Why You Can’t Do Cultural Studies and Be A Derridean: Cultural Studies After Birmingham, the New Social Movements and the New Left – Gary Hall

From: ‘Gary Hall” <g.hall@mdx.ac.uk>

To: “Paul Bowman” < p.bowman@roehampton.ac.uk>

Six huge and rather intimidating questions.1 How can I even begin to address the many different and difficult subjects they raise?

I’d like to start by thanking you for the generous invitation to contribute to your book. I’m very flattered. That said, I must confess to feeling rather ambivalent about it. To be precise, I’m uncomfortable about taking on the role that both the situation and your questions appear to be performatively encouraging me to adopt: that of someone who is already supposed to know (and who it can therefore be presumed will have something more or less interesting, meaningful and, yes, possibly even important to say) about a whole range of issues to do with cultural studies, political theory, politics, capitalism, globalisation, disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, knowledge, legitimation, intervention, emancipation, orientation, limits, margins, symptoms, as if I have a ready made theory or set of theories that can be applied to any given topic. It’s not just that repeating (once again) a programme or system that has already been calculated and decided upon in advance is an uninteresting, not to mention unethical and irresponsible, thing to do. Although of course it is, even if it may have a certain strategic benefit, and is impossible to avoid entirely anyway, and all the more so in ‘interviews’, with their demand for rapid, improvised, on the spot responses, all of which makes it difficult to say anything particularly complex or sophisticated. My sense of ambivalence also has something to do with the way in which adopting a role of this kind seems such a paranoid way to act. (Isn’t this what Freud means when he describes ‘the delusions of paranoiacs’ as having ‘an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship to the systems of our philosophers’ (Freud, 1919: 261)?).2 Yet in an era of accountability and the RAE,3 when jobs are scarce and academics are under increasing pressure to perform as people who do indeed know – and to an international standard, too – and where neo-liberalism’s ferocious attack on public services has created a sense of urgency among those on the left (it feels like we’re running out of time to defend notions of the public sphere against the spread of the free market; that a window of opportunity is closing fast), how desirable, how possible is it for me to hesitate when faced by your questions. . .

. . . and admit to being uncertain as to how to proceed? Can I actually say, ‘Look, I don’t know’. ‘I’m not sure’. ‘I can’t decide’. ‘I need more time to think and experiment, and maybe raise some questions of my own’.

Here? Now? Dare I risk it?

Subject: On Oxbridge, the RAE and Healthy Insubordination

Question 1. Which particular political theories or theorisations of the political informed the formation of cultural studies, and what consequences did these ideas have for the orientation of cultural studies? That is, what did these political theories privilege, marginalise, enable and conversely remain blind to, and what consequences did and does this entail for the orientations of cultural studies?

In a recent essay written in honour of Stuart Hall and his activities over the years, Angela McRobbie recounts being in the ‘audience at an academic media and communications conference where a whole array of editors were on the stage and asked to give an update on publishing in their RAE rated journals’. To her horror, not one of these editors so much as ‘flinched when they described their readerships as a paltry 300 or 400 internationally (and some were read by even smaller numbers)’ (McRobbie, 2000: 219). For McRobbie this provides clear evidence of the conservative effect the current climate of ‘accountability’ is having on academic life. Some aspects of what she calls this Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) culture she welcomes: ‘In a world where young women and people from a range of different ethnic backgrounds are and were completely unrepresented on the faculties’, she sheds few tears when the privileges of the leisurely, ‘gentlemanly’, Oxbridge model of academic life, ‘where a job for life meant a life in the pub’, are withdrawn (218). Nevertheless, McRobbie sees this RAE culture as falling a long way short of truly modernising and extending the university system. And she regards the process by which the culture of the RAE encourages academics to write for an extremely small audience of fellow academics to the exclusion of a wider public as particularly damaging:

Call me a populist but for me the idea of speaking to a larger section of the population, including part-time and mature students, and even some who are not students at all, indeed, those who may be socially excluded, remains one by which the traditional barriers between the elite universities and the outside world are broken down. (2000: 219)

I wanted to begin with this anecdote from McRobbie’s ‘Stuart Hall: The Universities and the “Hurly Burly”‘, because it in many ways provides an exemplary illustration of one of cultural studies’ most deeply cherished beliefs concerning its relation to politics and to theorisations of the political. It’s a belief that continues to exert a strong and powerful influence over the field today. This is the conviction that if cultural studies is to have any sort of politics worthy of the name it needs to be committed to social, historical and political movements wider than itself. From this perspective, those of us who work in universities should indeed be aiming to communicate and connect with the ‘outside world’; to speak to and even on ‘behalf’ (220) of ‘a larger section of the population’. The ‘real issue’, McRobbie writes, referring to her time at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, was to do ‘research that could be combined with political work’ (215).

I should perhaps just stress that I go along entirely with everything McRobbie has to say in this essay. I agree with her critique of RAE culture and the climate of ‘managerial league tables and performance variables’ (217) and awareness of the danger that this regime, in the ‘name of modernization and detraditionalization, can actually have the opposite effect’ (217-8); her emphasis on the need to widen the ‘net of access’ (218) at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, so that many of those who currently find themselves excluded from higher education can eventually gain a place within the university, including more black and Asian students; and her claim that the cost for many women embarking on an academic career may very well be that they have to give up on the idea of having a family, and concern that there is a sense now that somehow ‘gender issues have been dealt with’ (218). As someone who was insubordinate enough to get involved in starting a journal,4 I also agree with McRobbie’s suggestion as to how those within the academy can challenge the conservative consequences of RAE culture by adopting some possibly ‘risky strategies’, so that universities might continue to function, ‘albeit in conditions of adversity, . . .as places of dissent’ (219). ‘My preference’, she writes:

would be to encourage a greater diversity of types of publication, where perhaps the rules of anonymous peer-reviewing and all the paraphernalia involved in getting RAE-credited work into print might be suspended in favour of the quality of the written work and the spirit of experiment and innovation. The system the RAE has put in place operates as a means of disciplining younger scholars to conform to the rules of their seniors. In a nutshell, they have to go through the route of the established journals rather than start their own. This is also a constraint on critique and on healthy insubordination. (2000: 220)

In fact it’s because I agree with McRobbie on all of this that I want to propose the following hypothesis: that this conviction that we should be aiming to speak to a wider public may on occasion also act as ‘a constraint on critique and on healthy insubordination’, both inside and outside the university. Or, to put it another way, is this not itself one of those ‘rules of the [in this case left] academic game’ (221) that, according to McRobbie, we will need to break from time to time if those of us who work in cultural studies today are to help ‘reproduce future generations of intellectuals who share the commitment and enthusiasm that Stuart Hall has so manifestly demonstrated throughout his years of being a teacher, writer and intellectual’ (217)?

