always inadequate theories to help us move understanding ‘a little further on down the road’. (1996: 113)
Policing the Crisis I now want to turn to some instances which demonstrate Hall’s conjunctural focus, starting with the critically acclaimed CCCS publication Policing the Crisis (1978). The result of a collaborative research project, the book centres on the 1973 Handsworth case in which three youths of mixed ethnic backgrounds were given prison sentences of either 10 or 20 years for their part in the mugging, robbing and injuring of a young Irish worker. At the time, the case raised concerns about the discrepancy between the crime and its punishment as well as the human tragedy that
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the very event could happen. But what was ‘specific and different’ about the moment was the way that one term – ‘mugging’ – performed a dangerous act of condensation within public discourse. The researchers perceive that by 1973, references to ‘mugging’ summon a number of slippery associations for the British public; a situation leading them to ‘examine why and how the themes of race, crime, and youth – condensed in the image of “mugging” – come to serve as the articulator’ of the moment, as its ‘ideological conductor’ (Hall et al., 1978: viii). The group’s scholarly intervention was an attempt ‘to do what the courts had signally failed to do’, namely to use their relative autonomy as academics to ‘understand a problem which awoke contradictory feelings in us – outrage at the sentence, sorrow for the needless victim, sympathy for the boys caught in a fate they did not make, perplexity at the conditions producing all this’ (ibid.). The researchers find their modus operandi by identifying what is missing from other institutional accounts of the event. In the clear-cut matter of sentencing there is little appreciation for the many complex factors involved in the case. Tackling those questions which the court system does not address gives Hall’s group an entry point for a conjunctural approach, so that finding the ‘conditions producing all this’ becomes critical for providing an alternative articulation. Not only mugging itself, the researchers write, ‘but also the nature of the social reaction, has a pre-history; conditions of existence, strikingly absent from all the publicity concentrated on the single incident… nobody is really looking at these determining conditions. Crime has been cut adrift from its social roots’ (1978: ix). Rather than lamenting the circumstances which allow descriptions of mugging to be uncritically accepted, the writers decide that the most useful work they can do is to produce the information lacking in dominant accounts. Echoing Hoggart’s motivations, to methodically recreate the landscape within which generalisations take place, the research traces the factors leading up to the boys’ exacerbated sentences, to make the emergence of the mugging issue material and visible in a clear time frame. Re-articulating the conjuncture, the study reveals that in importing the ‘mugging’ label from the United States the British media also took on the moral panic already attached to the term in its original context. The researchers show that in its American setting, mugging was a practice commonly attributed to the ghettos of black urban neighbourhoods. Translated to new circumstances, this already assumed knowledge became enmeshed with underlying feelings to do with the increasing American influence on British society. Mugging had been solely an American problem until this point, but was now seen as another symptom of the spread
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of American cultural imperialism. This may not seem so fascinating today, when an American lexicon feels almost ubiquitous, but the study shows the concrete effects such a transcultural exchange can bring. The researchers find that ‘mugging’ was not an offence under British law before the 1960s. Only in response to its widespread use in American representations did officials adopt the term and create a new crime category. The changed terminology had a primary purpose, which was to provide statistical evidence of the rise in mugging in service of newspaper articles. Criminal discourse therefore came to reiterate and feed the media’s perception of a mugging epidemic; a perception true to the extent that the crime had no material presence before these two institutions created it. The CCCS group employ Althusser’s theory of ideology to make sense of the situation – an early instance of Hall’s wider project of mediating scholarly knowledge. According to Althusser (1971), the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) typified in legal, educational and media structures are the basic mechanisms through which we constitute our sense of reality. Using this perspective, the researchers show that the mugging phenomenon is actualised by the mutually reinforcing knowledge made available to the public by the ISAs. A sense of anxiety is ‘overdetermined’ by the consistency of the ISAs’ definition of the crisis. The research highlights the reciprocity between the ‘control culture’ (the police and the courts) and the ‘signification culture’ (the media) in interpretations of mugging, indicating that ‘the mutual articulation of these two “relatively independent” agencies’ became overdetermined to the point that it created ‘an effective ideological and control closure around the issue’ (Hall et al., 1978: 76). In this Althusserian reading, the state apparatuses are shown to call into being the subjects required to make the mugging panic appear ‘real’. The researchers outline the way that the ISAs initiate particular ways of seeing. For instance: Once we know that the police were already alerted to, mobilised to deal with, and active against the “mugger”, in the period before “mugging” had become a public issue, we must ask, whether, conceivably, this very mobilisation could have in a way helped to produce the “mugging” crime wave which later appears in the courts and the media, and hence the public concern which threatened to overwhelm and displace all other crime concerns for almost a year. Did the activity of the police amplify “mugging”? (1978: 41) While the contributing factors revealed in this analysis appear ominous, the project also admits that the sense of overdetermination at work in the
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conjuncture is not intentionally insidious. The ISAs are equally at the whim of ideology’s inescapable and circular nature. Although social bodies such as the police, the courts and the media are hardly passive reactors to the simple facts of crime situations, conjunctural analysis shows: They do not simply respond to “moral panics”. They form part of the circle out of which “moral panics” develop. It is part of the paradox that they also, advertently and inadvertently, amplify the deviancy they seem so absolutely committed to controlling. This tends to suggest that, though they are crucial actors in the drama of the “moral panic”, they, too, are acting out a script which they do not write. (1978: 52) Hall and his colleagues describe the production of the mugging threat as the result of particular discourses being picked up, circulated and reified by various state structures of ideological construction and control. In Foucauldian terms, the mugging conjuncture exemplifies the way that discourses come to have material effects, to the point of actual bodily incarceration in the case of the three boys in Handsworth. The process of description and naming – cultural studies’ focus on language and representation – is in this instance shown to constitute a primary site for political struggle.6 Policing the Crisis remains influential because of the way these power plays were brought to light in structures not accustomed to experiencing the rigours of academic critique. The writers acknowledge, for instance, that the internal organisation of the police ‘is not, normally, much publicised; and their plans, contingency schemes, mobilisation on the ground, and so on are very reticently handled indeed’ (1978: 51). An attendant point of the overall project is that crime is a political site carefully closed down to competing and alternative definitions. Its protection from dis- and re-articulation hints at its capacity for perpetuating hegemonic understandings. The study exposes the ISAs’ role in providing a consistent interpretation of events for a ruling bloc, revealing the way common sense comes to be constructed. As we will see towards the end of this chapter, common sense assumptions linking crime with race appear to be a persistent trend.
Thatcherism Hall’s appraisal of the politics of Thatcherism is one of his most recognised interventions, largely because of its explicit condemnation of the Left’s bankruptcy in the face of this new challenge. As Wendy Brown remarks,
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Hall’s reading of Thatcher’s ascendancy saw it in terms of ‘the Left’s own failure to apprehend the character of the age, and to develop a political critique and a moral-political vision appropriate to this character’: For Hall, the rise of the Right was a symptom rather than a cause of this failure, just as the Left’s dismissive or suspicious attitude toward cultural politics is for Hall not a sign of its unwavering principles but of its anachronistic habits of thought, and its fears and anxieties about revising those habits. (Brown, 2000: 21) Against the kinds of oppositional positions promoted at the time, Hall claimed that ‘a politics which depends on “the” working-class being, essentially and eternally, either entirely “Thatcherite” or entirely the revolutionary subject-in-waiting is simply inadequate. It is no longer telling us what we most need to know’ (1988: 6–7). His alternative description of the political landscape serves to highlight the precariousness and the light-footedness characterising the formation of hegemony. It also shows the pernicious consequences of articulation when practiced by one’s political enemies. For Hall, the Thatcherite ideology could be read like any other, a unity ‘always in quotation marks and always complex, a suturing together of elements which have no necessary or eternal “belongingness”. It is always, in that sense, organised around arbitrary and not natural closures’ (1988: 10). According to this formula, for Thatcherism to become successful it needed to discern appropriate elements which would bring about a unity – however fleeting – to the political spectrum: ‘Everything depends on the means – the practices, the apparatuses and the ‘philosophies’ – by which the often dispersed and contradictory interests of a class are welded together into a coherent position which can be articulated and represented in the political and ideological theatres of struggle’ (1988: 45). The Thatcherite ideology privileged certain key political terms – most potently, ‘the state’ and ‘the people’ – to bring momentary coherence to the contradictory experiences faced by British citizens at a time of great economic transition. Commenting on this procedure more recently Hall claims, ‘The beauty or the symmetry of the operation’ was ‘its capacity to condense and display contradictory symbolisation in the same space’ (1995: 64). It is precisely because they are floating signifiers that the notions of ‘the state’ or ‘the people’ are valuable to politicians. Their definitions are open to contestation, able to be emptied and refilled by competing interests. Indeed they can be manipulated towards different ends by the same political party depending on the occasion.
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In Hall’s reading, Thatcherism’s strength was its own use of dis- and re-articulation to overturn ideas successfully serviced by previous Labour and consensus governments. In the case of ‘the state’, Tory interests were not well suited to a strong welfare culture, so the principal task was to annul any positive feelings the public might harbour towards benevolent government initiatives after the War. To this end, the Tories described the welfare state in clunky, inefficient terms, and as overly bureaucratic, summoning the worst possible notions in people’s minds of waiting in queues or of grumpy office clerks. Furthermore, ‘the state’ in the hands of Labour was also concertedly equated with the sacrifices and horrors of Soviet-style socialism to facilitate nightmare visions of the then economically dire Soviet Union. In this light, Thatcher’s revamped sense of the state conversely symbolises all those marketfriendly values now the hallmarks of Western neoliberalism: ‘It combines the resonant theme of organic Toryism – nation, family, duty, authority, standards, traditionalism – with the aggressive themes of a revived neoliberalism – self interest, competitive individualism, anti-statism’ (1988: 48). Note the anti-statism here: Thatcherism argues against a certain form of the state. But this can only work, Hall insists, by articulating the whole of public life in the terms of the (Tory) state. One of Thatcherism’s great strengths is its drive to embed its politics in civil society. It seeks to achieve this through cultural change – enterprise culture, the spread of Thatcherite personal identities of home owner, credit-card holder, and share-owner. It has also wrought significant institutional changes in civil society. Companies have become not merely sources of employment and output, but geysers for Thatcherite values – value for money, choice, efficiency… The company and the private home have been elevated as key institutions in society (1989: 449–50). Hall does not provide the details of Thatcher’s success in order to consecrate or reify it, as critics at the time were quick to caution, but to demand that the Left provide a contrasting articulation, one which would make obvious the limited nature of Thatcherism’s political and social vocabulary (1988: 228). When freedom is described only in terms of market freedom, the interpretation of power relations being accepted has changed significantly. No longer is it the ‘us versus them’ equation of an earlier era (which Hoggart argued to be so crucial to working-class identity). The concerns of politics are from this point increasingly defined in terms of ‘our’ interests, whether it is the wellbeing of the nation or the
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company ‘we’ all work for (1988: 49). This is the cornerstone of Thatcher’s hegemonic goal of a shareholder society. The only emancipatory narrative available is trust in the market. Thatcherism prohibits even the linguistic terrain on which a contrasting socialist route might be described. Those opposed to the market become susceptible to charges of treason, because there is no other way to measure liberty or restriction except in terms of the economy, upon which all people, together, are equally dependent. In this situation, Hall maintains that any form of dissent, opposition or conflict becomes a conspiracy against the society as a whole: ‘whatever the state does is legitimate (even if it is not ‘right’); and whoever threatens the consensus threatens the state’ (1988: 23–4). The state is able to exercise power legitimately by claiming to represent the will of the people. Hall describes this scenario as ‘authoritarian populism’. Thatcherism’s particular strength is its use of ‘the people’ as a uniting force, to sanction whatever action is taken.7 But the condensation involved in summary statements of ‘the people’ equates to speaking for both everyone and no one at the same time. If you do not fit comfortably into the interpellation, it is easier to think there is something wrong with you, rather than to disbelieve the authority behind the politician’s statement. As you shrug off the relevance of the political decision being taken, your participation in democracy becomes as ‘virtual’ and abstract as the statement itself.8 Hall’s conjunctural approach provides a means to distinguish how people differ from the abstract formulations at the heart of government rhetoric. Hall’s attraction to Althusser is precisely that ‘he enabled me to live in and with difference’ (1985: 91), spelling the end to any affiliation with fundamentalist Marxism. Hall’s different description of Thatcherism demonstrates that the radical right does not ‘appear out of thin air’ but that it can be profitably understood ‘in direct relation to alternative political formations attempting to occupy and command the same space’ (1988: 44). This intervention encourages those on the Left to assert just such an alternative political possibility; yet it also raises the speculation that an inability to do so may be the real reason the Left remains silent in the face of the Thatcherite challenge. Despite its victories, Hall has been careful to accentuate that Thatcherism never achieved full hegemony. Even at its height, he regarded Thatcherism as ‘dominant but not hegemonic. It must impose – because it cannot lead’ (1988: 155). When governments such as Thatcher’s are not capable of winning full support for an agenda, politics is not a matter of introducing issues for debate or offering new priorities so much as responding to what happens and reworking the terms and common sense notions already available in the public realm. If this
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is right, we can expect these kinds of governments to be the norm rather than exception in the future, with issues juggled on the spot, hotpotato style, until the opinion polls come in. ‘From the perspective of the longer duree of new times,’ Hall concludes, ‘Thatcherism’s project can be understood as operating on the ground of longer, deeper, more profound movements of change which appear to be going its way, but of which, in reality, it has been only occasionally, and fleetingly, in command over the past decade’ (1989: 126). In this regard it may be worth pondering whether Hall’s intervention in the Thatcherite conjuncture was less successful in the eyes of his critics because of its comparatively widespread symptoms – its confluence with the rise of Reaganomics in the United States, and as I discuss elsewhere, Australia’s experience of neoliberal government under John Howard (Gregg, 2004b). It may be that the effectiveness of conjunctural analysis is lessened to the degree that the political conditions it describes become diffuse. As Hall himself writes, ‘it is critical to get the relationship between the “organic” and the “conjunctural” features right’ (1988: 131). Conjunctural politics may bring a different set of questions when the condition described is shared across specific cultures. In my reading of Larry Grossberg’s latest book in the following chapter, I want to suggest that this may be the difficulty his work faces writing from the current US context. But this is the risk Hall acknowledges in the notion of arbitrary closure: it is not possible to know in advance the extent of a political shift. His example serves simply to suggest that an interventionist voice must exist to act as a contrast to the short-term agenda for electoral politics. It is a secondary consideration whether the interpretation it offers stands the test of time – theoretical refinement can take place once the continuum of hegemonic definition has been broken. Thatcher’s adept use of dis- and re-articulation not only assures the success of her reign but reinforces the point that cultural theory makes sense of processes outside university grounds. Testing out Laclau’s theory that ‘politics does not reflect majorities, it constructs them’ (Hall, 1988: 266), Hall demonstrates the manner in which Thatcherism constructed rather than merely awakened classes, groups and interests into particular definitions of ‘the people’ (1988: 71). This is the difficult reality the Left must face, Hall reasons: Sometimes the cycle of articulation, disarticulation and rearticulation seems to offer a comforting new political logic. But rearticulation is attractive only so long as we think we are going to do the rearticulating. When it is we who are rearticulated, we don’t like it so much… That is
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how, in my view, Thatcherism has understood hegemony much better than anybody on the Left. Its effectiveness shows that disarticulation and rearticulation need not necessarily be directed towards any progressive, humane or socially just end. It has no necessary political belongingness. But that should not disturb us theoretically. (1995: 68) Though disheartened by Thatcher’s example, Hall upholds that an unfavourable use of re-articulation doesn’t take away its strength as a radical resource. A more positive articulation of ‘the state’, ‘the people’, or ‘populism’ could win back prized political terrain. In the case of populism, for instance, framing it in terms of the best hopes we all share already mobilises a more productive and progressive emphasis than the neoliberal interpretations guided by hip-pocket concerns. Hall’s intervention in the Thatcherite conjuncture was a dissenting voice punished by many on the Left. Yet with time, the criticisms it raised only grow in resonance. If Britain’s Left during Thatcher’s reign ‘utterly failed to comprehend the necessity to educate the commonsense of the common people… against traditionalist ideas’ (1988: 142), this same realisation eludes any contemporary progressive vision which might differentiate itself from a market-dependent social arrangement.
Identity: Difference that makes a difference Hall’s more recent attentions turn to the complex questions raised by identity politics and post-colonial movements, particularly in light of the rhetoric attending mainstream multicultural policy in Britain. I want to highlight the continuities voiced in this latest work just briefly, not only because of the ongoing volatility of multicultural issues in Britain underlined by the recent London bombings, but as an attempt to trouble the basis on which critics dismiss Hall for failing to offer a practical Left position (Rojek, 1998: 61; 2003: 81; 196). Hall’s analysis of identity politics extends his prevailing critique of static political categories and the insufficiency of relying on one exclusive political subjectivity. He argues that early proponents of identity politics suffer a similar cocooning mentality to the strictly class-minded Left in the 1950s in that both tend to prevent collaborative emancipatory movements of mutually afflicted groups in society. In the context of the debates over identity which reached prominence in the 1980s, Hall questions whether individuated grievances can recognise how particular axes of privilege or discrimination are interrelated. To his thinking, an identity premised on gender, race or sexuality ‘is not necessarily armour-plated against other
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identities. It is not tied to fixed, permanent, unalterable oppositions. It is not wholly defined by exclusion’ (1987: 46). Here Hall suggests that subjectivities always combine, always entail histories and are also susceptible to change. To think this through in full, Hall’s latest conjunctural statements test the potential offered in the notion of hybridity in creating an alternative political framework. One of the more problematic legacies of the Thatcherite conjuncture, which my preceding overview tends only to assume, is its Anglo-centric sense of ‘the people’. For those who had fallen for the dream of putting the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’, Thatcher’s articulations had the effect of making further shifts in society particularly traumatic. The version of Britishness celebrated by Thatcherism ‘was always negotiated against difference’ Hall writes (1991: 22): ‘It always had to absorb all the differences of class, of region, of gender, in order to present itself as a homogenous entity’ (ibid.). The government’s reluctance to recognise the changing composition of its own constituency in its sanctioned visions of society deflected and postponed any assessment of the implications of imperial legacies. In the postmodern conjuncture, however, ‘what is specific and different about this moment’ is the spreading acknowledgment of difference between and within political subjectivities. This emergent perspective in culture, albeit the characteristic maxim of Hall’s work since the 1950s,9 makes the notion of a unified identity an imaginary and unrealisable construct for political action. Faced with critiques from feminism, post-colonialism and neo-Marxism, conservative appeals to ‘Little Englandism’ are as responsible and viable as traditional revolutionary narratives relying on the white working-class male as a suturing device. Yet Hall’s concerns are that the forms of identity celebrated in postmodernity may allow for difference only to the extent that they provide another clothes horse for commodity culture. As Paul Gilroy (2000, 1993, 1987) has argued in greater length, merely recognising difference hardly overcomes institutionalised practices of discrimination.10 Representation for minority groups is doubtlessly a progressive measure – one that is increasingly well established in the legal frameworks of affirmative action or the simple materiality of seeing women or black or gay actors on film. But in the way that they come to stand in for a greater number of potential political subjects, Hall points out that these representations of minorities need to be mindful of their greater effects: We must ask about that continuing silence within postmodernism’s shifting terrain, about whether the forms of licensing of the gaze that this proliferation of difference invites and allows, at the same time as it disavows, is not really, along with Benetton and the mixed male
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models of The Face, a kind of difference that doesn’t make a difference of any kind (1996: 467). Hall wonders whether the mainstream appropriation of different subjectivities evident in this new cultural arrangement is just another example of capital’s ability to turn radical politics into cutting-edge marketing strategies, as Naomi Klein (2000) would argue. Hall demands more accountability from those pedalling blackness in a facile, fashionable recognition of difference, specifically attacking those who would use race as an empty signifier, lacking any sense of history or subversive potential. He also calls for more responsibility from the black community to demand depictions adequately reflective of their historical and continued oppression. Hall’s sense is that if the merit of identity politics lies simply in replacing one kind of body-for-rent with another, representation does nothing to change the greater structures in society which lead to marginalisation in the first place: I acknowledge that the spaces ‘won’ for difference are few and far between, that they are very carefully policed and regulated. I believe they are limited. I know, to my cost, that they are grossly underfunded, that there is always a price of incorporation to be paid when the cutting edge of difference and transgression is blunted into spectacularisation. I know that what replaces invisibility is a kind of carefully regulated, segregated visibility. But it does not help simply to namecall it ‘the same’. That name-calling merely reflects the particular model of cultural politics to which we remain attached, precisely, the zero-sum game – our model replacing their model, our identities in place of their identities. (1996: 468) Such comments question the highly orchestrated displays of visibility entailed in the calculation of ratio-driven representation on campus, on-screen and on the sports field. Hall’s thoughts bear relation to bell hooks’ (earlier) criticisms of the way the academy has formulated its own recognition of difference: ‘Too often, it seems, the point is to promote the appearance of difference within intellectual discourse, a “celebration” that fails to ask who is sponsoring the party and who is extending the invitations. For who is controlling this new discourse? Who is getting hired to teach it, and where? Who is getting paid to write about it?’ (hooks, 1990a: 54). While the spaces ‘won’ for difference are surely to be celebrated, Hall and hooks both warn that such achievements do not entail a break with an imposed framework for politics which makes representation the sole
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possible outcome. They indicate that the few spaces that open up for black voices in cultural institutions actually serve to encourage heightened competition within the black community. Inclusive gestures pay no regard to wider problems, whether it is the hierarchies deciding appointments and funding for research or the structures of ownership at the heart of media conglomerates. Only a tiny cohort of cultural producers solicit the representations they choose to celebrate, while the limited access to and availability of cultural resources for so many others remains unchanged (these are the broader questions of ethics akin to Turner’s critique of Hartley in Chapter 2). Recognising difference is not the same as bringing about the valuing of difference (Zizek, 2002; Hage, 2003). This is the distinction between tolerance and value: for Hall, only the latter, more profound manner of acceptance can truly unsettle Britain’s hegemonic arrangement of preferred identities, historically reliant on colonised Others to recognise the characteristics of its own particular ethnicity. In its ‘deep and ambivalent fascination with difference’ (1996: 466) Hall claims postmodernism cannot recognise the dynamism of contemporary identity claims. A superficial acknowledgment of difference consigns the constitution of such identities to the safe distance of the past, where an ‘authentic’ essentialist subjectivity can stand constant for all such people, for all time. This relinquishes on two fronts the possibility of political agency in the present. The past and present are kept at an unrecognisable distance, so that not only can current authorities shrug accountability for past practices of discrimination, but in the act of confining such trauma to the past, can downplay the legitimacy of political inequities still generated by present conditions (Schlunke). Hall’s re-articulation of identity politics argues that the placement of identity needs to be extremely specific. It is here that the significance of arbitrary closure, the necessary fiction entailed in political strategising, comes to bear most pressingly. Hall argues political positions must have specifically formulated objectives, with time limits and trade-offs: In that sense, identity is like a bus! Not because it takes you to a fixed destination, but because you can only get somewhere – anywhere – by climbing aboard. The whole of you can never be represented by the ticket you carry, but you still have to buy a ticket to get from here to there. In the same way, you have to take a position in order to say anything, even though meaning refuses to be finally fixed and that position is an often contradictory holding operation rather than a position of truth (1995: 65–6).
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This passage nicely encapsulates Hall’s great ability to mediate complex ideas through everyday scenarios. In its suspicious attitude to ‘positions of truth’ it conveys the major problem Hall perceives in appeals to identity, namely that people risk having ‘to be trapped in the place from which they begin to speak’ (1991: 36). Following the bus metaphor, this risk is avoided. Identity is considered a provisional pact; it’s entered briefly and strategically so that enough people can help you get where you want to go. Hall’s articulation attempts to demonstrate the radical potential of identity politics when adequately attentive to historical complexity and contemporary conditions. To escape an empty fascination with difference requires embracing an unpredictable multiplicity of identities. Avoiding the language of fixed essences, which would place all of one’s hopes in a singular agent for change, Hall claims it is more useful to work with the notion of ‘hybridity’. Borrowed from post-colonial theory (see especially Bhabha, 1990), the notion of hybridity is the ‘detour’ Hall takes to describe the intricate effects social change brings to our histories. Hybridity is closely related to the idea of diaspora, for the way that both terms make plain the paths taken by our identities. In Hall’s use: Diaspora does not refer us to those scattered tribes whose identity can only be secured in relation to some sacred homeland to which they must, at all costs return, even if it means pushing other people into the sea. This is the old, the imperialising, the hegemonising, form of ‘ethnicity’… The diaspora experience as I intend it here is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of ‘identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference, by hybridity. Diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference (1990a: 235). Just as the unifying properties attributed to originary narratives which explain and justify essentialised grievances are also the result of articulation,11 the ostensibly stable sense of self such narratives claim must constantly reckon with contemporary events. Yet for Hall, this impermanence is the productive political potential of diasporic identity. It is radical in its lack of coherent closure, its unsettled character. The tension we experience within and between our many affiliations and loyalties makes apparent the discord between our complex, varied selves and a hegemonic project which seeks to make these differences simple, interchangeable or controllable.
