Cultural Studies in Question


Edited by: Marjorie Ferguson & Peter Golding

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    Notes on Contributors

    Michael Billig is Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, where he was a founder member of the Discourse and Rhetoric Group. His recent books include Talking of the Royal Family (1992), Arguing and Thinking (rev. edn 1996) and Banal Nationalism (1995). He is Associate Editor of Discourse and Society.

    James W. Carey is Professor of Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York. He was Dean of the College of Communications, University of Illinois. He is author of Communication as Culture: Media Myths and Narratives (1989) and James Carey: A Conversation (1997).

    John D.H. Downing is John T. Jones Jr. Centennial Professor of Communication in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. His books include The Media Machine (1980), Questioning the Media (rev. edn 1995) and Internationalizing Media Theory (1996). He has a forthcoming book on alternative media and political movements. He has written widely on racism and the media, and on ‘Third World’ cinemas.

    Marjorie Ferguson is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the College of Journalism, University of Maryland at College Park. Her books include Forever Feminine: Women's Magazines and the Cult of Femininity (1985), the edited volumes, New Communication Technologies and the Public Interest (1986) and Public Communication, the New Imperatives (1990), and Media Globalization: Myths, Markets and Identities (1997).

    Nicholas Garnham is Professor of Communication and Director of the Centre for Communication and Information Studies at the University of Westminster, London. He is the author of many works on media and communication issues, including Capitalism and Communication (1990) and The Economics of Television (1988). He is an editor of the journal Media, Culture and Society.

    Todd Gitlin's books include The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars (1995), The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage(1987), Inside Prime Time (1983) and The Whole World is Watching (1980), along with a novel, The Murder of Albert Einstein (1992), and an edited volume, Watching Television (1987). Formerly a professor of sociology and director of the mass communication programme at the University of California, Berkeley, he is now a professor of culture, journalism, and sociology at New York University.

    Peter Golding is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Loughborough, where he is also co-director of the Communication Research Centre. His books include Images of Welfare (with Sue Middleton, 1982), Communicating Politics (edited with Philip Schlesinger and Graham Murdock, 1986), and Taxation and Representation: Political Communication and the Poll Tax (with David Deacon, 1995). He is co-editor of the European Journal of Communication.

    Joli Jensen is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her publications include Redeeming Modernity: Contradictions in Media Criticism (1990) and articles on American cultural thought, the typewriter, and country music production. She is currently writing a book on beliefs about the social power of the arts among American intellectuals.

    Douglas Kellner is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. His books include Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film (with Michael Ryan, 1988), Critical Theory Marxism and Modernity (1989), Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (1989), Television and the Crisis of Democracy (1990), Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations (with Steven Best, 1991), The Persian Gulf TV War (1992), and Media Culture (1995).

    Jim McGuigan teaches communication, culture and media at Coventry University, UK. He is the author of Cultural Populism (1992) and Culture and the Public Sphere (1996), and co-editor of Studying Culture (1993, 2nd edition 1997). His forthcoming publications include Cultural Methodologies and Technocities.

    Denis McQuail is Professor Emeritus of Mass Communication at the University of Amsterdam. His many books include Mass Communication Theory (3rd edition 1994), Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest (1992) and Communication Models with Sven Windahl (2nd edition 1993). He is an editor of the European Journal of Communication.

    Angela McRobbie teaches sociology at Loughborough University and is author of Postmodernism and Popular Culture (1994) and Fashion and the Image Industries (1997). She has published widely on popular and youth culture and on feminist and cultural theory.

    David Morley is Professor of Communications, in the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmith's College, University of London. He is the author of The ‘Nationwide’ Audience (1980), Family Television (1986), Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies (1992) and Spaces of Identity (with Kevin Robins, 1995). He is the co-editor (with Kuan-Hsing Chen) of Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (1996) and (with James Curran and Valerie Walkerdine) of Cultural Studies and Communications (1996).

    Graham Murdock is Reader in the Sociology of Culture at Loughborough University. He has been visiting professor at several universities including, currently, the University of Bergen. He has written widely on sociological aspects of media and communications and his books include Mass Media and the Secondary School (with Guy Phelps, 1973), Demonstrations and Communications: A Case Study (with James Halloran and Philip Elliott, 1970) and Televising Terrorism (with Philip Schlesinger and Philip Elliott, 1983).

    John J. Pauly is Professor of Communication and American Studies, and Chair of the Communication Department at Saint Louis University. His research on the history and sociology of the mass media has appeared in many journals, and from 1989 to 1993 he was editor of American Journalism, the scholarly quarterly of the American Journalism Historians’ Association.

    Sari Thomas is Professor of Communication, Chair of Mass Media and Communication, and Director of the Institute of Culture and Communication, Temple University. She is the former editor of Critical Studies in Mass Communication, and has published numerous articles in leading journals.


    This volume was borne of a deep sense of unease. The continuing growth, and apparent vitality, of media and cultural studies have brought a vibrant and cutting edge to interdisciplinary work in the social sciences and humanities over the past three decades. At the same time, the worldwide expansion of the media and information industries has superimposed on the flourishing study of popular culture an added area of intellectual exploration which has captured the imagination of large numbers of students and scholars.

    Yet, as teachers and researchers in this field, we gradually became aware of an anxiety about the intellectual direction of much work labelled cultural studies, that was patently shared by many others. This seemed to stem from two specific concerns. First, the balance of intellectual labour seemed to us to have moved away from the still live and critical issues at the heart of the social sciences, towards those aspects of the study of cultural forms inherited primarily from the humanities. As social scientists ourselves, this was not only a matter of territorial paranoia, but the cause of a deepening sense that important issues and debates were being hopelessly elided by a field of study increasingly isolated from nourishing streams of work elsewhere. Secondly, we were becoming puzzled by the emergence of an orthodoxy, a canon of founding fathers, defining work and myths of origin, which was beginning to ossify an intellectual and academic community that insistently advocated openness, dialogue and interdisciplinarity.

