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.

Fodder Out of the Opportunities

This is another older post draft that I don’t think I’ll have time to finish, so up it goes…

“Obviously, we’ve got to deal with defensiveness about people’s heritage. Many white Australians, of conservative and traditional bearing, are defensive. Many ordinary Australians are defensive about their own heritage, and if we continue to cast a politics that disregards the understandable and natural defensiveness of people about their own identity, about their own history, and about their own self-feeling, then we’re going to continue to galvanise people into a denialist position. Of course the culture wars have made great fodder out of the opportunities here to turn acknowledgement and empathy into an accusation to the politically correct seeking to impose black-armbands on everyone. So the dynamics of the culture was cuts across all of these possibilities and of course there is electoral gain to be made by distorting… by turning empathy and acknowledgement into alleged guilt and so on.”

CSAA President Paul Magee circulated a link to a speech by MP Noel Pearson on the CSAA list. The whole thing is worth listening to. I have transcribed the above extract as it touches on something I am currently thinking about and that is the politics of contingency.

In my dissertation I spend half of a chapter on enthusiasm and ‘know how’ examining what I call the translation of contingency from that of problems into challenges. This doesn’t only happen once but is an ongoing process of a practical knowledge — ‘know how’. The problem with ‘discourse-based’ approaches to knowledge is the incorporation of contingency on a smaller scale than the great historical discontinuities isolated by Foucault and from which he produced ‘discourse events’. Michel de Certeau’s work on the practice of everyday life was concerned with this exact problem. ‘Know how’ is the incorporeal movement between knowledge and bodies that follows the arrangements produced by contingency. ‘Know how’ correlates with a micro-discursive field of possibility for action.

I argue this act of translating contingency is one of the essential masculine acts of modified-car culture (as well as being present in other cultural formations). ‘Challenge’ here is not simply a test of masculinity but the opportunity to reaffirm the conditions of one’s enthusiasm. In translating the contingency of a probelm into the contingency of a challenge the catalyst for action is retained while at the same time valorizing the conditions of possibility (discourse and other structrations) of the enthusiasm. Other contingencies are also translated into challeneges, such as ‘risks’ (hoons and road safety, etc) and entrepreneurial socio-economic ‘opportunities’ (exploiting/supporting new enthusiasms). Both of which I also explore to a certain extent in the diss.

The above extract from Pearson gives some sense of why I think a politics of contingency is necessary. John Howard was a master of opportunity, which I would describe as the capacity to translate socio-political contingencies into the reality of a political resource. The funny thing about contingency is that the ‘singularity’ of contingency is real and to a certain extent ‘neutral’ (in Deleuze’s sense of singualrities being neutral). Therefore the reality propounded by Howard organised by his socio-political contingencies are not simply ideological, but demand a politics of opportunity based around the distribution of possibility and the processual ontology of contingency.


Within the town there is always another town.
— Gilles Deleuze

    Capital City Canberra

Canberra is the capital city of the Australian Capital Territory and of Australia. It is the nation’s capital. The explicit monumentality of monuments is obvious but the architecture of Canberra also exhibits a kind of monumental interaction. The buildings and structures are not very high (except of course for Parliament House, photo here from Mel G, it looks like I am about to monster something. 😉 Excellent…). What I noticed was the spatiality of the architecture at ground level was very large. For example there were a number of buildings with large concrete columns and marble veneers as feature elements of frontal facades, and other similar architectural tricks such as large imposing door ways and the like. There is no structural reason for such columns. I took this photo as it seemed to capture some sense of downtown refurbishment of old buildings continually subsumed in the churning of (the) capital. ‘Eclipse House’ was therefore a beautiful name for a building wrapped almost organically in the monumental cocoon of development.

Eclipse House

Around Canberra is a constellation of suburbs. It is literally a constellation, in the sense of a planned city and the weird isomorphic symmetries produced by this weird urban phenomenon. This means that there are 80 km/h zones between suburbs and the centre ‘ring’ called ‘Civic’. In these 80 km/h apparently it is the local sport of Canberrans to go as fast as possible. We stayed in Civic and the UC campus where most of the conference was held was in the constellation ring suburb of ‘Bruce’.

