Practicing cultural studies today
We have been asked to provide a personal response to the question of “what matters for cultural studies?”. I think it is important to note, before saying anything else, that, in practice, “what matters” for cultural studies these days very much depends on where you are. One of the notable features of the international/transnational career of cultural studies has been its adaptability to a variety of institutional, political, historical and academic contexts. Inter Asia Cultural Studies itself, both the journal and the movement,is a signal example of the specificities that can develop in response to the strategic needs of the field as it is constituted in specific regions and locations at particular points in time. However, IACS is far from being the only example of this—the multiple versions of cultural studies in play in Latin America, for instance, would provide many more. While it is true to say that there is still a coherent and consistent project with which all of us who identify with cultural studies would be aligned, the strategies used to prosecute that project in each of its varied locations are, necessarily, highly contingent. Indeed, one of the lessons I have learnt from observing the recent trajectories of cultural studies in Asia is to do with the productiveness of that contingency for the project of cultural studies; our foundational commitment to working within and upon the current conjuncture has proven an enabling point of departure for the translation of broad cultural studies concepts into instantiated and located practices and pedagogies.
Also, as a second disclaimer, I can’t presume to speak for cultural studies as a whole field, so what I have to say in this short burst of opinion is about what matters to me, in my version of the project of cultural studies, and at this time. That said, I should also admit that I do have some recent form in speaking about, but not for, the whole field of cultural studies, in the hope that what I have to say from my own particular position will resonate usefully with the positions taken by others. In 2012 I published a book entitled What’s Become of Cultural Studies?, in which I presented a personal account of the state of cultural studies today and raised my concerns about what this account suggested had become of what I still think of as the original project of cultural studies. It is a polemical book, and it has unsurprisingly elicited a range of responses, but it is deliberately aimed at generating debate about our field, and particularly about how it is actually practiced—as distinct from theorized—at the moment. So, the book discusses how we design and orient our courses, how we teach them, how we train our postgraduates, how we have managed cultural studies’ institutionalisation and so on. I don’t assume that everyone in the field has read it, of course (or, indeed, even heard of it!), so here I want to review some of the issues it raises as a preliminary to outlining what I wish to nominate as the things that, in my view, matter to the field of cultural studies at the moment.
Graeme Turner is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies and the founding director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. A leading figure in cultural and media studies internationally, he has published 23 books and his work has been translated into 9 languages. His most recent publications include (with Anna Cristina Pertierra) Locating Television: Zones of Consumption (Routledge, 2013), What’s Become of Cultural Studies? (Sage, 2012), Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn (Sage, 2010) and (with Jinna Tay) Television Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era (Routledge, 2009).