    Such concerns could very easily become intensified. On both sides of the Atlantic we found aspiring graduate students emerging from cultural studies programmes able to offer the most elegant and detailed discourses on Derrida or Lacanian theory, yet seemingly unaware of current threats to public-service broadcasting or legislative and industrial trends eroding media plurality and democratic diversity. At times, the first and impatient response is somewhere between regret and despair. In North America, the work of British cultural studies pioneers was becoming the object of almost fanzine regard, a new iconography for American graduate students. On to this was grafted French postmodernism and American pragmatism in a new but distinctly dissociated mélange of interests and approaches.

    With these common concerns, the editors decided to organize a ‘theme session’ at the May 1993 annual meeting of the International Communication Association in Washington, DC. The session was entitled ‘Interfaces: culture and structure in communications research', and its panel members (all contributors to this volume) were set the task of bringing together ‘in constructive debate, contrasting intellectual research traditions which have attempted critically to address the changing social and political character of communications'. The session was, to say the least, lively. It was both heartening, and at times not a little alarming, to witness the passions and commitment aroused by the debate as issues raised, deliberately or innocently by the panel, touched a number of nerves in the distinguished assembly. At one level the session rubric seemed straightforward enough, seeking to explore contrasts between ‘approaches broadly under the “cultural studies” umbrella, whose primary concern has been with texts, meaning and signification, and on the other hand, social and political science approaches more extensively interested in those features of social structure which shape communication processes and cultural products'. Indeed, only too easily did it get boiled down to another familiar bout between something neat and tidy called cultural studies and something equally contained called political economy, in which neither recognized its image in the glassy caricature conjured up by the other. Clearly, something more was required.

    Thus, as the debate moved on, and as current academic and media debates about collective identity, postcolonialism and postmodernism attest, the boundaries and topography of our areas of study had become almost terminally, and certainly frustratingly, obscure. The ferocity of the ICA panel debate, and its terms and tenor, have subsequently replayed in the literature, notably in the growing secondary literature in cultural studies of a more critical and introspective cast, suggesting perhaps a loss of certainty as to direction and destinations.

    That is the backdrop to the professional, philosophical and pedagogical aims and purposes of this book: to offer media scholars thoughtful and critical reflection on a set of crucial debates in contemporary social and cultural analysis. Inevitably, we cannot be comprehensive or global in scope, whether understood culturally or geographically. But we are confident that these aims have been richly realized by the outstanding and original essays contributed by a distinguished set of scholars. We are deeply grateful for the time and energy they have devoted to this common task.

    The production of such an anthology will always owe debts to many beside its contributors. We are grateful to those whose hospitality and forbearance made editorial work on both sides of the Atlantic more congenial: in Leicester, Jen, Ben and Ruth Golding; in Washington, Laura Ferguson and Caryl Kerollis; in London, John Carrier and the London School of Economics; in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University and summer session colleagues. We gratefully acknowledge, too, the patient support and advice of our editor at Sage, Stephen Barr.

    Last but not least, our warm thanks and appreciation to Erik Bucy at Maryland who tracked down elusive references and data with his customary verve; Wendy Monk at Loughborough provided efficient research, editorial and bibliographical support, and not least, the index, with her usual good cheer and diligence; and David Murphy at Simon Fraser University who kept the editors connected in cyberspace over the last lap.

    MarjorieFergusonPeterGoldingWashington/Vancouver/Loughborough, July 1996

    Cultural Studies and Changing Times: An Introduction

    MarjorieFerguson and PeterGolding

    It is a curiosity of cultural and media analysis that cultural studies is not infrequently caught in the act of reinventing itself. There is a certain critical groundswell that suggests this process may again be under way. The spectacle of epistemological tails being swallowed and methodological skins being shed, while a matter of interest to others, appears to be neither novel nor noteworthy for an ‘intellectual project’ that extols the virtues of eclecticism, relativism, and the moving target as research agenda.

    This propensity towards metamorphosis seems to fuel the current high level of cultural studies’ internal debate and, millennial angst apart, goes somewhere towards explaining the current restless dynamic abroad in the field as a whole. In an environment where retrospectives on the cultural studies ‘project’ have become something of a scholarly (and publishing) mode du jour, the task of critical analysis is one the editors and authors of this volume join with some fervour and pursue from a variety of perspectives, including cultural studies itself.

    Three forces appear to be driving the wheels of re-evaluation and reinvention. The first is cultural studies’ high visibility, the consequence of its international advance, academic institutionalization and disciplinary colonization through the proliferation of professional associations, conferences, celebrity theorists, journals and texts. The second force derives from cultural studies’ penchant for a pedagogy of infinite plasticity, with interests that include, apart from its own history, gender and sexuality, nationhood and national identity, colonialism and postcolonialism, race and ethnicity, popular culture and audiences, science and ecology, identity politics, pedagogy, the politics of aesthetics and disciplinarity, cultural institutions, discourse and textuality, as well as ‘history and global culture in a postmodern age’ (Grossberg et al., 1992: 18–22).

    The third force pushing cultural studies along the path of revisionism stems directly from external critique. The substantive issue was, and is, cultural studies’ failure to deal empirically with the deep structural changes in national and global political, economic and media systems through its eschewing of economic, social or policy analysis. Notably missing from the whole-earth intellectual catalogue noted above are references to political and economic system change, such as the collapse of the former Soviet empire, employment consequences of a global market or their impact on information or entertainment access or production. Even farther removed are questions about the politics of the voting booth or public policy. The question remains, and merits repetition, where do claims of inclusivity stand when issues of changing media technology, ownership, regulation, production and distribution are shrugged off and only those of consumption are addressed?

    Along the way, cultural studies has produced a new professional sub-species, that of the ‘practitioner', a semantic stroke that transforms a scholarly state of ‘doing’ critical media and cultural analysis, to an imperial state of ‘being’ its own subject-object, while heeding a calling. As ontology replaces epistemology and interpretation replaces investigation, the embrace of textualism, discursive strategies, representation and polysemic meanings accelerates the elevation of the theoretical over the empirical and the abstract over the concrete.

