Cultural studies conference, 2012

As someone who is on the peripheries of cultural studies, the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia conference for this year was a means of understanding the terms under which cultural studies continues to operate as a discipline. A reasonably passionate debate on Thursday night at Sydney’s Courthouse pub found a number of people from the conference (all male, for the record) staking positions on the existence and future of cultural studies as a discipline. We all had our particular avenues that we based our arguments on, and I forget the particular details of the various positions so I’ll just note and elaborate on my own. Cultural studies, to me, has no singular coherent object of study, and it has no single methodological or philosophical position, which leads to a need for the discipline to engage in debates or writing called something along the lines of “What is Cultural Studies”, or “the future of cultural studies”, etc. This, to me, indicates that the discipline has no conceptual core (most other disciplines have fairly fixed ideas of their approaches or objects, i.e. physics/media studies/art history/philosophy), and requires persistent apprehension of the goals and methods currently in play within the discipline. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the sense that it means that the discipline is constantly critical of itself, and has potential for fairly radical political critiques of other disciplines. The curse is that this means that the discipline must constantly make these ‘turns’ (i.e. the chemical turn, the material turn, the biological turn, etc) in order to retain a coherence that allows for a political core to remain in the discipline so that it does not dissipate into the purview of other departmental structures and thus lose its critical purchase. These trends are cliche, but necessary, if the discipline is going to have any site for staging its program of constant critique – which I think it should.

I found all the keynotes to be quite interesting, primarily because all the ones that I saw (which was everything except the final plenary) showed how the discipline could be relevant beyond simple pedagogical concerns – that is, they showed how cultural studies could be deployed in the process of making real interventions beyond the educational. I was particularly interested in Bev Skeggs’ work, mainly because I found her work on the notion of value to be quite fascinating (and I would love to have her slides).

Also I should note that I don’t understand the purpose of the hall of fame material. The fact that there was no policy instituted prior to the awarding of the statues means that the awards themselves have no meaning beyond a vaguely defined act of ‘recognition’ of people who are already well-recognized in their fields: Graeme Turner, and Meaghan Morris. Who can win an award now? Will it only be a post-factum act of meritocratic recognition to those who got to their current location on the basis of their own struggle? The idea of ‘fame’ as the categorical imperative for the award is, in my view, unwise, as it renders it into exactly the criteria that cultural studies seeks to unpack.

A few additional links from the conference:

Glen Fuller’s take on the final keynote.

Jason Wilson’s piece on social media in academia for ECR and post-grads.

Also, CSR has a new issue out, for the interested.