Terry Flew blogs the recent UQ symposium on cultural studies

For those of us who weren’t able to attend UQ’s Cultural Studies Symposium: Past, Present and Future, Terry Flew has helpfully taken  notes about the conference and blogged them.

Flew writes up Chris Rojek’s discussion of the life-cycle of the now-closed Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies thus:

What “the project” of CCCS was about was:

  • class consciousness
  • struggles over ideology
  • Western Marxism (esp. Gramsci and Althusser)
  • how to move the state towards meeting popular demands.

What CCCS did not deal with:

  • feminism
  • Michel Foucault
  • what corporations actually do
  • cultural citizenship (what can be done?)
  • what a future society might look like?

Achievements of Birmingham School:

  1. Rigorous insistence upon the importance of popular culture (fashion, youth culture , pop music, television etc.);
  2. Linking culture to politics in a sophisticated way (now largely absent from the field);
  3. Made idea of resistance legitimate;
  4. Developing an alternatvie publishing stream in face of publishers’ indifference – appeared “cutting edge” and alternative;
  5. Creating jobs in cultural studies – a new establishment.

Defects of Birmingham School:

  1. Backed the wrong horse in embracing tradition of Western Marxism, which led it to overly focus upon the white working class and the state, and slow to understand identity politics or corporate capitalism. It made it less receptive to globalization, and exaggerated the importance of the nation-state;
  2. Insistence on relevance promoted a need to be an expert on what is happening now, which gets in the way of better grounding its own approach and developing a string disciplinary base – leads to a recurring tendency to “reinvent the wheel” intellectually;
  3. Tendency to produce cultural relativism – failed to develop an adequate position on cultural value – “everything is important”;
  4. Never linked its intellectual work to a viable form of politics – resistance, protest and challenging privileged over organisation and leadership – proposes an “unlikely rainbow coalition to deliver the goods” that avoids the nitty-gritty of political work.

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