Emergence: Stuart Hall and Cultural Studies across the world
M. Madhava PRASAD
My first proper introduction to Cultural Studies happened at Pittsburgh. There is no department of cultural studies at the University of Pittsburgh, in keeping with the perception that CS is not a discipline in the conventional sense so much as an interdisciplinary space for asking new questions that are relevant to the whole range of disciplines traditionally classified in the Anglophone world as humanities and social sciences. At UPitt, accordingly, CS functioned as a meeting ground for faculty from a whole range of departments. Courses were cross-listed, sometimes co-taught by faculty from different departments. It was the early 1990s, and back in Britain, Thatcher had barely left the building. During her time in office, many British academics had sought intellectual asylum in American universities. The presence of some of them at Pittsburgh, like Colin MacCabe, no doubt contributed to a strong tie with British cultural studies. Indeed Pitt was considered or considered itself somewhat of an exception to the trends in American cultural studies that were then being denounced by British progenitors of the field. Stuart Hall himself gave a job talk as candidate for a prestigious chair in the English department but did not take the job. It was with Marcia Landy, a Gramscian and film historian, and other student members of a study group that spontaneously formed the year I joined, that I read The Hard Road to Renewal. Although I was not very well acquainted with the developments of the Thatcher era in Britain, I understood, from my own Indian context which was also in the throes of change at that moment, what Hall meant when he said the Left had failed in “shaping the culture and educating desire”: tasks which the Indian Left has never been known to take seriously. This was my introduction to Hall, to cultural studies, and to the thought of Gramsci which I had glimpsed in the early work of the Subaltern Studies historians but without much understanding. I learnt about the “conjuncture,” learnt what it meant to “read” something that is not a text, but a piece of social reality (“reading” was still used with quotation marks in this text), how the concept of hegemony dispenses with the old way of thinking about the ruling classes and the ruled and poses new challenges to thought. Hall, departing from the economism of the established Left, points to the cultural roots of Thatcherism, its successful bid to reconstitute the “common sense” (another Gramscian term) of the nation.
M. Madhava Prasad is Professor of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He is the author of two books, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (1998) and Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India (2014) and essays on a range of topics in film and cultural studies, literary theory and Indian politics. He is currently researching the language question in India.