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A multicultural future? If hybridity was seen as a potentially radical resource for the postmodern conjuncture, however, most recently it is the banality of this hybrid, diasporic identity that Hall has shown to be in most need of articulation. The task in this latest conjuncture is to change the policy priorities of governments which continue to dismiss the quotidian reality of mass-migration, and hence, the widespread experience of a hybrid subjectivity. (Writing this book in the year that the United States has a white minority population for the first time, this task can be recognised for its continued contemporary relevance.) Against the heights of abstraction sometimes reached by postcolonial theory,12 Hall attempts to elucidate and make practical a way of figuring and dealing with migrancy which would make ‘living with difference’ a more harmonious reality for those in the West. For instance Hall makes use of the Derridean tactic of putting particular words ‘under erasure’ to highlight the stereotypes often implied in terms like ‘ethnic community’. This practice is informed by the sense that in the long history of political thought, certain words – in this case, community, ethnicity, even multiculturalism itself – encompass so many preconceptions, ideologies and conflicting uses that they have little precision as meaningful categories. In the case of ‘ethnic communities’, then, politicians often use this term in an uncomplicated attempt to accord positive qualities to the networks of support and association in different subgroups of society. But doing so invokes an understanding of identity as static, exclusive and armour-plated, precisely the negative sense that Hall’s recourse to the concept of hybridity attempted to overcome. To vocalise the insufficiency of such terminology attempts to raise awareness of their sometimes patronising, perhaps even neocolonial potential in the hands of powerful groups in society at the same time as it underlines the inadequacies always present in frameworks for representation. Putting a term ‘under erasure’ acknowledges its undesirable qualities but provides a means to break the seamless continuum which would perpetuate its inaccuracy. In Hall’s view, some terms are no longer serviceable – ‘good to think with’ – in their original and unreconstructed form. But since they have not been superseded dialectically, and there are no other, entirely different concepts with which to replace them, there is nothing to do but continue thinking with them – albeit now in their detotalised or deconstructed forms, and no longer operating within the paradigm in which they were originally generated. (1997: 2)
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Putting a term under erasure incites and encourages cultural studies practitioners to make this a site for future directions in analytical inquiry. Hall’s re-articulation acknowledges the dangerous uses to which certain words have been put while indicating the amount of work that still needs to be done for theoretical models to be brought up to speed. The language may be exhausted, but conjunctural politics compels Hall to speak (‘I need to say something, something… just now’). A word under erasure is therefore ‘in the interval between reversal and emergence; an idea which cannot be thought in the old way, but without which certain key questions cannot be thought at all’ (1997: 2). When governments use the term ‘ethnic community’ favourably, it’s often to draw attention to what is regarded as the admirable trait of claiming a bond with one’s place and culture. Yet even when employed for their positive implications, these notions of ethnicity are still essentialist, creating a false coherence and common sentiment where the reality is much more complicated: The temptation to essentialise ‘community’ has to be resisted – it is a fantasy of plenitude in circumstances of imagined loss. Migrant communities bear the imprint of diaspora, ‘hybridisation’ and différance in their very constitution. Their vertical integration into their traditions of origin exist side-by-side with their lateral linkages to other ‘communities’ of interest, practice and aspiration, real and symbolic. (2000: 232) Hall sees the rhetorical attraction of a word like ‘community’ for politicians is that it can counter a sense of decline in notions of belongingness (something particularly feared in Britain with the withering of the Empire). Yet he believes the migrant communities in a multicultural society are actually the most adept at living with difference. As Ghassan Hage’s (1997) work also demonstrates, the experience of migrancy is one of having little choice but to be fluid with notions of belonging. Migrants’ particular circumstances encourage a certain competence in negotiating between identities: an originary identity held alongside contemporary hybrid practices while meeting the challenge of forging new relations of affinity with a foreign culture.13 These are intricate networks of investment working against, between and concurrently with different kinds of belongingness, making migrants’ lives receptive to diverse experiences in ways often still lacking in the community which enjoys hegemonic ethnicity. Against an interpretation of Derrida which amounts to endless deconstruction, and therefore the fashionable charge of political nihilism and impotence, Hall uses post-structuralist theory as a ‘detour’ to help explain the experience of migration and hybridity to the increasing
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minority of readers for whom such an identity may not be familiar. In one way this focus appears a long way from Policing the Crisis in 1978, but it is also possible to see this emphasis as a continuation of the same critique raised in the earlier project. The political and media rhetoric may have changed, but the ‘common sense’ driving multicultural fantasies today seems merely to veil the shift from obvious public anxiety to carefully regulated inclusion and strategic recognition.
Conjunctural politics and the ‘War on Terror’ In the short space of time since Hall published these writings the political terrain has shifted quite markedly. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon in September 2001 are probably the most significant event to have precipitated these changes, and the mutually affirming rhetoric of commercial media and government confounds our ability to identify whether this shift is ‘organic’ or ‘merely conjunctural’ in nature. By way of concluding this chapter, I want to examine some of the ways this change has manifested in public political debate to assess the ongoing significance of Hall’s commitment to specificity and rate the continued prospects for conjunctural intervention. It is important to offer new instances which take up Hall’s legacy and absolve his charismatic voice of the responsibility of providing necessary cues to mobilise the field towards new priorities. The voices which prove to be strategically useful for cultural studies need to be constantly animated in the changing contexts in which it operates, even while we remain mindful of their original deployment by particular figures with specific concerns. Given his own desire to test the limits of theory, it seems a fitting response to Hall’s example that his own model be assessed with reference to the challenges posed to it by concrete political issues. Human To offer a mimetic double for Hall’s conjunctural approach also requires a necessarily local focus. In the Australian context from which I write, ‘what is specific and different’ about the post-9/11 moment has been the heightened prominence of asylum seekers in shaping the political environment. A strong border control policy was a key platform for the Howard Government’s re-election strategy in the wake of September 11, evident in the campaign slogan: ‘We decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.’ A conjunctural intervention which might offer a more humane articulation of the plight of refugees proved particularly
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challenging in this context, because the liberally minded middle-class were so regularly described by government and state intellectuals as having ‘bleeding hearts’ or sympathy for terrorism when they expressed compassion for asylum seekers. In the business pages of a capital city broadsheet, this volatile political environment was encapsulated in an unexpected way:
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This Amnesty International advertisement from June 2002 sets out a number of alternative descriptions, its composition suggesting the positive or negative resonances certain terms make possible. The darker tones of the ad’s horizontal lettering draws attention to the terminology commonly available in the discursive field – the descriptions that both government articulations and popular culture make available. It demonstrates Hall’s important point, that articulation is always a choice, a construction chosen for preferred effects. The ad’s significance is its pedagogic structure. It implies that a different message can always be produced to counter the ones which serve particular interests. An alternative articulation could emphasise that those who seek asylum, above all other considerations, are human. A simple re-arrangement questions the process by which hegemonic definitions gain precedence. It parades the ideological function performed by language and works to dismantle the understandings put forward in other contexts of representation. That the television versions of this same Amnesty International campaign were refused screening14 adds weight to the premise of Hall’s conjunctural politics, in which dis- and re-articulation are powerful weapons. In this case, popular culture reinforces Hall’s theory of articulation, although as we saw in the previous chapter the extent to which appeals to humanist compassion actually translate to action remains difficult to assess. What the ad does reinforce however is that there is no inevitable audience for a political message, that it must take place at every level of the social structure. The ad’s placement in the business section of a capital city broadsheet recalls Hall’s key theoretical reliance on Ernesto Laclau and the notion that ideologies have no guaranteed class specificity. There is no reason why business people would not also be affected by a humanist appeal. Amnesty here targets a specific demographic in order to pursue its hopeful message – a demographic which may have both the financial and cultural clout to ameliorate the effects of a punishing government policy.
Inhuman That such tactics of specifically targeted re-articulation are now evident in popular culture shows that Hall’s method of intervention is useful for applications far wider than the circles of scholarly debate. Indeed, since the early days of New Left Review many of his conjunctural readings have appeared in journals with a broader readership than the strictly academic; that his writings on Thatcherism were implicated in the subsequent successful tactics of the Blair Government in Britain indicates how
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influential Hall’s effect has been (see McRobbie, 2005). However, there is something about the appeal to humanism underpinning Hall’s hopes for cultural studies that has been deeply challenged by the so-called War on Terror. This is the difficulty of appealing to a humanist politics when dominant political discourses refuse to recognise any humanity in the figure of the enemy. The US administration regularly describes the alleged ‘unlawful combatants’ housed in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay as empty vessels for evil, irredeemably under the sway of satanic forces. The Right-eous Manichean frame for battle (‘you are either with us or against us’) makes the neoliberal, neoconservative Christian subject the only form of humanity permissible, absolving the need to consider the circumstances of each prisoner’s case or the rehabilitation that a more confident society could afford (Gregg and Fuller, 2005). Terrorism’s haunting presence has gathered such political usefulness for leaders in the West that we are now subject to a complete ideological closure over what the term in fact means. As Policing the Crisis so ably demonstrated, when a governing bloc successfully achieves this degree of ideological closure over a word, the important task for critics is to provide a missing narrative, the historical factors behind its new-found prominence. In this instance, the more a cause-and-effect explanation for terrorism is avoided, the more abstract it becomes and the more ‘impossible’ any reaction to it can also become. A literally senseless cycle develops where any potential threat to the state can be co-opted into the same abstract battle. Right now, as leaders clamour to describe their contrasting regional concerns within the votepulling vocabulary of terrorism, we lose sight of the fact that ‘International terror is not an “ism”. It is a criminal tactic of publicity seeking for a cause, one to which the West seems astonishingly vulnerable’ (Jenkins, 2004). The terror tag is so attractive for political leaders because it evacuates the possibility that an identifiable grievance might underwrite individual acts of dissonance (Butler, 2002). In this context, the unlawful combatant is a rare slip in the hegemonic bloc’s political vocabulary. Precisely because the unlawful combatant is not called a terrorist, the former term opens up the possibility for critique of the contradictions normally elided by the dominant latter term. For if the War on Terror has inaugurated a conjunctural shift, it does so as a way of disguising the political and legal vacuum arising from the situation where war is waged via religious rather than statebased loyalties. The military trials for unlawful combatants are intended to appeal to the public’s residual desire that justice and a fair trial are worthwhile and still binding ideals, and yet the television news feed from the pre-hearings document a much different reality. In the pictures
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sanctioned for distribution by the US military, the blank faces of the commissioners and the soldiers’ uniforms are the only witnesses. The generic conventions of the court illustrator function merely to represent some actual form of right process, fully replacing the actions earlier intended to be mediated. While the expectation of justice continues as a given, this is only because ‘no one has announced its death’ (Buchanan 2003): the evidence provided by the hegemonic bloc now amounts to faceless gestures. The unlawful combatant is a model for interventions that might rearticulate the current conjuncture in more humane and grounded terms, terms that trouble the polemics, abstraction and dubious leap of faith constituting a Holy War. My own attempt to intervene in debates over the fate of Australian prisoner David Hicks has taken place in a constantly changing political and legal context including, at present, ongoing doubts and appeals from within US jurisdictions over the military commissions’ legality. To follow Hall’s example is to recognise the precariousness of a hastily formed speaking position but nonetheless believe that speaking out in some way is better than remaining silent. The process of theoretical refinement can follow at a different pace, but the urgent task of rearticulating the preferred knowledge promoted by the ruling bloc cannot be delayed. As I will argue in greater length in the following chapter, the conjunctural emphasis in cultural studies also poses particular difficulties. The inevitably local frame of reference it demands can seriously limit the international and national purchase of even the most exemplary cultural studies work, particularly when the experience being described may not be of equal urgency in different regional contexts. Yet the examples I have used in this chapter indicate that some of the most fundamental problems cultural studies has sought to address – how to treat others with dignity, respect, and humanity, how to convey empathy and compassion for others’ plight – have resonance beyond the local. Hall’s politics of conjunctural intervention and articulation has fostered a deep sense of vocation for cultural studies, namely, that it speak out against the inaccuracies in ruling definitions. As Elspeth Probyn remarks: What is crucial here, and might distinguish cultural studies from other endeavours, is the focus on the to and fro movement between representation and ‘reality’. Reality cannot be posed as existing outside human practices: it is made and remade through our
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interactions with cultural practices, institutions, and the relationships we form with them and with other individuals. (1998: 60) This is the empowering position Hall promotes by emphasising our own role as participants in constructing ‘reality’. Hall’s voice takes up and spreads for a new time Gramsci’s understanding that we are all intellectuals. Our sympathies and responses need not be determined by the descriptions others provide. This chapter has indicated the ways in which Hall’s conjunctural focus offers a scholarly strategy for gaining a foothold in political debates dominating the public realm. With recourse to theoretical tools, Hall seeks to ‘outsmart’ the knowledges provided by state intellectuals by revealing the unacknowledged factors, the particular interests which constitute their claims on knowledge. The emphasis on specific conjunctures and the constant possibility of dis- and re-articulation draws attention to the contingency of the status quo – an optimistic realisation, but one matched by the ceaseless work summoned by the recognition that the struggle for hegemony is never won. In a society governed by consensus rule, the responsibility of articulation is one we all share.
4 Fighting for the Future: Lawrence Grossberg, Messianic Zeal and the Challenge of Building a Legacy
Theory is of little use if it does not help us imagine and then realize better futures for ourselves and future generations. (Grossberg, 1992: 13)
Introduction So far my account of cultural studies voices has lacked an extended consideration of the most prominent figure to have championed the significance of affect as a motivating dimension in everyday life. Lawrence Grossberg’s writing on the political importance of popular culture in North America marks a turning point for cultural studies in that it begins the shift towards understanding the way that state-based politics are waged at the level of ‘hearts and minds’. This process, while playing out with painful clarity in the current war in Iraq, Grossberg showed to be the case among the United States’ own population much earlier. For Grossberg, the key hegemonic struggle and the key to the New Right’s success has been to colonise the very mood, the very imagination and hopes of a citizenry. Of all the writers in this collection, it is Grossberg’s voice that makes the political significance of affect most explicit. A thorough overview of Grossberg’s work is rarely afforded in cultural studies despite his name being almost synonymous with the field’s successful institutionalisation in the United States.1 While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide such an account, I hope to offer enough indications to suggest that the nature of his contribution warrants further discussion than is currently the case. Tania Lewis also acknowledges that ‘despite Grossberg’s connections with British cultural studies and the major role he has played in helping increase the visibility of cultural studies within the US academy, his own intellectual 82
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work is not as visible as might be expected’ (Lewis, 2000: 130). Somewhat paradoxically, she notes, ‘Grossberg is a well known figure in the international cultural studies community (and in certain, mostly non-literary, circles in American cultural studies)’ and she attributes this ‘relatively marginal status’ to Grossberg’s disciplinary location in communications.2 To the extent that Grossberg is cited regularly in cultural studies literature it is usually with reference to, indeed, as emblematic of, defining shifts in the field’s development. As I will discuss shortly, these might be summarised as the turn to affect, the scholar as fan, and at a more expansive level, the emergent strength of the New Right in the US. Yet as I have been arguing consistently so far, such a segmented engagement with a writer’s concerns fails to reflect what is certainly for Grossberg his most compelling and renowned gift: a mobilising and resonant voice which unites his recurring concerns. The generative effects of this voice need to be recognised for the important role they play in maintaining commitment to the cultural studies vocation. This chapter draws links between the different fronts Grossberg establishes for cultural studies’ critical agitation and describes their necessary relationship. It attempts to foreground the unique position his work occupies in cultural studies at a time when the field’s growing institutional strength has been matched by the rise of a conservative ideological landscape in the United States. It is this context, I suggest, which poses acute theoretical and practical dilemmas for the brand of cultural studies Grossberg has established. At the level of rhetoric, Grossberg’s writing has adopted an increasingly messianic tone over the period of writing surveyed here. On the one hand this can be appreciated as a strategic measure in a political context so dominated by religious language: it shows sensitivity to the national formation Grossberg seeks to address. At a somewhat deeper level, however, I will argue that this ‘messianic’ dimension speaks of the vocational or what I will call ‘scriptural’ dimension to the particular style of cultural studies practice Grossberg develops, and that it can be understood at least partly as a response to the profound influence of Stuart Hall. It is only fitting to place my account of Grossberg’s work after an analysis of Hall given the leading role Grossberg has played in showcasing the significance of Hall’s research to the American academy in particular. Yet Grossberg is also the most obvious successor to Hall’s conjunctural politics, regularly endorsing the ‘commitment to specificity’ outlined in the previous chapter through the practice he
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describes as ‘radical contextualism’ (2004a, 2004b). Loyal to the theoretical foundations of Hall’s emphasis on context, Grossberg’s work has been marked by its determination to describe the distinctiveness of the North American political situation. His work seeks to offer a situated politics appropriate to the national horizon from which he writes. As we will see shortly, the commitment to specificity has forced Grossberg to improvise and innovate a theoretical framework more appropriate to the situation in his home country, compared with the resources Hall had developed in the UK. Describing this in the mid-1990s, Grossberg claimed that ‘there are significantly different hegemonic struggles’ in the US that include ‘the way in which leadership is constituted and won. While Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism depends on a struggle over common sense, I believe that, in the United States, the struggle is around a certain “national popular,” which is not the same as, nor reducible to, common sense’ (1997a: 9). The political landscape Grossberg describes is of particular interest for cultural studies to the extent that the period of history it covers – at the moment,3 the post-war conjuncture to the present – spans a similar time frame to that of the field itself. But the effectiveness of the situated intellectual project Grossberg promotes is complicated by the fact that the foreign policy as well as economic pre-eminence of the United States bear an unequal amount of influence on the everyday lives of non-American citizens (just as the power of the North American academic publishing market does on the critical concerns of scholars in other countries). In this chapter I want to draw attention to the way that Grossberg’s voice aspires to address a national constituency – with mixed success – at the same time as it manages to maintain a growing international audience for cultural studies’ message. It is a voice that is particularly complex in its appeal, but which I suggest can be appreciated as having something of a prophetic function.
The performative force of repetition Grossberg admits that his work is often reproved by publishers and readers alike for its lack of simplicity, its refusal of easily consumable formats (For example, Grossberg, 2005: xi, 1997b: 30—31, 1992: 30). While it is certainly the case that collections of his essays are often arduous as well as repetitive to read in sequence, another way to approach his style is to note its consistency as a distinct interpretive platform. As I am arguing more broadly, there are important performative effects to be gleaned from a writer’s chosen form of address. As one of the students to have
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witnessed the Birmingham Centre while it was functioning, there is doubtlessly a degree of pedagogical intent behind Grossberg’s citation of key names in the theoretical narrative of British cultural studies – Marx, Gramsci and Hall in particular. Invoking this legacy serves the function of initiating readers and particularly students with an identifiable trajectory for cultural studies’ thought. It is a historicizing tactic which, despite Grossberg’s stated aversion to linear narratives of the field (Grossberg, 1997b: 195–233), nonetheless consecrates a particular trajectory in its recurrent selection of preferred theoretical informants. As Grossberg’s stature has grown internationally, his spoken performances have continued this function upon more prominent public occasions (2004a, 2004b). The incantatory power of citing key figures is a way of affirming and continuing a tradition that Grossberg has himself personally inherited. But if these public performances operate to sustain a particularly compelling and mobilising imaginary narrative for the field, if, like Hall and Hoggart, Grossberg displays a certain exemplary representativeness for an identifiable and comforting story about cultural studies, it is clear that the field will soon need successors to inherit this role of disciplinary personification. Or perhaps, as I will suggest towards the end of this chapter, the changing economic circumstances affecting the professional workplace more broadly will mean that Grossberg marks the end of a particular vocational understanding of cultural studies intellectual practice, the consequences of which are yet to be played out. At an affective level Grossberg’s voice carries further traces of Hall’s in that it serves to mobilise, motivate and remind colleagues of the cultural studies ‘project’ as opposed to its ‘disciplinary sedimentations’ (2004a: 1). For Grossberg, it is less important that cultural studies concern itself with disciplinary recognition than it is to maintain the space that has been opened up for political intellectual work underneath the signifier of cultural studies. This can be gleaned from Grossberg’s recent comments that ‘the institutional life is only the most immediate context of our work as intellectuals’ (2004a: 2). Speaking in this register, Grossberg inherits Hall’s role of heralding ‘what is to be done’ and outlining the changing stakes as the field develops in ever more diverse locations. His voice conveys and seeks to spread a commitment to cultural studies’ empathic scholarly message. For as we will see, in Grossberg’s vision investing in a cause that matters is the most political choice one can make when the New Right hinges its agenda on the illusion that passion, conviction and belief in another future are no longer possible.
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The turn to affect While one aspect of Grossberg’s practice is devoted to recognising the key theoretical influences of the Birmingham Centre, reading more deeply into his work is to note the breadth of references which vary from Faulkner to Freud, Nietzsche to Bourdieu, Hegel to Deleuze (not to mention Springsteen to students). This variety is present even at times when such sources were not widely regarded as veritable or fashionable. Grossberg’s inventive attempt to generate a theory of affect in the spaces opened up by Freud and Nietzsche reflects earlier efforts of Hoggart and in particular Raymond Williams who – in neologisms like the ‘structure of feeling’ – struggled to offer novel theoretical avenues to culture’s affective dimensions when the available scholarly vocabulary still lacked this capacity. Grossberg’s introduction to Dancing in Spite of Myself reflects this sense of something missing in available theoretical alternatives for the subjects he seeks to study: Within North Atlantic modernity, the visual (and the legible) has usually been privileged as the model of perception, knowledge, and sense-making, and hence of our relationship to the world. It seems to me that most work in popular culture, by starting with the visible and the legible, ends up foregrounding the distinction between popular and “high” culture. At the same time, North Atlantic modernity has recognized that there is something to human existence beyond the epistemological, but it has quickly assigned this excess to the domain of the irrational, the unstructured, the unmappable (e.g., as desire or creativity). (1997a: 13) This passage encapsulates the rationale behind Grossberg’s subsequent arguments that popular culture must be understood on its own terms, at the level of the kinetic and the felt, free from the rationalist and valuebased epistemologies that had determined the focus for scholarly attention for so long. Grossberg reflects upon an intellectual environment which he regarded as maintaining ‘a binary opposition between affect/the body/materiality and the concrete on one side, and ideology, subjectivity, consciousness, and theory on the other’ (1997a: 13). As we have seen in Chapter 1, it is no longer the case that scholars assume the binary that Grossberg here seeks to indict and dissolve. In fact just as affect theory is charged for being the currently fashionable ‘privileged way out’ of the political and epistemological challenges of
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the present, its more prominent advocates are shown to have been largely oblivious to the ways that particularly non-white voices have always troubled these distinctions (Hemmings, 2005). Against this contemporary theoretical background it is important to recognise Grossberg’s early attempts to secure the affective realm as crucial for cultural studies analysis, particularly in the reception and enjoyment of media texts. This also marks the significance of Grossberg’s impact on the discipline of communications. Drawing together strands from the very different writings of Freud, Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari was an attempt to mobilise a theoretical framework which could locate and begin to assess the significance of affect as a mobilising dimension to human behaviour free from the structuralist model of sender/receiver, cause and effect. But his approach differs from each of these philosophical influences: “Affect” is the term I use to describe the observable differences in how practices matter to, or are taken up by, different configurations of popular discourses and practices – different alliances (which are not simply audiences). But perhaps this makes affect sound too mental, for affect is both psychic and material; it demands that we speak of the body and of discursive practices in their materiality. (1997a: 13) This attempt at a description encapsulates the very difficulty Grossberg is trying to write through. On the one hand he is trying to explain motivation and investment (or, as we will come to realise, a lack thereof). At the same time he is trying to find a way to capture the corporeality of affect – how it feels to be moved by something. Of course, it is precisely this combination of sense and sensation that is also at the heart of my own struggle, in this book, to convey the full ramifications of the role of affect in scholarly life. For Grossberg, ‘Affect is closely tied to what we often describe as the “feeling” of life… Affect operates across all of our senses and experiences, across all of the domains of effects which construct daily life. Affect is what gives “color,” “tone” or “texture” to the lived’ (1992: 80–1). This interpretation of affect has recently been criticised for being insufficient, indeed for being tautologous or counter-intuitive (Shouse, 2005). According to Shouse’s argument, if affect is a pre-conscious reaction to a stimulus then by definition it cannot be adequately registered, much less invested in. While this might be a fair criticism from the psychological point of view buttressed by Tomkins or Brennan, it does take away from
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the inventiveness of Grossberg’s approach at a time when cultural studies did not consult such interdisciplinary sources quite so widely. Grossberg’s major innovation was to describe people’s affective experiences in terms of ‘mattering maps’, the phantasmatic scale according to which the significance of experience or aspiration can be charted. Mattering maps: tell people where, how and with what intensities they can become absorbed – into the world and their lives. This “absorption” constructs the places and events which are, or can become, significant. They are the places at which people can anchor themselves into the world, the locations of the things that matter (Grossberg, 1992: 82). Grossberg needed to make this theoretical move to provide an account of rock music’s extra-textual dimension, to understand how it worked and what it meant in people’s day-to-day encounters. This was a shift away from judgments of taste and value towards an appreciation of popular music as a form of dispersal, diffusion and amplification of the mundane affects of everyday life. It was a new project, informed by different epistemological goals – to identify rock’s ideological function: If it cannot offer transcendence, it can at least promise a kind of salvation. If it does not define resistance, it does at least offer a kind of empowerment, allowing people to navigate their way through and even to respond to, their lived context. It is a way of making it through the day. (Grossberg, 1997a: 115) In light of later developments in cultural studies, particularly the excesses of populism for which it would be charged, it is important to note the emphasis Grossberg gives here to the limited nature of rock’s appeal. It cannot offer transcendence, it does not define resistance. It offers ‘a kind of’ empowerment, but it is not empowering per se. As Grossberg elaborates, specifically addressing the attacks on cultural studies’ politics: To argue that people are often ‘empowered’ by their relations to popular culture, that they may in fact seek such empowerment, and that such empowerment sometimes enables people to resist their subordination is not the same as arguing that all of our relations to popular culture constitute acts of resistance or that such relations are, by themselves, sufficient bases for an oppositional politics.
