Michael Berube wrote a deliberately polemical column in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the non-impact of Cultural Studies in US universities. His argument has three dimensions:
1) Cultural Studies has a very slight institutional profile in US institutions. Berube gauges this according to the number of standalone graduate programs in Cultural Studies.
2) Cultural Studies has had little impact on other disciplines measured relative to the rhetoric of an â€˜all conqueringâ€™ Cultural Studies imagined in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
3) A complex point about the critical ‘Left’ focus of Cultural Studies defined as a movement away from a 1970s Althusserian and/or neo-Gramscian Marxism towards what could be collectively described as a focus on issues pertaining to Left Identity Politics.
If Berube really wants to push the polemical envelope then he needs to step outside his privileged institutional position as a US professor. I normally like Berubeâ€™s writing, so I want to help him out. There are three other points about Cultural Studies that need to be raised if you really want to lay the boot in.
4) Cultural Studies is not a US discipline for most scholars practicing Cultural Studies. Think global, act localâ€¦ because I donâ€™t care about what is wrong with Kansas. I am not sure if much interesting work has come out of US Cultural Studies lately, I am sure there has been, it is just largely irrelevant to Australia, Europe, South America, China and most other places of Cultural Studies scholarship. There are a few exceptions of course, such as the work of Steve Shaviro and others. The point is that the situation of US Cultural Studies is only relevant for Cultural Studies in other national contexts because of the (slipping) hegemonic grip of big US-based publishing houses on dictating the â€˜genericâ€™ cultural tone of monographs. The sooner this synergistic dispositif of US publishers and US universities to condition global scholarly discourse dies the better it will be for everyone interested in engaging with and publishing about specific localised problems in their respective cultural contexts. I read my friendsâ€™ work published out of the US, only because I am curious to see how they translate localized problems in to publishersâ€™ anemic US-centric discourse.
5) Cultural Studies is not a university discipline. I have worked at universities and now I donâ€™t. I work as a writer for enthusiast car magazines. So what? Some of the very best work within Cultural Studies was carried out by those on the fringe of academia. Meaghan Morrisâ€™s work from the 1980s is a good example of this in the Australian context. The Birmingham School during its heyday is another good example of graduate students belonging to localised cultures who used the institutionality of the university as a resource to enable them to do the research (and address specific problems) they needed to do.
Cultural Studies is practiced by myriad writers and other creatives working in the â€˜real worldâ€™. Some of the best work I have read recently has been produced by friends who have completed higher education in Cultural Studies but do not work in universities. Plus, they have a readership of a different magnitude compared to academic journals or books.
6) Cultural Studies within the university has a purer neo-liberal ideological basis than actually existing neo-liberalism. The careerist entrepreneur-of-the-academic-self embodies the neo-liberal ideology of capitalist self-actualisation. A career used to be something you ended up with at the end of it, not something that was planned through various stages of calculating maximisation of institutional â€˜opportunitiesâ€™. The sad thing I have witnessed is the inculcation of this careerist subjectivity on an institutional level so that very good people have to assume particular professional â€˜careeristâ€™ dispositions to get ahead. Those of us who are too rock and roll communist for this capitalist shit will probably never work in universities (again).
To be honest, sure, I eventually want a job in academia. I donâ€™t have enough time to do the reading, writing and thinking Iâ€™d like to in my current job. However, I donâ€™t want to work as a casual teaching other peopleâ€™s courses or as a casual research assistant doing other peopleâ€™s research. This sort of work is sold as an apprenticeship, something you need to do so as to get a foot in the door, but it isnâ€™t. It is merely the proletariatisation of intellectual labour. The surplus of Cultural Studies Ph.Dâ€™s presents a classic Marxist problem of surplus labour. There should be a generalised withdrawal of casualised labour from universities to cause them some organisational pain.