Some thoughts on Cultural Studies Now:
After a late summer break and with the benefit of time I wanted to very briefly reflect on the Cultural Studies Now conference which took place in London in July. As one of the organizers my perspective is clearly marked by my insider location and personal inscription within the conference machinery. But in a conference of this size, with over 100 panels across four days, no one really has a totalizing perspective on the event. This is not to say one cannot attempt to piece together one – to draw out the kernel around which the conference became constructed. It is in this spirit that this post is a sort of tangential comment on Melissa Gregg’s entry ‘Post Transit’ in her Home Cooked Theory blog. While Gregg’s post is a limited response to the conference within the context of a blog, it does present a position on the event and cultural studies more generally, which essentially for me is the present problem with Cultural Studies scholarship as a politics. So in that sense it represents an important commentary on the present state of critical thought.
The crux of the ‘Post Transit’ entry revolves around the ‘hero-worship’ of Stuart Hall and the ‘shadow’ this has placed on scholars in the Britain, secondly and significantly for me that the tone of the conference was far too serious, and thirdly Gregg critiques endlessly the facilities and generally poor organization.
I am not interested in refuting any of these observations – they might even be true – what is more interesting is how they defend a rather comfortable, privileged, bourgeois, apolitical and somewhat ahistorical view of academic life.
Many of us are happy to be in the ‘shadow’ of Hall. We have learned much from his approach to intellectual thought. In particular for many of us Black students and lecturers he remains a critical inspiration. His recent thinking on the history of cultural studies remains a productive catalyst to our work and practice – others may have different views about Hall- so be it.
I also wouldn’t make an apology for the seriousness of the conference – I don’t actually agree with this characterisation – but maybe the everyday humour was lost in translation. The question of seriousness or not – or our perceptions of it – is partially about what sort of political forms and practices we like and privilege. It says something about what we think are the appropriate modes of political engagement at this geo-political conjuncture. All I will say now is that neoliberal culture and contemporary hegemonic power thrives on not being serious. It is maybe the ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’ of our political commitment that needs to be asserted against the postmodern culture of irony and cynical distance. Lets get serious.
As the person responsible for the mics, I didn’t really care too much if they were sticky! I was just pleased they managed to work – some of the time. I won’t go on about the difficulties we had getting support from the university, but to say that University of East London is, in financial terms, a poor university. We are pleased we managed to pull off the event with not too many problems. Stuffy, crowded halls, running over time, microphones and audio-visual facilities not working well, are all part of the politics of conferences. I’m probably being far too old-fashioned and serious here, but isn’t there a relationship between the ‘form’ and the ‘content’ of conferences. Maybe the sticky mics were a sign of people’s commitment and passion over the four days.