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It is difficult to argue that Grossberg’s work ever lends itself to the critique that popular culture offers redemption, let alone resistance (see Rodman, 1997). For Grossberg, the challenge is to understand the way that rock music acts as recompense for the boredom and lack of mobility to which so many people become resigned. This is why rock becomes such a crucial optic for Grossberg’s perspective on American culture as a whole. As he writes: Rock’s politics are defined by its identification of the stability of everyday life with boredom. Consequently, it can only operate as a deterritorialization. It draws or produces “lines of flight” which transform the boredom of the repetition of everyday life into the energizing possibilities of fun. It creates temporary and local places and spaces of mobility and deterritorialization. It challenges the particular stabilities or territorializations of the everyday life within which it exists by producing and celebrating mobilities. Thus all rock can do is change the rhythms of everyday life. It restructures everyday life by articulating its lines of flight into new mattering maps. Although it cannot break out of everyday life, the trajectory of its mobilities at least points to (even if it cannot define) a world beyond, an alternative to, everyday life. (1997a: 114–5) In this mix of Deleuze, Guattari and de Certeau, Grossberg describes rock’s function wholly within the constraints of everyday life. To the extent that rock acts as a successful recompense for the frustrations and failures of the American Dream, this is the first motivating factor behind Grossberg’s turn to affect. It is a means to recognise the way that ‘music or, more specifically, rock culture organizes the mattering maps by which everyday life becomes navigable and hence, livable’ (1997a: 97). Grossberg’s second rationale is to reclaim affect for the Left at a time when its very existence was being denied, at least insofar as it might act as a necessary springboard for an anti-capitalist politics. This was the implication of Frederic Jameson’s (1991) famous definition of postmodernism as signalling a ‘waning of affect’. Grossberg claimed such harbingers of postmodern theory played into the hands of neoconservatives. In Grossberg’s reading, the Right’s key tactic of vindication was to assume the general public would be too apathetic to oppose their reforms. In this context, Grossberg’s attention to affect was an attempt to warn colleagues on the Left just what was going on: In a struggle in which the dominant mattering maps are being restructured – when the individual and the concrete matter so much more
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than the general and the abstract; when the freedom of the market matters so much more than caring for the people – the political intellectual has no choice but to enter into the terrain of the popular. When the very possibility of political struggle is being erased – not because the scene of politics (or the public sphere) has disappeared in some postmodern apocalypse, but because there is an active attempt to use popular discourses to restructure the possibilities of everyday life – the political intellectual has no choice but to enter into the struggle over affect in order to articulate new ways of caring. (1997a: 23) Here the means of countering the diagnoses of apathy constituting the postmodern political landscape is to follow the Foucauldian premise that power is productive. Postmodernity is ‘not merely an experience nor a representation of experience; it is above all a form of practice by which affective alliances are produced, by which other practices and events are invested with affect’ (1997a: 35). When cultural critics themselves attest to an absence of affect their descriptions further exacerbate this apparent tendency, when the alternative would be to offer mobilising accounts of what is positive about this moment. Grossberg urges readers to realise that their capacity to act and have an effect in the world has not changed simply because cultural critics or politicians say so. Cultural studies scholars in particular need to appreciate ‘the empowerment of the postmodern depends precisely on its ability to open up the possibility of the positivity of affective investments or, in other words, to establish difference within indifference’ (1997a: 186). Grossberg’s own account of postmodernism is encapsulated by the sense that ‘something “feels” different not only about particular aesthetic practices, but about a wide variety of life experiences and historical events’ (1997a: 149). Rock music is one way of tapping into that oblique feeling, particularly when its affective dimension is increasingly absent from the locations traditionally reserved for such expression – in particular, the terrain of mainstream politics. Grossberg’s recourse to affect attempts to make sense of local, individual and fleeting ‘investments’ on the one hand, and a wider cultural mood on the other (1997a: 159).
The scholar as fan Before embarking on a discussion of how Grossberg engages in this struggle over affect in the context of the New Right, I want to briefly expand upon Grossberg’s commitment to studying popular culture in light of Hoggart’s earlier example in Chapter 2. Hoggart’s empathic voice
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showed that scholarly insight can be generated while remaining invested in a formative culture. Grossberg demonstrates this sense of attachment in a different way. Sharing the generational allegiances and musical investments of rock fans is his means of gaining access to knowledges previously outside the realm or interest of scholarly discourse. As the editors of the recent Hop on Pop collection argue, studying popular culture ‘demands passionate engagement and active participation’ and involves particular processes of intensification, identification and intimacy with the subject under analysis (Jenkins et al., 2002: 6). The Hop on Pop manifesto speaks fondly of Grossberg’s leading role in legitimising popular culture as a field of research, especially against those who ‘derogated his desire to teach popular music because of his absorption in the phenomenon’ (2002: x). The editors highlight the bias among colleagues in the field of literature who suggested that ‘the power of Grossberg’s “affective investments” was somehow different from their own engagement with literary forms’ (ibid.). Grossberg’s explicit celebration and vindication of popular genres revealed the extent to which all forms of scholarly preoccupation require passionate commitment even though the expectations of academic discourse typically deny its expression. Like the English dons who objected to Hoggart’s sharing the intimate details of working-class life, Grossberg’s colleagues sought to retain a ‘horizon of the disinterested expert that adjudicates via discrete sets of values removed from the everyday and applied across sites and categories of person… One might say that these colleagues favoured a studied order over potential rancour and raucousness’ (Jenkins et al., 2002: x). Popular culture is an unsettling influence on academic practice because its effects so often become manifest on the body, in ‘tears, laughter, hair-tingling, screams, spine-chilling, eye-closing, erections’ (Grossberg 1992: 79). It is the extent to which these responses escape conscious control and abstract reflection that they prove troubling for established forms of academic analysis. In the ‘scriptural economy’ de Certeau describes in Chapter 1, these sensations do not fit the sober register of bourgeois discourse. This is because academia is ‘bounded by its own imagined subjectivity’ – imagined ‘precisely because it does not relate to actual subjectivities of embodied academics’ (Hills, 2002: 3). As Matt Hills argues recently, academic conventions mirror wider structuring devices in society which decide the forms of normality and authority typically accepted: Imagined subjectivity is hence not just about systems of value; it is also always about who has power over cultural representations and
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cultural claims to legitimacy, and who is able to claim ‘good’ and moral subjectivity while pathologising other groups as morally or mentally defective. (Hills, 2002: 5) Quite apart from the challenge Grossberg’s subject matter posed to the scriptural economy of academic writing, what was also at issue was a class-based judgment. As Grossberg acknowledges, ‘it took a long time to overcome the cultural and political elitism which condemned popular culture to be little more than the site of ideological manipulation and capitalist production’ (Grossberg, 1992: 2). To argue that the scholar could be a fan – and vice versa – betrayed the history of privilege securing the inflated esteem of the cultural critic as it drew more voices into the tightly policed circle of scholarly conversation. While the growing constituency for fan cultures and audience studies clearly revere Grossberg’s leading role in questioning the line between fan and scholar, his own ambitions for studying popular culture have always been part of a wider interest in politics. As we noted earlier, Grossberg believes that the uniqueness of hegemonic struggle in the US ‘is that culture is not only the site of the struggle, and not only even the stake to be won, but also the weapon in that struggle’ (1997a: 255). This has serious implications given what we now know about affect. If popular culture acts as a recompense for the dissatisfactions and mundanity of daily life, then for the powerful political forces of big government to make use of it for their own objectives is a worrying proposition. But this is precisely how Grossberg understands the success of the new conservatism. He claims its advocates have created an atmosphere of ‘an impassioned or passionate apathy’ (1997a: 258), strategically encouraging the public’s im-mobilisation. This is the clear antithesis to the function served by the writers in this book, whose voices generate affect, care and investment in the world. Given Grossberg’s description of US politics, such a function is sorely needed in a climate of ‘organized and specific form of apathy’ that gives rise to the growing vernacular sentiment that ‘people oppose conservative policies but do little or nothing about it. People are outraged, but do little or nothing about it. People know they are lied to, but do little or nothing about it’ (ibid.). Grossberg is therefore interested in making sense of ‘the political, economic and cultural forces which are producing a new atmosphere, a new kind of dissatisfaction, and a new conservatism in American life’ (1992: 2). This particular form of dissatisfaction and incapacitation can be understood as the sense of personal inadequacy which results from
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measuring oneself against an American Dream which, in the words of Lauren Berlant, increasingly serves to chart the ‘intimate distances between the nation and the people who seek to be miraculated by its promise’ (Berlant, 1997: 6). In Grossberg’s view: If there is a political crisis in this situation… it is a crisis of the very possibility of politics, not in a form that negates the very real and continuing construction of ideological, economic, state, and libidinal regimes of power. It is rather a problematization of the very ability to articulate these structures (which we increasingly recognize and acknowledge) to the site of our own sense of how and where we can be empowered and our sense of difference constituted. (1997a: 164) As we noted earlier, the critical challenge is ‘not merely to accede to the crisis but to articulate new forms of affective empowerment by which people are able to construct and invest in difference’ (1997a: 164). In ‘the struggle to articulate new ways of caring’ the intellectual’s task is to find the language to express the possibility of action: our continuing capacity to make a difference.
The New Right For Grossberg, whose enrolment at the Birmingham Centre had not a little to do with the Vietnam conflict,4 a personal identification with the 1960s generation lends an added dimension to his crusade against the Right. The extended essay ‘It’s A Sin’ outlines the fate of the ‘baby boom’ generation which he claims moved from being at the very centre of America’s hopes and dreams in the immediate post-war period to the point of posing a threat to national unity in its splintered and volatile reaction to the Vietnam War. For no other reason than the accident of birth, Grossberg paints the baby boomers as the nation’s chance ideological resolution to an identity that had previously been projected onto a blank future. This differed from the British context described by Hall because the American New Right has never offered an explicit project except insofar as it claims to want to return America to its former glory and strength, without ever specifying when that “former” moment might have been or even, in imaginary terms, of what it might consist. Unlike Thatcherism, it does not have even an imaginary history of
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America to which it can turn and which it can put in place as America’s future. (1997a: 215) Following World War II, Grossberg argues, the American Dream needed to be interpreted with reference to something identifiable, it needed to be made ‘visible and concrete’ (1997a: 233). To be able to point to the reality of the vision it had to be anchored ‘not just in some abstract future, but in a concrete embodiment of America’s future, that is, in a specific generation’ (ibid.). The baby boomers thus served as the template upon which the nation projected its own desire to be regarded as youthful, idealistic, robust and forward-looking. But as the boomers eventually found themselves quite literally carrying out the nation’s ideology in the fields of a foreign country, the burden of representation became unbearable. The counter-culture movements unleashed the frustrations of the nation’s youth rebelling against an unwanted role as simultaneous inheritors and progenitors of America’s destiny. Reflecting on the period, Grossberg writes: Vietnam – and the counterculture – has become the symbol of the moment when the identification of the postwar youth generations with America fell apart and, consequently, the moment when America lost not only its centre but its faith in a centre. In part Vietnam demonstrated the contradictions and differences within youth and within the youth culture. But more importantly it was in response to the war that a significant fraction of youth explicitly attacked America, questioned their identification with it, and rejected the terms of the American Dream. Vietnam became the symbol of the contradiction: a generation negating its own privileged identity at the centre of the nation, not by renouncing their youthfulness, but by proclaiming the contradiction between youth and America. (1997a: 240) The reason Grossberg spends time outlining this development is that this abdication of patriotic duty had consequences. The backlash launched by the New Right involved attacking the treachery of its youth by dismissing its counter-cultural politics as so many ‘lifestyle politics’ (1997a: 242). For the New Right, ‘the popular pleasures that are the object of the various “Just Say No” campaigns were not isolated activities; they were interconnected and held together by a rather vague and personal sense of ideological struggle’ (ibid.). Hence the ongoing war on drugs, the endorsement of abstinence, the outright condemnation of same-sex relationships, even the backlash against affirmative action can
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be read as overdue punishment for abandoning the mission that was the baby boomers’ intended destiny. For their part, ‘the postwar youth generations lost their faith not only in America, but in the possibility of ever finding a centre, an identity, in which they could invest’ (ibid.). When Grossberg writes these words, it is a personal loss that we are witnessing. As Chapter 2 showed, the suggestion that a positive American identity could be summoned from within the nation seems both fleeting and utopian given the powerful rhetorical power of the us/them dichotomy. Major episodes in US history only attest to this, when dealing with the Communist threat, the ensuing Cold War rivalry and the more recent ‘War on Terror’. But Grossberg’s hope that the baby boomers offered an alternative path for the US to chart its trajectory serves to explain why he finds the Right’s re-articulation of American values so objectionable. It steals the one moment when the American Dream could have been appraised and steered towards more encompassing goals. Instead, the hegemonic project of the New Right gained coherence in its objective to free the national popular from ‘any entanglements with postwar youth culture’ (1997a: 236). Away from the attractiveness of youth and individualism, the national-hegemonic project began a renewed emphasis on the family as the rallying-point for American values. Faced by the challenge of this growing conservative climate it is little wonder that Grossberg’s work on rock music appeared such an appropriate heuristic device. The attacks on rock which developed after the 1960s are a prism through which the struggles taking place at the level of censorship (whether by church, legislature or police), sexuality, gender roles, racial inequality, the poor and the working class can all be documented (1997a: 10). Attacking rock is a symptom of the New Right’s increasingly restricted and reactive vision of the American Dream, ‘part of a larger attempt to regulate the possibilities of pleasure and identity as the basis of political opposition and to dismantle the cultural and political field constructed in the 1960s’ (ibid.). It is in this light that we can appreciate the shift in attitude from Grossberg’s pessimistic outlook in We Gotta Get Out of This Place to the resilient optimism of Dancing in Spite of Myself as a shift from the shock of disappointment to a process of regrouping and subsequent discovery of the appropriate site for intervention. For Grossberg, rock music and cultural studies provide the corporeal and political salvation against the massively institutionalised, mechanical and calculated world of conservative politics as well as the straightjacket rationalism of American academia.
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The fight for the future Grossberg’s extensive writings throughout the 1990s describe the success of the New Right’s conservative agenda as that of convincing Americans that they cannot change the way things are, largely by encouraging wider structural problems to be interpreted as personal failings or the result of their own lack of will.5 Under these conditions, it is little wonder that citizens have retreated from public sphere engagement to exercise power and agency in the more proximate local routines of everyday life. As we have seen in Chapter 2, it is this significant insight that cultural studies establishes in its beginnings with Hoggart. But in his most recent writing, Grossberg suggests that even this latest site for affective investment has also been ransacked by the Right. Caught in the Crossfire (2005) argues that the activities of children are now under such surveillance that they are losing what latitude they had to challenge and question the common sense nature of the existing social structure. The reason that children have gained such political traction as a site for hegemonic battles is that they share the same function of representing the blank slate, that is, the open and unsullied future that the US has always required as its foundational raison detre. As Lauren Berlant describes it, this means that ‘the nation’s value is figured not on behalf of an actually existing and labouring adult,’ but on behalf of ‘a future American, both incipient and pre-historical’ (Berlant, 1997: 6). Indeed Berlant claims that the American foetus shares ‘national supericonicity’ with the child owing to their common status as ‘an American, perhaps the last living American, not yet bruised by history’ (ibid.). The mobilising power of the foetus and the child stems from the fact that they are not yet caught up in the processes of secularization and sexualization; not yet caught in the confusing and exciting identity exchanges made possible by mass consumption and ethnic, racial, and sexual mixing; not yet tainted by money or war. (ibid.) The racial ambiguity of the foetus is particularly powerful for a nation of such diverse ethnic composition: This national icon is still tacitly white, and it still contains the blueprint for the reproductive form that assures the family and the nation its future history. This national icon is still innocent of knowledge,
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agency, and accountability and thus has ethical claims on the adult political agents who write laws, make culture, administer resources, control things. (ibid.) Berlant is an important ally for Grossberg’s argument. Both writers describe the family as the key mechanism by which the post-Reagan Right establish the private sphere as the site for politics. As we will see in the following chapter as well, the retreat to the private sphere of family and neighbourhood allows mainstream America seclusion from an outside world of difference (the nation’s increasingly non-white population) and perceived threat (homosexuality and same-sex parenting). This is the major point at issue in Grossberg’s latest work: to its peril, the Left ‘has given up the struggle to find another discourse of the family’ (2005: 238). But what Grossberg finds remarkable about this development is that just as the family takes prominence on the political stage, children are reduced to being ideological pawns in the ongoing culture wars between Right and Left. For Grossberg, this is a profound disappointment. As his work on rock music took such lengths to demonstrate, and his own biography documents, youth serves the function of providing the one reliable source of optimism, novelty and reinvigoration for a jaded society. To prevent kids from pursuing their own curiosity, entertaining possibilities outside the established neoliberal framework is a cruel curtailment of liberty, because youth is crucial moment of freedom and experimentation before one’s affective alliances are ascertained. Kept busy in extracurricular classes and structured play, Grossberg claims kids are being refused the right to choose a different future. In this sense, parents seem unable to recognise their kids as the potential source for a renewed and re-imagined idea of a society, and this is why Grossberg argues that ‘we have to reclaim, at least for the children’s children’s children, the possibilities of imagination and the power to shape their own future out of the fabric of their imagination. We have to return to them the hope that is, in different forms, at the heart of modernity’ (2005: 320). For the New Right, the lesson learned from the treacherous hedonism of the baby boomers was that the same investment in youth could never be made again. Grossberg’s analysis reflects the irony whereby the articulation of American values to the binding ties of family and children comes at the expense of investing in kids as the nation’s future. It is a similar irony that, having secured legitimacy for studying young people’s relationship to rock music and popular culture as outlets for affective expression, Grossberg finds the next generation of students
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are not showing the same spirit of rebellion typified in his own. But this is not because they do not desire something other than the world they inherit. Rather, it is because the punitive measures mobilised to prevent kids from pursuing alternative paths have the literal power – through physical incarceration or the psychic imprisonment of medication – to end their prospects of having a future. If these kids are not rebelling, it is not because they are complacent or want to embrace the status quo. It is, I think, because they have been forced to give up their dreams before they have found them. Too many kids today cannot afford to have dreams. There is no space and no time for dreaming in the world we have created for them. So they are afraid of the future (2005: 56). This is where we can start to appreciate why Grossberg chooses to voice his intellectual project in exactly the terms he does. As a broadscale thinker, a writer who refuses to make his work less complicated, less abstract, shorter and more palatable to publishers and readers, Grossberg argues: We have to reimagine imagination itself – not only visions of an alternative future, but also new languages of possibility and new understandings of the act of envisioning a better future. We have to refuse the emerging sense of time that reduces all demands to the present – “we want the world and we want it now” – the past (images of self-sufficient communities), or the apocalyptic future. This foreshortening of the distance between the present and the future is undermining the capacity to imagine. As long as one believes in the relation of the present and future, there is always an escape route. There is always a way to get from here to someplace else. And as long as there is an escape route, there is always a possibility of a community defined in opposition to the present… By disconnecting the present and the future and denying the imagination of the future, the coming modernity condemns us to what is commonly but inadequately called “short-termism.” (2005: 307) Grossberg’s voice demands a different temporality for scholarly work. His writing strives to provide the space to document and debate wider political and economic shifts, precisely because the New Right succeeds by denying that history may have turned out differently. Grossberg takes a long view of history to maintain conviction that change can and does happen. In this we can detect the significance of his ongoing intellectual
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engagement with Meaghan Morris. My reading in Chapter 6 reflects Morris’s view of history and politics as intimately entwined. Historical knowledge acts ‘as a source of a liberating certainty that anything can happen’ (Morris, 1998c: 26). Similarly, Grossberg argues that ‘without an understanding of what is going on, cultural studies cannot contribute to envisioning other scenarios and outcomes, and the strategies that might take us down alternative pathways’ (2004a: 19). What these positions share is a particularly Deleuzian sense of anti-utopianism – a sober recognition, against earlier progressive visions, that this world is the only one we have, and we have to begin the fight for it in the here and now. It is in this sense, too, that I am claiming Grossberg’s function to be somewhat prophetic. From a Deleuzian perspective, as we noted in Chapter 1, the point of writing is to serve ‘a people to come’. It is by taking such action in the present that the future begins to take shape: Imagination need not be without a place. It can be about the multiplicity of places that exist right here and now. Not all of them are actual, but they are there, possibilities for the future inscribed into the conditions of the present. The reality of the present is never as simple, singular, or pure as contemporary political discourses would have us believe. The present already inscribes within itself the imaginations of its possible futures; we need a public conversation, fuelled but not led by intellectuals, to map out the lines of those alternative futures. (Grossberg, 2005: 309) Grossberg sees the role of cultural studies as that of agitating for the reinsertion of a common conversation about the nation’s destiny, of building dialogue and alliances between similarly concerned citizens. Yet the prospects for this form of practice are chastened by what Berlant frankly describes as the lack of public sphere in the United States: the paralysing reality that there is simply ‘no context of communication and debate that makes ordinary citizens feel that they have a common public culture, or influence on a state that holds itself accountable to opinions, critical or otherwise’ (Berlant, 1997: 3). The aftermath of recent domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina indicates the difficulty of waging a nation-based intellectual project of the kind Grossberg envisages. Despite the size and diversity of a population housed under the banner of the nation, typical media representations can render whole enclaves of fellow citizens close to unrecognisable. Even when ordinary citizens are given the chance to communicate their dissatisfaction to those who should have been accountable for a widespread failure of care,
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as New Orleans’ black community so powerfully did, there is little recourse to compensation. In the religious climate of the contemporary US, consolation and personal dignity comes for the most part from faith – an established and reliable affective investment which acts as enduring solace against the failings of government (Watson, 2005).
The scriptural dimension to Grossberg’s cultural studies It is ultimately a form of faith – and a belief in the possibility of redemption – that characterises Grossberg’s investment in cultural studies. The incantation of the words of founding figures, particularly those of Hall, has the performative effect of offering reassurance that hope remains, that there are sources to guide us through trying times. Grossberg’s commitment to spreading a humane scholarly message carries a sense of missionary zeal, even as it emanates from within the heart of a US Empire unashamedly mobilising its monumental power throughout the world. On both a national and international stage, Grossberg speaks in a prophetic register. His voice conveys both the hope for and determination to create a better future. Writing this chapter I have been increasingly aware of my own use of religious terms to describe the uniqueness of Grossberg’s voice. The version of cultural studies he offers is a ‘consecrated’ image of the legacy ‘bestowed’ upon him by Hall; it is a ‘vocation’ and a ‘calling’, in many ways a ‘destiny’ that Grossberg carries out. In light of Grossberg’s Jewishness, it seems plausible to suggest that his calling to teach cultural studies accords with a deeper religious identification which shares a history of determination to keep faith and optimism despite the circumstances. In conversation, Grossberg acknowledges that his gift of public speaking made him aware that he would be either a teacher or a rabbi.6 But even his written work conveys this distinct rhetorical belief that there will be a promised land beyond the trials of the Right-wing dominance, and that we must maintain conviction and hope no matter how bleak the present may seem. This mobilising function is precisely the rousing quality I am claiming to be evident in key scholars and which plays a central role in sustaining professional solidarity. Grossberg’s description of the luxury of academic practice as ‘the genre of the concrete abstract’ adds further weight to this prophetic understanding of his work.7 Pursuing writing that maintains a level of generalisation and philosophical speculation is the means by which Grossberg stakes a claim in the very future that is being threatened.
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What the rabbi and teacher also share is the cherished role of imparting knowledge, of conveying respect for a history of thought gleaned over the ages. The advisory relationship shares the religious traits of counsel and guidance, which may explain why teaching retains a privileged place throughout Grossberg’s career.
Creative patronage, messianic zeal and the challenge of building a legacy An awareness of the limitations of his own writing style and the inadequacies of the written word in conveying emotion has meant that lecturing and conference speaking are far from optional extras for Grossberg’s intellectual practice. In fact they are essential. From what we know of affect theory from Chapter 1, it is little wonder that Grossberg takes such pleasure in teaching and conference presentation: both afford the human presence and the bodily contagion that is crucial to the transmission of affect. Of course, the conference circuit has the added affordance of a wider and more sympathetic audience for the message. In these settings, Grossberg literally ‘takes the message to the people’. But given what we have gleaned from the detour through Grossberg’s own research – that the key political fight is the fight for the future – we can also appreciate why he spends so much time establishing institutional presence for cultural studies, whether it is mentoring students and emerging scholars, hosting conferences, building networks and associations, or offering feedback and advice to colleagues (a survey of the number of cultural studies publications acknowledging Grossberg’s input during the writing process would be an instructive gauge of his influence). Having momentarily won a space for cultural studies, Grossberg reasons, it is important that this space be fortified rather than forfeited. The conjunctural moment allowing for cultural studies’ emergence may have been fleeting, but by establishing lasting infrastructure and institutional presence Grossberg has assured that its place in history cannot be easily dismantled. The number of practical measures Grossberg has embarked upon – the major 1990 conference and subsequent collection, Cultural Studies;8 cultural studies communication programs at the University of Illinois and North Carolina; the journal, Cultural Studies; and most recently, the New Keywords (2005) produced in conjunction with Meaghan Morris and Tony Bennett – testify that despite whatever preferred image of cultural studies Grossberg maintains in his own mind,
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he is committed to achieving a powerful real world presence for the field so that its many strands can continue to flourish.
Investing in cultural studies I want to end this chapter paying overdue recognition to these contributions because they demonstrate the range of practical achievements evident in cultural studies if it is prepared to expand its horizons beyond the written and published word. Grossberg is a leading instance of the ways in which scholarly contribution must be measured beyond that of purely textual output. So often teaching, mentoring and the thankless institutional aspects of professional service and collegiality are merely an afterthought in assessments of intellectual impact, and yet I would argue it is for these reasons that Grossberg is highly regarded. For his own part, Grossberg claims that encouraging networks of dialogue, building infrastructure and establishing an identifiable history and legacy are the productive opportunities to be seized from having intellectual work ‘as a day job’. For him, it is the academic’s responsibility to maintain the avenues for and the vitality of political struggle more broadly. The main difficulty Grossberg’s model of cultural studies faces is the unavoidable fact that the vast majority of students will reject the prophetic vision he offers, that the idea of cultural studies promoted in his teaching will not culminate, as it does for him, as an adequate ‘calling’ or investment for affect. This is a dilemma stemming from the individual nature of patronage. It relies on a one-to-one relationship that thrives when the patron and benefactor share similar allegiances and ambitions, but it can just as readily fail. While Grossberg regularly reflects his own indebtedness to the patronage of key figures in cultural studies’ development it is unclear how students with different theoretical and political interests fare under this same model.9 Aside from the risks posed by a personal form of patronage, however, Grossberg’s theoretical work indicates the difficulty of generating ongoing investment in cultural studies in another sense. At a time when nihilism is actively fostered by the hegemonic alliance of neoconservative and neoliberal interests in the US, intellectuals are faced with the added challenge of maintaining a positive outlook amidst the preponderance of a profound scepticism which tests ‘our very ability to invest in the meanings – and meaningfulness – of the world, to locate any meaning as a possible and appropriate source for an impassioned commitment (in whatever qualitative state)’ (Grossberg, 1997a: 161).
