A critical comment on the IACS journal
Inter-Asia Cultural Studies is to be commended for publishing an anniversary-marker in the form of a critical look-back on the work accomplished to date. However, I find myself incapable of responding to this request as generously as I would like to. The main reason is one with which I want to conclude this brief note. Suffice it to say at this time that the invitation to contribute a comment from a suitably critical distance risks pushing me – a non-Asian intellectual – into prematurely occupying a position that will become available to me only after a respectable number of Asian scholars have pitched their tents on that site.
The main, even though rather trivial comment that I wished to make on the journal’s work to date is that there is danger in its success. Since one of the main purposes of the journal was to open up pathways for Asian scholars of cultural studies and what loosely may be called ‘cultural activists’ of many different kinds to interact, discuss, connect and so on, the first phase of the journal’s life and of the back-up organization’s activities must be deemed very successful indeed. The danger is then, precisely, that IACS risks becoming an Asian companion alongside umpteen cultural studies journals and organisations, all of them practicing perfectly respectable variations of cult/studies, none of them making any difference to the overall dynamics that bestow a hierarchy on the fora that constitute cultural studies as an academically bounded field (with job opportunities, career paths, disciplinary demarcations, turf-wars etcetera.). In other words, once a platform has been developed that is particularly in tune with the requirements of especially young-ish Asian cultural studies scholars, the journal risks becoming just another cultural studies journal or, worse, it risks ticking the cultural studies box in the range of area studies publications. That would be the most pessimistic prospect of all: IACS as a generalist precursor of a series of national cultural studies publications.
Paul Willemen is research professor of media studies at the University of Ulster.