    Academic Canberra

The conference theme was Unaustralia. The conference was at the University of Canberra not the really big Australian National University. I had been to the Humanities Research Centre at ANU for a conference two years ago. UC is not as big and is out in one of the satellite suburbs.

My paper went alright. My experiment to not write a paper and to only have a power point presentation which I spoke to seemed to help me incredibly with my stuttering and general performative disposition. I know I know my stuff and it is only when i get locked into certain ways of saying things (with a scripted paper) do I have trouble. I was pretty hyped up for the paper but I don’t think I rushed it. Of course I had practised it a few times, but I really wanted to nail (and almost did) the introductory section on Deleuze and Guattari. My basic argument was that the early period of D and G before they became D&G but were aware of each others works may be the most productive ‘moment’ with which to begin when engaging with and through their work for those within Cultural Studies. Charles Stivale roughly starts in the same place with his book. It involves D’s LoS, D&R, Bergsonism and an essay entitled “How do we recognise structuralism?” and G’s essay on “Machine and Structure”. It are these main texts that need to be read to understand the machinic ontology developed further elsewhere in their work. However, I prefer the language of LoS of ‘event’ and ‘series’ as it fits better with Foucault’s methodological terminology. I think lecturing this semester has helped me

It was cool that in her paper’s session Mel G responded to a question from Mel C about the righteousness of conservative pundits with a reference to the paper we had published. The keynotes were ok. Here is an image taken on my mobile phone of Rancière delivering his keynote in the Great Hall of Parliament House. The below is an image I took of the ‘public’ at the ‘public lecture’.

public: confused, interested, passing by

There seemed to be a conspicuous absence of ‘senior academics’ at least compared to the numbers of previous years. The papers were a mixed bag. Here are some exceptionally arrogant general complaints about some of the bad papers:

1) Lines of alterity. Cross them, don’t cross them, whatever, but please just be aware of them. There is the athropological cultural alterity that may relate to identity or spatio-temporalities (locality-history). There are also lines of machinic alterity across registers that may produce, for example, subjectivities because of different arrangements of architecture, institutions, texts, conjunctural events, practices. As Ann Werner point out to me John Frow’s keynote was very good at jumping across the different legal and cultural registers of the Unaustralian. There seemed to be too many papers that were uncritically unaware of their own proximity to various lines of alterity. This included unreflexive accounts of ‘unaustralianess’.
2) Do some research. This is in two parts:
a) Perhaps because of the theme of the conference people thought that their operative outside of thought was aligned with something that was part of their own subjective existence. That is great, but it may be irrelevant for everyone else. So, research topics. Similarly, the specificity of particular examples is great but not when those examples are on their own.
b) The only thing worse than being irrelevant is being obvious (or maybe obnoxious, but nobody’s perfect). Surely critical distance is important? It is enough for non-academics to think through things in their immediacy, but one of the basic tennets of any kind of intellectual labour is to produce some sort of critical distance, or what? ‘Critical distance’ used to be called ‘objectivity’ but not all people want to speak in the ‘we’ collective pronoun of reflex scientificity or from the discursive position thus arrayed from this speaking position. All this becomes problematic when various modes of critical distance themselves become mere reflex and what the right-wing reactionary columists would call the lefty bleeding heart discourse was in full effect in some papers. This positioned the speaker, the knowledge-content, the audience, etc. in certain ways. I don’t have a problem with the position, only that it quickly becomes a kind of discursive commonplace, ie cliched. If you are speaking in cliches (scholarly, cultural studies, or otherwise), then that probably means that what you have said has been said many times before. So then what is the point of you saying it in the context of an academic conference? Why bother? Again, maybe the theme encouraged this.