Subject: So You Want to Experiment, Do You? Cultural Studies After Birmingham, the New Social Movements and the New Left5

I realise this politically committed vision of our role is extremely important to a lot of people in cultural studies. So, in the ‘spirit of experimentation and innovation’, let me take a moment to explore the above hypothesis a little further. To do so I want to focus on a question that is immediately provoked by McRobbie’s privileging of Hall’s work in this context: what conception of our role as cultural studies teachers, writers and academics is it exactly that lies beneath McRobbie’s thinking here?

Although it is never quite made explicit, given that the article in question is, as I say, written in honour of Stuart Hall, what McRobbie seems to have in mind is something akin to Antonio Gramsci’s notion of the ‘organic intellectual’. It is certainly in organic intellectual political terms that Hall has himself most often positioned his activities as a teacher, writer and academic. Speaking in 1990 of his own time at the Birmingham Centre, Hall remarks that ‘Gramsci’s account still seems to me to come closest to expressing what it is I think we were trying to do. . . we were trying to find an institutional practice in cultural studies that might produce an organic intellectual’. And this is so even though, as he admits was the case at Birmingham:

We didn’t know previously what that would mean, in the context of Britain in the 1970s, and we weren’t sure we would recognise him or her if we managed to it. The problem about the concept of the organic intellectual is that it appears to align intellectuals with an emerging historic movement and we couldn’t tell then, and we can hardly tell now, where that historic movement was to be found. We were organic intellectuals without any organic point of reference; organic intellectuals with a nostalgia, or will or hope . . . that at some point we would be prepared in intellectual work for that kind of relationship, if such a conjecture ever appeared. More truthfully, we were prepared to imagine or model or simulate such a relationship in its absence: ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. (Hall, 1992: 281)

Now again, I want to make it clear that I’m very much in agreement with McRobbie when it comes to the immense respect in which she holds Hall’s activities as an academic, teacher and (organic) intellectual: especially the emphasis she places on the importance of the ‘experimental character of Hall’s pedagogy and his practice as an academic. . . evident in books like Resistance Thorough Rituals and Policing the Crisis‘ (McRobbie, 2000: 215); his departure from the ‘university tradition embodied in the Oxbridge model’ (212) and challenging of the ‘traditional hierarchies of the academy’ (215); and also his willingness to be ‘adventurous’ and to use ‘continental theory’ to ‘innovate. . . outside the scholarly tradition’ (214) – all of which results in what McRobbie ends her essay by characterising as an ‘anti-elitist and “open” tradition of scholarship’ (223). And again (again), it is because I find myself entirely in agreement with both McRobbie and Hall that certain questions occur; questions it seems to me we need to address if in our own activities as teachers, writers and intellectuals we and ‘future generations’ are indeed to remain faithful to this vision of our role.

I can’t trace the complex history of this problematic for you here. But let me just quickly schematise a few of these questions – still very much in a spirit of experiment and innovation, of course; questions which for reasons of time and space I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave in suspension:

  • Firstly – and to make a connection of my own with what Hall calls, in a quotation that forms the epigraph to McRobbie’s essay, the ‘hurly burly of a rapidly changing discordant and disorderly world’ – to what extent is the idea that, as Hall puts it, ‘there could be, sometime, a movement which would be larger than the movement of petit-bourgeois intellectuals’ (Hall, 1992: 288), (still) always a realistic or even desirable one? Now? Today? In an era when the triumph of capitalism’s free-market economy and defeat of any political alternatives to neo-liberalism seems so complete? Granted, what with the WTO and G8 demonstrations in Seattle, Prague and Genoa, the rise of the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-neo-liberal, global justice and social forum movements, together with the large-scale and continuing protests in this country and elsewhere against the war on Iraq – February 15th and all that- not to mention the growth of other campaigning coalitions such as Tyneside’s public services alliance (Wainwright, 2003: 16), there are perhaps more reasons to be hopeful on this front than there have been for some time. Nevertheless – and I raise this point very much in the spirit of Hall’s own ‘willingness to debate the consequences for Marxist analysis’ (McRobbie, 2000: 216) – there still seems some way to go before any of this becomes ‘organised’, at least enough to form some larger historical, social and political movement, let alone a credible left/socialist ‘alternative’ to New Labour in this country. And if the emergence of such an historical alliance is unlikely, on what basis can we justify continuing to act ‘in its absence’ as if it were?
  • But let’s proceed on the basis that such an emerging historical alliance of progressive political forces is a real possibility. In which case it’s worth considering that such a movement might not necessarily be recognisable today as the kind of political project with which cultural studies, and the work of Hall and McRobbie in particular, has traditionally been associated – that of the British New Left and the ‘new social movements’ (feminism, anti-racism, etc.) – but might indeed adopt the kind of (dis)organised or decentralised form that characterises the new wave of anti-capitalist protests. It may therefore require the development of what could be called a post-Birmingham School (and its disciples), post-new social movements, ‘post-New left’ cultural studies,6 if cultural studies is to retain its sense of ‘political’ identity in the 21st century. However, even presuming an emerging historical alliance of progressive political forces of some kind is still a real possibility, the question remains, is cultural studies something that can align itself with and/or contribute to such a movement, in an organic relationship or otherwise? Do those of us who work within cultural studies have the necessary attributes and abilities for this? (Why does the ‘movement of movements’ need cultural studies?)

A related issue here concerns the extent to which its position in the institution – cultural studies was born in the university, albeit at its margins, and has come to occupy an increasingly prominent place at its centre – affects the capacity of many of those in the field to play this kind of role (although we would also need to say something both about the fact that cultural studies is not confined or limited to the university, and that the university – and cultural studies, for that matter – does not have an ‘inside’ in any simple sense). At the very least, it often seems hard to square such activity with the demands of the contemporary university for accountability. Noting that little of Stuart Hall’s work for Marxism Today, Soundings, writing Open University course units, giving talks at Signs of the Times events, chairing panels at New Times day conferences and appearing on TV and radio programmes such as Newsnight and Start the Week would count for much in terms of the RAE, McRobbie acknowledges that any cultural studies scholar starting out today would be ill advised to follow his lead and put time and energy into such activities: ‘they would have nothing to put down when the next RAE takes place’ (2000: 217).