    Chronicles of a Transnationalizing Academic Enterprise

    Both intellectually and spatially, the story of the cross-national and cross-disciplinary growth of cultural studies has been something of a traveller's tale. Chronicling an odyssey more Hollywood than Homeric, we can trace the movement of ideas, theories, methods and people – patron saints, superstars, hot gospellers and true believers – around the globe. In the process, national, regional and diasporic differences in ways of working, as well as particular interests, are grounded in specific experiences of history, geography, culture and politics. Inter-national and intra-group differences were always present, but only recently demonstrate a fragmentation potential as cultural studies reaches that ‘40-something’ age.

    What is indisputable is the scale and speed of growth in cultural studies activity. Some measure of these developments can be traced in the citation indices of the humanities and social science literature. Indicators of the extraordinary growth of cultural studies, the centrality of popular culture to its concerns and recent tendency to introspection are illustrated by the parallel growth and expansion of ‘popular culture’ and ‘cultural studies’ citations in the indices of two major social science, humanities and media data bases – Worldcat and ERIC, 1960–95. From 1960 with just 23 and 34 mentions for ‘cultural studies’ and ‘popular culture’ respectively, to their trebling and quadrupling in 1970 (100 and 77), citations have accelerated at broadly similar rates. But by far the largest jump occurred between 1985 (156 and 145 respectively) and the high point of 1991 (431 ‘cultural studies', 314 ‘popular culture'), since when there has been a steady downturn.

    The changing temper of this output is also indicated in the output of leading publishers in cultural studies. Taking the 234 current titles in the 1995–96 catalogues of the five leading publishers’ cultural studies lists on both sides of the Atlantic, we divided books into substantive studies and books reviewing, critiquing or providing didactic overviews of the field. Roughly one in four fell into the second category. As cultural studies grew as a market, it would seem the appetite for titles outgrew the capacity of the field to undertake new work. While wary, as editors of this volume, of the charge of occupying a glass house with large and fragile windows, we cannot but reflect on the view that the imperative driving much cultural studies work derives, at least in part, from ‘the fantasies of the marketing managers of a handful of anglophone publishing houses’ (Schwarz, 1994: 386). The line between productivity and superfluity is a thin one. The problem is not mere redundancy, but the inward-looking narcissism that threatens innovativeness, openness and sensitivity to other fields of work. Indeed, realization of this may be contributing to the current revisionist climate and calls for a ‘return’ to a more social science approach.

    Divergences in underlying assumptions and analytical categories are manifest in the different routes cultural studies has pursued in the UK, the USA, Latin America, Australia and elsewhere. Each reflects its particular history and zeitgeist, and, perhaps surprisingly, nowhere is this more evident than when work in the UK and the USA is compared. The notion that shared language, literature and theoretical gurus have produced an Anglo-American cultural studies hegemony is questionable, if not inaccurate.

    Few would dispute that cultural studies’ ‘myths of origin’ were made in Britain, or that their ‘founding fathers’ were Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and E.P. Thompson, and subsequently Stuart Hall. The enduring influence of Williams, in particular, on the sociology of culture as well as cultural studies, is explored here, notably by Carey, Gitlin and Murdock. The pioneer generation's British New Left origins profoundly influenced their quest to effect change. As Gitlin notes: ‘the grid of meaning that was discerned within (or imposed upon) popular culture was imported from radical politics. It had a teleology. It was not simply conflict but “contestation,” or confrontation’ (Chapter 2: 29). Reflecting further on Williams's political commitment to gain intellectual acceptance for examining everyday cultural practice, Murdock (Chapter 6: 87) adds that Williams recognized that: ‘The problem of how to build a shared culture that spoke to the needs of a complexly divided society, however, could not be properly addressed without a detailed engagement with concrete issues of policy', though he also adds how Williams's theoretical demands never produced in his own work the detailed empirical inquiries this engagement required. But support for cultural studies in the UK also grew from frustration with American-style positivism and perceptions of sociology as ‘bourgeois’ science (a critique already begun by American sociologists such as Alvin Gouldner). The abandonment of sociology was not without problems, however. As Harris (1992: 15) concludes, ‘what is extraordinary about the break with sociology is how selective the treatment of sociology has been', citing the invisibility of early formative Giddens in the cultural studies canon as an example.

    The later travels of cultural studies in the UK roamed from Leavisism through phenomenology, enthnomethodology, Lévi-Strauss structuralism, Althusser, Gramsci, post-Marxism, psychoanalytic and other strands of French literary theory, postmodernism and, most recently, the politics of identity, postcolonialism and post-nationalism. Defending the record of a field that clearly believes it is better to travel than arrive, Hall (cited in Morley and Chen, 1996: 150, 263) affirms that inclusivity is one of cultural studies’ most positive, primary characteristics seen in a teleological light as a necessity for cultural studies to remain “open-ended”. A thought Fiske echoes in lauding refusal ‘to produce or accept canonized criteria for defining either its boundaries or its center: while the field is not formless, its topography is far from fixed, so that any position within it can claim to occupy higher or more central ground than others’ (Fiske, 1996: 370). Such fancy epistemological footwork and incredible lightness of practitioner-being, ‘eclecticism’ and ‘relativism’ are not without their critics (see, for example, Eagleton (1996) and several essayists here).

    In the USA the picture was and is different. In America, as in the UK, the area of media and cultural analysis that called itself cultural studies sprang from concerns specific to its own history. Reflecting on the genesis of American cultural studies and its roots in Dewey and American pragmatism, James Carey stresses its particularity, because ‘the culture, intellectual and otherwise, in which it was embedded was distinctive', cautioning further that the US model is ‘useful only in those places where positive science had become paradigmatic of the culture as a whole’ (Chapter 1: 4).