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Cultural studies needs to develop convincing arguments both for its own worth and its location in the academy if students, let alone the wider public, are to see it as an adequate site for investment. Put another way, this is to say that the problem with a scriptural form of cultural studies practice is that it may risk only ever preaching to the converted. While in this chapter I have been interested to highlight the positive functions such a discourse of mobilisation serves from the point of view of professional regeneration, it is important to recognise the limits of this form of affective mobilisation. Its effects are generally confined to the academic sphere as it is currently constituted. While Grossberg continues to offer important conjunctural reassessments of cultural studies’ relevance to the particular political problems faced in the present, these forms of intervention only work for those already aware of, or subscribed to cultural studies as a worthwhile project (in particular, the importance of the Birmingham legacy). They may not be enough to interest those of successive generations, and the large numbers of students now graduating from cultural studies courses. Of course, the patronage model is also the model of supervision and mentoring at work in the university system as a whole, and as such it does not seem especially well suited to combating the wider economic trends which also risk the future of cultural studies’ institutional location, namely, the casualisation of much of the academic workforce. This is where the ‘scriptural’ dimension of Grossberg’s practice begins to share aspects of the ‘scriptural economy’ de Certeau describes: both models are offshoots of the university’s historical association with the clerisy, and the hallowed model of vocational calling, apprenticeship and eventual generational succession. Patronage suits an economic and employment climate in which the future is predictable and unchanging, and the security of tenure still exists as a possibility. It fails to ameliorate the structural conditions faced by increasing numbers of insecure and highly conscientious graduate students who have grown up in the years of economic rationalism. This generation has borne the brunt of neoliberal influences on the education system and appears likely to be condemned to the enforced flexibility and expendability of sessional contracts. Just like the kids in Grossberg’s latest book, these graduates have worked away their youth, only to see their future fade from reach. Delivered on the same site as the 1990 Cultural Studies: Now and in the Future conference, Grossberg’s address to the Crossroads conference in 2004 recognised that a number of influences – ‘globalization, regionalization, financialization, the rise of new conservative political alliances
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of various sorts around the world, the end of the cold war, the political interventions of multinational corporations, the growing power of religious formations’ – have profoundly changed the political landscape, leaving the centre of cultural studies seemingly unable to respond (2004a: 26). In many ways Grossberg’s career can be seen as a struggle to avoid being seen as representative of this ‘centre’ of cultural studies and to brand himself as a different kind of voice – one that remains loyal to, if critically distinct from Hall. Whether or not Grossberg has succeeded in this aim, it is clear that he has carried a similar function to that of his mentor, frequently intervening to suggest new priorities for cultural studies. The Crossroads address, for instance, urged colleagues to acknowledge that economics has been a neglected component of analysis during the rise of the New Right, and that the field must now ‘engage with the discipline, in all its complexity and sophistication’ as a matter of priority (2004a: 37). In my next chapter I consider Andrew Ross’s leading example in this area. Providing an alternative to the celebratory rhetoric and inherent progressivism of mainstream economic discourse, Ross’s activist credentials and participatory research ethic are a fruitful complement to Grossberg’s patronage model for intellectual practice. The key insight to be taken from Grossberg’s reading of the national political scene in the US is the very real challenge the neoconservatives pose to a project that has relied on affective voices and humanist sympathy as enough. Cultural studies’ political credibility has been premised on the belief that the right kind of affective voice can ‘speak truth to power’, and that the field will remain sufficiently ‘propelled by its desire to construct possibilities, both immediate and imaginary, out of its historical circumstances’ (Grossberg, 1997a: 193). The New Right has taken its mission to be the ennihilation of any such possibilities. It has done this at a material and aspirational level, indeed, marking the final erasure of any distinction between the two. It has celebrated its abandonment of the public sphere of accountability and exploited its ability to invade the most intimate aspects of private life. It has sought to colonise the very hopes and dreams of its citizens. If cultural studies can be understood as a scholarly project which conveys care and investment in the world, the harsh reality of the political environment Grossberg seeks to describe is captured in his description of the success of Ronald Reagan, a man who was popular because he ‘seemed to care about something… What he cared about was less important’ (1997a: 259). When affect can be generated and marketed without recourse to any identifiable cause or motivation, the public is subject to
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a new and pernicious form of atrophy. It becomes subject to ‘a ceaseless procession of “affective epidemics”… none of which contain any trace of identifiable ideas or values, but which merely serve to mark the existence of commitment’ (ibid.). Grossberg has been the principal figure to recognise passion, emotion and affect as the new frontier for politics. If he appears destined to carry on the legacy of a project ill prepared for the cynical depths of a renewed conservatism, this may not be the worst of fates. After all, hope for a promised land that can house a culture which says it cares and means it has surely always been the one dream worth fighting for.
5 Justice and Accountability: Andrew Ross, Intellectual Labour and the New Academic Activism
Introduction I ended the previous chapter intimating that the patronage model for academic practice appears to be on the demise. For a relatively young discipline like cultural studies, with its history of suspicion towards elitist academic traditions, this development should not prove such a traumatic loss – indeed, as I will suggest in the following two chapters, it is a change that might be welcomed in so far as it expands the opportunities for scholarly work and the functions it serves for the societies which sustain it. At the same time, however, the corporatisation of the university and the insecurity of the labour market signalled in the shift away from normalised academic tenure mean that cultural studies scholars cannot afford to lose sight of the ways that their own working lives now serve as emblematic of wider economic shifts.1 This is perhaps the key reason I have been advocating a more overt acknowledgement of cultural studies’ investment in the university as the location for its specific political ambitions: at a time when ‘New Economy’ discourse heralds information workers as the archetypal labour subjects, it is crucial that academics recognise the extent of their own implication in forms of exploitation that may not have been as prominent in the university’s previous historical configurations. Today more than ever, cultural studies must approach the scholarly vocation for what it is: a job. Neither a privilege to be fretted over nor a substitute for public political engagement, academic work is one of a number of industries which principally rely on mental, as opposed to manual labour. It is the ties which bind these distinct realms of employment in a globalised economy that is the focus for this chapter. 106
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If Grossberg is right to suggest that cultural studies analyses have been limited by a serious aversion to the discipline of economics, the work of Andrew Ross stands as the proverbial exception to this rule. Covering issues ranging from environmental degradation (Ross, 1991) to sweatshop labour (Ross, 1997), the dotcom boom (Ross, 2003) to China’s emerging position in the global trade community (Ross, 2006), Ross’s voice speaks a commitment to investigating the human costs of economic growth. In doing so, it offers a leading example of the kind of radical scholarship sorely needed in a changing context for academic labour. In his move from Scotland to the United States, Ross has made a career out of following the latest up-to-the-minute economic theories and deflating the boosterism of business discourse. Yet his voice holds its own distinct rhetorical swagger: Ross is a storyteller and a raconteur as well as an assiduous scholar. In the legacy of cultural studies I am identifying, Ross’s work conveys concern for the everyday victims of economic policy, for the ways in which ordinary lives bear the burden of the long-term time frame of macro-economic policy. His interest is the human side of economic change, the individual experiences that go missing from shareholders’ reports and trade policy documents. In his efforts to follow the ever-changing context for economic growth and capitalist profit, Ross’s research also shifts dramatically in its sites and preoccupations. Unlike the long-term commitment to particular issues that we saw with Hall or Grossberg, this is a form of scholarship that moves target in line with its objectives. At times, Ross has faced fierce criticism for this tactic, which often finds him entering a terrain far removed from that of his disciplinary training.2 But such risks are the consequence of Ross’s affective intellectual activism, which pivots on the twin demands of social justice and accountability. It is a project which can best be described as a crusade against the euphemisms which become procedural in economic – which in neoliberal societies is also to say political – agendas. Ross’s human-centred approach to economics also writes against the abstractions contained within unreconstructed attitudes at the extreme end of the activist Left. His attention to everyday experiences of economic change rebukes persistent sentiments among anti-corporate campaigners who maintain that ‘cultural politics is not real, or that it diverts our attention from the real issues – predominantly economic in nature – that inspire people’s quest for justice’ (Ross, 1998: 3).3 In Ross’s estimation ‘if ever there was a false dichotomy, both disabling and divisive, this is it’ (ibid.) and his writing urges fellow activists to ‘meet the
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next challenges of history in the spirit of the culture-and-class coalitions that have too often eluded us’ (1998: 5). Ross’s engagement with developments in cultural theory available in the academic sphere – in particular the ways in which gender and race contribute to the capitalist enterprise – complicates crude economicism, demonstrating the multifaceted nature of the oppression wrought by corporate power. In this way, Ross also continues a strong legacy within cultural studies that resists vulgar Marxism to the extent that it cannot appreciate human agency: the fact that ordinary people willingly participate in the processes at the heart of exercises in abstract theorising.4 What is important about Ross’s role as successor to this history is that the research he provides to support activist claims in no way discounts the need for such rhetorical interventions, or the physical forms of assembly which accompany street-level activism and the company picket. Ross’s detailed historical portraits of key sites of activist attention are the necessary complement to the urgent temporality both inherent and crucial to the sloganeering of dedicated activists. Ross inhabits a position of mediation between the academic and activist Left. He prefers to find the common ground linking these two emphases for progressive thinking rather than pursuing unnecessary contrasts. For although the insights of cultural studies theory draw important attention to the micro-level of individual agency, identity politics and ethical subject formation, Ross finds these to be an insufficient endpoint for analysis. For him, whatever individual exercises in agency exist in the current economic formation must always be traced to a wider system which structures their conditions of possibility. While his work reflects the precise individual ways people cope with wider social and economic change, in acknowledging these Ross never ceases to follow an ultimately macro level of analysis. This is his key point, as a political intellectual: it is only by tracing the cumulative effects of atomised experience that persistent structures of exploitation can be envisioned and held accountable. In this unique role as intellectual arbiter between the academic politics of cultural studies and the activist imperatives of the progressive Left, Ross commands an assuring degree of confidence in the role good scholarship plays in effective political agitation. Despite the traditionally ambivalent relationship between intellectuals and mainstream culture described in his 1989 book No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture, Ross’s confidence comes from a canny awareness of the persistent leverage provided by the university’s institutional position (just as in the previous chapter Grossberg cited the academic’s responsibility to
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make use of ‘the luxury of having intellectual work as a day job’). Yet the further dimension to Ross’s approach is that, as the university becomes close to indistinguishable from a corporation in its daily operations, this only adds to the academic’s capacity to speak with authority about the experience of fellow workers. The significance of Ross’s position, and his relevance to this discussion of cultural studies is the belief that intellectual labour is labour like any other, and as such it is eminently poised to position itself within a wider alliance of workers similarly exploited by the same capitalist system. It is this, essentially workerist position that moves Ross beyond the theory versus practice debates which have prolonged cultural studies’ unnecessary discomfort with the institutional and industrial reality of its practice.5 It suggests that once academics shed their preciousness about the politics of professional location, the near universal fate of chronic overwork, undervalued labour and enforced consumerism comes to the fore. To read Ross’s work is to realise that politically engaged academics cannot afford the merest hint of nostalgia for the fate of proletarian movements of the past when the entrenched model of consumer capitalism works all people harder than ever. For Ross, the intellectual’s role is to stay abreast of these changes and thereby contribute to the common articulation of a new global movement of organised labour. Ross’s approachable style of public intellectual commentary appears across a variety of publishing venues, including scholarly journals, trade press monographs, newspaper columns and magazine articles. He has maintained wide interests over the course of his career, from the Manhattan art scene to music subcultures and the corporatisation of professional sport (Ross, 1998; 2004). Ross seems to approach a potential object of study with the driving aim of improving upon available assumptions – often when these emanate from either the Right or the Left, but especially in contexts when the celebratory rhetoric of capitalist expansion works to preclude qualified discussions of its knock-on effects. Ross devotes his scholarly acumen to the gaps in knowledge that preferred political agendas tend to overlook, focusing on the intimate ways that wider economic shifts manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people – in particular, their lives at work. If Ross’s focus on labour studies in recent years marks a shift from the preferred analytical attentions of contemporary cultural studies, it is a focus which remains clearly informed by the field’s wider project of conveying care, concern and empathy for others. Arguing that dignity in labour is a fundamental human right, and insisting that working conditions meet humane as
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much as financial objectives, Ross updates cultural studies’ critical and political agenda to meet the key challenge of the current historical moment: the notorious moral bankruptcy of multinational corporations.
The pursuit of privacy: Lessons from Disney’s New Town Key elements of Ross’s developing quest for social justice and accountability are evident in The Celebration Chronicles, a book which reflects upon the author’s year long study of the Florida town established by the Walt Disney company. Celebration enjoyed a great deal of media attention in the United States because of its ambitious attempt to generate a model civic life. Ross admits that ‘friends, colleagues, and familiars of my past writings were dubious of my motive’ embarking on such an extended ethnography, but that ‘if Disney-bashing had been my chief goal, I could have written this book from a safe distance, in common with most armchair practitioners of that ballooning genre’ (1999: 6). Rather, Ross’s attempt to integrate into life in Celebration ably exemplifies the form of sympathetic criticism of which Morris speaks. Ross immerses himself in the culture of Celebration so as to test the automatic assumptions that his academic training and typical Manhattan worldview lead him to hold. The near absurdity of justifying such a project in terms of scholarly interest in a climate rife with competing economic and political agendas is encapsulated in Ross’s pledge ‘to meet people where they were, and not where I, or my editor, or my colleagues, would like them to be’ (1999: 118). On one level the study reflects the mundane reality of town life measured against the utopian strains of residential property development. Among residents, a common rationale for moving to Celebration was faith in the Disney brand, a general perception that ‘they do things right.’ These were families who ‘had vacationed, year in and year out, at the theme parks’ run by Disney ‘and were accustomed to high standards of customer satisfaction’ (1999: 107). Of course, visiting a theme park is one thing, living in a planned environment is another. Over time, the residents appeared sceptical of the way Disney conducted its business while remaining anxious to maintain faith in the brand’s power to retain the long-term financial stability of houses in the area. Documenting these often-contradictory displays among residents, the book offers more evidence of the development suggested in Grossberg’s work, that the realm of private life is taking over from traditional forms of public political expression in the United States. As the public sphere loses its capacity to mobilise interest, the realm of family, neighbourhood and schooling take greater prominence. Ross’s study shows the consequences
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of private investment at an affective and financial level once the withdrawal from the public sphere is complete. Whatever individual benefits come from the pursuit of liberty through property, the withdrawal of faith in publicly funded institutions also inaugurates the end of any guarantee of democratic accountability. To take an example, one of Ross’s main findings is that the amount of subcontracting involved in Celebration housing construction meant that the very company whose name was so vital to people’s decision to invest could not be held responsible for any problems that ensued. The principal grievance of many residents was that Disney and its subsidiary contractors had “misrepresented” the housing quality in their sales process, and had failed to adequately supervise the course of building. Most residents, after all, had acted on their trust in the Disney name, and not that of the builder, in deciding to buy (1999: 40). As we will see later in the chapter, Ross consistently demonstrates how the abstract and mythological power of the brand routinely circumvents accountability, particularly for actions carried out by those tenuously associated with its name (for large corporations, tenuousness is itself structural and strategic). Celebration demonstrates this as much as any other corporate-backed enterprise: ‘While the needs of the parent company drive the chain of labour, the company does not consider itself responsible for what happens further down the chain. This is the principle that gives rise to sweatshops and exploited labour all over the global economic map’, yet in the case of life in Celebration, its effects are felt in the most intimate of environments: ‘in home construction, in schooling, in the health facility, and in civic affairs’ (1999: 112). The Celebration study is enlightening for the way that it illustrates some of the personal consequences of the neoliberal preference for private development, a process which normally appears as an abstract shift in economic and political discourse. Pursuing the right to property gleaned from a particularly narrow interpretation of the American Dream, Celebrationites are shown to forfeit their capacity for compensation when the rhetoric of property developers fell short of reality. Having invested in the perception of an idyllic community, homeowners were unable or unwilling to admit problems, whether in building structures or town life, for fear of property prices going down. Here the personal price of private investment is a publicly funded path of recourse for the injustice which always thrives under corporate ambivalence.
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Another finding of Ross’s study is that the price of entry to Celebration’s idyllic community makes welcome only certain kinds of citizens. Aside from the hip-pocket dimension to the private investment, which generates its own kind of individualism at the same time as it makes property owners subject to new forms of vulnerability, Ross also notes the extent to which the shift towards private investment brings a narrowing of residents’ immediate ethical horizon. With Celebration’s price tag assuring a middle-class lifestyle, Ross finds a civic culture with which we are familiar from Chapter 2: a lifestyle understood as a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The focus on immediate neighbourhood concerns brackets out any consideration of the plight of those unable to buy into or abide by the form of civility supported by the Disney brand. This is the case whether it is the racially or ethnically mixed communities surrounding the town itself, or the fate of those much further afield whose labour has helped secure the superiority of the Disney name. Celebration shows that when membership of a community comes down to financial investment the ethical horizon narrows: there are no obligations to others beyond the protection of assets (1999: 309). This is Ross’s conclusion at the end of the year-long study. If people living in Celebration display forms of self-interested behaviour, it is only understandable given the wider culture of which it is part. And it is this culture that is the target for his affective address: The economic conduct of corporations is in dire need of reform. Because of its size and scope of activities, Disney is as good an example as any. With one hand, the company was accepting praise for its high-profile sponsorship of Celebrations’ model of urbanity. With another, it was busy recruiting foreign nationals willing to labour for a minimum wage that buys much less than it did thirty years ago. All the while, it was turning a blind eye to the uncounted Asian factory workers toiling over its T-shirts and toys for starvation wages. This is not publicly minded policy, nor is it intended to be. It is the intolerable face of capitalism with no footing in humane conduct, rewarding the affluent and punishing the poor. (1999: 316)
The labour behind the label If the vehemence of this attack implies that Celebration’s residents remain somewhat cocooned from outside considerations, Ross’s study
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suggests that things are not so simple. A purely anti-Disney stance fails to acknowledge the ways in which the company also offers possibilities for labour and a means of existence among a new generation of workers. This is what the anti-suburban attitudes of Ross’s fellow Manhattanites cannot recognise: for kids growing up in Celebration, ‘Disney’ is anything but an abstract global brand, subject to boycott. It is, instead, a realistic prospect not only for secure employment but also a future close to loved ones. But even from this point of view, one of the great contradictions Ross sees in the Disney company is that while it trumpeted the environmental credentials of the village-like atmosphere of the Celebration area, it did not feel the need to pay its staff at rates which would move their pay packets beyond mere subsistence and towards a level of security which could affect their own ideas of sustainability. Whether it is the drudgery of emotional labour in the theme parks and sales jobs or the more immediately hazardous lot of those assembling the toys stocking the merchandise shops, it is the same company which enjoys escalating profits by feeding the insatiable appetite of consumerism. It is for this reason that Ross has taken such lengths to document the achievements of the anti-sweatshop movements of the past decade. In the era of the ‘brand bully’ (Klein, 2000), Ross urges political activists to form alliances with workers at many levels of the corporate food chain to meet the challenge of multinational targets. The global reach of the biggest companies makes labour conditions everyone’s business, though Ross remains mindful of the hierarchies of exploitation: ‘the aim is to establish a relationship where factory workers are able to use activists and outside sources as allies and tactical tools, and thereby avoid the situation whereby Northern activists are in a position to tell workers what they should want’ (2004: 44). In the edited collection No Sweat (1997) and the solo authored Low Pay, High Profile (2004) Ross’s essays document the frightening conditions of garment workers whose labour is hidden in the glamorous image of major brands. Ross draws attention to the continuity of sweatshop practices over the decades, tracing the demand for dignified and humane work practices to earlier and formative strikes by garment workers in the US. In this way, Ross’s scholarship offers historical evidence that capitalism’s practices have not changed, despite economists’ unflagging faith in the market’s civilising influence. While activists focus their attention on publicly shaming companies to guarantee conditions which grant some form of autonomy for workers, Ross’s writing asks that this conditions-based approach must also strive to accommodate wider demands:
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The fact is that most low-wage jobs, even those that meet minimum wage requirements and safety criteria, fail to provide an adequate standard of living for their wage earners, let alone their families. In most respects, it is the systematic depression of wages, rather than conscious attempts to evade labour laws, that is the structural problem. Installing proper fire exits may turn a sweatshop into a legal workplace, but it remains a low-wage atrocity. All the more reason to define and perceive the “sweatshop” as a general description of all exploitative labour conditions, rather than as a subpar outfit, as defined by existent laws in whatever country the owner chooses to operate. (2004: 22–3) The fight for a just ‘social wage’ is the benchmark for Ross’s activist agenda, for nothing less can ‘compensate workers for the full range of activities and burdens they undertake so that capital can reproduce’ (2004: 13). In Ross’s view, ‘the fight for fair labour must be approached as a pathway to the social and environmental well-being of an entire citizenry’, which is to say that labour conditions must ‘be able to sustain a multisided modern life for the population to which they belong’ (ibid.). Statements like these echo some of the foundational arguments of cultural studies, particularly Raymond Williams’s emphasis that culture should be assessed as ‘a whole way of life’. In fact Ross’s emphasis on the human face of economic abstraction carries out much of the promise in Williams’s more radical positions, thinking of those contained in activist documents like the May Day Manifesto.6 But unlike the British post-war context, when it may have seemed plausible to address anti-corporate critiques to an audience within the Labour Party, the present configuration of capitalism poses further difficulties. The most pernicious of these in Ross’s view is ‘corporate flight’ (Ross, 2006): the largest multinational companies now have the means to regularly move their production location to avoid any responsibility to the areas and environments they exploit. This ‘race to the bottom’ mentality, of rushing to chase the lowest possible wage floor throughout the world, allows major companies to shirk any responsibility to codes of conduct by simply moving on. The problem this poses for Ross’s project is that employment practices can never be held accountable when the workplace constantly shifts.
The promise of China Ross’s latest book attempts to follow the trail of job outsourcing in China, the country with the dubious honour of providing the world’s
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lowest wage floor and (therefore) the greatest source of Western investor excitement. Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade7 offers a timely intervention into commentary on China’s emerging economic might, not only for the way that it predicts that ‘everything that can be made will be made in China, and sooner than anyone thinks’ (2006: 141) but that, as a consequence, whatever the country’s industrial relations practices allow will have subsequent effects in every other industry. Ross regards available arguments regarding the impact of global trade as hystericised by a misplaced and politically correct respect for sovereignty that prevents any criticism of rights violations. On the Left, this comes down to residual sympathies for Maoist ideals (whether they realise it or not – see Ross (2005) for an argument on the similarities between Maoist principles and recent trends in critical theory), whereas for hardcore activists it is precisely their fixation on human rights violations that prevents a more complex understanding of the plight of workers on the ground. For instance, with the privatisation of State Owned Enterprises local employers and employees alike see labour as a step towards freedom and autonomy from Communist Party regulation. In this situation, any form of employment, however poorly rewarded, can be touted as a step closer to ‘modernity’. In the case of women, however, the new forms of independence made possible through employment makes them especially susceptible to the whims of managers who can afford to maintain preferred types of workers (those who look more ‘modern’ – that is Western – than others, or those who are young and childless, see Ross, 2004). It is the intricate manner in which identity based forms of subordination mesh with the utopian hopes promised by a new economic framework that this cultural studies approach to economics is well placed to provide.8 Of course, frank discussions of working conditions are hardly likely in a context of cautious international diplomacy following the Cold War, not to mention when China contributes so much of US foreign imports.9 But above all, it is investors’ willingness to turn a blind eye to employment conditions in pursuit of an untapped profit market that blights the chances of any real dialogue over the conditions for a fair and just social wage in present day China. However, what Ross finds surprising in his latest research is that it is not just the lowliest of workers that offer chastening indications of the contemporary nature of work. While in the past, middle-class activists and observers of ‘blue-collar’ labour largely advocated the rights of others, increasingly it is university graduates in the West who are at the
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mercy of corporate flight. Ross’s research shows that workers at higher levels of the corporate hierarchy are proving just as dispensable as manual labourers. As we will see shortly, it is this realisation that has implications for information industries more broadly, including institutions of higher education. Showing that the ‘race to the bottom’ is not just a model for factory labour, Ross’s study is an indictment of the form of offshore outsourcing which comes complete with its own euphemism, ‘knowledge transfer’. The term hints at the particularly pernicious aspect of the practice, which is that workers currently employed in the US often train the foreign nationals who eventually take over their too expensive jobs. Ross’s extensive interviews with employees in the Shanghai and Yangtze River Delta areas indicate some surprising developments taking place in response to the widespread awareness of employee expendability. The most significant of these is that the attitudes of a new generation of white-collar employees are starting to mirror those of their corporate employers. In many cases, Ross finds, in-demand workers are simply refusing to commit to a company, so attuned are they to the disloyalty of multinational corporations. In this situation, ‘both skilled and unskilled workplaces share a climate rife with distrust and disloyalty on the part of employers and employees alike’ (2006: 2). Ross describes the overall effect as ‘chronic labour turnover and flightiness, extreme wage pressure form the threat to move to cheaper locations, and the shredding of economic and social security in the communities where investors have set up shop’ (ibid.). These developments tend to suggest that as suspicion of corporate motives becomes procedural, the culture as a whole may start to show signs of change in response (here antisweatshop and global justice movements, as well as recent media phenomena such as the independent documentary The Corporation play an important part in consciousness-raising about corporate tactics). Aware that there is no overriding sense of care or concern about their wellbeing, employees retaliate in the only way appropriate in a profit-led culture: withdrawing labour; while an invasive cynicism replaces any sense of attachment to the workplace. But what Ross also finds is that where there may be a lack of investment in one area, workers choose to exercise their power in relation to those things which do retain emotional resonance. In stark contrast to their weak ties to employers, for instance, Ross finds ‘loyalty to China itself, and the grander goal of growing the nation out of its technological dependence on foreign expertise, is a much more common cause of the allegiance of the skilled workers’ documented in the book (2006: 19).
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To assume that employees no longer feel invested enough to mobilise in the service of any cause would be a mistake. Instead, Ross reveals that workers are choosing to act in accordance with beliefs that may be unanticipated in the priorities of neoliberal economics; namely, an ostensibly outdated and unfashionable loyalty to nation in a globalised society. This goes some way towards puncturing fears about capitalism’s capacity to render the world ‘placeless’. For Ross, the redemptive lesson to be taken from China is the knowledge that, acting in numbers, workers still have the capacity to wreak havoc upon the multinational corporate culture affecting their experience so deeply.