  • Besides the difficulty of identifying one’s audience – which is perhaps even greater in an era when new techniques of communication have transformed our notion of public space than it was in the days of the Birmingham School – is there not a danger here of continuing to take insufficient account of the irreducibly violent and inherently ambivalent and aporetic nature of the authority that lies at the heart of this kind of role? And this despite the various adjustments, critiques and qualifications that have been made to our conceptions of the cultural studies ‘intellectual’ over the years, in an effort to redefine this figure and render it responsive to both present and past forms of culture and public life? Do such attempts to speak to ‘a larger section of the population’, for instance, not help to maintain and reinforce, as much as overcome, the ‘traditional barriers between the elite universities and the outside world’ (McRobbie, 2000: 219) – not least by seeing the problem in this way in the first place: in terms of an original and founding opposition between a privileged academic elite and an ‘outside world’? Is the cultural studies academic or writer not inevitably involved in producing and inventing, as well as describing and representing, this ‘outside world’ (whether through misrecognition, error, fantasy, projection or counter-transference), and in this way authorising and maintaining his or her own difference and identity as an ‘intellectual’? Sure, this ambivalence of authority and representation is analysed and thematised in a lot of cultural studies work (although it has to be said that in a lot of it it isn’t). But to what extent is it actually assumed? Is a certain degree of what Samuel Weber calls ‘imposability’ not apparent, by which he means ‘the conditions under which arguments, categories, and values impose and maintain a certain authority, even where traditional authority itself is meant to be subverted’ (Weber, 1987: 19)?
  • Are we right to seek authentication and validation for what we do in this way, in terms of our success in communicating and connecting with some world ‘out there’? As the university becomes more and more instrumentally and commercially orientated, and media and cultural studies comes under regular attack for not being vocational or useful enough, isn’t there a danger that this desire to make links with those external to the university will contribute to what Richard Johnson has identified as ‘a general loss of nerve in intellectual practice in the academy’ (1999: 23) (and, consequently, far from challenging RAE culture and the general anti-intellectualism of capitalist neo-liberalism, might actually go along with it)? From this point of view the university is seen as being useful only to the extent it is able to connect with that which lies beyond it. (Witness the view of Charles Clarke, the British government’s Education Secretary, that ‘universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change’ (Woodward and Smithers, 2003).) Johnson, of course, sees this loss of nerve as being brought about by ‘the intense ideological commercialisation of academic institutions and the slipping away of criteria other than “what pays”‘ (23). But does cultural studies’ own politics, and in particular the belief that as a field of practice cultural studies is only really important to the extent that it is able to ally itself to forces and movements outside the university, be they seen in terms of the wider political context, ‘a larger section of the population’, the public sphere, the marginalised and socially excluded or the global struggle against capitalist neo-liberalism, not risk playing a part in this, too? Shouldn’t we, couldn’t we, have more confidence in what we do ‘in’ the university? And do so almost regardless of how many people read our publications?

(Isn’t culture, as Robert J.C. Young has suggested, just the institution’s own name for this anxiety over its troubled relation to the world outside? And isn’t cultural studies’ politics merely repeating and reinforcing the dialectical structure of cultural criticism here (Young, 1996a: 11-12) – a contradictory, antagonistic, dialectical structure which is also the ‘secret doubled logic’ (Young, 1996b: 5) of capitalism itself? Is cultural studies not indeed a symptom of late capitalism, in this respect at least?)

  • Might this focus on the ‘people’ and those external to the university not result in cultural studies at best downplaying, and at worst marginalising and even remaining blind to, other means and resources for politics and for being political, both inside and outside the university – including those that may not be regarded as such if politics and the political are to be recognized only with the help of the most easy-to-identify signs and labels. I’m thinking especially of those experiments and innovations in thinking and writing that often take place or find a first home in the kind of academic journal which does not always necessarily attract a large audience. Is this apparent reluctance to remain open to the radically unpredictable nature of the future both of politics and of cultural studies – and this despite the emphasis that is placed on honouring the ‘”open” tradition of scholarship’ of Stuart Hall – not just one of the more obvious ways in which the idea that we should be aiming to speak to a larger section of the population may act on occasion as ‘a constraint on critique and on healthy insubordination’?

Subject: ‘Who’s This For?’

With regard to the second part of your question: as you know (and it’s at this point that I really begin to appreciate cut’n’paste),7 my concern for some time now has been that cultural studies’ emphasis on making links with the outside world and on doing research that can be combined with political work, has too often led it to pay insufficient attention to the politico-institutional forces (including those associated with the culture of the RAE) which help to shape and control its own operation and development. The kind of analysis of the institutional structures of academic discourse that has been provided by Samuel Weber, Bill Readings, Robert J.C. Young, Peggy Kamuf and J. Hillis Miller – all of whom, it’s worth noting, have learned from Jacques Derrida and deconstruction the necessity of thinking about the university – is something that has frequently been overlooked within cultural studies, or at best kept within specific limits. All too often such ‘theoretical’ self-reflection is regarded as taking away from the real business of cultural studies, which as we have seen involves being concerned with practical, material, political and economic issues in the world beyond the institution.

This is somewhat ironic – on at least two counts. Firstly, because for Stuart Hall at least, an emphasis on theoretical self-reflection is clearly an important and inextricable part of cultural studies (which is another of the reasons I wanted to begin with McRobbie’s tribute to Hall: to emphasise this). Secondly, because for all the complaints that have been made against deconstruction, and the difficulty and lack of accessibility of Derrida’s language in particular, it’s hard to think of many writers who have been more influential or who have been taken up by a wider public.8

Moreover, of the two, I’d argue that in this situation it’s actually the ‘theoretical’ analysis that is capable of being the more effective ‘politically’ – at least to the degree that it is likely to be more self-consciously aware of the politico-institutional factors and forces which affect its operation and development (including its teaching, writing and publishing practices, employment and admissions policies and so on), and thus less susceptible to being blindly shaped and controlled by them. Without this it seems to me that we run the risk of producing bad, or at any rate uninteresting, theory: the idea that we should stop doing (so much) theory and return to the kind of commitment to politics that lies at cultural studies’ roots itself being a theoretical idea (even though a reluctance to pay attention to theory – because it’s not theory that is important here, it’s politics – means this is not always recognised or acknowledged). Not only that, we also risk ignoring the theory that is being produced in other places: by the media, the military, government think-tanks, commissions, policy institutes, management consultancies and so on. In fact, there is a very real danger of leaving the ground clear for other sorts of theory to take ‘Theory’s’ place, not least that of the right. So as well as defending the value of ‘Theory’ with a capital ‘T’, I’d want to insist that we also, and at the same time, need to extend our understanding and analysis of theory to take in these other modes, forms, instances and practices of theory.

Subject: There is No Such Thing as Cultural Studies. . .

Of course all this concerns only one aspect of one version of the story of cultural studies’ relation to politics and to theories of the political. It would take far more than the 4,000 to 8,000 words you’ve allotted me to trace the history of this complex relationship, assuming such a thing is possible in the first place.