    American cultural studies differs further on the basis of its political culture and national mythology. The dualism embedded in a core culture of pluralism and ‘e pluribus unum’ still marks ethnicity or race as the deepest cleavage lines. Whereas class qua class is text and subtext in the UK (from the Registrar General's five population ‘classes’ to ‘EastEnders', the BBC's most-watched television soap), and class relationships and regional identities are the foundation of social life, class is a largely absent category in American public, private or scholarly discourse. Its elision is due in part to the lingering legacy of the Red Menace, Marx and the Evil Empire, but also to shared beliefs that (almost) everyone is ‘middle class’ and only a residual category of non-persons qualify as the ‘underclass'. Class in the American context is seen primarily as the product and consequence of individual enterprise rather than that of a complexly configured historical, social and political economic location. The absence of class analysis also is attributed to American ‘exceptionalism’ as defined by the absence of a strong labour movement or socialist party (Lipset, 1996: 23). A situation that goes someway towards explaining why US cultural studies gives ‘class’ such a wide berth.

    What is unquestionable is that the USA is where cultural studies has achieved its greatest institutional following in terms of student numbers, courses and book sales, but not without some cost of reification. As Davies asserts (1995: 158), ‘the way in which cultural studies as a Thing has been co-opted in the United States raises quite a different issue from those in the UK … taken everywhere as an academic development, rather than a political or educational one, forgetting that many of the debates in Britain took place in the pages of New Left Review, Marxism Today, and a host of non-academic magazines and journals'.

    The transatlantic differences and intersections in cultural studies concerns highlights the importance of noting, however briefly, other national and regional traditions in doing cultural and media analysis under the cultural studies umbrella. A body of work has grown apace but which only partially, or tangentially, follows the same topics, tropes or frames of the USA or the UK.

    Two cases that illustrate the richness of cultural studies work beyond the Anglo-American axis are those of Latin America and Australia. In Latin America, scholars have traced the distinctive image of their countries’ popular cultural practice based on adaptation and transformation of a mixture of indigenous and imported (largely American) popular culture products. Much of the research and theoretical literature developed is in response to the search for answers to questions about media and democracy, and the creation of a more multi-vocal public sphere (Fox, 1996). Avoiding old theoretical dualisms of power-holders and powerless, Latin American scholars such as Garcia Canclini (1995) and Martín-Barbero (1993, 1988) have proposed analytical categories such as syncretism, hybridization and mestizaje (mixing of Indian and Spanish heritage) to clarify processes of cultural appropriation, adaptation and vocalization in the mediation between cultural practice, popular culture, democratic media and politics.

    Australia offers another site of location-specific theory and method. Uncharacteristic of the wider dearth of cultural and media policy analysis, pointedly critiqued by McQuail in Chapter 3, the policy literature is a substantial strand in Australian cultural studies. Leading cultural theorist, Tony Bennett has consistently called for a more widespread policy practice in reminding cultural studies that it is ‘committed to examine cultural practices in terms of their intrication with and within relations of power’ (Bennett, 1992a: 23) an injunction both Cunningham (1992) and O'Regan (1993) observe in demonstrating the relevance of policy study for understanding the politics, economics and total culture of Australia's media and cultural industries, journalism and regulatory regime.

    Disquiet within: Cultural Studies’ Debate with Itself

    The mid-1990s southern hemisphere is also the site of what might be called an emergent ‘alternative’ cultural studies (see, inter alia, Chen, 1996). Diasporic dissatisfaction at the Anglo-American focus of much debate is reflected more centrally in the ongoing ‘whither cultural studies’ debate and the literature explosion that has accompanied it from the late 1980s to the present. And while no direct causal connection can be made between the considerable critical mass (in both senses) of texts and articles, some correlation exists between cultural studies’ current condition of publicly re-examining its own entrails and the momentum of sociological revisionism under way. Cultural studies’ debates with itself and growing unease with the textualist and postmodernist trends that facilitated the moving away of cultural analysis from its substantive political, social and material roots raise further questions. As internal dust storms continue to swirl, perhaps the notion of a cross-national, like the notion of cross-disciplinary, cultural studies is oxymoronic. When all boundaries are ‘essentialist’ and epistemological eclecticism is canonical, out of many throats does not always come one clear chorus.

    The propensity to produce amending formulae is congruent with doctrinal attachment to methodological eclecticism. As the earlier strand of progressive and left-leaning political-empirical work was superseded by the ‘turn’ to popular culture and textualism, a patchwork of methods was stitched together from the ‘new’ ethnography, phonemic analysis, semiotics, deconstruction, rhizomatics, psychoanalysis and more recently, autobiography (a development returned to later). Only in recent times has there been a move among the cognoscenti to return to more social science, empirical modes of inquiry. In the spirit of what might be called ‘episto-methodological nostalgia', there is a growing argument for resurrecting the sociological methods of the 1970s for rediscovery in the 1990s.

    This volume contains two thoughtful contributions to this internal debate. Angela McRobbie (Chapter 11), calling upon feminist theory to reconnect with more sociological and policy-relevant questions, urges a more applied feminist cultural studies armed with data and empirical facts as ‘a pre-requisite for engagement in certain kinds of political discussion, however precious little attempt has been made so far to explore how poststructuralism can be made use of more productively’ (Chapter 11: 170), and argues for a return to the ‘three Es': the empirical, the experiential and the ethnographic. David Morley (Chapter 8) offers a critical examination of cultural studies’ orthodoxies and makes a case for ‘putting sociology back in'. The pursuit of ethnography, postmodernity, constructivist epistemology, textualist form of discourse theory with ‘little regard for questions of socio-economic determination’ has been problematic, he concludes, and North American cultural studies notably so, with its tilt to postmodernism and deconstructionist literary theory. He makes a powerful case for a cultural studies based on the combination of ‘sociological materialism, epistemological realism and methodological pragmatism’ (Morley, Chapter 8: 122).