The ‘no collar’ aftermath If Ross finds these latest developments somewhat surprising, it may be because New Economy discourse had so convincingly heralded the realm of ‘no collar’ work to be the future of employment throughout the technology boom of the early 1990s. Here ‘no collar’ work refers to the relaxed workplace arrangements which flourished in the creative sector of the information and communication industries and were epitomised in the beanbag filled, loft-style workplaces of dotcom start-ups. Given his interest in workers’ rights, Ross was compelled to make sense of the no collar culture precisely because it seemed to spell the end of a certain kind of labourist politics. Particularly in the rarefied culture of cyberspace employment, no collar workers appeared content to combine libertarian politics with extreme labour exploitation, apparently without contradiction. For Ross, the damaging consequences of the no collar culture have been cumulative. Not only did the culture of willing overwork severely haemorrhage any chance of a sustainable industry, but investment in the cult of creativity disassociated no collar work from the manual labour involved in producing the tools of their craft. As I will shortly argue, this ‘neglect of material labour conditions’ (Ross, 1998: 15) has resonance for academics as much as it does the tech geeks. Pursuing his concern for the human face of economic discourses, Ross’s critique of new media cybertopianism, ‘Jobs in Cyberspace’, was followed by No Collar, a book-length study of Manhattan webdesign company, Razorfish. Both sought to understand the technology boom in terms of the opportunities for labour it offered. Ross was interested to assess whether this new cultural industry could maintain the possibility of ‘honest job creation’ (1998: 10, my emphasis). This is the important ethical dimension to Ross’s focus on economics. It differs from the celebratory pronouncements characterising the market during a boom period to the
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extent that it is concerned with the conditions necessary for sustainable economic progress. For Ross, a key aspect of sustainable development is the formalisation of labour conditions to ensure that the potential for exploitation is curbed. In his view, labour is ‘the core of social sustainability’ (1998: 12), yet if there has been a defining aspect of the new forms of creative labour it has been precisely their unsustainability: In the entirely nonunionized Webshop workplaces, over half of the jobs are filled by contract employees or perma-temps, with no employer-supported health care. Deeply caffeinated eighty-five-hour workweeks without overtime pay are a way of life for Webshop workers on flexible contracts, who invest a massive share of “sweat equity” in the mostly futile hope that their stock options will pay off. (2000: 11) In no collar workplaces, ‘the lines between labour and leisure have dissolved’ making way for horizontal networking among heroic teams of self-directed workers; the proto-hipster appeal of bohemian dress codes, personal growth, and non-hierarchical surroundings; the vague promise of bounteous rewards from stock options; and employees so complicit with the culture of overwork and burnout that they have developed their own insider brand of sick humour about being “net slaves,” that is, it’s actually cool to be exploited so badly. (2003: 12) Ross’s reading indicates that any formalisation of working conditions was sacrificed for the political credentials of the cybertopian ethos. The machismo of pulling the all night session here combines with residues of bohemian and counter-culture as well as the neoliberal shift towards self-surveillance. The result is an ideological minefield of working so hard because one chooses to do so. As Ross notes, the pivotal aspect of this work ethic is that it wears its exploitation as a badge of honour, indeed of subcultural credibility: Industrial capitalists used to dream about such a workforce, but their managerial techniques were too rigid to foster it. These days, the new-wave management wing of the New Economy worships exactly this kind of decentralized environment, which “empowers” workers, banishes bureaucratic constraints on their creativity, and delivers meaningful and nonalienated labour for a grateful and independently minded workforce. (ibid.)
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That creative labour is considered more ‘meaningful’ than other forms of labour is encapsulated in the remark from one interviewee for the No Collar project who described his work as ‘irresistible’: ‘it was work you just couldn’t help doing’ (2003: 10). This inadvertent overwork stems from an inability to recognise the labour as odious – a hangover, perhaps, from past proletarian movements that were always based on a manual model of labour. But to the extent that unionisation is incorporated in the general contempt for ‘bureaucratic constraints’ mentioned above, there is little chance that these new forms of labour act as a sufficient basis for affiliation between workers ‘oppressed’ in a traditional sense. As such, capital appears to ‘have found the makings of a self-justifying, low-wage workforce, at the very heart of the knowledge industries so crucial to its growth and development’ (Ross, 2004: 24).
New sites for activism Whatever one may think of the priorities of cyberspace workers, for Ross, the most troubling aspect of their tendency to glorify their own exploitation is the way that it serves to erase much consideration of the forms of manual labour which do continue, the quite different circumstances of those who face much more restricted surveillance than the loft and latte lifestyle of the Webshop. The refusal to unionise is here painted as something of a privileged choice for workers in the affluent West who can afford to engage in mental labour when more dangerous manual labour is regularly shipped to other countries. Even for those manufacturing outfits that resist the move offshore, the most dangerous and toxic jobs are ‘allocated to immigrant workers with little, if any English skills, and who are therefore unlikely to be aware of their legal rights in the event of workplace hazards and injury’ (2004: 169). The netslaves, just as much as the microchip companies, cannot account for the environmental as well as physical health dangers contained in the mountains of e-waste generated by the high-tech industry’s reliance on disposability. The glamour of the increasingly tiny and efficient gadgets assisting mental labour – laptops, PDAs, mobile phones and ipods – effaces the lack of any formal guidelines to deal with redundant technologies. For the moment, Ross’s research shows, e-waste is regularly shipped back to those countries that are the original site of assembly (which takes us back to China). There they are mined for the precious minerals they contain – a tedious, not to mention dangerous, task. Ross suggests that the activist tactics used so successfully against the garment industry must now be adopted in this latest context, to stem
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the entrenched practices of the high-tech industry and the enforced redundancy of its products. ‘Because there is so little difference between their respective products, and because their product cycles are so short, brand-name recognition is all-important in driving sales of technology we do not need,’ Ross writes: Corporate icons in the electronics worlds must be put on notice that their brands will suffer severe PR damage unless they begin to accept cradle-to-grave responsibility for all of the constituent operations, no matter how remote, from which they reap their profits. (2004: 173)
The price of mental labour While these issues may seem a long way from cultural studies’ practice, they are relevant in several ways. At a very basic level, academic jobs are now completely dependent on computer technology, yet it is rarely the case that scholars routinely consider how this necessity impacts upon the working lives of those who actually produce the tools of their labour (which is again not to mention the environmental effects of mass computerisation). Ross sees the problem as lying in the prevailing perception ‘that high technology is a clean, even green, industry’: In the public mind, the computer is still viewed as the product of magic, and not industry. The fact that we can repair our own car but not our computer does not help. As a result, the process of manufacturing is obscured and mystified. The vast majority of users are largely unaware that their machines contain so many harmful substances, and are likely to believe, erroneously, that miniaturization consumes less resources. So too the utopian rhetoric that surrounds these overhyped technologies strips them of their material underpinnings. In the public mind, when workers are associated with high-tech, they are the engineer whiz kids of Silicon Valley, with much-lionized jobs and incomes, not low-wage temps and Third World teenagers. (2004: 173) In the sense that academic work also maintains this strategic ethical horizon to conduct its day to day business, cultural studies’ response to the conditions raised by Ross’s work seems an important gauge of the field’s ongoing political and ethical credentials. Yet it is precisely the
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out-datedness of the political assumptions typically attached to academic labour that Ross sees as limiting our action in this regard. If the culture of willing slave labour hampered the capacity for no collar workers to appreciate a labour politics, it is the itinerant and erratic work schedules of academics that provide their most obvious precedent. In his essay dedicated to ‘The Mental Labour Problem’ (2000; 2004), Ross shows the similarity between the traits now routinely encouraged in the information and creative industries and the entrenched labour practices of the academic lifestyle.10 While the romantic ethos captured the idea of the creative mind working in opposition to the enforced temporality of the industrial revolution, Ross argues that the new employment landscape succeeds by accommodating, indeed harnessing, this once resistant work practice (2004: 145). New technologies which encourage tele-commuting, working from home and flexible schedules mean that almost any location and any hour of the day house the potential for labour. In this sense, while they may have been ‘borderline, even oddball, features of an older labour landscape’, artists and academics are now ‘occupying frontline positions on the leading edge of neoliberal penetration’ (2004: 225). No longer the exception in the employment landscape, mental labour ‘is being casualized in ways that complement the habits and compulsions of the academic mentality’, habits which developed in an earlier formation for scholarly practice. In Ross’s view, academic labour now takes prominence in allegorising wider shifts in industrial relations. What makes these conditions subject to exploitation is that they attach to an established sacrificial work ethic in creative industries, a culture Ross attributes to the misguided belief that ‘the artist cannot afford to be rewarded well’ (2000: 15). Ross claims creative workers have rationalised their diminished status in society through a system which gauges artistic and political integrity by the lack of recognition and financial compensation granted by the wider culture. For Ross, this suspicious attitude towards appropriate payment is the key obstacle to an effective labourist politics among Leftist intellectuals. Its false equation is to reason that ‘an underpaid intelligentsia can identify more readily with those living in low-wage conditions or real poverty’ (2000: 15). The appropriate political and ethical response to the oppression entailed in other (manual) forms of labour is to assume ‘material self-denial and voluntary poverty’ out of sympathy. If this appears a simplistic and somewhat superficial affiliation with those who have no choice but to pursue low-wage employment, Ross
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suggests that the strength of this attitude has been instrumental in establishing the ‘cultural discount’ as the industrial norm for creative labour, and with it, widespread resignation that sacrificial labour is part and parcel of such work. Like the webslaves, these employees are: predisposed to accept non-monetary rewards – the gratification of producing art – as partial compensation for their work, thereby discounting the cash price for their labour. Indeed, it is fair to say that the largest subsidy to the arts has always come from arts workers themselves, underselling themselves in anticipation of future career rewards. (2004: 156–7) Looking back to the patronage model discussed in Chapter 4, this acceptance of temporary exploitation ‘in anticipation of future career rewards’ is the same trajectory that has been assumed in the university’s tradition of succession. When the expectation of a secure tenured position could be assumed, students could see the long-term pay-off for investing in their future career. What Ross makes clear, however, is that the university is moving through a seismic shift that abolishes this comforting guarantee at the heart of the bourgeois model of reproduction. As the university secularises and commercialises, as it too moves towards dependency on private investment from benefactors and various companies, it loses these old forms of procedural entitlement. When this is the case, ‘the principle of the cultural discount’ becomes the operating logic upon which the university, as just one sector of the growing knowledge industries, comes to rely (2000: 7). As I have been suggesting in relation to cultural studies, the extent to which scholars play down their investment in the university as the location for their labour further exacerbates this problem. As Ross describes it, the higher education industry can be seen to encourage ‘a volunteer army, whether of unemployed or of contracted low-wage labour’, which banks on scholars’ love of their disciplinary art having higher precedence than financial compensation (2000: 23–4). Like the no collar workers, the mental and creative gratification that are the offshoots of their practice provide self-justifying recompense for the inordinate amount of work that is willingly performed. Over time, low compensation for such a high workload has become ‘a rationalized feature of the job’; ‘the “willingness” of scholars (whether as graduate students or postdoctoral employees) to accept a discounted wage out of “love for their subject” has helped not only to sustain the cheap labour supply but also to magnify its strength and volume’ (2000: 22). ‘In the most
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perverse extension of this logic,’ Ross notes, ‘underpayment can even be regarded as proof of the worth of the academic vocation – the ultimate measure of the selfless and disinterested pursuit of knowledge’ (ibid.). These conditions add further weight to my suggestion that cultural studies must remain mindful of the stakes involved in its ongoing association with the university. A frank assessment of the material reality of contemporary academic practice does not on its own affect the principle and the value of the scholarly vocation. Rather, it is to recognise that the corporatisation of the university has effects on the very kinds of scholarly practice that remain possible, particularly when the university continues to rely on the rhetorical power of the scholarly ideal as its distinguishing edge in the marketplace. If an affective appeal to the rightness of the academic calling has been key to some of cultural studies’ mobilising figures discussed so far, in sobering contrast, Ross’s voice asks that we recognise this investment in the scholarly vocation as the principal means by which our exploitation has been able to develop. It is not that scholarly endeavour has itself changed, but the likelihood that it can exist on quite the same terms within the contemporary university. For Ross, it is this loyalty to the university as a prevailing badge of distinction that also prevents any rational assessment of the material conditions suffered by increasing numbers of sessional staff now populating campuses. Ross wonders whether the selective attention to the varying forms of labour behind the university ‘name’ is so very different to that of any other brand when he depicts the peripatetic life of the part-timer, offering her skills hither and thither (a large majority are female), on one freeway exit after another … desperate to savour the prestige of being a college teacher at an institution with brand-name cachet. (2004: 224–5) Coupled with the intoxicating logic of New Economy rhetoric, the sessional labourer projects ‘the identity of being a switched on, roundthe-clock thinker, eager to impart knowledge, and in a position to freely extend her mental labour,’ all of which ‘feeds directly into the psychology of casualized work and underpayment’ (ibid.). While Ross’s portrait seems most descriptive of the cut-throat competitiveness of US academe, this is a landscape familiar to many more aspiring participants in an international market for intellectual labour (myself included). To cultural studies readers, the circumstances Ross outlines may not seem so distant from the experience of the dedicated
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extra-mural tutors in outlying areas of the UK who played such a foundational role in the conditions from which the British version of the field emerged.11 What is different, and the abiding point Ross seeks to address, is the structural nature of the working conditions underpinning this current form of sacrificial scholarly commitment. The sheer number of graduate students in today’s universities, a result of widening access to higher education, means that the scale of exploitation is vastly increased (and Ross is keen to note that it is women, more so than men, who occupy the temporary contracts. As the next chapter will show in more detail, while the university may now offer increased access to women, their participation in many areas is still subject to differential treatment). Regardless of the contributing factors that have exacerbated the problem, Ross makes it clear that ‘two generations of scholars now form a semipermanent cadre of independent contractors, with little or no prospect of advancement into regular, full-time employment’ in academic positions. For these scholars, a doctoral qualification has marked ‘not the beginning, but the end of their teaching career; they are not a product, but a by-product, of graduate education’. Clearly these circumstances differ from that of previous generations. When degrees appear to operate as a disqualification for rather than a testimony to employability, Ross’s work reveals how much the university is coming to resemble so many others workplaces, part of a wider system ‘designed to ensure a continuous flow of cheap, easily replaceable labour’ (2004: 223–4).
The next generation of academic activists Ross’s uncompromising workerism is an important voice in this changing context for higher education. It forms a distinct contrast to the political priorities of an earlier generation of Left intellectuals whose influence has been formative in cultural studies’ development and for whom the counter-culture movements remain the high watermark of their activist mobilisation. Ross speaks with the insights of more recent movements for social justice. His academic activism is alert to the changing modes of subjectivity a truly global economy demands, just as it is cognisant of the leading role played by the knowledge industries in the future of work – but also the ethical conscience that will guide it. In this sense, Ross’s graduate program offers an instructive example of the ways that students can be prepared for the confounding situation whereby the academy may no longer stand as the natural home for socially concerned intellectual practice. The NYU program in American
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Studies recruits students based on activist credentials as well as research potential, with particular preference going to those whose projects aspire to reach beyond the academic sphere (in Ross’s words, ‘if your work is only affecting the academy, it is not doing enough’).12 During the course of the program, students form working groups focusing on an issue of community concern. For instance, when I visited the program in Fall, 2005, the groundswell of agitation for the graduate assistant strike had already begun to surface as a key site for the students’ attention (with Ross’s full support); in previous years feature topics had included AIDS activism (Dangerous Bedfellows, 1996), the Students Against Sweatshop movements (Ross, 1997), queer visibility (McCreery and Krupat, 2001) and police brutality (Erzen and McArdle, 2001). The students typically run a public workshop or conference in line with their chosen issue, culminating in a book publication at the end of the study. Fitting the bohemian tradition of NYU’s Greenwich Village location (the move from the finance hub of downtown Manhattan was also a positioning exercise in response to New Economy tenets) this is a model for academic activism suited to students’ immediate context and typical daily encounters. It creates the basis for a relationship between the university and the local area while revitalising the spirit of campus activism and consequential scholarly agitation. Unlike many degree programs, the course is structured to provide a contained graduate education ‘experience’. At the same time, many leave with a publication to their name, some familiarity with events management, and contacts with the wider community, giving students some choice and leverage as to what form their future contribution to cultural life might take. In this way, the program makes students aware of the resources the university can provide while acknowledging that many other roles hold equal value in the quest for social justice.
Conclusion: The human face of economics The consistent lesson to be taken from Ross’s scholarship is the fallacy that capitalism will ever subject itself to reform without sustained, vocal and above all informed opposition. As workers in the no collar industries are surely beginning to realise, their experience of the economy’s ebbs and flows was not some unique and unfortunate turn of events. It was instead representative of a system which tends to hold each human participant to be equally interchangeable. The dotcom boom convinced a whole new generation of workers ‘that some kind of improved, if not ideal, society could be pursued within a company’, and to Ross’s regret, ‘this goal of
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creating a reconstructed, politically correct company became a fervent substitute for aspirations to social change outside of the workplace’: While their younger siblings were using the Internet to launch an anti-globalization movement that protested corporate capitalism all the way from Seattle to Genoa, first-generation websters were inclined to view their own companies as lustrous examples of how capitalism could be reformed from the inside. (2003: 17–8) Refusing to believe they were implicated in the wider capitalist system meant that the job losses eventually endured by the netslaves could only ever be suffered individually. This is the fate we saw shared by Celebration’s residents. In their efforts to overcome the inadequacies of the existing public sphere, they invested in a brand new society which would serve as a model for others. Over time, as the ambition of their utopian fantasies narrowed to the radius of the town community, it became clear that their lives would never really escape the operating logics of the wider neoliberal culture, or the self-serving priorities of the company claiming to deliver their dream. In tune with the activist credo of the moment, Ross’s scholarship intervenes to prove that ‘another world is possible’, if only we engage in the combined effort required to demand it. Yet our success will depend on the extent to which we can discern the new forms of subjectification that lie behind the deceptively restricted visions of freedom espoused in the inflated rhetorics of economic management. In the current conjuncture, the dominant utopian image has moved from freedom from work to freedom to work, while the only genuine freedom from surveillance and regulation seems to be enjoyed by companies involved in the irresponsible practice of corporate flight. Ross’s recent study reveals that even the middle class will not escape these latest examples of corporate greed. If the situation playing out in China serves as adequate indication, the impending industrial climate will force professionals of all kinds to assess where their loyalties truly lie. Ross no longer considers his work to be as close to cultural studies as it may have been earlier in his career.13 In this chapter I have indicated that this is merely evidence that the field may be lagging behind in some of its political and critical priorities. As I have suggested with reference to Hoggart, Hall and Grossberg, it has been characteristic of cultural studies to provide the empathic and affective dimensions to ordinary experience that other discourses and institutions tend to leave out. To the extent that the investment decisions and cosy trade agreements of
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big businesses and government regularly overlook the intimate human costs of macroeconomic policy, Ross shows that the field will continue to have a vital role of conveying care, concern, and indeed outrage for those whose lives remain mere abstraction. ‘One or two MBA courses in business ethics are not enough’ (Ross, 1999: 316). For cultural studies academics in particular, Ross’s voice acts as a constant reminder that the material realities of intellectual labour are ignored at our peril. In a capitalist economy that works more people in more countries harder than ever before, it is never the imagined fate of some distant other on whose behalf Ross speaks. It is as an equal witness to the shared fate imposed upon all of us.
6 A Voice of Vigilance: Meaghan Morris, Anecdotal Critique and the Politics of Academic Speech
Introduction In light of the changing conditions for contemporary academic practice drawn out in the previous chapter, I want to conclude this account of key cultural studies voices by considering a writer who for the great bulk of her career remained suspicious of university affiliation (not to mention the dominant mode of cultural studies practice). Closing this book reflecting on the trajectory of Australian critic Meaghan Morris I am not only paying respect to the feminist ideas which inflect my own approach to cultural studies, I seek to contemplate both the possibilities and challenges Morris indicates for the future of cultural studies and its university location. To the extent that Morris moves towards an association with academia, I will suggest the arguments she makes in choosing this professional path can be seen as further indication of the very different forms of intellectual practice now welcome in the contemporary university. While my previous chapter may have paid an inordinate amount of attention to the problems affecting cultural studies’ location in an increasingly corporatised university, Morris’s perspective balances these realities with a historically mindful assessment of the new opportunities these changes make possible – particularly for women, whose participation in university life has always been subject to others’ discretion. It is a deliberate decision that I bookend my account of cultural studies with figures who have avoided a traditional academic career path. Like Hoggart, Morris made her name addressing intellectual peers from outside the university establishment; for both writers, the use of academic genres is strategic and carefully timed. Yet in their unconventional scholarly methods – Hoggart’s empathic address, Morris’s anecdotal critique – the two writers use affect as a mobilising 128
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force to enact epistemological renovation in the areas that interest them. That these efforts are increasingly recognised in conventional scholarly gestures (Morris is now Chair of the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University and the International Association for Cultural Studies; Hoggart enjoyed a scholarly conference in his honour in April 2006) suggests the expanding range of intellectual voices now acknowledged in the academy. Morris has been dynamic in establishing an international audience for Australian cultural studies, and as it is fitting my attempt to offer a ‘mimetic double’, my focus in this chapter will accord with this local emphasis. While Morris’s work attracts a growing critical literature, these appraisals outline the role it fulfils in relation to wider historical trends (Lewis, 2003), as indicative of nationally specific forms of intellectual practice (Lewis, 2000; Wark, 1992), or in relation to broader philosophical questions (Seigworth, 2000). I am interested instead to reflect upon Morris’s distinct mode of address – her characteristic voice – and the critical consequences created by its particular ‘tone’. In contrast to those I have discussed to this point, who tend to focus on the actions of those further removed from scholarly life, Morris’s voice demands accountability from those involved in cultural studies’ disciplinary practice. Her use of affect is a considered and carefully deployed weapon targeted to address outdated conventions of academic speech. Morris conveys a range of emotional states through her signature address: ‘panic’, ‘fear’, ‘ecstasy’, ‘discontent’ and ‘the sublime’ are just a sample taken from her essay titles. Her recognition of the power of language to affect a reader, through everyday encounters (Morris, 1997, 1998c) as well as disciplinary training (Morris, 2006), constitute Morris’s acute sensitivity to the forms of writing befitting different situations. Her work consistently urges colleagues to reflect on discursive matters, to make questions of audience prominent (Who does this work address? Who does it leave out? What are the effects?). As a freelance writer during most of the 1980s and 1990s, Morris’s fluency in a number of disciplinary knowledges and writing styles is important to recognise. Her training in French and her professional role as a film critic contrast the specialisations of academic discipline; indeed this emphasis on linguistic and generic considerations distinguishes her project among those of cultural studies’ other acclaimed figures. Morris’s voice is notable for its frankness. It conveys a degree of fearlessness, if not also fierceness, in the tone it adopts. This frankness is both refreshing and attractive for the potential volatility it brings to academic discourse. Morris’s writing has an energy that is exciting and at
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times acerbic: it pushes the sobriety of institutional discourse to its limit point. Having grown up in rural towns on Australia’s east coast, Morris’s critical concerns are heavily influenced by early experiences of the parochial white male dominance common in conservative outlying communities. Morris rarely loses her capacity to convey frustration with the limitations that geographical location places on access to knowledge and freedom. This overt contemplation of restrictedness forms key aspects of her work, in her studies of space (Morris, 1998c, 1996a) and in her career-long interest in translation (Morris and Foss, 1978; Morris 1 and Patton, 1979; Morris and Muecke, 1991; Morris, 2001, 2006). Particularly in her earlier writing, Morris’s voice is probably best known for being distinctly feminist. On a number of occasions, Morris’s cutting critiques spring from what she calls the ‘uneven division of labour’ (1992b: 472) characterising scholarly practice. By this she means that in many contexts, the authority of the white male voice is not questioned in quite the same way as that of women writers or those practicing outside the Anglophone sphere of academic influence. In this sense, Morris is interesting to analyse because she relates quotidian affects of scholarly life including moments of impatience, restlessness, boredom and annoyance. This is an important marker of Morris’s project and it makes her difficult to house in available categories of feminist or Left politics. Morris’s thoughts are stimulated most evidently when her options for scholarly work and access to new ideas are curtailed. More than any other, her allegiance is probably best summarised in Foucault’s ideal for intellectual practice, namely, ‘to give new impetus, as far and wide as possible, to the undefined work of freedom’ (Foucault, 1984: 46). Morris’s relationship to cultural studies has been somewhat complicated. Although she did not consider her own work to be particularly well accommodated by the field for many years, since the 1990 conference at the University of Illinois she has participated in many of cultural studies’ most prominent institutionalising debates, particularly in Australia. Throughout this period Morris has been something of a critical irritant – what I am calling a voice of vigilance – acting to prevent cultural studies’ potential for complacency. Indeed, it is this complacency, often the result of institutional pressures from either university or publishing industries, that explains Morris’s reluctance to join academic ranks for so long: to do so would be to surrender the relative freedom, precisely the frank fearlessness, of the freelance intellectual. In the examples that follow, Morris intervenes at those times when anachronistic habits mar cultural studies’ critical capacities. As she acknowledges, her work aspires to be experimental, so as to question a
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‘restrictive definition of the ideal knowing subject of cultural studies’ (1996b: 157). Morris writes against the tendencies she sees in some colleagues who merely acquire theoretical knowledge in order to apply it (often in foreign contexts). This has been her consistent criticism of academic practice since the seminal essay, ‘The Pirate’s Fiancée’, first published in 1979. Titles such as ‘Banality in Cultural Studies’ (1996b) and ‘A Gadfly Bites Back’ (1992c), essays I discuss in detail shortly, only indicate Morris’s role as a sometimes controversial catalyst in cultural studies debates. Yet Morris has always shown a proclivity to enthuse about the most exciting work being done around her (Morris, 1999). This element of generosity can also be understood as a shrewd publicity tactic—albeit necessary given the male-dominated history of scholarly practice—for endorsement inevitably draws attention to and builds authority for the work cited. Morris finds inspiration in work that allows for ‘adventures of reading, writing, and thinking’ (1996a: 385). This embrace of present conditions for a committed scholarly project is an important rejoinder to the revolutionary mourning Brown (2000) identifies on the part of other Left advocates. In her efforts to widen the scope of scholarly conversation her repertoire of resources ranges from filmmakers to television presenters, shoppers to politicians. Morris’s voice seems to recognise that any form of nostalgia for past certainties ignores the critical and institutional gains now enjoyed, particularly by women.
