Prudence BLACK, Fiona ALLON, Catherine DRISCOLL, Elspeth PROBYN, Kane RACE and Guy REDDEN
It has become somewhat a tenet of cultural studies that it is in constant flux. This represents of course a dynamic force within cultural studies: always searching for new ways of understanding the multiplicities of cultural forms and practices, looking back at legacies, moving them forward into the present. This is notably the case with the resurgence of interest in the domain of the material. In December 2012 the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at The University of Sydney hosted the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia annual conference with the theme of “Materialities: Economies, Empiricism and Things.” The theme for the conference was based on the premise that cultural studies has a long history of investigating material practices – indeed it was a founding tenet of British cultural studies – but recently a new turn or return to materialism seemed to be emerging in the field. What this materiality now means is still open, but it seems to suggest a renewed interest in questions of how to study cultural objects, institutions and practices (methods), what constitutes matter and materiality (empiricism), and how things (humans and non-humans) are being reworked at a time of global economic, environmental and cultural flux.
The keynote speakers at the conference had all directed critical attention to these questions in their previous work – to the more-than-human, to new philosophies of matter, to the gendered material and economic circuits of media, and to the heavy materiality of language. These speakers included Jennifer Biddle, Ross Chambers, Brenda L. Croft, Katherine Gibson, Rosalind Gill, Gay Hawkins, Lesley Head, and Beverley Skeggs. This vibrant three day conference concluded with a plenary session in which a panel of the leading senior scholars of Australian cultural studies were invited to reflect on their wide knowledge of, and role in, cultural studies internationally, as well as in the formulation of the Australian tradition. In addition to engaging with some of the concerns raised in the hundreds of papers presented at the conference by emerging and established cultural studies practitioners, this panel of distinguished figures in Cultural Studies was brought together to focus in particular on reinvigorating what cultural studies can do today, and to discuss what matters for cultural studies, now and into the future. In fact the question “What matters for Cultural Studies?” was the pivot around which the panel were specifically invited to organize their reflections on the history of the discipline, to voice concerns about its current state of play, and also to express their thoughts and desires regarding possible new directions and emergent agendas of research.
This special edition of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies is comprised of papers by this panel of speakers: Ien Ang, Tony Bennett, Stuart Cunningham, John Frow, Meaghan Morris, Stephen Muecke, Tom O’Regan, and Graeme Turner. Alongside each panelist’s personal response to the question of what matters for cultural studies, the panel also generated robust discussion about the challenges facing the discipline of cultural studies in Australia more generally, including concerns around its own disciplinary status, epistemologies and methods. Many of the key themes arising from the discussion were in some ways very predictable and familiar concerns that we’ve heard many times before: concerns with questions of relevance, engagement and significance and whether or not scholarship can or should have practical uses outside the academy; with the effects of cultural studies’ moving from a critique of disciplines to a discipline in its own right; with the destabilizing effects of interdisciplinary promiscuity, and so on. But although the themes and concerns were familiar ones, the conversations that they inspired in this particular context seemed somehow new and different, opening onto less well-trodden paths. Refracted through this specific institutional moment they therefore have something more to offer in these essays.
Prudence Black is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She has published in the areas of modernism, design, fashion and popular culture, and is the author of The Flight Attendant’s Shoe (New South 2011). Current research projects include a study of occupational dress for disadvantaged and incarcerated women re-entering the workforce, intimacy and affect in home dressmaking and the industrial and gendered history of flight attendants in Australia.
Fiona Allon is Senior Lecturer and Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at The University of Sydney. Her research interests include the institutional history and development of cultural studies, environmental humanities, cultural economy, and formations of community, everyday life and belonging. Her recent work focuses on the increasing prominence of financial logics in everyday life and culture.
Catherine Driscoll is Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Her books include Girls (Columbia 2002), Modernist Cultural Studies (Florida 2009/2012), Teen Film: A Critical Introduction (Berg 2010), and The Australian Country Girl: History, Image, Experience (Ashgate 2013). She has published many essays and articles on youth and girls studies, media and popular culture, rural cultural studies, and cultural theory. Her current research includes collaborative projects on cultural sustainability in Australian country towns, on adolescence and classification systems, and on social gaming.
Elspeth Probyn is Professor of Gender & Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She is the author of several groundbreaking monographs and well over a hundred articles and chapters. Her current research (funded by an ARC Discovery Project) focuses on place and taste within the transglobal food system, which will be published by Duke University Press as Oceanic Entanglements.
Associate Professor Kane Race is Chair of the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, and a founding member of the Association for the Social Sciences and Humanities in HIV/AIDS. His work has explored embodied engagements with medicine across various different contexts and cultures of consumption: HIV/AIDS; sexual practice; drug use (both licit and illicit); and more recently, markets in bottled water. He is the author of Pleasure Consuming Medicine: The Queer Politics of Drugs (Duke University Press, 2009), and (with Gay Hawkins and Emily Potter), Plastic Water (MIT Press, forthcoming).
Guy Redden is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, where he is Coordinator of the Master of Cultural Studies Program. His research concerns the intersections of culture and economy and he has published in the areas of consumer culture, new media, television studies, religion and alternative and organizational cultures. He is currently writing a book about performance measurement to be published by Sage.