The paper that got me thinking the most was Amy Bauder‘s paper on Safe Sex campaigns. She examined a number of texts in terms of the biopolitics of ‘safe sex’. She made some excellent points on biopolitics that connected:

1) The micro-politics of the physical acts with the macro-politics of sexual health institutions…
2) With the production of particular affective subjectivities within the target audience of the safe sex advertisements…
3) And the different asymmetrical power relations implied and represented in the advertisements between participants in sexual practices.

What she outlined was a particular movement captured in the safe sex advertisements. The movement is a reconstellation of affects and traces a line of subjectivisation. Foucault talks about subjectivisation in terms of the reduction of multiplicities, and indeed the safe sex advertisements seek to be disciplining. Not disciplining in the sense of crippling or an imposition, but in the sense of a bodily discipline not unlike a martial arts which allows or enables one to partake in particular experiences.

Amy Bauder

From a slightly more Deleuzian POV I find the refrain that was found it all the advertisements that Amy showed the audience very very interesting. It has actually helped me think about what is going on in my enthusiast magazines. There is a similar relation with enthusiast magazines about the production of particular subjectivities. Similarly, a movement of subjectivisation is captured through the relations suspended in the magazine composites of text and images and their discursive figurations. The refrain was the differential repetition of a conditional statement “When [something], we live the sensation” such as:
“When we are together, we live the sensation”
“When we play, we live the sensation”
This refrain was above a list of axiomatised conditions of the acts of ‘play’ or ‘togethering’. What I find particularly interesting was the second, repeated part of the refrain: ‘we live the sensation’. There is a movement here in the sentence that discursively captures the movement of actualisation. The discursive movement is from the collective pronoun of the ‘we’ to the weirdly singular ‘the sensation’. Then it twigged that the discursive movement was actually ‘back-formed from cessation’ (as Massumi would say) in an attempt to represent the movement of actualisation which went the other way. ‘The sensation’ belongs to the realm of what Deleuze would call the pure event of the fourth-person singular. The discursive statement ‘the sensation’ already fixes this is space and time, while the event(s) would be more like ‘to excite’ or ‘to sex’. Regardless, the empirical situation of the collective pronoun ‘we’ is an actualisation of the singular ‘the sensation’ and the virtual multiplicities that belong to it. So instead of merely the reductive actualisation of multiplcities of Foucault the advetisements capture the biopolitics of a movement from the virtual multiplicity of ‘the sensation’ in all its singularity as it is actualised as an arrangement of bodies and what these bodies are doing (the ‘we’). This movement is captured by the term ‘live’. ‘To live’ is to move continuously from the virtual to the actual. Politics, as Negri and Hardt argue (complicating Deleuze’s Bergsonisms), is the production of possibilities in this movement between the virtual to the actual. Bauder’s paper highlights the positive potential of ‘safety’ in disciplining the possibilities that punctuate the movement from the virtual to the actual.

There is a second point to be made about the relation between affect as an ontological category of power and life (ie D&G’s famous tic and three degrees of movement and the affects that belong to them) and affect as a physiological reception that is part of perception. Briefly, the advertisements intervenes in the movement between the virtual and the actual through the process of perception as part of subjectivisation. That is, only certain affects are possible. There is a relationship to contingency here, too.

    Night Canberra

The highlight of the conference was definitely when the last club we ended up at on the last night which played the baile funk tracks I downloaded before heading to Canberra. We were dancing and when the tracks came on I could not believe it. Yeah. We shook it for a good two and half hours or so fueled purely by flirty behaviour and a sense of accomplishment. I have realised that ‘it’ is the object = x of popular music. “Epic” by Faith No More explicates a problematic of ‘it’. Beyonce in some song I don’t know but heard at Ann’s paper talks about ‘it’ and how you want ‘it’. The crucial difference is whether ‘it’ is a thingification of ‘this’ or ‘that’. If it is ‘that’ then you are longing for something you can’t have, perhaps even to be “all that” (e.g. “Epic” = “What is it?”). If it is ‘this’ then something is going on involving you, “like this, like this, like this” (eg Beyonce track, “Check On It”?). The actualisation of ‘it’ is bestowed with a force or trajectory of the specific relation of displacement or distribution respectively. Oh, don’t shake Polaroids.