The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that, as many of the contributors to your previous volume acknowledged (Bowman, 2003), there is no such thing as cultural studies in the singular. Cultural studies is made up of many different formations and orientations; it is/they are not always and everywhere the same. And neither is its/are their politics or political positions and theories. Any rigorous and responsible answer to your questions would involve paying attention to the singularity of cultural studies formations at different historical moments in numerous different places: not just Birmingham or Britain, or even the US and Australia, but also Canada, Holland, Finland, South Africa, Taiwan, Japan, Poland. . .

Nor, I should like to add, is this to suggest cultural studies should be perceived primarily in terms governed by national boundaries. Given that one of the things cultural studies, in certain guises, has helped us to understand and rethink is the identity of the nation, seeing cultural studies in this way is somewhat problematic. And this in turn returns us to questions of politics. For politics as traditionally conceived has its basis in the nation-state: politics is produced and carried out by or in relation to a nation-state. But since the sovereignty of the nation has come under challenge in recent years, not least as a result of the impact of new media technologies and what is called ‘globalisation’, the question arises as to what extent politics in this traditional sense is still possible. If the identity and sovereignty of the nation state is in the process of being reconceived, do we need a rethought, reconceived notion of politics, too?

Subject: Hello. My Name is Gary. I Do Cultural Studies and I’m Interested in Deconstruction

None of this should be taken as implying that those of us who identify ourselves with cultural studies today (and/or political theory, for that matter) shouldn’t try to assume the role of either political, organic, universal or public intellectuals (these roles are not necessarily always the same, although they are often confused and intertwined). Doing so may be at times both impossible and necessary, and McRobbie’s essay on Hall is very much a testimony to this, I think.

Nor am I suggesting with my emphasis on theory and deconstruction that all we need do is work on some meta level and just endlessly theorise. I’m not arguing against making decisions and choices about acting this way rather than that, that the need to hesitate and think should be used as an excuse for inaction and for not making a decision; or against taking a position and maintaining that one particular social, political or ethical issue is more urgent at a given moment than another. And I’m certainly not claiming that, because of the aporetic nature of the intellectual’s authority and claim to legitimacy, we should no longer attempt to ‘reach’ the ‘public sphere’ or align ourselves with historical and social movements, and that, rather than trying to understand and intervene in matters of policy and public and political debate, we should be content with operating within the confines of our institution and profession. We still have to be ‘political’. This remains for me one of the unconditional horizons of cultural studies work, one of its dreams, if you like. My point is rather that if cultural studies, and with it universities (and I want to come back to say a little more about the nature of their relation in a moment), are to continue to function as what McRobbie calls ‘places of dissent’ (McRobbie, 2000: 219), then we need to ‘do’ both theory and politics simultaneously. The two are inseparable. It’s with what Stuart Hall has termed the ‘irresolvable but permanent tension’ (1992: 284) between theory and politics, tradition and experiment (and which in fact characterises organic intellectual work, according to Hall), that the political dimension of cultural studies is for me opened and maintained.

But what I am trying to emphasise is that, as part of this, for cultural studies to be political it also has to be capable of placing such conceptions of politics at risk: of questioning and critiquing and experimenting with them. All too often cultural studies has been reluctant to do this, because it is only by neglecting this issue, by marginalising the question of politics and keeping it (relatively) closed, that cultural studies has been able to stabilise and maintain its identity (and difference) as cultural studies. It has been perfectly willing to question and interrogate theory. Witness Lawrence Grossberg’s recent claim, to take just one quick example, that ‘I don’t think anyone in cultural studies could or should ever be able to say I am a Derridian. . . If you do, I don’t think you are trying to do cultural studies’ (Grossberg, 2001: 137). And Grossberg is quite right: you can’t do cultural studies and be a Derridean – although not for the reasons Grossberg thinks. You can’t do cultural studies and be a Derridean because to be a Derridean is something of a contradiction in terms. Regardless of Grossberg’s desire to treat theory as supplying a set of tools that can be used as the particular circumstances dictate, to do cultural studies (or deconstruction, for that matter) by following Derrida is impossible. It’s impossible because – and I’m following Derrida very closely in saying this, so in a way you could say I’m being as Derridean here as it’s possible to be – Derrida does not provide a method, a doctrine or a collection of rules in his work that can simply be followed or adhered to. So you can’t be a Derridean in that sense. If you want to follow Derrida then you have to do what he does and ‘perform something new in your own language, in your own singular situation, with your own signature’ (Derrida, 1996: 217-8).

The reason for Grossberg that you’re not trying to do cultural studies if you’re a Derridean, however, is because cultural studies is not about ‘endless theoretical argument’ (2001: 136). It’s about understanding a ‘context’, an ’empirical, political issue’ (136). He acknowledges that ‘rigorous theoretical work’ is absolutely necessary (137) to cultural studies. ‘Theory has to be engaged’, Grossberg insists. And yet this engagement always has to be subordinated to ‘politically defined’ questions (134) and kept within manageable limits: ‘cultural studies refuses to give up control, it has to force theory to give up its insights without necessarily agreeing to go all the way with theory’ (134). The problem with this argument (which is quite a common one in cultural studies, and is by no means confined to what Grossberg says in this interview) is that the last thing cultural studies can understand on this account is politics. Instead, politics is placed in a transcendental position. It is the one thing that really needs to be understood, since it is the criteria against which everything else is to be judged (including whether someone is or is not trying to do cultural studies). But politics is at the same time the one thing that cannot be understood. For the one thing that cannot be judged against any transcendentally raised criteria is of course that criteria itself.

One could even go so far as to say that any attempt to adhere to this account of what it means to ‘do cultural studies’ – and thus to use its political commitment to establish and maintain a frontier or border-line beyond which cultural studies cannot pass in its engagement with theory, Derrida and deconstruction for fear of loosing ‘control’ and placing its identity as cultural studies at risk – would result in cultural studies failing to live up to many of its own definitions of itself. For the specificity of cultural studies, in certain important conceptions at least, is marked precisely by the ‘irresolvable but permanent tension’ between its commitment to politics and its ‘endless’ theoretical self-interrogation of what it means to ‘do cultural studies’. (And I believe a patient reading could reveal this to be the case in different ways, not just with regards to Hall and McRobbie’s understanding of cultural studies, but that of Grossberg, too.) So not only can you not do cultural studies and be a Derridean because adhering to a pre-established methodology or set of rules is not a particularly Derrida-like thing to do, it’s not necessarily a particularly cultural studies-like thing to do, either. Instead, if it is to remain consistent with many of its own ideas about itself, at the same time as being politically committed and engaged cultural studies has to keep the question of politics open and undecided; to simultaneously create and invent with it (which is what I have been trying to do here). In short, it has to go all the way with both politics and theory. Which for me means cultural studies taking the chance (which is also of course a risk), that its politics and this idea of what it is for cultural studies to be political – and with it cultural studies’ very identity as cultural studies – will be transformed and changed.