    One of the most celebrated, if perhaps least likely, practitioners to come out of the sociological closet is John Fiske, proponent of ‘semiotic democracy’ and audience empowerment. While not abandoning earlier positions, recent work suggests something of a founding father's revisionism. Fiske (1994a: 9) cites Williams's call for ‘culture is a whole way of life’ and calls for closer attention to be paid to the media's social agency role in the material world. In recommending policy analysis of cultural studies’ texts, Fiske demonstrates the wheels of epistemological reinvention in motion.

    Whatever lies ahead, it is clear the era of cultural studies expansionism of the past decade is ending. In part this has been foreshadowed by discontent within and crossfire around the edges of the diaspora. Although the facility to reinvent by means of grafting critique on to earlier interests, methods or theories is regularly saluted as a sign of internal vitality by its proponents, for those outside it can also signal clear signs of factionalism and fragmentation.

    Disquiet without: The Watching Disciplines Pose Questions

    Alongside this introspective debate there has been a continuing rumble of concern, occasionally spilling over into exasperation, from outside cultural studies. Traditional disciplines, not unexpectedly, have expressed distaste for the upstart pretensions of a field of study which has commanded such enviable affection from students and publishers alike. On occasion, the malice and vehemence of such hostility has been startling. But the underlying commentary was to the effect that cultural studies was ignorant of significant developments elsewhere in academia, thus very often self-importantly reinventing the conceptual wheel of cultural analysis.

    Wolff (1993), writing from within sociology, regrets that sociology itself has had little to say about art and culture. However, in filling the vacuum, cultural studies has moved to an idealist ‘over enthusiastic abandonment of structure, causality, and the “real” world'. In her view, ‘the expansion of cultural studies, especially in the United States, is to some extent based on this textualising shift, whose consequences are both a depoliticisation of the original project of cultural studies, and the transformation of what should be a sociological critical study into a new hermeneutic’ (Wolff, 1993: 149–50). Important to the puzzled commentary of many sociologists, especially in the UK, was the apparent retreat from class as an axial principle of social analysis. The close, and sometimes exclusive, attention paid to questions of gender, sexuality or race by an analytical tradition still in some kind of debate with Marxism seemed to others to have lost sight of fundamental questions of structured inequality (see Murdock, Chapter 6; Garnham, Chapter 4).

    The deepening frown on the forehead of a number of neighbour pursuits was prompted by impatience with the insularity and apparent ignorance of their own endeavours within the increasingly self-enclosed and self-defined world of cultural studies. Audience researchers were astonished at claims that the discovery of qualitative work with cultural consumers was wholly new, when they thought they had been doing it for years. Anthropologists, especially those engaged in the ‘new ethnography', were puzzled by the variety of practices labelled ‘ethnographic’ by cultural studies in its ‘turn’ to the audience and to empirical work (see Morley, Chapter 8). In social psychology, the remaking of the discipline around notions of discourse has still to enter into the vision of writers using a much looser notion of discourse within cultural studies (see Billig, Chapter 13). Similarly, as Jameson notes, ‘the historians seem particularly perplexed by the somewhat indeterminable relationship of the cultural people to archive material', and cites Catherine Hall's anxiety that cultural history has been ignored by cultural studies with serious consequences (Jameson, 1993: 18). Only slowly, however, was this work seeping into the cultural studies’ consciousness, at least among its toiling multitudes.

    The critique from without has not been restricted, of course, to the conference hall and journal debate. Academia is itself in the political fray, and in the utilitarian temper of both UK and US politics of recent years the expansive success of cultural studies has inevitably drawn fire. The recent expansion of cultural studies in the UK has been part of the deliberate force-fed increase in the number of full-time university students from 563,000 to 930,000 between 1988 and 1994. At the same time the atrophy of some traditional disciplines in the humanities and social sciences has left a space for newer, and superficially glamorous fields, to mop up student demand. The expansion of these popular areas of study has not been without its opponents, and the subject continues to struggle for legitimacy in a political culture which is now almost obsessively utilitarian in its approach to education. One Minister for Education proclaimed ‘I have ordered an inquiry … to try to find out why some young people are turned off by the laboratory, yet flock to the seminar room for a fix of one of those contemporary pseudo-religions like media studies … For the weaker minded, going into a cultural Disneyland has an obvious appeal’ (Patten, 1993: 14). In 1995 and 1996 a flurry of articles in the national press attacked media and cultural studies when it was revealed that university applications to study in these areas continued to rise.

    In the UK this attack has not indulged in the luxury of differentiating the sub-areas of cultural and media studies. While those in the field may enjoy demarcation disputes, to the new utilitarianism such subtleties had little substance, and it became clear that there was a necessity for the recurrent defence of a broad body of scholarship against an offensive which had little patience for the delicacies of dissent examined here.

    In the USA criticism of the academy in the 1990s has focused more on questions of curriculum change and cultural diversity than journalism, communication or cultural studies enrolments. The debates around the so-called ‘culture wars’ have centred on positions for or against issues such as ‘Western greats', ‘identity politics', ‘eurocentrism’ or ‘ethnic studies’ (see, for example, Gitlin, 1995; Shohat and Stam, 1994). In a land where ‘freedom’ is iconic and individualistic, and where students (not the government) pay the fees, attacks on degree choices per se are rare.

    The Critics Converge: Questions of Method, Motive and Meaning

    So, as criticism, both from within and without, of the ‘cultural studies project’ began to mount, the central features of this critique became clearer. First, the charge of ‘textualism’ acquired a wider currency as a wholesale concern about the apparent idealist epistemology of much cultural studies analysis. Despite discussion of culture as a way of life, bequeathed by the Raymond Williams's legacy, most cultural studies’ work focused on media artifacts, or the output of cultural practice rather than its conduct. Williams's own injunction that ‘we should look not for the components of a product but for the conditions of a practice’ (Williams, 1980: 48) was seldom heeded. Production in particular vanished from view, to such an extent that by 1992 a notable exponent of the musicological end of cultural studies, Simon Frith, could reflect regretfully that the study of popular music was only thriving because of the input from anthropology and sociology, work whose importance is ‘because it focuses on an area and issue systematically (and remarkably) neglected by cultural studies: the rationale of cultural production itself, the place and thought of cultural producers’ (Frith, 1992: 178). Cultural activities became texts to be read, rather than institutions or acts to be analysed. As ever there are exceptions. Reception, as distinct from production, of culture, came to occupy a major place in the cultural studies vision. In a reawakened enthusiasm for empirical work, studies of the audience for cultural goods reflected an ‘ethnographic turn’ in the route-march of cultural studies. Indeed, cultural production was now seen to occur in the engagement of reader with text; the ‘moment of cultural production’ was in its reading. Yet somehow this was too easy a rewriting of social dynamics. As Stuart Hall put it, it was time to ‘return the project of cultural studies from the clean air of meaning and textuality and theory to the something nasty down below’ (Hall, 1992: 278).