Anecdotal accents A neat way to introduce Morris’s voice is to share one of the many anecdotes that colour her essays. Morris’s use of anecdotes combines colloquial content with scholarly concerns, part of her relentless effort to situate cultural criticism (see also Probyn, 1993: Chapter 1). Anecdotes offer a route out of what troubles Morris about cultural studies, that is its tendency to act as a ‘“fraught space” of ethical grandiloquence’ (1992d: 466). In this space, she argues: Massive, world-historical problems are debated on such a level of generality that they cannot possibly be solved, and posed in ways which do not, will not and cannot ever connect to agencies by which actual social futures may be given a “definite shape”. (ibid.) As this point suggests, Morris seeks a way to localise political problems so that their significance can be appreciated, and perhaps acted
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upon, by a defined reader. In her view, too much academic debate works on an assumed register, when communication is always fraught, always heterolingual. Morris questions the critical rigour that generalised debates encourage and urges colleagues to ground their thinking in identifiable contexts. This mode of critique was especially called for during the period of cultural studies’ institutionalisation in the US, when Morris found the dominant vocabulary of cultural theory hardly nuanced enough to recognise Australian, let alone any non-North American, non-English speaking experience. Elsewhere, this preference for anecdotal critique is described as the task of producing a specific ‘case’: My preference is to turn to history for a context prolonging the life of the ephemeral item or “case”: saturating with detail an articulated place and point in time, a critical reading can extract from its objects a parable of practice that converts them into models with a past and a potential for reuse, thus aspiring to invest them with a future. (1998c: 3) The useful epistemological function anecdotes offer is to tender a ‘parable of practice’. In Morris’s use, anecdotes structure and frame an issue economically so as to create the possibility for an exchange: They are oriented futuristically towards the construction of a precise, local, and social discursive context, of which the anecdote then functions as a mise en abyme. That is to say, anecdotes for me are not expressions of personal experience, but allegorical expositions of a model of the way the world can be said to be working. So anecdotes need not be true stories, but they must be functional in a given exchange. (1996b: 150) In this description, anecdotes are ‘primarily referential’ and are not personal memoirs that seek affirmation or concurrence (ibid.). This is what lends them a scholarly dimension. Anecdotes grant a discursive space in which a singular idea can be positioned, offered and demonstrated. This generic choice recognises the difficulties besetting the authority of a speaking position and the scriptural economy that has traditionally made ‘speaking difficult or impossible for women’ (Morris, 1988a: 7). As an ‘image within an image’ the mise en abyme acknowledges the politics of representation and corresponds with what Margaret Morse, reading A J Greimas, calls ‘the enunciative fallacy’. Morris’s formalist training assists her understanding that a fictitious certainty governs any
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speech act between an ‘I’, ‘here and now’ and a ‘you’. Morris employs a genre that avoids perpetuating this fallacy and its basis for authorial authenticity. She creates instead what are admittedly ‘first-order simulations of the speaking subject, and the time and place of enunciation’ (Morse, 1998: 12). This gesture acknowledges the failure of any attempt to communicate pure intention through discourse. Yet it also admits that simulations of such a relationship can be, and are functional. As we will shortly see, they provide a historical template with which to chart shifting social conditions. To this end, Morris’s anecdotes have been demonstrating for some time now an example meeting the requirements of Massumi’s (2002) recent challenge to cultural studies. In Parables for the Virtual, Massumi encourages the field to move away from abstract assumptions summoning an aspiring collectivity (the ‘constituency’ on which conventional political theories rely) towards the potential offered in writing ‘singularity’. Such a shift would mean attention to what Massumi calls ‘this-ness’ – studies that offer ‘an unreproducible being-only-itself’ (2002: 222). In Morris’s terms, such a critical practice is a ‘historical analysis attuned both to socio-economic contexts and to the individuating local intensities’ (Morris, 1992e: 4). Describing these ‘local intensities’ is to offer an instance of how ‘this’ happens here, which doesn’t preclude other experiences, but acts to relate ‘how the world can be said to be working’ in this place. It is a gesture of specificity which avoids the inaccuracies and political paralysis of universalising theories. Swots are sluts To take an example, listen to the way the following anecdote unfolds: Some verbal gestures pack a wallop no magic spell can contain. I learned this one morning in about 1965, when I walked to school like every other day, past the cow paddock and the shops, under the railway bridge and past the prison farm, then up the road dividing the brick of Maitland Girls’ High School from the stone of Maitland Gaol. Since I did this every day, I hardly ever watched where I was going; sleepy from reading into the night and doing homework before breakfast, I floated, snoozed and chatted myself to school. (1997: 146–7) Note the distinction here between the reading Morris enjoys late into the night, and the homework she’s obligated to do in time for school in the morning. Two kinds of knowledge seem apparent: the kind that’s enjoyable (done willingly) and the kind that’s expected
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(attracting less passion). This torn position, which posits the dilemma of social obligation against a desire for the solitude to discover new ideas, recurs in a number of Morris’s anecdotes. But continuing with this one: On that particular morning, from half-way up the hill even I could see through my dreamy haze the white letters on the dull brick wall: MEAGHAN MORRIS IS A SLUT They seemed to be enormous, sky-high. And so bright! As the world froze quietly inside me, I wondered if people could see my name from the main street miles away. No doubt at all, every pupil and teacher could; girls were hanging off the fence by their fingernails to see what I would do. (1997: 147) This passage painfully evokes the insularity of small-town life. There is no escape from the insult or the eager audience waiting to witness its consequences. ‘Luckily,’ Morris writes, ‘I knew what a scapegoat should do to survive the next five minutes: Keep walking, look at nothing, eyeball anyone who stood in my way; push through, scrape an ankle or two if necessary, go inside, open a book’ (ibid.). Told with retrospective humour, the anecdote makes plain the relationship between language and affect. In this tightly policed community, five words on a wall can quickly make an individual feel an outsider. Affect’s corporeality is evident when the ‘world freezes quietly inside’ the little girl in the passage. The visceral power of language to shock, to hurt and to shame takes place with unaccountable speed (Probyn, 2005). Furthermore, language is shown to produce physical consequences of other kinds: directing the gaze, pushing through intimidating tactics, asserting control through bodily acts. As a fellow country girl with a geek streak, what I find wonderful about this anecdote is the way that the verbal attack is ultimately countered with the defence of a book. As we find out later, the insult itself is misguided. It is actually the prospect that someone might desire different ideas that causes offence to the graffiti writers, rather than sexual behaviour of any sort. Morris explains: Far from being a slut, I was still a swot. The message should have read (in the idiom of those halcyon days of Australian cultural unity),
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MEAGHAN MORRIS READS DIRTY BOOKS. My downfall was a book by Bertrand Russell, probably Why I Am Not a Christian. I found it in the town library and it shocked me to the core: what if people could live good lives without going to church? What if I tried to think for myself what the right way to live might be? What if you could love someone without getting married? (1997: 148) To a cosmopolitan, middle-class academic reader, such ideas may seem unremarkable. In the ideological economy of this town, however, the pursuit of subversive ideas is a kind of treachery, for it draws attention to the parochialism of the town’s horizons (see also Morris, 2004). Morris creates an ‘allegorical exposition’ of the point that for many outside the luxuries of intellectual life new ideas can be dangerous and threatening. The rhetorical questions mark out the limited boundaries of experience endorsed by local ‘common sense’ and hint at the profound change in orientation that Morris’s attraction to another life will entail. In this sense the voice deployed in the anecdote also communicates the almost child-like sense of curiosity, wonder and possibility that comes when encountering new knowledge. Including the title of the offending book is another textual strategy. As Massumi writes: The success of the example hinges on the details. Every little one matters. At each new detail, the example runs the risk of falling apart, of its unity of self-relation becoming a jumble. Every detail is essential to the case. This means that the details making up the example partake of its singularity. Each detail is like another example embedded in it. (2002: 18) Russell’s ideas indicate that something else is possible outside the boundaries of acceptability maintained by the community. The anecdote is therefore something of a tale of liberation from the expectations of life in Maitland; a myth of origin for Morris’s interest in scholarly life: ‘I hitched up my uniform, grew my hair, and never looked back’ (1997: 149). In this article the anecdote is a neat and delimited way to frame principal elements of Morris’s wider argument. It explains how certain words are always preferred for their positive or negative effects: Because we touch each other with words, language passes on values: yes, no, good, bad, maybe, so-so… what if? The writing on that wall spelt out the ‘codes’ of language and my community in mid-1960s
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Australia. It told me that ideas were dangerous when merely to ask ‘what if?’ could put you beyond the pale; that thinking freely was a sin and speaking openly a vice; that conformity was valued more than truth. It also told me, ‘it’s different for girls’: a boy-swot might have been called a ‘poof’ instead of a slut, but no boy would have been punished by his peers for contemplating sex outside marriage – unless (unthinkably in those days) he declared himself a poof. So it told me my egalitarian society had rigid, intolerant rules of speech that assured my inequality. (1997: 149) As one of a number of articles in the edited collection The Retreat From Tolerance: A Snapshot of Australian Society, what is significant about Morris’s contribution is her suggestion that Australia has a history of intolerance. She forcefully questions the idea of any recent ‘retreat’ from tolerance – the anecdote serves to indicate the depths of morality and conservatism marking an earlier moment clearly remembered. Morris’s abiding point, in this and other of her interventions, is that the challenges of the present are different from those faced in the past. Idyllic fantasies of the past always overlook and elide negative aspects in favour of the vision being promoted. This is a tenet of Morris’s work: that a historical perspective can add humility and specificity to the claims and common sense assumptions of the present (Morris, 1998c). Situating her discussion in a ‘precise, local’ context, Morris draws out complexities that need to be considered in judgments about the nature of a whole society (see also Morris, 1992d). Importantly, Morris’s anecdote also relates the constitutive role that gender plays in language. It demonstrates the slippage associating women with sexual misconduct when they merely seek non-normative roles. The lack of imagination or accuracy behind the claim ‘Meaghan Morris is a slut’ is beside the point. The attack serves its function if it manages to affect behaviour, curb possibilities and guide aspirations towards more appropriate pursuits. The capacity for language to create such concrete results appears to be part of the motivation for Morris’s article: The powers of language, written or spoken, include rhythm, tone, accent, pitch, and rhyme as well as reason. How something is said affects us as much as who says it and why: we may accept an ‘affectionate insult’ from a friend more easily than from a stranger, but if the friend says the same thing in a nasty tone in the middle of an argument, affectionate words become stinging. Much more than a way of describing things and trading information, language is a relationship
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between people. However routine or perfunctory most everyday contact may be, we touch each other with words. (1997: 146) This passage reiterates the critical importance of context and audience in any act of speech. As I have been arguing in reference to cultural studies’ forms of address, ‘how something is said’ is crucial to an assessment of what is spoken, because the manner of intervention contributes to forming ‘a relationship between people’. For Morris, the voice a writer adopts is an essential component to the critique or point made; tone and emphasis carry weight in ways that content may not directly indicate.6 Morris’s evident sensitivity to these factors makes contemplating her own rhetorical choices so fascinating. Her decision to employ curt language on some occasions certainly appears to surprise those who are the targets for her attacks. Indeed, Morris’s scholarly training in language, rhetoric and genre means that her frankness is all the more bold because it is concerted and intended. Aware of the varied strategies at her disposal, Morris’s interventions are calculated to disrupt the conventions of academic discourse. In this sense Morris’s voice is evidence that affect’s mobilising properties are not limited to positive, affirmative gestures. Affect can also communicate stringent criticisms of what’s unacceptable in particular contexts of representation. Postmodern problems Perhaps her most famous essay for an international readership, ‘Banality in Cultural Studies’, is a clear example of this strategy. The essay offers a critique of postmodern theory and cultural studies’ absorption of its assumptions for silencing the very instances of political performance posing a threat to the authority of postmodern diagnoses (here the likeness to Grossberg’s position from Chapter 4 should be clear). The Pirate’s Fiancée similarly argues that postmodernism is a highly selective and unrepresentative academic debate which, combined with the publishing success of the cultural studies ‘boom’, marginalises the legitimacy of alternative scholarly voices. This is to say that neither project ‘leaves much place for an unequivocally pained, unambivalently discontented, or aggressive theorising subject’, Morris writes: It isn’t just negligence. There is an active process going on in both of dis-crediting – by direct dismissal (Baudrillard), or covert inscription as Other (cultural studies) – the voices of grumpy feminists and cranky leftists (‘Frankfurt School’ can do duty for both). To discredit such
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voices is, as I understand it, one of the immediate political functions of the current boom in cultural studies (as distinct from the intentionality of projects invested by it). To discredit a voice is something very different from displacing an analysis which has become outdated, or revising a strategy which no longer serves its purpose. (1996b: 160) An affective address brings urgency to Morris’s complaint, which takes issue with a particularly marketable, falsely optimistic brand of intellectual practice. The postmodern diagnoses she cites are claimed to erase the ‘discontented’, ‘grumpy’ or ‘cranky’ voices that continue to exist in scholarly discourse and which might act as a contrast to the optimistic studies widely published. It is not that a viable feminist or Left position is not possible, or fails to exist, Morris seems to insist, but that the political economy of academic influence writes them out of a highly profitable, hence jealously guarded, conversation. Morris’s acknowledged ‘crankiness’ intervenes to pinpoint a moment when feminism, as one instance of an alternative voice, is written out of the picture. It is not just that the publishing opportunities fuelled by cultural studies’ apparent marketability grants it prominence in the intellectual landscape, its dominance of the publishing industry has the effect of discrediting other critical approaches. Morris’s tone conveys a sense of frustration that cultural studies’ practice lacks examples of the negative affects which also accompany the new conjuncture; that postmodernism seems to be described by intellectuals in breathless, if not necessarily celebratory terms. Here Morris’s writing acts as a vocal refusal of the process of silencing otherwise taking place.
Wider ambitions: Morris’s feminism and its foes To gain a context for this critique of postmodernism theory, hear the echo in arguments advanced in The Pirate’s Fiancée, which question the tactics of popular feminist theories of the 1980s. Analysing Mary Daly’s influential text Gyn/Ecology, for example, Morris interrogates the quite limited form of politics offered by a book which is only interested in ‘subverting isolated signs’, rather than the more challenging task of ‘transforming discourse’ (1988: 29). Morris’s reading suggests that feminism’s capacity to subvert and rework wider epistemological values is curbed if it restricts its radical potential to a superficial play with language. Merely tinkering around the edges of language doesn’t recognise the wider discursive and grammatical structures that contribute to
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sense making. As such, Morris’s thoughts reflect a disappointment with feminists’ lack of ambition which only contributes to the erasures performed by postmodern diagnoses. Likewise, in her critique of feminist philosophies gaining prominence during the 1980s, Morris claims: Women are irrelevant to feminine writing when what is at stake is a binary stirring, a revolution (turning over) in the name of “Woman”… In the feminine “beyond”, we are only invited to dance in the next same old two-step’. (1988: 65) From this perspective, positions claiming a radical new subjectivity and political ideal on the basis of feminine difference fall short of a truly revolutionary stance in their reliance on biological essentialism. Difference feminism maintains the binary ‘nature’ of gender, and puts limits on the movement’s more rapturous and imaginative possibilities. Morris upbraids feminist colleagues to the extent that they remain loyal to the discursive impositions of male-dominated institutions. To the extent that the history of philosophy reflects the scriptural economy of the academy more broadly, obeisance to disciplinary convention entails an ‘immediate loss of political (and rhetorical) flexibility for feminist interventions in different institutional and discursive contexts’: there is little to be gained from projects to disrupt the discourse of philosophy by inscribing difference if and when such a project comes down to reiterating a single, fundamental thesis held to be always usefully true of all philosophy (‘it’s phallogocentric…’) – and to countering philosophical discourse by maintaining, from place to place and text to text, the rigidity of a ‘different’ style. (1988: 102) In Morris’s perception, the serious effects feminism calls for include a reconfiguration of discourses that would merely ‘allow’ its utterances. This entails transcending the limited acknowledgment inherent to ostensibly accommodating gestures of ‘making room’. As we will see shortly, to merely make space for others to speak does not account for the extra work required to speak effectively in another’s language. This is why she finds the philosophy of Michèle LeDoeuff such an exception in the context of feminist practices available in the 1980s: ‘LeDoeuff’s practice as a woman writing philosophy is one which precludes the ventriloquy of the dutiful daughter, since it demands a different articulation of philosophy’s relations to women (thus, a different philosophy)’ (1988: 76).
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Morris’s linguistic training here draws attention to the practical political dilemmas faced by her colleagues, her affective address thwarting any inevitable solidarity with ‘the sisterhood’. And this is what marks The Pirate’s Fiancée as an important ‘moment’ in feminist history: it documents the splintering of the feminist movement into many registers. Moreover, the book establishes that without a fundamental attack on discursive conventions, women’s voices can be disregarded in both the scriptural economy of the academy and the wider society. In the specific circumstance of debates about postmodernism, this is precisely what happened: My question is… under what conditions women’s work can ‘figure’ currently in such a debate. There is general agreement between the male critics I’ve cited that ‘feminist work by women’ can figure when appropriately framed (‘effectively situated’) by what has mainly been, apparently a man’s discourse. But by what criteria does feminist work by women come to figure, or not to figure when it comes raw-edged, without a frame? (1988: 13) With its italicised inflections, the above passage intimates why Morris’s frankness is necessary. The political point has not been heard, that a radical feminism demands changes to existing modes of speaking and valuing knowledge. Recalling de Certeau’s argument, that the scriptural economy ‘cultivates’ all that’s potentially ‘disorderly’ in language (1984: 138), Morris shows that as long as women’s writing continues to require ‘framing’ or ‘situating’ within a man’s discourse, their voices remain unruly, irrational, unscholarly and thus insignificant in their rawness.
Keeping distance To this end, Morris has often taken exception to cultural studies work which relies on epistemological paradigms already subject to critique by feminist writers. This is part of Morris’s attempt to maintain a forwardlooking approach to scholarly endeavour; to remain vigilant and recognise when the certainty underpinning earlier models of intellectual practice is no longer sustainable. Conscious of the struggles women have faced in securing their own professional status, Morris’s strategy has often been to apply measures of evaluation to the authority behind others’ statements. Drawing attention to the outdated practices of others, Morris has charged male academics in particular for failing in their professional duty by refusing to engage with the work women have
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done. For instance, in contemplating some of the political practices postmodern theories do recognise and celebrate – ‘resistance’ and ‘subversion’ in the face of a monolithic, globalised system of capital – Morris outlines how such theories reinscribe distinctions that feminist studies have already dissolved. Even if de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life (1984) offers evidence of the political agency denied by other postmodern theories, his influential ‘Walking in the City’ chapter still relies on a hierarchical view (a God-like eye) to read New York as an open narrative full of tactical uses of space. ‘In fact’, Morris writes that de Certeau’s visit to the World Trade Centre is a way of mapping all over again the “grid” of binary oppositions within which so much of the debate about structuralism was conducted …“The tower” here serves as an allegory of the structural necessity for a politics of resistance based on a bipolar model of power to maintain the imaginary position of mastery it must then endlessly disclaim. (Morris, 1992e: 13; see also Gregg, 2004a) In one sense, Morris admits de Certeau redresses the oppressive model of contemporary power and politics advocated in American (Jameson) and French (Baudrillard) postmodern theory to one in which openings for unrest and conditional adaptation are possible. Still, ‘blockages’ (Foucault and Deleuze, 1977) in the theory appear: the very means by which resistant practices can be observed through de Certeau’s model relies on a certain mastery or separation which takes the observer outside (above and beyond) the culture being studied. When cultural studies practitioners then apply de Certeau’s model in further analyses of their own, Morris points out this sense of mastery is reproduced. In one case, Morris takes the work of Iain Chambers and John Fiske as representative of this trend. She questions these writers’ reaffirmation of the status of ‘participant’ as opposed to ‘observer’ in studies of everyday life when such distinctions are severely interrogated in feminist cultural studies (CCCS, 1978; McRobbie, 1980). In Morris’s reading, Chambers and Fiske immerse themselves within an urban culture, but in making sense of the practices observed they replicate the assumptions of theories formulated in foreign contexts. What troubles Morris is precisely the sense of ‘mastery’ which attends the use of maxims like ‘pleasure through resistance’, the political ambivalence of youth and the subversive consumption practices of subcultures. In this model, the critic is situated as a conduit for some pure and relatable intention of the subjects being studied – in Chambers’s case, metropolitan youth, in Fiske’s, the
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wider public of whatever country he happens to be in during his ‘intercontinental wanderings’ – as if the writer can somehow distance himself from the culture described.7 It is the lack of self-consciousness attending these studies of space that Morris finds objectionable. The critics create an artificial distance from the spaces they study which is ill-suited cultural studies’ unique interest in engaged, situated knowledge. What is more, the form of address authorising the epistemological value of the subject downplays the selectivity at the heart of each project. Both writers naturalise a detached and exclusionary means of speaking and studying culture while purporting to relate the subversive everyday practices of others. This playfulness, which changes nothing in either the academic or ‘everyday’ culture being studied, is for Morris inadequate ‘to the problems of committed intellectual practice in the places that I, at least, inhabit’ (1992e: 3).8 Here the critical importance of anecdote and allegory in Morris’s work presents itself. In her words, allegory is a ‘convenient way’ to frame a critique of a narrowly metonymic argument quite prevalent in Cultural Studies today, whereby a singular form… is taken, by a process of inflation and conflation, to be emblematic not only of a general condition of culture… but also of a historic intellectual “place” of enunciation. (ibid.) Morris challenges the critical rigour of dominant disciplinary practice on two fronts here: firstly, in the use of foreign theory to make sense of local conditions; secondly, in the return to an antiquated discourse of mastery separating the critic from the research. Morris’s significant attraction to cultural studies is its realisation that new insights come from acknowledging partiality and admitting one’s attraction to the culture under investigation (Frow and Morris, 1993). The ‘consumption-as-resistance’ line of thought is troubling for her precisely because it overlooks the intellectual richness and the important gesture of transparency achieved by placing oneself within a study. ‘The choice of the term “ethnography”’ in Chambers’s and Fiske’s models ‘emphasises a possible “ethnic” gap between the cultural student and the culture studied’, suggesting the observer is somehow not implicated in the same processes as the study’s participants. ‘The “understanding” and “encouraging” [writing] subject may share some aspects of that culture,’ argues Morris, ‘but in the process of interrogation and analysis is momentarily located outside it’ (1996b: 157). Such a perspective reinforces a hierarchy of the academic-as-expert, and the punk youth, the beach
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goer, or the housewife as the subject in need of explanation. The adamant distancing Chambers and Fiske bring to the task of relating others’ everyday pleasures discounts the value of feminist studies demonstrating the benefits of situating one’s ‘self’ squarely within the analysis (Steedman, 1986, 1997; see also Probyn, 1993; Couldry, 1996). It also performs a retrieval, at the level of enunciative practice, of the thesis of “cultural dopes”. In the critique of which – going right back to the early work of Stuart Hall, not to mention Raymond Williams – the project of cultural studies effectively and rightly began (1996b: 159). As this rare recourse to the legacy of early cultural studies figures suggests, Morris is supportive of the field’s long-term project which desires a more intimate relationship between the critic and the public. The writers I have mentioned demonstrate that the privilege of a sanctioned voice need not result in speaking on others’ behalf, but instead might entail experimenting with ways to disturb unnecessary boundaries between different audiences. Yet one of Morris’s pervasive points is that the white male academic voice has been insufficiently responsive to the very interventions against its authority cultural studies has launched. Another pertinent example, ‘A Small Serve of Spaghetti’ (1990) locates this argument in an Australian context. In a twist The title of the essay alludes to a book review of Island in the Stream (1988), a collection of articles on Australian space in which Morris appears.9 She writes in response to the judgement of prominent Australian historian Henry Reynolds, whose review describes some of the writing in the collection as ‘tangled as a plate of spaghetti’ (in Morris, 1990: 470). Using this instance to introduce the article’s larger critique, Morris softens her wrath with humour: Now, I’m very fond of spaghetti, and I suspect that spaghetti or rice noodles may in the long run provide a more nourishing model for intellectual practice in Australia than your good old steak-and-eggs or hard-core meat-pie prose. Nevertheless, I also suspect that my attitude to these issues is tinged with a kind of pique about the sheer, enduring imperviousness to three decades of intellectual history that such criticisms betray. I simply cannot believe the complacency with which Australian critics – most of whom show no signs of Henry Reynolds’ concern for the politics of intellectual practice – keep doddering on about ‘obscure
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language’ (meaning, ‘obscure’ to them) in complete confidence that whatever they themselves find ordinary and straightforward must naturally be so for the rest of the reading population (ibid.). Questioning the staid intellectual diet informing work in Australian cultural studies, what is shrewd about the intervention is Morris’s exploitation of how the small scholarly community in Australia operates. Shaming Reynolds’s outdated practice, Morris deftly shifts her anger and frustration back on to the instigator. Her statement asks why the terrain of worthwhile scholarly endeavour rests on the authority of an ‘established’ voice, and one that betrays such limited reading. For Morris, when critics refuse to engage with ‘three decades of intellectual history’, this is a problem of professional accountability. The speaking position Reynolds adopts cannot recognise that his own qualifications for writing the review might be dubious; that it might be his own unreconstructed assumptions about appropriate address that prevent him from appreciating new voices in scholarly discourse. Morris is catalysed by Reynolds’s review because it seeks to put limits on the kinds of work intellectuals should produce. Extending the critique, she goes on to read the popular Australian cultural studies text Myths of Oz (Fiske et al., 1987) as similarly culpable of an outdated ambition for intellectual practice, right down to the forms of authority and anxiety the book describes: To me there’s something unpleasant about the picture of safe, happy, beaming academics spotting signs of subversiveness here and there, and patting “the people” on the head. Myths of Oz, by Fiske, Bob Hodge and Graeme Turner is a local book that seems to me to partake of this kind of normalising paternalism, in part because the direct transportation of the critique of “high culture” from Britain (where it matters a lot) to Australia (where I don’t think high culture matters much at all) skews the rhetoric of the text towards a defence of, indeed an apologia for, the kind of mainstream white male culture… I’ve always experienced as massively dominant, and sometimes oppressive. (Morris, 1990: 475) The point being made here is again to do with the critical acuity foreign theory can generate in parochial circumstances, and the enunciative practice appropriated by the writers. But the very public, very personal nature of the attack is jarring. The words used are particularly cutting: ‘safe, happy, beaming academics’ are involved in
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‘unpleasant’, ‘normalising paternalism’ – a project which amounts to ‘patting “the people” on the head’. In Morris’s own phrase from earlier, this verbal gesture ‘packs a wallop’. It uses affect to intervene forcefully against work gaining widespread market attention. What makes it all the more interesting is our awareness of Morris’s own obsession with appropriate language; her consistent demand that a textual address meet the requirements of audience. The sharpness of the attack suggests that something significant underpins her complaint – note the final line about ‘mainstream white male culture’ and its resonance with the sense of ideological surveillance underpinning the anecdote about small-town Maitland. Turner’s response to this article notes the tone of Morris’s attack: ‘Much of what she said struck me as fair enough in content, if a touch aggressively put’ (Turner, 1991: 19). Morris’s decision to adopt an affective tone does not attempt to hide its frustration. The rhetoric tries to convey the point that while others continue to fight for the legitimacy and status of the male academic voice, cultural studies texts being published widely appear unaware that such a privilege exists. On top of Reynolds’s comments, what Morris finds ‘profoundly academicist’ (1990: 475) about the Myths of Oz project is the authors’ lack of selfreflexivity. While their sites for analysis may describe local experience (such as the pub, the beach, or the home), Morris’s argument asks whether an elegy for these sites constitutes the most necessary task for cultural studies at this point in history. This is to say that the critic-asobserver paradigm underpinning the study ‘doesn’t contribute much at all to the Cultural Studies project of enabling people to analyse and intervene within their own immediate context’ (1990: 476). It relies on the sanctioned practices of an earlier moment in academic practice to legitimate the kind of knowledge being produced. Ozmosis Morris’s characteristic tendency to personalise her criticisms is a concerted attempt to ground them in an identifiable context, to offer an attributable cause for her intervention. This is what seems to bother her about the positing procedures other cultural studies practitioners adopt: they rely on discursive conventions obscuring the fact that intellectual work is concrete and practical. In ‘A Gadfly Bites Back’, for instance, Morris claims the policy debate in Australian cultural studies took place in a vacuum of abstraction.10 This preference for the general and the abstract avoids direct confrontation, keeping affect safely away from the sober work of academic practice. In contrast, the title of Morris’s essay
