Pub Theory: Cultural Studies when it isn’t

Mel Gregg has a post on her blog about how no one has come forward wanting to host the annual CSAA conference. In the comments she writes this zinger:

But the consistency with which the association has backed away from engaging in activism, on the very basis of its inclusiveness, is perhaps the impasse that is at the bottom of all of this: it is the consequence of trying to accrue the benefits of cultural studies as an empty signifier; of not actually standing for anything.

Empty signifiers have utility purely as fab fashion accessories for the post-post-ironic. I’d also add at this stage that ‘activism’ itself needs to be rethought. I don’t particularly want hippy style activism, thanks. Nor do I want matron-ish bourgeois CWA-style activism. Surely we can do something high impact and which cuts to the heart of the matter?

Then C chimes in critiquing the expectation of running a conference when the structural conditions of employment aren’t there:

A bit rich under such circumstances/conditions of possibility to ask for continuing unaffected enthusiasm and more unpaid labor to roll out a conference, isn’t it? The reason is structural and grounded, not ideological or because of shifting loyalties.

I have rock solid job security (after writing that I’ll probably get sacked next week, lol). So my suggestion in the comments seemed a bit obvious:

Why don’t we bugger the association off and have an anti-conference conference?

Inspired by MelC’s comment:

I think the best bits are long dinners and epic drinking sessions – at one stage we were going to found a new journal, Pub Theory.

Hence, title for conference: Pub Theory: Cultural Studies when it isn’t

Here were my first seven discussion points:

1) Lets have only postgrads, ECRs and super-cool rockstar cultstud ECnR (Early Career non-Researchers, putting their awesome skills to use making money for someone else)
2) No possibility of publication afterwards, unless it is via blog or somesuch
3) It would need to be held over a weekend to allow those working stiffs to attend
4) I vote Sydney for the location, it is between QLD and VIC, cheapest flights from elsewhere, soz SA and WA
5) Ballot accomodation to keep costs down and party up (I can house one person, or three drunks)
6) ??????
7) Profit.

Then I went down to the shops and gave this some more thought.

Another commenter, db, suggested that

Wasn’t it partially about saying to English and Sociology in their grey-bearded days: “Fuck you old farts, your paradigms can’t touch where we’re at, so we’re upending the system and getting amongst it, real f***ing life”. Whatever the procedural issues in Glen’s suggestion, it at least seems to capture that spirit, and I’d fund myself along if I was in the vicinity, cos it sounds like fun.

I like db’s analysis and, having put on my Deleuzian hat in the comments, I suggested we have the potential to differentially repeat the CS-event.

Then I appended the above dot points with a few more:

8 ) Venue, this got me scratching my head for a while… until I remembered that I worked for 2 years in a place (a bookshop) that does 50-200 person events, has PP facilities, a bar, a toilet, books for the bored and loves this sort of thing. Then there are two other similar venues in the same strip (s/h bookshop and a cafe) in that they also have events and also love this sort of thing. I’ll make enquiries. What date suits everyone? Anyone got any other ideas?

9) Themed panels? Now there are two points to this.
a) If my undergraduate years taught me anything it is that themes rock because they allow everyone to dress appropriately. We need awesome themes like “Cultural Studies: Epic Fails” looking at the failures of CS (which is really in the dialectic with all these definitions of CS debates, ie What is CS? counter-histories of counter-histories FTW!), “How to spend someone else’s bureaucracy in ten easy steps!” on how to get funding out/in/beside the institution, and “Producing surplus value in the whatever economy using CS” on exploiting the shit out of hard won critical literacies. So themes, good?
b) Theme t-shirts. We need to take it old school street protest and make our own t-shirts. They will be awesome.

10) Activities, now this is where it gets so awesome I can’t contain myself. We need a committee to organise this, which I can’t be part of so I don’t fuck it up with too much enthusiam. I’ll only offer two words: sing and star.

11) Promotion and fund raising. My first idea is to auction the conference on eBay and tell BoingBoing so it eventually filters through to the MSM. Maybe we could lean on MSM connections to make it happen. If some dickhead can auction off a night out with his mates then we can do the conference. Whoever wins the conference auction gets shared banner naming rights. I really hope it is the Sydney Institute. That would be awesome. But a white knight would suffice, or even a grey knight. This probably also needs a committee. I vote for Richard Branson being on the committee.

12) Oh, that reminds me. Find people to head up the committees. Hmmm, email me at glen dot r dot fuller at gmail dot com if you are keen.

You’ll note the humour. I think it was Elspeth Probyn who once said something along the lines of ‘we’ (being CS scholars, which I am not) need to use humour rather than outright critique when combating a social nemesis.

5 thoughts on “Pub Theory: Cultural Studies when it isn’t”

  1. Being involved in one or two of these things, I found they are not easy whether itis organizing room rental (or finding the right space), insurance, Wi-Fi, security, entertainment, food, t-shirts, finance (who pay’s up front deposits and signs off insurance) etc…getting a committee together, setting a price, projectors etc. You need 5/6 people meeting at least once a week for at least 2/3 months.

  2. wi-fi?


    Now it will never happen.

    No, but seriously, attendees will expect wi-fi? wtf. Don’t all these people have iPhones already?

    Oh, and you know what this means? You would be the perfect person to head up the organising committee!

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