    It was as though culture had entirely lost its moorings from the bedrock of history. Social structure, political force, economic dynamics, all appeared to have been evaporated by the intense heat of textual ‘interrogation'. Of course, much of this arose, especially in the UK, from the ticklish business of dealing with the base-superstructure analogy so troubling for the Marxist legacy (see Chapters 4 and 6 by Garnham and Murdock, respectively). But this debate was seldom in mind in the mass production of ever more evanescent readings of popular culture from Madonna to mall. Allied to this was the critical observation that the texts being pursued with such analytical energy were, in the main, limited in scope, most especially to the moving image media. Newspapers and printed texts generally seemed of less and less interest. Occasional forays into the popular novel or teenage magazine aside, the overwhelming mass of attention was to popular television, cinema and video.

    The second strand of criticism attached to the theoreticism of cultural studies work. In part this was a familiar jibe about jargon and language, only too regularly encountered by anyone working in theoretical mode in the humanities or social sciences. But the justification for jargon is that it provides for a precision of description, a battery of concepts or terms allowing more accurate and meaningful analysis. In cultural studies, too often the opposite was true, the language facilitating a looseness and imprecision only too easily masked by the opacity of the syntax and vocabulary deployed. The indigestible mix which emerged as ingredients were selected from French structuralism, Gramscianism and psychoanalysis provided an easy target for critics ready to deflate any rising balloon of academic pretension. The apparent use of ‘a pointlessly obscure and convoluted style’ (Howe, 1994: 40), allied to a cunning use of inverted commas to convey a notion that terms used carried complex and expanded meanings hidden to all but the tutored reader, produced a literature of growing opalescence and diminishing clarity. Certain terms became the coded cant of imprecise analysis. Such concepts as ‘terrain', ‘site of struggle', ‘problematic’ (as a noun), ‘configuration', ‘articulation', ‘moment', ‘project', ‘turn', all lost any focus with which they had been endowed in the literatures from which they were borrowed, and became merely the calling cards of the cognoscenti.

    But theoreticism is a harsher charge than mere affectation. Looking back on cultural studies’ anti-empiricist attempt to engage with power, which it found not in the citadels of capital and oaklined chambers of state, but in the mysteries of language and meaning, Schwarz notes how ‘a dazzling and on the whole fruitful eclecticism was shadowed by fantasies of intellectual omniscience in which theory itself would unlock the deep secrets of ‘the totality'” (Schwarz, 1994: 383). The constant distancing from the material simplicities of history and politics seemed to compel a retreat into levels of abstraction in which theory was an end in itself. Endless appeals to an unexplicated ‘complexity’ remind the reader that nothing is as it seems, that the cultural studies text signals, but cannot for the moment deliver, a limitless elaboration of what had previously seemed self-evident.

    Third, and not unrelated to linguistic affectation, was a form of analysis highly dependent on metaphor. Davies (1995: 116) has noted the recurrence of horticultural and military metaphors in Gramsci's work, and the elaboration of this usage in cultural studies is discussed productively in Chapter 10 by Jensen and Pauley. Now, as Hall reminds us, ‘metaphors are serious things. They affect one's practice’ (Hall, 1992: 282). But the metaphor as second order construct, without which no form of analysis is possible, is different from the metaphor as mere likeness, the suggestive semblance of reality but not its analytical construction. What is one to make of the claim, for example, that ‘Cultural practices are places where a multiplicity of forces (determinations and effects) are articulated’ (Grossberg, 1993: 90)? The use of physical and spatial metaphors is always fraught, of course; the endless difficulties unleashed by the widespread adoption and exposition of Habermas's notion of the public sphere is a case in point. But analysis by metaphor poses exceptional problems within cultural studies, precisely because of the uneasy drift into theoreticism and idealism already noted.

    Take such a major text as Policing the Crisis (Hall et al., 1978), one of the most creative and incisive of early UK works in the field and still a much cited cultural studies’ seminal text. Yet, insightful though its unpicking of British political developments in the post-war period to 1975 undoubtedly is, almost any selection at random reveals a dependence on analysis by metaphor, which is bound to sound alarm bells in the mind of the reading historian or sociologist. Can we really depend on appeals to ‘the spirit of the times’ (ibid.: 237) as a historical or materialist explanandum? What are we to make of the repeated appearance of abstract nouns as the subjects of sentences, and thus as the apparent agencies of history? ‘Intellectual liberalism threw in the sponge without a fight’ (ibid.: 242). Who, how, when, one immediately wants to know. ‘The counter culture was … directed at the superstructures of modern capitalism. … It demanded, above all, a revolution in consciousness’ (ibid.: 254). What was this ‘it’ that did the demanding?

    Now this is a dangerous game, and perhaps too easy, and few of us could escape similar selective exposure. At the other end of this rope lies the possibly apocryphal but appealingly indicative, supposed response of Paul Lazarsfeld to Wright Mills's famous first sentence in The Sociological Imagination (1959). To Mills's opening flourish, ‘Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps', Lazarsfeld is held to have responded with a query as to ‘how many men, which traps, how often do they feel this?’ in a charmingly ironic capture of the empiricists’ impulse (though without a more recent sensitivity as to issues of gender). Nonetheless the issue is what kind of explanation of cultural and social process cultural studies is able to offer. The idealism and imprecision inherent in analysis by metaphor pose particular questions for the status of the cultural studies text.

