Rupture Dynamics: Interrogating the Here and Now of Cultural Studies
Workshop at the University of Konstanz, 26-28 June 2014
Since its inception in the Birmingham Centre 50 years ago, cultural studies has been concerned with the historical materiality of particular moments, places and conjunctures. This conscious preoccupation with a specific here and now, a concrete time and place, has recently been buttressed by the reinvigoration of a ‘classical’ cultural studies agenda in the UK, where economic depression and a politics of austerity have prompted a return to detailed materialist critiques. Yet, the question remains whether such critiques ever move beyond long-established methodologies to combine political intervention with conceptual innovation. It seems that, quite to the contrary, increasing attempts are made by senior academics in the field to secure the legacy of cultural studies. Observing the field’s “de-facto institutionalization” across the globe, Paul Smith (2011) and Graeme Turner (2012), for instance, have insisted on defining its “core characteristics”. Given these attempts to secure the institutional and conceptual legacy of cultural studies, it seems timely to look for academic approaches that seek to de-link, disrupt and de-totalize the grand narratives of the field. Borrowing a metaphor from earthquake research, our aim is to complicate notions of the field’s singular genealogy and methodological ‘core’. This two-day workshop invites scholars to reflect on dynamics that might rupture such a consensus. We believe that inspiration for this endeavour can be found in recent work that interrelates postcolonial and queer studies, as well as object oriented ontology, with cultural studies’ political commitment. These three points of departure can be framed as slow-moving forces that destabilize the linear success story of cultural studies as an academic and political endeavour and help multiply and mobilize its agendas.
1. De-Linking Cultural Studies
With the growth of different academic traditions across the globe, diverse practices have come to be subsumed under the name of cultural studies. These speak from different linguistic, regional, national and diasporic contexts, draw on specific local traditions and methodologies, and are forking increasingly distinct trajectories, thus making it impossible to speak of cultural studies in the singular. Aiming to de-link the discipline from its alleged point of origin in Birmingham, some of these approaches go beyond regional divergence to incorporate non-Western epistemologies into cultural studies of decolonial or deimperial orientation. How do we conceive the relationship between cultural studies in the singular and these diverse traditions of ‘cultural studies’? What are the possible dialogues and contradictions between these and other knowledge practices within and beyond academia?
2. Disrupting Cultural Studies
Decolonial approaches coincide with sustained criticism of cultural studies’ subscription to progressivist narratives. Notions of future and futurity are central to any political project but the linear temporalities of cultural studies have increasingly been challenged. Thus, scholars of “queer time” have questioned a narrow preoccupation with the (heteronormative) present and employ willful anachronisms to challenge modes of linear knowledge production. Similarly, postcolonial critics argue for “disjunct”, “ruptured” or “non-synchronous” conceptions of time so as to disavow views that only ever understand non-European actors as belated arrivals to social struggles first fought elsewhere. How can such criticism be made productive in the context of cultural studies’ continuing commitment to social emancipation? Does the narrative of the success, crisis and renewal of cultural studies read differently when viewed through the lens of such criticism? How can the contemporaneity of diverse cultural studies traditions be made productive?
3. De-Totalizing Cultural Studies
The current interest in speculative forms of knowledge production adds yet another layer of interrogation. In their emphasis on the agency of matter, “object oriented ontology” and “speculative realism” challenge a cultural studies traditionally centred on human actors. Employing a quasi-ethnographic thick description that focuses on scenes and the presence of non-human actants, these paradigms take a step back from the ambition to totalize. How does cultural studies approach such scholarship? Can considerations of objects and affects in their own right lead towards methodological reinvigoration, or are they, to the contrary, indicative of a further weakening of political agency and historicity? To what extent can this interest in matter be read back into its local conditions of its emergence, in particular the global hegemony of Anglo-American academia?
Workshop participants were: Hongwei Bao (Nottingham), Alexander Dunst (Paderborn), Henriette Gunkel (London), Elahe Haschemi Yekani (Flensburg), Tilmann Heil (Konstanz), Anja Michaelsen (Bochum), Norman Saadi Nikro (Potsdam), Carolyn Pedwell (London/Newcastle), Gudrun Rath (Linz), Anja Schwarz (Potsdam), Simon Strick (Berlin) & Daniel Winkler (Innsbruck)