(All of which is very different from question 3’s implication (see below) that ‘cultural studies tends to rely on very narrow or crude conceptions of the political, and that this skews and limits both cultural studies’ academic ability to comprehend the political and its political ability to intervene effectively’; and that consequently cultural studies’ notion of politics should be replaced with that of political theory, which is somehow regarded as being more true, accurate, useful, etc. That would result only in replacing one transcendental notion of politics with another.)

Subject: The Common Sense of Theory

Question 2. In what ways have subsequent developments in political theory problematised the initial understandings of what cultural studies ‘should do’, and in what ways does cultural studies’ own attention to the political challenge or alter political theory ‘proper’?

Let me just repeat: none of this is about doing away with either the concept or the role of the organic intellectual. Indeed, given the latter’s emphasis on experimentation and challenging orthodoxy and established tradition, I’m in a way being as faithful to Hall and McRobbie’s (and Grossberg’s) legacy as possible in saying all this, even while no doubt appearing to be unfaithful to it, at least to some. (It’s worth noting that neither Hall nor McRobbie have passively repeated a pre-given understanding of cultural studies: both in their different ways have striven to transform and recreate it.) But I can see why a lot of people might have difficulty appreciating this, so perhaps I should provide another example of my fidelity to this important and certainly very dominant aspect of the cultural studies tradition. At the very least, doing so will provide me with a way of responding to your 2nd question, albeit indirectly. . .

Something else I’ve been interested in for quite a while now is the debate between cultural studies and political economy; and in particular, the different attempts of various writers associated with cultural studies, including Angela McRobbie, Meaghan Morris and David Hesmondhalgh, to transcend this binary divide by means of some dialectical combination of the two. Now, I have a lot of sympathy with such projects. I agree that cultural studies in many ways needs to move ‘beyond’, or at least think through, this impasse. And I consider many of the points made by these writers – for example, that ‘the political economy of the media is a more heterogeneous and potentially useful approach than some have made out, and… that there is too much of importance in the cultural studies tradition to dismiss it all as postmodernist relativism’ – to be extremely important (Hesmondhalgh, 2003). But to try to transcend the impasse between cultural studies and political economy in this way, by attempting to integrate some of the concerns of each, is to overlook the degree to which both positions are intricately bound up with one another and therefore do not in any way represent contrasting options. Solutions of this kind have been offered relatively frequently in recent years. Yet they invariably remain blind to the way in which contemporary cultural criticism, by adopting such a dialectical form, runs the risk of merely repeating the ‘radical logic of incompatibility between centrifugal and centripetal forces, simultaneously forcing cultures and peoples together as it pulls others apart’, which both Stuart Hall and Robert Young have identified as operating as the ‘cultural and economic dynamic of late capitalist society’ (Young, 1996b: 8). (You’ll have to forgive me for both again repeating myself to a certain extent here, and for not providing a more detailed illustration of these problems. For the reasons given above and below, I don’t want to generalise about cultural studies, but neither do I have the time and space to improvise a new analysis in the necessary depth and degree of singularity).9 In other words, far from helping to produce a more nuanced and all-encompassing critique of contemporary capitalism, moves of this kind just serve to re-iterate and re-enforce capitalism’s own dialectical logic. What’s more, little or no account tends to be taken of the extent to which many fundamental aspects of cultural studies and political economy cannot be simply combined or articulated together but are in fact incommensurable. How, for example, is cultural studies’ expansion of cultural and political theory, from its early concern mainly with issues to do with class and economics, to encompass those to do with gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity as well, to be combined with the continuing commitment to some form of Marxism (as distinct from post-Marxism) of most political economists (I don’t want to say all political economists, again for the reasons given above and below)?

This is why I turned to deconstruction when analysing this debate previously: because I very much agree with McRobbie when, in an earlier essay on ‘The Es and the anti-Es’ (McRobbie, 1997/1999), she argues that deconstruction offers a means of thinking through these kinds of oppositions between the empirical and the theoretical, the experiential and the ‘textual’, identity and difference; and in particular, this problem of the incommensurability of the relation between cultural studies and political economy. Deconstruction does so by enabling us to hold Marxism and post-Marxism, essentialism and anti-essentialism, political economy and cultural studies (and also, I would suggest, the oppositions between the new and the old, the traditional and the experimental with which I began) together in a productive economy in which their irreconcilable differences are neither subsumed into some all encompassing collective unity, nor left in some kind of debilitating disunity. But, again, it was important for me not to just position deconstruction (and theory) as something that could be applied to cultural studies (or political economy), from the outside, as a form of corrective. Rather, I wanted to show, by means of close and singular readings, that a more interesting understanding of this issue is already available from many important cultural studies texts, including the essays by both McRobbie and Stuart Hall referred to above.

(Could something similar be shown with regard to Grossberg? Is his subordination of theory to politics in cultural studies not itself a theoretical idea? And is it not precisely this kind of ‘common sense of modern theory’ (152), this ‘comfortable position that the academy teaches us to occupy, where you have a theory that you just deploy over and over again’, that Grossberg, following Hall, also criticises in this interview (135) when he writes: ‘In such a practice, there is a sense in which you are never surprised. Someone who knows what you have written before can predict what you are going to say. And that is precisely not the practice of theory in cultural studies’ (135).)

And I would want to do something similar as far as cultural studies’ relation to political theory is concerned (which is by no means the same thing as political economy, although there are many points of contact and divergence, just as there are between cultural studies and political theory). I wouldn’t want to say too much without tackling this relation in a similar depth and degree of singularity. This is also why I started with a specific example of cultural studies (i.e. McRobbie’s article on Stuart Hall): because too often when people talk and write about cultural studies I don’t recognise the cultural studies they’re referring to; it doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to anything I might understand or identify as ‘cultural studies’. So I would want to avoid making the same mistake with regard to political theory. What is meant by political theory here? What is political theory ‘”proper”‘? Is political theory self-identical? Is it always and everywhere the same? Which writers and which texts are you thinking of? Jameson? Laclau and Mouffe? Miyoshi? From your references to ‘symptom’ and ‘Empire’ I’m guessing at least Zizek and Hardt and Negri, right?

Subject: On Performativity (A Repeat Performance)

Question 4. Arguably, political theory and cultural studies are fundamentally different: political theory seeks to take an object of knowledge and to know all about it, while cultural studies also seeks to intervene in (alter, ‘improve’) its object. What are the political ramifications of these differences in orientation?

