Continents of cultural studies – unite in diversity! Comparing Asian and European experiences
Asia and Europe today have almost oppositional roles in the global geopolitical context. Long ago, Europe was once a young and aspiring continent that took over world dominance from much more ancient Asian powers. After an intermediary period where the Americas have risen as young competitors, and made the USA the leading force of the “Empire”, many today consider East and South Asia to be the dominant region of the near future, with a rapidly expanding economy but also with a renewed self-confidence in fields of culture and knowledge-production.
It is in this situation interesting to compare these two continents, not least in the polycentric intellectual field of cultural studies. Interdisciplinary and critical cultural research has emerged in many different locations, and with highly divergent genealogies and trajectories. The transnational success of its specific British and US branches has made possible the formation of a wide range of bridging and unifying resources, in the form of centres and study programmes, academic journals and book publications, international conferences and associations such as the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conferences of the Association for Cultural Studies (ACS). On national, regional and global levels, mutually overlapping and interacting communities for scholars with this orientation now thrive, with a growing sense of commitment to a shared intellectual project that also allows for great diversity of approaches, in theoretical, methodological, empirical, stylistic and political terms. One may speak of an emerging “glocal” field of cultural studies, with an open range of globally interconnected but locally anchored and specific practices of doing boundary-crossing and critical cultural research. English-speaking branches still have a hegemonic position in this field, reflecting the persisting US dominance in economy, politics and media culture, but also the key historical role played by British-American cultural studies in giving impetus to forming this research field from the start, as well as the function of English language as a lingua franca in the academy at large. However, certain problems and forms of backlash have since some time hampered the continued consolidation of cultural studies in the UK and the USA, while there seem recently to have been more success in other parts of the world, including Latin America, East Asia and also the Nordic countries of Europe. In all these regions, locally specific varieties of cultural studies have emerged, combining Anglo-Saxon inspiration with partly different regional traditions and approaches that thereby have also entered the glocal cultural studies field and contributed new perspectives and theory combinations, helping rejuvenating the field at large.
Johan Fornäs is professor of media and communication studies at Södertörn University, Sweden; director of the Advanced Cultural Studies Institute of Sweden (ACSIS); author of books like Cultural Theory and Late Modernity (1995) and Consuming Media: Communication, Shopping and Everyday Life (2007); and editor-in-chief of Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research.