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embraces her role as an irritant to certain sectors of the Australian intellectual community. It also suggests that her thoughts can leave a nasty aftershock among the recipients of her attacks – particularly in this essay, it is almost as if she names individuals precisely so as to indicate what it would be like to remain nameless in intellectual history, to have one’s work written out of history, and not be recognised for the contribution one has made. This is the point Morris makes when she argues that Stuart Cunningham’s preference for ‘policy’ work (as distinct from ‘criticism’) rests on a false dichotomy: This is a small society, with a long tradition of circulating intellectuals between academic, media and bureaucratic work, between critical and policy functions. This is why it is a pity that Cunningham pays such cursory attention to Australian feminist precedents for his position – and none to the Australian ‘traditions of opposition’ now shaping the project of cultural studies here. The histories of feminist, gay and lesbian, or multiculturalist criticism in this country are never discussed. (1992c: 548) Morris writes to reject the dualisms she sees in Cunningham’s position which erases an important history of feminist action. The passage above not only draws out the complex possibilities an intellectual role can include, it also raises evidence of a legacy of work that has taken place before a white male speaking position claims it. In Morris’s reading, the policy debate ignored feminist participation at just the levels of government and policy input advocated by the writers (1992c: 546). Cunningham’s attempt to include ‘a’ feminist perspective does not take the work of feminists ‘seriously’, for if it did, their work would be recognised as the precedent for his own intervention. The vigilance I am attributing to Morris’s voice is the way that it questions particular speaking positions cultural studies continues to maintain against the spirit of its unpretentious and anti-elitist project (see also Gregg, 2006; Gregg and Burgess, 2006). The further objective Morris’s policy criticisms serve is to destabilise the confidence with which Cunningham poses his argument. Morris questions a mode of intellectual engagement whereby ‘policy polemic’ resembles a ‘manichean battle with an imaginary “critical” Other’ (1992c: 546). ‘To be honest’, Morris writes: I find it hard to determine just who or what Cunningham is referring to with boo-words like ‘oppositional anti-statism’, ‘theoretical
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avant-gardism’ and ‘cultural idealism’. Policy polemic is haunted by phantom tendencies that never quite settle into a mundane human shape. (1992c: 548) Here Morris’s own critical strategy emerges as a strategic generic choice, for her voice does always attempt to locate the stimulus for her affective outbursts in a ‘human shape’. While it may be a difficult approach for her opponents to swallow, directing critiques to an individual agent underlines how other ‘positing procedures’ in theoretical discourse simplify and generalise others’ positions. In terms of the kind of reading and writing practice I have been describing throughout this book, Morris offers a means to instigate an encounter between a reader and a voice. It is a tactic arising from the idea that discursive habits are perpetuated and maintained by individual subjects. To overturn sanctioned modes of intellectual practice, particular examples need to be specified and countered. This is why the strongest counter-argument Morris can offer Cunningham is to describe her everyday practice as an Australian academic: I want to define my own position as a feminist critic of Australian culture. My politics are not, and as an adult never have been, ‘neomarxist’. Like other feminists in the academy, I am an engaged intellectual but I do not ‘perform a staff function’ for a bureaucracy. It is this social fact, not my ethical attitude to activism… that makes me an ‘unattached’ intellectual in Merton’s sense… Like most feminists in the culture industries (including journalism and the arts), I usually sell my work to markets – tiny markets, niche markets, but real ones nevertheless. That is what it means these days to be a freelance, or ‘gadfly’, intellectual. (1992c: 547) Relating these facts is a gesture of transparency and of context. It is a rhetorical decision designed to highlight the ‘phantom tendencies’ haunting cultural studies debates ‘which cannot ever connect to agencies by which actual social futures may be given a “definite shape”’ (1992d: 466). Morris’s affective voice seeks to pierce the platform for Cunningham’s position. It draws attention to the different forms of intellectual ‘engagement’ that exist aside from the polar political alternatives of critical theory or serving government bureaucracies. Such a manoeuvre also complicates blanket judgments about whose interests are served by intellectual work – subtleties apparently lost in the overarching categories of Cunningham’s analysis. Again, Morris’s wider
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interest is to question the statements made by academics in order to justify the usefulness of the knowledge they produce. This is the critical benefit of her frankness: it forces writers to see their work as having real effects. In attempting to take the pomp and ‘grandiloquence’ out of scholarly debate, Morris’s voice aspires to maintain cultural studies as a grounded and interventionist project which takes aim at the elitist tendencies in academic speech. Facing feminism Expanding on this point in an interview with feminist colleague Jenna Mead – part of a book outwardly contemplating the contemporary challenges facing feminism11 – Morris claims: ‘Many of my generation never stopped talking like guerrillas, long after we’d come to occupy positions of power’ (in Mead, 1997: 254). While the comments relate to the high salaried, high theory of US feminist academics, they help to indicate that Morris’s vocal attacks are not limited to male critics. As we have seen, some of Morris’s most stringent statements appear in response to fellow feminists who limit the scope and potential radicalism of the movement.12 Mindful of the historical restrictions on women’s participation in public debate, Morris pays close attention to the responsibility and privilege of a speaking position. She rails against the complacency of colleagues who lose sight of the significance of their achievements and their own implication in structures of power. The Australian republican debate is just such an occasion, as indicated in the following passage from ‘Lunching for the Republic’: I find deeply distressing Chilla Bulbeck’s claim that “for women like me, white Anglo-descended, middle class by training if not birth, whether we are a republic or a monarchy hardly matters.” After twenty-five years of feminism, I wonder, is that all we have to say? Are white middle-class Anglo women now so passive that they cannot want to make a difference to ensure that a change will matter? When did this happen? Or, to put it another way: how did white middle-class Anglo womanhood come to signify such indifference. (1998c: 197–8) Morris’s questions line up as so many refusals of Bulbeck’s assertion. In their affective tone, they encourage readers to share her outrage, to mobilise against the authority of Bulbeck’s voice: Is that all we have to say? Are we so passive? When did this happen? The baldness of Morris’s rhetoric reflects the depth of her disappointment and indignation that a colleague would seek to speak so unashamedly on others’, and her,
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behalf. For Morris, Bulbeck’s suggestion that the republic issue ‘hardly matters’ abdicates an important chance for academics to engage with an issue of wide public resonance. Morris takes Bulbeck’s comments as a stimulus for an assessment of political priorities. Her essay appraises the dwindling demands of a radical intellectual movement to which she also belongs. What is perhaps most deflating about Bulbeck’s statement is its unsurprising certainty about present conditions, how it reflects wider intellectual positions which presume to ‘know in advance that any event is just more of the same old story, more of the same patriarchy, the same racism, the same form of class exploitation’ (1998c: 199). The political consequences of such a position are substantial: ‘A bitter refusal to acknowledge our successes, always insisting that nothing has changed, too easily becomes that old familiar feeling that nothing ever can change’ (ibid.). Morris’s thoughts not only confirm the way that dominant intellectual frameworks resist optimism, or ‘an (embodied) openness to possibility’ (Barcan, 2002: 347), they also highlight the apparent difficulty of altering critical habits formed in response to an earlier moment of mobilisation (see also Morris, 1988: Chapter 9). Morris’s critique of Bulbeck recalls Hall’s baiting of the Left in Chapter 3: both writers maintain that without adequate attention to conjunctural shifts, a political project risks its volatility and acumen. Like Hall, Morris seeks to resist the ‘seemingly endless fatalism’ characterising progressive attitudes which posit each new problem within an outmoded paradigm (1998c: 199). In this same essay, Morris turns to then Prime Minister Paul Keating who, in contrast to her feminist colleagues, does seem able to make a significant contribution to public debates over history. What is different and attractive about Keating’s charismatic style is his capacity to convey affect: his speech finds a register of engagement and empathy acknowledging that the issue being discussed does matter to the wider community. Morris finds intellectual debates lack this desirable sense of involvement: When Paul Keating made a speech in Parliament in 1992 about Britain selling out Australia in the Second World War, my heart stopped. I was profoundly moved, and in a way that the relentlessly knowing, oh-yeah, negative postures of traditional feminist “critique” can do little to modify and, these days (speaking personally) nothing to match. (1998c: 198) Keating’s performance is able to move Morris in a way that prevailing modes of cultural critique cannot. His is an example of affective address
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that Morris herself sees worthy of emulating; and her extended essay Ecstasy and Economics (1992a) reads the Labor years as an exercise in making market reform infectious and exciting through rapturous discourses of progress and prosperity.13 Searching for new sites of inspiration outside scholarly milieux, Morris admits when current trends in academic practice do not contribute to the task at hand. As we have seen with other figures in this book, this is a perspective wide enough to question the efficacy of fashionable scholarly conventions and genres. It is a mode of engagement promoting a discursive address that can maintain connection with a constituency.
A mundane voice To this end, the title of Morris’s interview with Jenna Mead, ‘Ticket to Bundeena’, shares something of Morris’s unique intellectual project. Her voice seeks to find the right pitch, the right tone, and the right words that might connect the world of her past, (the rural and regional parts of Australia) and the world of her present (the international discourse of cultural theory).14 For Morris, the crucial intellectual challenge is this task of facilitating exchanges between cultural divides that are constantly changing shape: The old myths, and the old rules, don’t make sense of any of these places… I think the tough problem now is not ‘how can we break the rules/ defy The Academy?’ but ‘what are the new rules? who gets to decide? what should the new rules achieve?’ (in Mead, 1997: 248) Summarily dismissing the priorities of a past era of progressive intellectual work, Morris’s voice is distinctive in its embrace of what might be called the ‘nitty-gritty’ of intellectual work. This is to say that Morris’s voice reflects what is mundane and trying about her professional practice alongside an embrace of its challenges, its consequential moments and its potential. This is a useful way of deflating the privilege and mystery that often surrounds the role of the academic. It disputes the insularism considered inherent to the ‘ivory tower’ of the university. Morris takes seriously the fact that academics are qualified to produce specialised knowledge and that this role comes with responsibilities. In Morris’s example, academic practice has ethical obligations which include maintaining relevance to a community. These are considerations Morris’s voice has helped establish as benchmarks for Australian, and increasingly international, cultural studies.
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Morris demands that questions of audience be assessed when sharing academic ideas with the wider public. In her view, this need not lead to a lack of critical rigour in what is discussed, but acknowledges that as academics ‘we simply never learn where our jargon begins and ends’ (Morris, 1998a: 506). Conceiving an audience for one’s work situates intellectual practice and avoids the critical trade-off risked by populism. As Morris explains, it is when questions of audience are not sufficiently regarded that ‘we respond with the only other language we remember: baby talk; we abandon our knowledge and patronise our public’ (ibid.). As I have been arguing, in its frankness and its use of anecdote Morris’s voice spreads scholarly ideas in approachable ways. Her disciplinary training in language allows her to specify and make use of conventions of tone and genre for concerted outcomes. Morris’s most recent work adds wide geographic and institutional ambition to this consistent preference for producing situated knowledge. Her involvement with the new international journal, Traces, is an effort to secure ‘a different circulation of academic conversation and debate’ (Morris, 2001: 2). Published simultaneously in English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese, the journal is a practical enterprise determined to rework the dominance of Anglophone scholarly discourse. As such, it is a project clearly in line with Morris’s recognition of the uneven division of labour characterising the academic profession, whereby questions of audience and speech are only procedural for those outside the realm of sanctioned knowledge.15 Introducing the 2001 volume edited with Brett de Bary, ‘“Race” Panic and the Memory of Migration’, Morris extends her interest in the axis of privilege that accepts some forms of speech as authoritative while dismissing others. This is to interrogate the obstacles posed to thought by the form of a theoretical geography that repetitively channels critical desire towards the familiar bits of “the West” even as it limits our capacity for thinking through histories other than those that it gives us to inherit (wherever we are) as our own. (2001: 4) Morris focuses on the scriptural economy that ‘creates obstacles to thought’ and ‘limits our capacity for thinking’ in ways which might unsettle hegemonic arrangements. As her own publishing initiatives attest,16 an important way to overcome these structures is to offer a space distant from the economic imperatives of multinational publishers promoting the international discourse of Theory. Contributors to Traces are
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therefore ‘not expected to set aside “parochial” interests or to abandon projects that matter in their usual working lives’ (2001: 4). Relating the issues that engage scholars in their everyday practice offers a chance to displace the epistemological bias that considers some voices as more representative, or historically important, than others. Here the international implications of Morris’s vigilant politics of speech can be contemplated: In standard “academic English’… translation is a secondary event; we write for imagined readers with whom we share not only a language but a set of intellectual priorities, an etiquette, and a political as well as professional frame of reference… Writing for Traces, that familiar simulacrum of audience loses definition; for everyone, “other readers” are there from the beginning and actively shaping the text. (2001: 8) In its attention to the differences of ‘other readers’, this passage is a new agenda for the generous and empathic critical procedures I have been advocating in this book. Academic discourse will remain forever tied to a ‘familiar simulacrum of audience’ if it refuses to give adequate thought to those who might be listening, or may yet wish to hear its concerns. The inevitability of translation in the Traces project forces writers to consider the assumptions betrayed by their voices. It urges academics to find ways to share situated scholarly investments so that they might echo and resonate more widely. This latest venture is surely a welcome development for Morris, given that these very preoccupations recur throughout her career.
Conclusion Morris’s project combines a future-oriented optimism with historical mindfulness. It is a voice as enthusiastic for the reforms to scholarly discourse cultural studies brings to repressive legacies of academic practice as it is abrasive when the possibilities for cultural research are evidently curtailed. With Ross, Morris shares a lack of nostalgia for the contemporary university and is similarly resolved to work with the new opportunities it offers intellectual practice. In her words: No single critic, however eminent, has the capacity or even the means to make people listen in the captive way that an aesthetic education and a communicational economy based on scarcity and restriction once ensured. Living through this loss of ‘quality attention’ can be a puzzling experience for those who mourn the old regime… But for
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people who enjoy taking a flying leap, who really like to think and see what happens, it’s a wildly exciting time. (1999: 347) This passage is a neat synopsis of the reasons Morris’s initial scepticism towards the university may have eased. The forms of attention and modes of listening once associated with scholarly practice are no longer the typical conditions of today’s university. The description also hints at some of the reasons an affective address can be necessary in contemporary academic work. Free from the ‘scarcity and restriction’ determining participation in an earlier scriptural economy, Morris’s voice helps make infectious the sense of excitement and possibility promised by the academy’s new environment. The apparent restlessness distinguishing Morris’s earlier interventions always responded to the limited options she perceived in scholarly work and her frustration with the restrictions placed on women seeking an academic vocation. If Morris is no longer quite so acerbic in tone as the examples in this chapter demonstrate (and I am not at all sure this is the case), this may accord with her newfound institutional status as Professor of Cultural Studies at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University. A sensitivity to the very different cultural conventions shaping her recent context for academic practice is likely to have placed some limits on the laconic, anecdotal register more fitting an Australian audience. Having reached this pinnacle of traditional academic success, however, Morris now enjoys some capacity to influence the discourse earlier so oppressive. In terms of bell hooks’s challenge to cultural studies with which this book began, Morris’s current position confirms her leading role in efforts to make space ‘for forms of intellectual discourse to emerge that have not been traditionally welcomed in the academy’. This development only reinforces the initial demand, in The Pirate’s Fiancée, that discourse itself is a crucial site for political struggle. If a departmental chair seems a concrete achievement, then, this is not to take away from the very real consequences Morris’s voice has hastened for cultural studies practice. This chapter has argued that the invigorating, volatile and affective dimension Morris introduces to scholarly debate is a practical legacy, one to be counted equally alongside her initiatives in publishing and now teaching cultural studies.17 Creating the necessary infrastructure for new scholarly voices to operate in the academy and a wider public sphere, the combined strategies Morris employs ensure a continuing role for cultural studies as ‘gadfly’ to scholarly discourse in the future.
Writing this book during a period of conservative government in Australia – a climate which sharply accentuated following the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 and the ensuing ‘War on Terror’ – I have often felt the concerns it raises may appear somewhat out of step with the immediacy of ‘practical’ political developments. The shortterm strategising of politicians, alongside continuing dismissals of cultural studies’ worth by Right-wing conservatives, have been consistent features of the terrain my argument enters. The prospects for affect, care and empathy have seemed small and remote amid these dominant political imaginings. Yet such an anxiety over relevance seems almost characteristic of cultural studies – something Morris has called the temptation of a ‘spiral’ form of political engagement (1992c: 466). By this she means that incessant attempts to assess the immediate effects of one’s work can only result in paralysis: ‘always swinging between activist desire and angst about its own effects, it has the form of precisely the doomed circularity that is known in everyday language as running round like a headless chook’ (ibid.). Countering this dilemma in her own work, Morris introduced a different temporality for cultural studies’ political goals. She urged the field to embrace a historical perspective and encompass a longer horizon for its objectives than that usually entertained by other political discourses. This is a position which advocates cultural studies’ unique disciplinary and ethical role in society when the monopoly on what counts as political continues to be fought out: Cultural critics work primarily as mediators – we are writers, readers, image producers, teachers – in a socially as well as theoretically obscure zone of values, opinion, belief, ideology, and emotion. This 154
is slow work, and whatever political effectivity we might claim for it can only be registered, most of the time, by gradual shifts in what people take to be thinkable and doable, desirable and liveable, acceptable and unbearable, in their particular historical circumstances. In more peaceful or settled times, this can be cast by its enthusiasts as an intrinsically splendid endeavour. In fearful or turbulent times, it is easily denounced as trivial. (Morris 1992f: 79) Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices has argued that cultural studies should take confidence in its own objects and methods of enquiry to work through the times of ‘fear and turbulence’ that surround us. A discourse of scholarly affect, one which shares and invites concern for others, is a crucial function of the contemporary university, and it is one well served by cultural studies’ voices. The field’s distinctive analytical and empathic methods recognise the subtle and determined ways people respond to social change. Noticing these, and relating them, can help reconfigure some of the audiences and participants in knowledge institutions – a concrete, if long-term, political achievement. A number of books appearing during the course of my writing confirm the importance of positive, hopeful and passionate voices to fight the deadening effects of institutional languages (Zournazi, 2002; Watson, 2003; Hage, 2003). Their varying emphases complement those of the writers discussed here in the belief that it is exactly the moment when dominant political ideas seem most established that an optimistic, mobilising alternative is necessary. In this sense, to suggest that the current conjuncture presents a more challenging environment for compassionate affective voices ignores a principal insight my project tries to reveal. These writers all share a belief that an interventionist, progressive project can never relent. If cultural studies becomes complacent about its institutional and political successes it will lose the critical agility needed to view each conjunctural shift as different. Each calls for a unique and strategic voice. In Hoggart’s example, this voice was one that would activate empathy. His writing tried to find a way to speak between the segregations of class in post-World War II Britain. While the manner in which these class differences manifest themselves has changed markedly since his initial writings, much later Hoggart maintains: Class distinctions do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves…Each decade we shiftily declare we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty. (1989: vii)
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Hoggart advocated a cultural studies project that might usher forth a critical literacy to rework the existing distribution of educational opportunities. His voice was one of the first cultural studies interventions to disturb the sober distance of much scholarly discourse. Its affective appeal conveyed an urgency to the intellectual vocation, as these recent comments evince: What I’m going around arguing, until people start saying ‘Oh he’s at it again’, is this: if you train people only to the level which is required by all these [government] initiatives, all you do is produce a society which is capable of being conned. People are not encouraged to be critical, they’re not given a critical literacy. They’re given a literacy which is just enough to fill in the football pools and the lottery coupon and read the Sun and so on, and that’s not good enough in a democracy – in a commercial democracy above all… People look a bit awry, as though you’re expecting too much of most people, which you’re not. (Hoggart in Gibson and Hartley, 1998: 13) Hoggart’s forceful expression and empathic account of working-class life testify to his conviction that class critique must be a fundamental part of cultural studies’ political objectives. With media empires’ growing influence on our opportunities for enjoying a diverse and stimulating popular culture, this focus will remain a key site for ongoing work in the field. Hall’s voice worked most notably to catalyse colleagues out of their Thatcherite despondency. In a move that remains troubling for some, Hall set the agenda for a situated and nuanced cultural politics, arguing that each historical shift is ‘specific and different’. Hall emphasised the conditional status of political positions and called for reflexivity from his peers. He fought the straightjacket of Left orthodoxy, interrogating its silence on the matter of difference which had remained forever sacrificed under the requirement of partisan unity. Hall’s example made the relationship between scholarly practice and political engagement still more apparent, as this memorable passage attests: I come back to the deadly seriousness of intellectual work. It is a deadly serious matter… I come back to the difficulty of instituting a genuine cultural and critical practice, which is intended to produce some kind of organic intellectual political work, which does not try to inscribe itself in the overarching metanarrative of achieved knowledges, within the institutions. I come back to theory and politics, the politics of theory. Not theory as the will to truth, but theory as a set
of contested, localised, conjunctural knowledges, which have to be debated in a dialogical way. But also as a practice which always thinks about its intervention in a world in which it would make some difference, in which it would have some effect. Finally, a practice which understands the need for intellectual modesty. I do think there is all the difference in the world between understanding the politics of intellectual work and substituting intellectual work for politics. (1992a: 286) Hall’s signature approach outlines the concrete functions of cultural studies’ political impulse. As I have been arguing, the field’s disciplinary interests aim to complement, rather than contaminate, existing academic practice – its concern is not with the ‘overarching metanarratives’ or the ‘will to truth’ of other fields, but with the way theory and politics affect lived experience. Cultural studies wears its heart on its sleeve: it wants to make ‘some difference’, to have ‘some effect’. It admits its investment and partiality, the affective directions guiding its concerns. In this unique gesture Hall sees the field’s wider role: The work that cultural studies has to do is to mobilise everything that it can in terms of intellectual resources in order to understand what keeps making the lives we live, and the societies we live in, profoundly and deeply antihumane in their capacity to live with difference. Cultural studies’ message is a message for academics and intellectuals but, fortunately, for many other people as well. (1992b: 17–8) Like his great mentor in Hall, Grossberg’s voice has spread cultural studies’ message with an equally steadfast resolve. Far from letting the triumph of conservative government spell the end of hope or investment, Grossberg adjusts his political and theoretical objectives in order to offer the strongest possible refusal of the New Right’s vision of society. He shares with Morris a conviction in the need for long-term strategies, particularly when he addresses his fellow constituents directly: Cultural studies refuses to let political pressures erase the necessity of theoretical work. Yet it is always frustrated by its apparent inability to actually effect change. Still, it has to resist the temptation to measure itself against other more direct forms of activism (which are available to us as people anyway). In its effort to realize the possible political role of the intellectual, cultural studies has to avoid the temptation to demand of its own discourse what it does not, and
158 Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices
cannot, demand of other discourses: that it have a direct, immediate and visible impact. Culture does not work that way, but it does work; it does make a difference. (Grossberg, 1992: 20) Ulitmately for Grossberg, the space that the academy offers cultural studies is the time and the register necessary to construct an alternative vision for the future. The significance of such scholarship is that it ‘is always able to produce surprises, to lead to unexpected places. This is the real value of intellectual work: it has the ability to discover new possibilities in the present circumstances, and to point to an unimagined future’ (2005: 11). This belief that ‘another world is possible’ is also key to the academic activism of Ross. Applying his scholarly acumen to the changing sites for activist attention, Ross brings renewed attention to the usefulness of academic work in a longer history of labour alliances. Yet his voice issues a warning to contemporary scholars that they admit the limits of their investment in the scholarly vocation if it means being passive witnesses to the irresponsible practices of multinational corporations. Ross’s voice joins with other workers to demand humane, ethical conduct from those whose agendas define this new era of political struggle. Providing the cultural face of economic change, Ross offers an important response to Gil Rodman’s challenge: If we want to keep cultural studies from becoming just another entry in university course catalogues, then we need to do more than just work on putting the politics back into cultural studies: we also need to work on putting cultural studies back into politics. (Rodman, 1997: 64–5) Finally, Morris’s more localised political project voices a determination to expand the scope of and participation in the field of cultural studies itself. Shrugging obeisance to cultural studies’ dominant practices and positions, Morris chastens those who would make research an abstract undertaking. In its attention to specific ‘cases’ (1998c: 3), Morris acknowledges her work is: always open to the unanswerable charge of doing nothing to stop the Antarctic melting or to mend the hole in the ozone layer. True. I nonetheless feel that I am more usefully employed in using as much imagination as I possibly can to change the cultural climate in which ideas for doing so are formulated and in which they circulate than
I would be in elaborating ‘whole new’ futures with – at least in my case – rather dubious practical value (1993a: 34). The modest value of a politics aimed at discursive conventions is made explicit here. Morris highlights the critical importance of using ‘as much imagination as possible’ in interventions which strive to change prevailing cultural attitudes. This is further indication of the need for the optimistic, inspiring and mobilising functions I have suggested cultural studies’ affective voices offer. In our current context, as we witness the beginning of a ‘whole new’ Middle East for instance, this prolonged political project Morris endorses seems preferable to the dangers of imposing preferred ideologies on the complex histories of other cultures. While Morris admits there may be ‘a certain commodity boredom’ among cultural critics ‘with the slow, incremental temporality endured by any struggle with serious designs on the future’ (ibid.), this more protracted mode of investment might just be the terrain of cultural studies’ becoming (Massumi, 2002). Taken together, the combination of writers engaged with in this book are evidence of what is possible when the aims of academic work include emphasising ‘the openness of the future’ as well as ‘a commitment to creating in the present some sense of continuity and solidarity with those who have laboured in the past’ (Morris, 1993a: 40). While this genealogy is clearly limited, it comes at a time when association with and respect for one’s forebears seems distinctly unfashionable. Offering the beginnings of a wider inventory of cultural studies voices, I hope this work sets a foundation upon which others might build as the field continues. Making a space for those forms of intellectual discourse that have been frowned upon by the dominant scriptural economy, cultural studies can maintain its important role as a paradigm of critique in the university’s changing conditions. In so doing, let it deploy all the affect necessary for us to continue to ‘touch each other with words’ (Morris, 1997: 146).