The task of responding to the issue of cultural studies’ relation to political theory is not rendered any easier by the way in which your questions are performative, in the sense of determining and staking out the limits within which I might respond to them. Witness their assumption that a division between cultural studies and political theory can be maintained: an assumption summed up by your 4th question, which states political theory and cultural studies are ‘fundamentally different’, at least ‘arguably’; while in your 5th (see below) ‘a strict disciplinary division and distinction between cultural studies and political theory’ is acknowledged as having been assumed. As such, these questions seem to pre-program any answer I can give by defining cultural studies and political theory as separate and distinct in advance. Yet I’m not sure how fundamentally different cultural studies and political theory are, certainly in terms of their respective efforts to ‘intervene in (alter, ‘improve’) [their] object’ of knowledge. Marx is surely only the most famous of ‘political theorists’ to have been interested in intervening in the world.

Besides, isn’t any such simplistic limit or opposition between cultural studies and political theory rendered somewhat problematic by the emergence of what, for want of a better phrase, we might indeed provisionally term a ‘post-Birmingham school’, ‘post-new social movements’, ‘post-New left’ generation of cultural studies writers and practitioners, many of whom – yourself included (although I would also want to mention Jeremy Gilbert and Joanna Zylinska in this context) – while clearly locating themselves in the tradition of Williams, Hall and the Birmingham School, nevertheless regard the ‘deconstructive’ political theory of, say, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe as being extremely important to their work? These are thinkers who share an ‘ethical commitment to community-in-difference’ (Gilbert, 2003: 156); or, to put it in the most stereotypical of terms, a ‘cultural studies-like’ emphasis on class, race, gender and sexual differences which, aware of the critiques of political theorists such as Slavoj Zizek (1997), is careful to distance itself from neo-liberalism’s ideology of competitive individualism, and indeed is at the same time able to maintain a most ‘political theory-like’ commitment to democratic, socialist and communitarian goals. They could therefore perhaps be said to have already enacted something of the movement of political theory into cultural studies to which your title refers, and of which this book of interviews, like your last, is presumably designed to be a part (Bowman, 2003) – assuming, of course, that cultural studies and political theory can be considered to have been simply opposed in the first place.

Subject: Authority is Not Deduced (You Absolutely Must Not Tell Anyone About This or We’re All F****d)

Question 3. Some political theorists may argue that cultural studies tends to rely on very narrow or crude conceptions of the political, and that this skews and limits both cultural studies’ academic ability to comprehend the political and its political ability to intervene effectively. Must cultural studies encompass and comprehend the entire discipline(s) of political theory before it can legitimately even speak about the political world?

But even if we leave the complex issue of cultural studies’ relation to political theory in suspension, too, for the time being at least, must cultural studies really ‘encompass and comprehend the entire discipline(s) of political theory before it can legitimately even speak about the political world?’ To what extent does political theory, as your question seems to imply (although we might ask the same question of cultural studies), have a monopoly on the understanding of politics and the political? And on the granting of legitimacy to speak on this subject? Indeed, where would such legitimacy come from? Would it not contain an aporia similar to that which Lyotard identifies in The Differend:

Authority is not deduced. Attempts at legitimating authority lead to vicious circles (I have authority over you because you authorize me to have it), to question begging (the authorization authorizes authority), to infinite regression (x is authorized by y, who is authorized by z), and to the paradox of idiolects (God, Life, etc. designate me to exert authority, and I am the only witness of this revelation). The aporia of a deduction of authority, or the aporia of sovereignty, is the sign that the phrase of authorization cannot result from a phrase stemming from a different regimen. It is the sign of an incommensurability between the normative phrase and all others. (Lyotard, 1988: 142, no.203)

And should any such policing of its limits by a discipline (in this case political theory, whatever that may be) be respected? Or should this be seen as an instance of the kind of professionalization Samuel Weber has written about so interestingly and influentially?

Subject: Restructure This!

In Institution and Interpretation (recently expanded and reprinted), Weber shows how a discipline has to continually refer to what lies outside its limits in order to distinguish itself and establish the difference of its own identity. This results in a state of affairs he terms the ‘ambivalence of demarcation’ (Weber, 1987: 138):

The demarcation is ambivalent because it does not merely demarcate one thing by setting it off from another; it also de-marks, that is, defaces the mark it simultaneously inscribes, by placing it in relation to an indeterminable series of other marks, of which we can never be fully conscious or cognizant. (1987: 145)

There is thus an instability in the institutionalization of a discipline. For if disciplines are dependent for their identity on what they are not, on what they exclude outside their limits, if they can delimit their internal coherence as an identifiable and recognizable field of knowledge or body of thought only by means of this ‘”exclusionary” activity’ (138), then they cannot be self-identical. Furthermore, Weber shows that this irreducible complication in the identity of the discipline does not come along after the formation of the discipline in its ideal purity and unity. Rather, this relation, this contamination by the other, by what is positioned as being outside, is originary: it comes before the judgement or decision which establishes the discipline’s identity and is what in fact makes the production of the discipline possible in the first place. The discipline is thus always opened to its others: other academic disciplines and other forms of knowledge, both legitimate and non-legitimate or not yet legitimate. Indeed, the discipline is instituted only in that relation: ‘systematic constructions simultaneously entail exclusions and incorporations, which render the system constitutively dependent on factors it cannot integrate or comprehend’ (19). Weber’s analysis in this way helps us to see that any such differentiation as makes up the identity of a discipline or field of knowledge such as political theory or cultural studies – the decision as to what is inside and what outside, what to include and what to exclude – is an inherently unstable and irreducibly violent one. The violence inherent in this decision – this forceful arrestation of the instability of the institution in an effort to gain a measure of control over it – can never be disarmed, the instability can never be removed once and for all: only degrees of more or less resolution are possible.

Now, in order to function as a legitimately instituted field of knowledge the discipline must in effect overlook or forget all this, and act instead as if it is beholden to no one but itself for its authority (although it cannot forget its indebtedness entirely, since it is upon the ambivalence of demarcation and the aporia of authority that the discipline is founded). The discipline thus seeks to overcome its unstable and violent nature by producing a set of ‘founding’ principles and procedures for the institution and reproduction of itself and its original guiding idea. These principles and procedures form the basis of the various rules, regulations, laws, norms, protocols and conventions (concerning the identity of its founding thinkers, their followers and interpreters, its canon and pedagogical techniques, as well as its various forms and styles of writing, publication, research assessment and so on), which go to make up the discipline, defining its sphere of competence and providing the means by which it develops. The problem is that as the discipline does proceed to develop, increasingly little attention is paid to the violent and paradoxical authority on which it is based. Describing some of the distinctive features of the ‘culture of professionalism’ as they appear within the university, Weber puts it like this:

The university, itself divided into more or less isolated, self-contained departments was the embodiment of that kind of limited universality that characterised the cognitive model of professionalism. It instituted areas of training and research which, once established, could increasingly ignore the founding limits and limitations of individual disciplines. Indeed, the very notion of academic ‘seriousness’ came increasingly to exclude reflection upon the relation of one ‘field’ to another, and concomitantly, reflection upon the historical process by which individual disciplines established their boundaries. Or the historical dimension was regarded as extrinsic to the actual practice of research and scholarship: history itself became one discipline among others. (1987: 32)

And indeed, it is perhaps not exactly surprising if professional academics and scholars have for the most part taken this option with regards to founding principles and disciplinary borders. To do otherwise would involve them in bringing their own legitimacy and authority, based on what Weber has analysed as the ‘professionalist paradigm of knowledge‘, into question: ‘The regulative idea of this paradigm is that of the absolute autonomy of the individual discipline, construed as a self-contained body of investigative procedures and of knowledge held to be universally valid within the confines of an unproblematized field’ (147).