    The political And the Popular: Pleasure, Resistance and Power

    During the 1980s cultural studies’ embrace of a new form of political populism, predicated on the power of popular culture and its consumers, began to raise the first serious questions about the scope and utility of its modes of media and cultural analysis. This period, in retrospect, demonstrated cultural studies at the outermost point of its trajectory from a starting point in the cultural practices of the material world. As ‘style’ triumphed over economy and society as mediating agencies, a new politics of meaning and ‘resistance’ was discovered in accounts acclaiming audience power to read meaning into television and other texts. The impact of what Mukerjee and Schudson (1991) call ‘the power of the ordinary’ on the intellectual agenda of cultural studies is difficult to overstate. Indeed, the substantive questions remain those of correctly identifying ‘the ordinary’ and whether power and the social are appropriately analysed, a caution Silverstone (1994: 992) points out is relevant for both cultural studies and the sociology of culture. The triumph of cultural choice and aesthetics over issues of inequality and democracy, the ‘realpolitik’ of government and market practices, widening structural inequalities between nations or groups or the impact of an infotainment ethic on news journalism appears to be total. The impact of all these mediating factors on cultural choice, cultural fashion and consumption had little or no place in the cultural studies theoretical universe.

    By making audience popularity a criterion of worth, and raising consumer choice to the status of holy writ, it proved difficult to avoid the conclusion that cultural studies was offering an academic echo of the neo-Adam Smith philosophy as retailed by supply-side Reaganomics. This confusion, according to Gitlin (Chapter 2), ‘while seeming to defend the people against capitalism comes to echo the logic of capitalism … the model of contemporary politics inherent in cultural studies is, finally, self-confirming’ (Chapter 2: 37). This is a judgement Jim McGuigan (Chapter 9) extends when he notes how economic theory has been transposed ‘on to a cultural plane, a plane that tended to be seen as almost entirely autonomous from any actual economy and polity … a transposition … with no recourse to an economy conceived in terms of the circulation of wealth is a curious form of theoretical repression’ (Chapter 9: 140).

    Thus the contradictions of cultural studies’ power-to-the-people style of populism juxtaposes its hurrahs for cultural choice and audience empowerment with a non sequitur conclusion: pleasure alone constitutes resistance to its sources, a position difficult to sustain given the prior media and cultural market interventions by infotainment organizations or government policies. Arguing that cultural studies is in fact conformist, Mulhern (1995: 34–5) correctly observes, a form of populism that insists on ‘the active and critical element in popular cultural usages … tends to overlook the overwhelming historical realties'. In this case, the shaping and packaging of most urban popular culture today results from sophisticated celebrity and product marketing on the part of media organizations before any element of consumer choice enters the marketplace.

    The second dimension in the political critique is the inevitable suppressing force on the energies and innovation of a field which comes with institutionalization. Success breeds inertia and insularity. The establishment of the full apparatus of associations, journals, conferences, departments and networks reinforces both a siege mentality and at the same time a loss of interaction and engagement with work elsewhere. The least productive aspect of this has been cultural studies’ growing fascination with its own life story, a continuous rehearsal of foundation myths and intellectual biography, which has all the appeal and significance of the premature memoirs of an adolescent prodigy. As Barker and Beezer point out, cultural studies, ‘rather like a football star at twenty five, is busy writing its autobiography’ (Barker and Beezer, 1992: 3). There seems a certain folie de grandeur in the incessant disinterring of the founding fathers, and a picking over the ground of 1960s Birmingham. Detailed histories of who moved where, and taught whom, are respectfully narrated as if unveiling the mysteries of daily life in Plato's Academy (see, for example, Bennett, 1996).

    Third, and perhaps more fundamental to the political critique of cultural studies, is its ironic retreat from politics per se. The ‘project’ of cultural studies has always and explicitly been as an intervention in political life, as a contribution to the unmasking of ideology and as the liberation from oppression of those subject to its repressive power. The journal Cultural Studies proclaims its mission as

    propelled less by a theoretical agenda than by its desire to construct possibilities, both immediate and imaginary, out of historical circumstances; it seeks to give a better understanding of where we are so that we can create new historical contexts and formations which are based on more than just principles of freedom, equality, and the distribution of wealth and power.

    Now this is a brave and compelling standard to fly, and much courageous and effective work has been prompted by it. Yet to many observers the actual practice of cultural studies, especially in recent years when its distant origins in the British New Left of the 1960s, the workers’ education movement, or the radical politics of US pioneers discussed by Carey in Chapter 1, seems almost invisible, and has largely departed from such an engagement. To the American radical historian Robert McChesney, ‘cultural studies has given us much hype, but little action … due to the marginalization of explicitly radical politics’ (McChesney, 1995: 2).

    Cultural studies has always been resolutely focused on the links between culture and power, especially as detectable in popular culture. But this credo seems little evident in the torrent of dissection of the epiphenomena of popular culture and everyday practice in which the dynamics of power, inequality and oppression seem obscured. In retreat from the crudities of economic reductionism and the base-superstructure model, cultural studies’ construction of culture has become entirely detached from economics, and largely from politics too. Downing, in Chapter 12, questions the curious absence of cultural studies from any critical assessment of the epochal changes in Eastern Europe over the last decade, despite, as he explains, the centrality of cultural processes and institutions in the seismic shifts experienced in those societies. Thomas, in Chapter 5, returns us to the central concept of dominant ideology, which, she argues, has been misunderstood and misused by both cultural studies and its critics.