Notes 1. Communicating investment: Cultural studies, politics and affect 1.
James Donald and Elspeth Probyn concurred on this point. In question time Cary Nelson made the observation that both figures had themselves engaged in disciplinary debates in the past, with important effects (see particularly Probyn, 1993, 1996; Donald, 2004). Joanna Zylinska’s recent book The Ethics of Cultural Studies and Angela McRobbie’s The Uses of Cultural Studies, both published in 2005, are indication that I am not alone in this interest. As Foucault clarifies further, this understanding of politics is ‘local and regional… and not totalising. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious… A t“heory”is the regional system of this struggle’ (1977: 208). Lawrence Grossberg’s (1996a: 142) definition of cultural studies as a field interested in ‘politicising theory and theorising politics’ extends this principle to say that ‘cultural studies offers a theoretically grounded basis for intervening into contexts and power. It attempts, temporarily and locally, to place theory in-between in order to enable people to act more strategically in ways that may change their context for the better’ (1996a: 143). Max Weber’s (1947) descriptions of charisma and charismatic leadership suggest that it is a gift bestowed upon particular individuals; that it is unstable, unpredictable and mission-driven. This is quite different to the idea of affective address I am describing, which involves an appreciation of rhetorical strategies and involvement in academic practice more generally for any effects it may have. Chapter 6 discusses in greater detail feminist critiques of speaking conventions and strategies of enunciation in scholarly discourse more broadly. In British Cultural Studies: An Introduction, Graeme Turner claims ‘nostalgia’ is ‘central to the project’ of The Uses of Literacy (1990: 48). Andrew Goodwin (1992) summarises the history of reception to Hoggart’s text in his introduction to the American Transaction Edition. Raymond Williams’s classic text Culture and Society (1958a) suffered notably from this problem, as Williams relates in the protracted interview Politics and Letters: ‘Ironically it is the very success of the book that has created the conditions for its critique’ (Williams, 1979: 100). An earlier version of this book’s argument included an appraisal of Williams’s humanism, but I have since decided to focus on writers for whom I can offer an original reading. Lawrence Grossberg offers another argument for the importance of revisiting past figures, a point which accords with my own desire to describe the specific scholarly and political functions cultural studies offers: Many of those who now appropriate the term [cultural studies] want to read only very selectively in the tradition. While I do not believe one has 160
Notes 161 to read everything, it is helpful to read enough to orient oneself. Ironically, many of these critics would be quite upset if someone were to read their own theoretical sources… as superficially as they read in cultural studies. (1993: 17) 9.
Two recent examples of this are Joke Hermes’ (2004) reading of cultural studies intellectuals in terms of progressive styles of advocacy, autobiography and chronicle, and Gary Wickham’s (2005) article on the moral and ethical qualities of the cultural studies intellectual. On the crucial role of Allen Lane and publishing initiatives assisting the development of a readership for cultural studies, see Hartley (2003). Empathy is also a way to describe the new kind of teaching cultural studies instigates. In Tara Brabazon’s words, it is a strategy that talks to students ‘where they are, rather than where I want them to be’ (2002: 120). Putting yourself in the place of others, trying to understand and overcome the in-between barriers, is a self-reflexive, accommodating gesture seeking relevance to an audience. These points are developed in the following chapter. One way to find a wide reaching textual address is to frame debates about social change in familiar sites – the home, the family, the neighbourhood. Morris’s own work is exemplary in this regard (see especially Morris, 1998b, 1997). As I will discuss in greater detail in Chapter 3, Hall’s reading of Thatcherism explicitly argues that the Left has ‘failed to apprehend the character of the age’ (Brown, 2000: 21), but such a critique only arises from the assumption that the Left is a continuing, rather than a spent force. A good overview of the classlessness debates is Hall (1959). On the moment and influence of the British New Left, see Chun (1993) and Dworkin (1997).
Activating empathy: Richard Hoggart, ordinariness and the persistence of ‘them’ and ‘us’
Hoggart figures in conventional accounts of British Cultural Studies such as Turner (1990) and Dworkin (1997) but rarely is his work accorded enduring significance. The exception is John Hartley, whose work I mention in detail shortly. As Hartley notes, ‘His name is invoked with respect, but his work isn’t read all that much, and in any case his reputation rests not on people’s reading of it, but on academic lore; what has come to be accepted as his position by constant repetition in the textbooks’ (1999: 27–8). On Hoggart’s mythic status in cultural studies, see also Jones (1994). On Hoggart’s neglected place in histories of the British New Left, see McClure (1996). A major conference paying respect to the influence of Hoggart was held in April 2006 to commemorate the University of Sheffield’s acquisition of Hoggart’s papers. Thompson’s voice was also notable for its use of affect, not only in his majesterial study The Making of The English Working Class (1963), but in the virulence with which he attacked the theoreticism of Left colleagues (Thompson, 1978). Given the dominance of the United States in political as well as academic trends, this latest work tends to suggest an implicit power relation involved
in the desire for empathy, when we consider that the British Empire remained a formidable world power in the period from which Hoggart’s book emerges. While the context of working-class life in Britain is quite different to the Holocaust narratives that are LaCapra’s concern, in making the connection between these writers I am making a wider point that as theoretical fashion has changed, and the critical possibilities of affective writing are more widely appreciated, we are only now in a position to come to terms with the novelty of Hoggart’s approach. Before achieving academic recognition, Hoggart served in World War II with the Royal Artillery. His unit was transferred to Naples following the worst of the battle, and in this, less combative role, Hoggart instigated the Three Arts Club for Allied Forces – a space for servicemen to share artistic and literary ideas. Hoggart collected and edited the best of the soldiers’ writing while teaching part-time at the University of Naples. Returning to Britain, he tutored adult education classes for many years. This history adds depth to an understanding of Hoggart’s principal argument that the realm of ideas is not limited to university grounds. The need to think, to express oneself and share responses to social change are ordinary desires that require support and (publicly funded) facilitation. This is a nuance E P Thompson’s critique overlooks when he takes Hoggart to task for ‘the absence of conflict in the early chapters, the absence of many adult pre-occupations (especially at the place of work), the neglect of the role of the minority, the omission or under-estimation of most of those influences which combine to create the labour movement in this century’ (Thompson, 1959: 53). Thompson appears not to recognise – or chooses to ignore – that in these very omissions Hoggart’s work questions the selectivity required for Thompson’s political vision. Thompson’s early review sets the agenda here, reading the book as a manifestation of ‘subjective impressions, largely based on childhood memories’ (1959: 53). This reading suggests that subjective facets of the text make it inferior to the sobriety of a more obviously sociological or historical approach, rather than the function I claim they serve, which is to complement the paradigms of these traditional disciplinary accounts. To the extent that these styles of reporting continue to dominate the mainstream media landscape, Hoggart’s point is worth further contemplation. Does this prevalent mode of ‘human interest’ journalism reinforce a sense that in the contemporary arrangements of capitalism, increasing numbers of viewers feel similarly disempowered to affect the wider world situation?
The politics of conjuncture: Stuart Hall, articulation and the commitment to specificity
For a critique of the idea of theory as detour, see Seigworth and Macgregor Wise (2000). The interventions described in this chapter are only representative. Other of Hall’s notable contributions are in the field of communication studies, where his ‘Encoding, Decoding’ model provided a corrective to the unidirectional flows characterising much media theory of the time (see Hall, 1980b). Hall’s
textbooks can also be counted as conjunctural projects crucial in establishing an undergraduate cultural studies curriculum during his time at the Open University. Indeed, Helen Davis notes that Hall’s attention to the present is evident as far back as the 1958 essay, ‘A sense of classlessness’, which actually precedes Hall’s reading of Gramsci, and thus the Gramscian directive that ‘we must first attend v “ iolently”to things as they are, without illusions or false hopes, if we are to transcend the present’ (Hall, 1988: 14). Davis describes Hall’s vision of socialism in the following way: ‘it should be rooted in the imperfect present not an idealised future. This distinguishes Hall from many other intellectuals and over the years has earned him the reputation of being somewhat pessimistic. Pessimistic or not, Hall argues that we must first look at the conditions of the here-and-now even if to do so means admitting our own weaknesses, failures and prejudices’ (Davis, 2004: 13). This description fits one of many offered by Grossberg, reflecting on Hall’s method. The way in which these two writers overlap in their thinking is itself interesting to note: Cultural studies recognizes that theory is always open-ended, but it chooses, in any instance, to stop the theoretical game and offer a theoretically grounded analysis of its context. That is, knowing that your position still needs further elaboration, development and even criticism, you still have to make a pragmatic commitment, for the moment, to this theoretical analysis. We may be making it up as we go along (which does not mean that we ever start from scratch) but that need not undermine its authority – specific, contextual and modest, but authority just the same (Grossberg, 1992: 19).
Hall’s critics are for the most part challenged by his lack of ‘position’: his resistance to easy categorisation under the headings ‘Marxism’, ‘cultural studies’, ‘sociology’, even ‘black’. Given the interdisciplinary nature of cultural studies, attempts to label work in more traditional or established paradigms is a common tendency, yet the persistent desire to fix positions and labels reflects a narrow estimation of the intellectual vocation. As Megan Jones writes, it is a conception of academic practice that ‘has costs: it refuses to contemplate that an impossibility of representational coherence could be productive’ (Jones, 2002: 221). In Hall’s case, his deliberate avoidance of ‘representational coherence’ is precisely in line with his distaste for the straightjacket of orthodoxy, and with it, proscriptive tendencies in political theory. These are exactly the problems he sees constricting the Left’s success throughout history. In the argument I am making, however, these criticisms are evidence of a lingering insistence in the academy that intellectual contribution can only count at the level of epistemology and never at the level of affect, ethics or leadership. In her book on Hall, Davis (2004) provides a more extensive description of Hall’s use of discourse than I can offer here, particularly in Chapter 7, ‘In The Belly of the Beast.’ ‘No political counter has proven so effective, such a guarantee of popular mobilisation as being able to say ‘the people think… ’ Conjuring yourself into ‘the people’ is the true ventriloquism of populist politics. Political leaders who claim to have no ideas of their own: ‘they just reflect what t“he people” ,
out there, think.’ (Hall, 1988: 191). The additional point Hall makes, and which cultural studies has been consistently keen to point out, is that: ‘“ The people”out there are, of course, varied; different; divided by gender, sex, class and race’ (ibid.). ‘Virtual’ in the sense Margaret Morse describes, claiming that the actions of governments take place in a separate, liminal world in which citizens struggle to have an impact: ‘In a world undergoing a process of derealisation’, Morse sees the task of critical writing ‘is to invent ways of coming to terms with this situation’ where the virtualisation of social interaction creates a ‘shadowy mix of delegated or deferred humanity’ (Morse, 1998: 32). Hall’s inaugural editorial for New Left Review reads: ‘The last refuge of scoundrels today is no longer the appeal for p “ atriotism”, but the cry that we must sink our differences in the interests of Party Unity’ (1960: 2). This position clearly indicates a concern that radical politics discounts questions of ‘difference’. Arjun Appadurai rehearses a version of this critique in his appraisal of the present university environment, asking whether the ‘canon wars’ or affirmative action policies have done much to challenge entrenched structures of privilege: ‘the demographic and textual core of the university remains untouched if affirmative action is seen as a matter of a few more books, a few more courses, and a few more students and faculty of colour. More may be better’, Appadurai writes, ‘but it is not good enough. It is not good enough for the university unless the commitment to diversity transforms the way in which knowledge is sought and transmitted. That is, without a conscious commitment to the mutual value of intellectual and cultural diversity – which is really what I mean by a culture of diversity – the core mission of the university remains insulated from the commitment to diversity’ (1996: 26). The present book concentrates on just some of the different voices cultural studies has brought to the university’s attention, but it is part of a wider attempt to hasten recognition of the kinds of speaking positions and knowledges needed in scholarly discourse if it is to achieve the cultural diversity of which Appadurai speaks. Explaining this process in terms of the politicisation of the black subject, Hall writes, ‘The fact is b “ lack”has never been just there either. It has always been an unstable identity, psychically, culturally and politically. It, too, is a narrative, a story, a history. Something constructed, told, spoken, not simply found… Black is an identity which had to be learned and could only be learned in a certain moment’ (1987: 45). This description is congruent with the argument that political priorities arise in response to particular conjunctural moments. Hall describes the post-colonial as ‘a conceptual labyrinth from which few travellers return’ (2000: 213). Hage argues that those living in ethnically diverse communities are often ‘constructed as lesser multiculturalists or even racists’ by cosmopolitan critics ‘on the basis of their assumed inability to appreciate cultural diversity’ (1997: 100). He claims it is only by studying practices ‘of home-building and interaction, and the spaces where it is enacted… that debates about multiculturalism can regain their significance’ (1997: 134). Amnesty International withdrew the proposed campaign, refusing to acknowledge the ruling supplied by the Federation of Australian Commercial
Notes 165 Television Stations that calling a refugee a human is a political statement. My thanks to Gary Highland for this information and for permission to use the image.
Fighting for the future: Lawrence Grossberg, messianic zeal and the challenge of building a legacy
The exception is Tania Lewis’s (2000) commanding study of the contrasting intellectual practices of Hall, Morris, Grossberg and Ross, Critical Habitations: Cultural Studies and the Politics of Intellectual Location which has been a constant source of inspiration and information throughout the long gestation of this book. Although it appears more than coincidental that Tania and I share key subjects of research, I hope the combined effect of our readings is to indicate the significance of these scholars’ example in mobilising a new generation of cultural studies practitioners. According to Lewis: ‘Grossberg’s relative invisibility within the more publicly recognised circles in US cultural studies… is a marker of the powerful role played by English departments and the MLA in packaging and marketing cultural studies for a US academic audience’ (2000: 130), a reading shared by other academics I have discussed this issue with. Grossberg has indicated his ambition to write a monograph which charts the history of conservatism in the US which would doubtlessly spread much further back than the post-war period – Caught in the Crossfire is an indication of the beginning of this project. Grossberg has also stated he wishes to write a book on North Atlantic modernity (Personal conversation, September 2005). Grossberg regularly acknowledges: ‘My intellectual, political and even emotional commitments were changed forever as a result of the time I spent in Britain and Europe’ and that his enrolment at Birmingham coincided with the Vietnam draft (1992: 27). I have argued this elsewhere in an analysis of the cult film Donnie Darko (Gregg, 2005):
When Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) is fired as English teacher at Donnie’s school – the result of a moral values campaign against a prescribed textbook – she says of the students: “We are losing them to apathy. They are slipping away”. Karen conveys despair and anger at this prospect, only to be met with the headmaster’s rebuke: “I am sorry that you have failed”. Here the apparently naïve optimism of a brilliant teacher is subject to the same indignant script her students face: individualised torment for a structurally ingrained lack of hope. 6. 7. 8. 9.
Personal conversation, September 2005. Personal conversation, September 2005. The fact that the Cultural Studies edited collection is often referred to colloquially as ‘The Bible’ adds weight to the scriptural reading I am suggesting. A recent series of publications (Schwarz, 2005; Rojek, 2005) provoked by Chris Rojek (2003) book on Stuart Hall seems indicative of the kind of response that can ensue following breaches of loyalty to intellectual benefactors.
Justice and Accountability: Andrew Ross, intellectual labour and the new academic activism
For more extensive consideration of the effects of these changes see Aronowitz (2001), Berube and Nelson (1995), Bousquet (2002) and Martin (1998). One such occasion was the response to Ross’s Science Wars collection, which marked the controversial period following the publication of a fabricated article in Social Text while the journal was under Ross’s editorial tenure. ‘The Sokal Hoax’ was intended as a critique of cultural theory’s relevance to scientific discourse, and Ross’s reputation suffered intense scrutiny as a result. In the North American context from which Ross writes, Naomi Klein (2000) and Thomas Frank (2002) are probably the leading examples of this perspective. As I mentioned in Chapter 3, these were particularly prominent and formative debates of the British New Left, and the writing of Hall, whose interest in Althusser was largely because of the way that his theories could appreciate ‘difference’ and especially race, as a factor in capitalist economics. These debates recently resurfaced in Australia on the local cultural studies listserver, CSAA-forum, where Simon During’s description of Australian cultural studies as lacking ‘critical force’ led to the ‘exchange on theory’ and its political possibilities published in Cultural Studies Review (Frow, 2006). The May Day Manifesto which Williams edited and mostly wrote defines socialism as ‘a humanism: a recognition of the social reality of man in all his activities, and of the consequent struggle for the direction of this reality by and for ordinary men and women’. This is to say that
the system we now oppose can only survive by a willed separation of issues, and the resulting fragmentation of consciousness… The problems of whole men and women are now habitually relegated to specialised and disparate fields, where the society offers to manage or adjust them by this or that consideration or technique. (1968: 15–6) 7. 8.
11. 12. 13.
I am referring to a pre-publication copy of the manuscript made available by the author; published references will likely differ from those cited here. Mandy Thomas’s (2003) study of home-based piece workers in the textile industries of Vietnam and Australia is another example of this important work. A wry preface to one of Ross’s discussions of free trade noted the moment when, in the surge of US patriotism following September 11, 2001, citizens realised that American flags were now also ‘Made in China’ (in Ross, 2004). The essay was originally published in Social Text, but was expanded in Low Pay, High Profile. I refer to both versions here, as the later version makes more explicit reference to recent changes in higher education. Or in Australia, the Workers Education and summer school classes Frow and Morris note in their introduction to Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader (1993). Personal conversation, September 2005. Personal conversation, September 2005.
A voice of vigilance: Meaghan Morris, anecdotal critique and the politics of academic speech
As Lewis notes, Language, Sexuality and Subversion (1978) and Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy (1979) unsettled the ascendancy of Althusserianism in Australian circles of radical cultural theory. The effect of the books was that ‘sections of the Australian intellectual community were reading French philosophers such as Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, Irigaray, Foucault and Lyotard before French theory became widely disseminated in Britain and the US’ (Lewis, 2000: 190). That these thinkers remain influential in cultural and political debates today is more testimony to the significance of these publishing ventures. All quotations featuring italics are Morris’s emphases, unless indicated. As will become evident throughout this chapter, italics are a favoured rhetorical device adding to the idiosyncratic textual manifestation of Morris’s affective address. Writing in reference to Foucault’s usefulness for feminism, against the psychoanalytic approaches then dominant: ‘the point is to use it and not to “apply”it’ (1988: 55). See also Morris (1996a), which considers feminists’ reluctance to think with the aid of Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptual innovations. Morris’s use of allegory is also worth discussing. A common literary device, in philosophy the allegorical mode is generated by conditions in the objective world rather than the subjective intention of the writer (Buck-Morss, 1989: 229). In Morris’s use, there is a little of both: from a literary point of view multi-layering affords an oblique means to mount an argument. It is a way of creatively figuring what would otherwise appear as a dense and prosaic discussion. It therefore tries to make the complexities of cultural debates more attractive to a broader audience. Yet the implications of Buck-Morss’s assessment, that allegory conveys something of the status of the objective world, suggests Morris’s preference for anecdote might respond to the way our experience is shaped in postmodern times. Certainly anecdotes afford a refining mechanism for Morris. They bring the complexities of a culture down to a manageable level, so that a specific point can be forwarded. Another useful concept Morris endorses to think free from generalisations is the Bakhtinian notion of ‘chronotype’, which in its attention to temporality, offers a means to describe, unpack and question the strength of certain myths in the Australian national psyche in Morris (1992d: 460). In the question time following Morris’s paper at the Illinois conference, Cultural Studies: Now and in the Future, these issues are evident: ‘This exchange makes me realise that I have not been explicit enough about why “Eurocentrism”should worry me at a rudimentary level at a conference like this. It’s a restlessness I have, rather than a position I can expound, and maybe it came through in my speech rather than in the text of my paper’ (1992d: 476). Having witnessed Morris deliver keynote addresses and ask questions in conference settings, it is observable that her performative emphases, her changes in tone, even a mischievous smile can create further implications to the actual content of an argument.
These manners of style are also recognised by LaCapra when he seeks to use voice ‘as a metaphor that does not exclude the visual’ (2001: xiv). For LaCapra, looks and gestures, including body language and facial expressions, demand acknowledgment and appreciation in attempts to hear and understand a message. ‘Intercontinental wanderings’ is Fiske’s own phrase from the preface to Reading the Popular, where he writes: ‘One of the advantages of being an academic is that theories travel well, with only a touch of jet lag…These essays… are a bricolage of frozen moments in my thinking about popular culture, a series of snapshots taken by an academic on his intercontinental wanderings in the 1980s’ (1989: ix). It is just this mode of address, which – even if tongue-in-cheek – tends to flaunt the privilege and value of detached reflection on local specificities, that Morris’s self-reflexive, situated project seeks to unhinge. ‘Great Moments in Social Climbing’ therefore reads a singular instance in everyday Sydney – Chris Hilton’s scaling of Sydney Tower. The article offers an example of how de Certeau might be used to assist in vernacular criticism rather than acting as a foundation for a metonymic argument (see Gregg, 2004a). Morris’s play on words in the title of ‘A Small Serve’ hinges on the colloquial Australian expression to ‘cop a serve’ from someone – to receive a ‘dressing down’ or a forceful rebuke. My subtitle is also intended as a play on the tangled plate of spaghetti, to bring to mind the colloquial warning against over-reacting to critique, that is, ‘don’t get your knickers in a twist’. In the following example, it is hard to tell who is not over-reacting to shifting trends in intellectual debate, which I would suggest has less to do with the participants involved so much as Australia’s comparatively small scholarly community, which to some extent encourages a concern over one’s reputation. Those advocating the policy push in Australian cultural studies were Tony Bennett and Stuart Cunningham. In their respective publications, Bennett (1998) and Cunningham (1992) summon a distinct version of Foucauldian governmentality to suggest that cultural studies academics concentrate their efforts on government policy to provide practical political outcomes from their work. Mead’s Bodyjamming (1997) collection responds to the controversy sparked by Helen Garner’s The First Stone (1995), a representation of the sexual harassment case at Melbourne University’s Ormond College. In this sense, The Pirate’s Fiancée stands as an example of the diversity of interests a feminist project can harbour, including art theory, photography, film criticism, rhetoric, philosophy, structuralism and deconstruction. Morris’s reading of Keating is something of an Australian riposte to Hall’s study of Thatcher as well as Grossberg’s of Reagan (1992). Like these UK and US phenomena, Keating’s hegemonic project of economic reform is argued to rest on affective articulations. What is different is that Keating and predecessor Hawke rework common sense Labor ideology by making mastery of new knowledge contagious. Competency with the information and expertise new economic opportunities required gained such appeal, Morris writes:
Notes 169 I saw men on television (trade-union stars, Cabinet Ministers, left-wing think-tank advisers) visibly hystericised by talking economics: eyes would glaze, shoulders hunch, lips tremble in a sensual paroxysm of “letting the market decide,”“making the hard decisions,”“levelling the playing field,”“improving productivity,”and “changing the culture.” Minds melted, rather than closed: those who queried the wisdom of floating the exchange rate, deregulating the banks, or phasing out industry protection were less ignored than washed away in the intoxicating rush of “living in a competitive world”and “joining the global economy”. (1998c: 178) In spite of its dry, inhumane, stultifying language, economic discourse is here the stimulus for affective contagion. For Morris, the Hawke-Keating ‘regime’: ‘was a politics of consent depending not on mass spectacles or massifying events, but on a continual assertion of the magic of expertise: eroticised images of teaching, learning, (controlled) debate, (limited) consultation, and exquisite mastery of data’ (1998c: 192). The success of the eroticised pedagogy characterising the Labor years reinforces my optimistic argument that the general public can make sense of complex ideas, especially when advocated at an institutional level as necessary to individual and national prosperity. Employing some of the charisma, style and emotion of political leaders, scholarly discourse can spread progressive, humanist affects further, providing a complement, perhaps also an alternative, to the purely economic outcomes governments have favoured recently. 14. Morris’s recent essay discussing the phenomenal rise to power of Australian right wing MP, Pauline Hanson, raises this issue in a particularly sophisticated way. The paper considers the problems of speaking, listening, and being heard that characterise encounters between the academics, professional media commentators, and the majority of voters outside both of these discursive networks whom Hanson might be seen to represent. The reading draws out contemporary media constructions of performative class conflict (see Morris, 2000b). 15. In ‘Afterthoughts on Australianism’, Morris describes this problem explicitly: ‘Americans of any provenance who speak internationally about problems, and in terms, specific to the United States (Americanisms) are heard as responsibly engaging with their society, in ways that are expected to resonate elsewhere’. In contrast, Morris writes: ‘A white Australian or Anglo-Canadian who does exactly the same thing is much more likely to be heard as excessively concerned with nation, rather than society (thus, in this excess, a nationalist), and, if using Australianisms or Canadianisms, will be expected to work to explain them’ (1992b: 472). This work, expected of some writers and not others, points to an unacceptable hierarchy in ideas of epistemological value. 16. Morris and Stephen Muecke raise these issues in the editorial for the first volume of the journal they established, UTS Review (now Cultural Studies Review): [Marketing] risk today is as much a matter of content and mode of address as it is of formal or conceptual development; for example, it is risky for
170 Notes writers working in Australia to choose their topics or address their readers in overly ‘local’ terms. It is much easier to package a densely written work of philosophy or social theory as ‘cultural studies’ than it is to find an outlet for more vernacular writings, or for studies that engage in detail with particular cultural formations. (Morris and Muecke, 1995: 1, emphasis added) This passage seems to reflect Morris’s and Muecke’s recognition that content and mode of address have been important considerations in their own work, while at the same time acknowledging that the opportunities for such experimental writing appear more limited in today’s publishing environment. 17. Morris claims Hong Kong is a particularly challenging location to teach cultural studies because students are unfamiliar with many of the field’s mobilising assumptions – perhaps more evidence that cultural studies should strive for self-reflexivity and context-specific objectives.
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