The reason I’m bringing all this up here (and this again brings us under the purview of your 5th question – see below) is not just to stress the importance of analysing, critiquing and experimenting with notions of professionalism as well as politics, and to show how, when it comes to thinking about the relation of cultural studies to political theory and conceptions of the political, the two may often very well be linked. I’m also bringing it up because it becomes clear from Weber’s analysis that interdisciplinarity, at least in the sense of there being no limits or boundaries between disciplines, is a fantasy. It is a fantasy because interdisciplinarity sustains the identity and limits of disciplines as much as it challenges them; but also because limitation is inevitable, as you rightly suggest. There are always limits. Even cultural studies’ much vaunted interdisciplinarity has limits. Hence the way in which cultural studies may include marginalised knowledges, such as those associated with differences of gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity, but still tends to exclude non-legitimate or not yet legitimate knowledges as well as non-knowledge.

Interdisciplinarity does not mean an end to disciplinarity, then. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing. There are lots of things about disciplinarity I’d want to keep. Not least among these is the way in which disciplinary specificity can provide a means of resisting the contemporary university’s penchant for rationalising and restructuring (for which one can all too often read downsizing and closing); a process frequently carried out under the guise of promoting greater interdisciplinarity (through the merging of film studies departments with literary studies, art history with visual culture, etc), even while it has the reduction of financial costs as its primary purpose.

Furthermore, while it’s true that the procedure of replacing the old collection of humanities disciplines with a more general interdisciplinary field is often undertaken in its name, ‘cultural studies’, to my mind, is not a designation to be applied to any old collection of subjects and approaches. I’d therefore disagree with Derrida when, in what is really a very uncharacteristically thoughtless and generalising comment, he dismisses cultural studies as a ‘good-for-everything concept’ (Derrida, 2001: 50). I’d suggest that there is something specific to and singular about cultural studies, even in its very multiplicity and non-identity to itself (this tension being part of what I have been trying to think here). I would even go so far as to say that, with its concern for anti- and inter-disciplinarity, emphasis on ‘practical’ politics, its relation to popular culture, the everyday and the other (be it seen in terms of sexuality or gender, race or ethnicity or whatever), and willingness to be ‘adventurous’ and ‘ambitious’ and to use ‘continental theory’ (such as that of Derrida and, in the case of this interview, Weber) to innovate ‘outside the scholarly tradition’ (McRobbie, 2000: 214) – not to mention its self-conscious awareness of the aporia of authority at the heart of academic legitimacy10 – cultural studies is currently the means by which the university thinks itself, at least in the UK and US; and has come to replace that part of the humanities which is Weber’s main focus of concern in Institution and Interpretation, literary studies, in this respect.11. Admittedly, cultural studies does have a tendency to keep its explorations on this subject within certain limits. But it also and at the same time provides us with a way of exploring such limits. Cultural studies thus offers a valuable means of thinking through precisely some of these issues and problems to do with disciplinarity and the university.

Subject: The Limits of Theory

Question 6. Related to this are the questions of the political effects or forces of ‘globalisation’, ‘capitalism’, or ‘Empire’ on cultural studies. Many have more or less directly argued that cultural studies is itself a symptom of such political processes – that cultural studies’ attention to deconstructing identity-essentialisms, to breaking down barriers, with trying to emancipate the marginalized (into what?) operates and even facilitates the march of these political processes. How should cultural studies think this situation and decide its position about what it should and could be and do within it?

Of course, there is no guarantee that cultural studies will perform the adventurous, innovative role I have just ascribed to it in all its various forms and manifestations. With its questioning of traditional academic boundaries and hierarchies cultural studies can be taken up and utilised by neo-liberal political processes and organisations, including those which are currently corporatizing the university and creating a climate of ‘accountability’. So, yes, in this and in other ways, too, cultural studies can undoubtedly be seen in some guises to be facilitating the march of the processes of globalisation, capitalism and ‘Empire’. But to produce a cultural studies that could not be co-opted in this way would not only be boring, it would be impossible. A fixed, pure and incorruptible cultural studies could only be a violent, transcendental, totalizing and totalitarian fantasy. One could even argue, after Derrida (1994), that it’s precisely the structurally open and undecidable nature of the situation – the fact that cultural studies can be used to facilitate the forces of capitalism and globalisation – that gives it its moral, ethical and political force. For in order to be able to decide to do cultural studies in a ‘good’ rather than a ‘bad’ way, this decision has to remain open, undecided and undecidable; it has to have not yet been taken and decided in advance so that there remains the possibility of taking it. That one could then decide to do cultural studies in a ‘bad’, capitalist, globalizing, neo-liberal, oppressive, exploitative or even totalitarian fashion is just the risk that is inherent to the situation. It is a structural feature that constitutes the experience of taking the responsible decision.

In this respect it’s important to be aware, I think: (a) that it cannot be decided in advance that capitalism and globalisation are, in every singular instance and manifestation, unambiguously bad; and (b) that to be concerned with such things as ‘breaking down barriers’ and ‘deconstructing identity-essentialisms’ is not necessarily to be complicit with the political effects, forces and ideology of globalisation, capitalism or ‘Empire’. The deconstruction of identity essentialism by certain tendencies within cultural studies and neo-liberal global capitalism’s production, hiearchization and exploitation of difference in the name of bourgeois consumerist individualism are not the same thing. (Whether more people in cultural studies should have spent a greater amount of time and effort making this clear, I don’t know. It always seemed clear enough to me. But perhaps it would have helped).