    The guilty dilemma of the intellectual is always that of commentator, of witness, unsure that the pen really is the mightier. Cultural studies is not alone in this. But the contrast between proclaimed mission and practice has acute difficulties for cultural studies. Partly this is the fruits of its debate with Marxism, at least in the UK context, and with the axial principle of class as the locus of primary social difference. In wresting itself from that canon, cultural studies often loses all purchase on the institutional and structural context of cultural practice. Thus, even when dealing with other fault-lines in social stratification, the loss of political dynamic has been a source of intense irritation. Sivanandan, reflecting on recent work on race, pours scorn on ‘theoretical practitioners', working simply on textuality, who have lowered their sights ‘from changing the world to changing the word’ (Sivanandan, 1990: 49).

    Concrete instances of this arise in the debate about cultural studies’ failure to impact on, or even engage with, matters of cultural policy. At a time when debates such as those over the contradictory imperatives of state policy to unleash market forces but to contain cultural licence, the current uncertainty in much of the world over the definition and institutional future of public service broadcasting, the continuing advance of multinational corporate control of cultural production, the dithering attempts to arrive at cultural policy that matters in bodies national, regional and global are all at the forefront of political dispute, but where are the insights and interventions of cultural studies?

    This question has indeed been posed from inside cultural studies, as noted earlier, but is discussed from a different perspective by McGuigan in Chapter 9, where he calls for a policy perspective that engages with macro processes. ‘Cultural studies must be imaginative, it must propose alternatives, different ways of ordering the social and cultural worlds’ (McGuigan, Chapter 9: 153). McQuail, in Chapter 3, develops this theme. His aim is ‘to speak up for the need to revive an “applied” version of critical cultural study’ which he contrasts with the dominant version of cultural studies which claims to fulfill a critical role but chooses not to engage with cultural issues on the policy agenda (McQuail, Chapter 3: 41).

    This line of critique is not unrelated, of course, to the difficult business of value. As McQuail reminds us, value matters. In Frow's words, ‘There is no escape from the discourse of value’ (Frow, 1995: 134). The discovery, in the name of resistance, of an inexhaustible capacity for subversion and selective reception among audiences does not remove the obligation and analytical necessity of addressing the question of value. McGuigan, too, in castigating such an approach as populist, notes that the call for a return to questions of cultural value has yet to receive a response, and most probably requires concrete sociological research to provide one. Most of all, he insists, ‘questions of value, quality, and truth are necessary to ask’ (McGuigan, Chapter 9: 148). Cultural studies has to face this particular problem because of the awkward double realization of the notion of value derived from both aesthetic and also economic analysis. Torn between the two, too often cultural studies has evaded both.

    Beyond Cultural Studies: The Way Forward, or More than One Way Forward?

    If, indeed, cultural studies is in transition, its current stage of evolution is much preoccupied with questions of collective identity. Now identity is a notoriously slippery and multi-dimensional concept, that ranges in this case from the identity of cultural studies itself to those of its theorists and constituencies: the dialogues of difference or sameness within the discourses of feminism, ethnicity, sexual orientation, Eurocentrism, the diasporic, the post-colonial and the post-national. The embrace of identity, and its excavation from the bedrock of personal history, adds perhaps another mile or two to cultural studies’ movement away from its own intellectual ‘roots', roots once firmly planted in the social and material, not the self-actualizing, world.

    This latest interest-shift sometimes comes dangerously close to establishing an intellectual autarchy, where autobiography can become its own auto-didactic method cum theory within a self-sufficient conceptual environment. A focus on the micro rather than the macro, coupled with an introspective fascination with the practice rather than the outcomes of cultural studies as a mode of inquiry, can be seriously constrictive, not least in creating a self-validating logic that has the added convenience of permitting inferences to be drawn about nationalism, colonialism, inter-group or transnational power relations and the global market, without reference to empirical (as opposed to personal-historical) data. Cultural studies’ populism rightly stands accused of Blake's Folly, or becoming what it beheld.

    In this introduction to the collection of essays that follows we have attempted to trace the main routes of cultural studies’ travels thus far, and signal some of the successes and problems that have arisen along the way. We have also attempted to clarify some of the major issues at the heart of current internal and external debates about cultural studies’ ends and purposes, very much in evidence inside and outside its ranks. If the current spasm of re-evaluation in the field as a whole is one reason for this book's appearance, it is also a phase that provokes a certain aura of déjà vu as cultural studies struggles with signs of ‘bringing sociology back in’ (and economics) to its conceptual purview. Having said that, it is not possible to generalize where there are exceptions to every one within each national, regional or difference group. Each sees itself through the prism of a different history, cultural tradition and political context. Criticized for doing what it does best – responding to the questions of the moment from multiple starting positions – can lead to some understandable defensiveness among cultural studies’ advocates.

    Despite these caveats, the problems with cultural studies, adumbrated by its growing army of critics, do represent a substantial charge sheet. But it is important to recognize the limits and dangers to such critique. The myopia of which cultural studies sometimes stands accused is not unique to that field alone. Many critics are frequently, and often with some justice, accused in turn by cultural studies of ignoring both the breadth and diversity of work within the field, and its own readiness to respond to identified lacunae or partiality. Here, the evolution and history of cultural studies in North America, the UK, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere is highly distinctive, and more attention needs to be given to their particularities.

    Equally, it has become clear that new forms of analysis are needed to energize research and theory in an era of new communication technologies and global-local information and entertainment exchange. As a number of authors argue here, the least satisfactory approach is to perpetuate a false dichotomy between a cultural studies fixated on populism and difference and a monotheistic political economy fixated on class and economics. Kellner, in Chapter 7, explores the possibilities of what he terms a ‘multiperspectival’ approach which overcomes such dichotomies, one among several proposals designed to move beyond a perennial mutual caricature that allows each side to mount the barricades and declare itself the Saviour of critical research while labelling the other a False God.

    The definitive history of cultural studies and its contribution to critical discourse remains to be written, but growing pessimism about its future has made this an exciting time to work with the distinguished contributors whose chapters follow. Although we can make no claims that they cover all the issues currently on the critical agenda, we can and do claim that they offer a provocative and productive analysis of cultural studies’ contributions to our field of media and cultural analysis. There are lessons here for all our scholarly and research agendas on the eve of the twenty-first century.

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