One of the problems with the kind of critique of cultural studies that is implied in your 6th question – and this is something I’d certainly want to avoid – is that it reduces cultural studies to being merely an expression of its particular social and historical circumstances, a symptom or effect of its era. At the same time it raises the critic of cultural studies to an elevated, and I would argue rather paranoid position, somehow above all this. In doing so this kind of critique tends to rely on fundamental assumptions about objectification, critical distance, determination, totalisation, universality, political economy, politics and/or resistance that much of cultural studies has explicitly sought to bring into question. Not least among these assumptions is that which dominates a lot of political and cultural theory, and a lot of cultural studies, too, for that matter: that to arrive at the politics of a ‘text’, be it seen in terms of class, economics, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or whatever, is to reach the final destination, the end point and goal of all examination and enquiry.12 As a result, other possible readings are marginalized and excluded, including those which:

  • do not place politics in a transcendent position where it is always already known what it is in advance, but which are open to the possibility of thinking about and questioning politics and what it is to be political;
  • take allowance both of a text’s singularity and of its performative possibilities – including its performative political possibilities, its ability to produce events;
  • refuse to reduce a text to a production of the debates of the day, to a function of the competing claims to power or authority, and which instead acknowledge a certain unreadability in a text, a structural resistance to any exhaustive or universally valid, totalizing or systematising interpretation; and thus an openness to re-reading which encourages a respect for otherness, that which eludes our interpretation, and which in doing so draws attention to the limits of our own theory and thinking.

Subject: The Email Masterpiece

Question 5. All of these questions have assumed that there is a strict disciplinary division and distinction between cultural studies and political theory. What are the justifications for and political consequences of disciplinary divisions? For, cultural studies claims it must be interdisciplinary because the borders between disciplines are at once so problematic and also so academically and politically consequential (marginalizing, hierarchising, excluding, etc.). But isn’t limitation inevitable, and so isn’t cultural studies’ dream of interdisciplinarity at once a pipe-dream, a fantasy or an ideology and a desire for improving its own hegemonic status? What is the best it can hope for, and the worst that should be avoided, regarding the ‘politics of disciplinarity’ or the ‘politics of knowledge’ and the ‘establishment of knowledge’?

One of the things I’m interested in, and which for me is perhaps one of ‘the best [we] can hope for’, is a cultural studies that takes on, rather than merely repeats, the ambivalence, the aporias of authority and legitimacy, and the limits to our theory and thinking I’ve been referring to. Which is why I’ve taken the risk of leaving this ‘interview’ with as many traces of its original form as a series of email ‘postings’ and ‘replies’, as possible, in the hope that it will assume something of the provisional, speculative, unfinished nature some people in the ‘hard’ sciences have associated with what is called ‘scholarly skywriting’ (Harnad: 1999).

What possible institutional forms might a cultural studies that assumes, rather than merely acts out, this ambivalence take?

I don’t know. I’m not sure. I can’t decide. I need more time to think and experiment and ask some questions of my own. But maybe something like this http://www.ci-philo.asso.fr/default.asp. Or this http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk.


1 ‘Cultural Studies After Birmingham, the New Social Movements and the New Left’ was written as a contribution to a book of interviews compiled and edited by Paul Bowman. Conceived as a follow-up to an earlier volume, Interrogating Cultural Studies: Theory, Politics and Practice (Bowman, 2003), this new book is provisionally titled Political Theory into Cultural Studies. To make the interview easier to follow, the six questions that were sent to me via email by Paul Bowman and to which I was initially asked to respond have been inserted into the main body of the text.

2 Brian Tottle captures this situation rather nicely, I think, when he writes: ‘The philosopher struggles to found a system against the perceived chaos of empirical reality [what we shall see Stuart Hall and Angela McRobbie refer to as the ‘hurly burly’] and the prior systematisations of existing philosophies which threaten to make his own thought redundant. For the paranoid-psychotic, this redundancy is already upon him: he no longer thinks for himself, but is thought by the Other’ (1990: 196).

3 The RAE website describes the main purpose of the RAE as being to ‘enable the higher education funding bodies to distribute public funds for research selectively on the basis of quality. Institutions conducting the best research receive a larger proportion of the available grant so that the infrastructure for the top level of research in the UK is protected and developed. The RAE assesses the quality of research in universities and colleges in the UK. It takes place every four to five years. . .’ (‘What is the RAE 2008?’, http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/AboutUs/).

4 Doh! (http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk)

5 I’m using ‘after’ here not just in the linear, temporal or periodic sense – of coming afterwards, later than, ‘subsequently’ – but also in the sense of being ‘in view of’, ‘in imitation of’, and even ‘in pursuit of’ (ThePenguin English Dictionary). In other words, and to resort to an analogy that really is far too quick and easy, I’m writing after Birmingham, the new social movements and the New Left more in the way in which, say, Nicholas Royle writes ‘after Derrida’ (1995) than Terry Eagleton has recently attempted to write ‘after theory’ (2003). It’s in an effort to convey something of this that I have preferred the term ‘after’ rather than the prefix ‘post’ – although I do in fact resort to ‘post’ later, partly to remain consistent with Jeremy Gilbert (see n.6), but also because, as we all know after Lyotard, the ‘post’ does not just come after, but also paradoxically before, too.

6 The term ‘post-New Left’ is Jeremy Gilbert’s, as is the idea that cultural studies needs to align itself with the anti-capitalist ‘movement of movements’ if it is to retain its sense of political identity in the 21st century. Jeremy Gilbert, personal correspondence.

7 Some parts of the arguments contained in this essay appeared in an earlier form in Hall (2002).

8 Writing at the very end his monumental historical introduction to Postcolonialism, for instance, Robert J. C. Young puts it this way:

. . . yours [Derrida’s] were the ideas that, against all apparent odds, against all patronizing assumptions that only the simplest language and ideas could ever inspire people to self-assertion and struggle towards social and political transformation, were taken up by many refugees and minorities, migrant and immigrant groups, because they felt it was your ideas that expressed, embodied, their own disembodied devalued cultural and political situations (and let no one assume that minorities, migrants and immigrants are exclusive to the west). You talked in a language that was already their own. Because you were one of them and thus you spoke with them from their own subject positions on the margins, theirs was already the language with which and through which you reconceptualised the world from their perspective and asserted the power of the marginalised in the heartlands of western institutions (Young, 2001: 425-6).

9 For more on this, again see Hall (2002).

10 Adrian Rifkin (2003: 104-5) provides an interesting illustration of this from the early days of cultural studies in his contribution to Interrogating Cultural Studies (Bowman, 2003).

11 In Institution and Interpretation, for example, Weber sees the problem of institutionalisation, although ‘highly characteristic of the organization of knowledge in modern society’, as having nevertheless ‘developed with problematic intensity in what we call the humanities’, and that part of the humanities ‘dedicated to literary studies’ in particular (1987: 137-8).

12 Timothy Clark, personal correspondence. See also his Martin Heidegger (2001).


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