Before ending up at that club (‘Toast’) we went to some other joint that smelt like aftershave and had heaps of shouty blokey-looking accountants aggressively jostling each other with their plump elbows. They had a live band, which was interesting, but we couldn’t comply with the vibe so on, on. Prior to that was a quick beer in somewhere called ‘Pheonix’. Which was a place made for those lost souls wondering in from the bus station over the road. Oh, and students, but no one was going to be rising-remade from that place. Before arriving at the Pheonix we had a raucus reception in a restaurant called ‘Sammy’s’. The staff of Sammy’s were extremely patient and goodwilled and tolerated us to the extent that we were there until after closing time. Luckily I found the emergency escape from the weird little commuter mall through the building (Graham contests this account). Of course the night began with the obligatory drinks (actually two rounds of drinks after we had to retire back to the pub to wait on a table) at the Irish pub that was below the hotel for most of the postgrads, the Shittywok (ie from South Park). The last night was a little intense because of the sheer numbers of people out and about Christmas partying.

Mel G has some photos up in her Flickr stream of night time shenanigans. Here is me winning over the gay boys of Canberra with my rendition of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” They were impressed and told me as much after I had finished. I told them it was now their turn to “kareoke the shit out of this place”. There are photos from others yet to be uploaded, I know this because I had my photo taken by a few people!

    Glen’s Canberra

I had fun. Lots and lots. The Sydney postgrad cohort wasn’t as represented as the Melbourne massive. Not too many postgrads from the UWS CCR were there and only a few from USyd Gender Studies. Not sure why this was so. Maybe the conference theme? Numbers on the conference will be interesting. There seemed to be many more people in Sydney last year. It was cool to hang out with some of the cultstuds crew such as Wil, Mel C, Mel G, and Xian, who I all know reasonably well. This is why I go to these conferences. Sure, also to show off some bullshit I have thought up or researched over the last year, but also just to hang out with people I don’t see very often. It was also great to meet the peeps from Melbourne, in particular Michael Dieter who has commented on here. We had some productive chats. Shout outs to Bjorn, Graham, Gemma, Tammy, Nicole, Ben, James and the wonderful gypsy who tried to hex me with a fried rice prawn epitaph.

Ann and I drove down. Canberra is less a place and more a function of my journey. A certain frequency and distribution of expectation, anticipation and action. I was glad I upgraded the stereo for the trip and my car was flawless except for two incidents. On the first day after driving down from Syndey I left my lights on and was lucky enough to get some help from two lovely and generous Newcastle-based postgrads who helped attempt jump start and then successfully push start my car.

More intense is the ‘research incident’ on the way home (and also in Canberra checking out some of the rides). Just before entering the long tunnel at the end of the M5 Freeway my battery warning light came on. I have now had enough experience with my car to know what this meant. One or two of the fan belts was no longer wrapped around the relevant pulley system. I pulled over into the emergency bay 50m from the tunnel entrance. Sure enough the air conditioner belt and the water pump-aternator belt had come loose. I stupidly had not brough my tools with me on the trip. From the looks of the belts if I had some tools I may have been able to salvage one or both of them for the rest of the trip home.

I knew roughly where we were (Bexley Road) and that some shops were up the road a little bit. So I went for a walk and left Ann with the car. She was behaving very patiently and stoically, for which I am very grateful!! After walking for about 10 minutes and realising that these shops were a little further than I remember (by car) one of my thongs (flip-flops) broke. So in the middle of the hot Sydney day walking barefoot up Bexley Road and not really knowing where I was headed. I even rang up home to get directions (via the internet) to the nearest hardware store. I arrived at a large traffic intersection that was populated with little shops. These are the sort of shops which go out of business when a large shopping centre opens up down the road. I think a large shopping centre must have opened up down the road because about half were closed down. I decided to press on as I knew there was a service station further up the road. Again further than I thought because I had only travelled this by car before. I reached the service station and the guy working didn’t have any tools or parts, but he said there was a hardware store up the road. So I trudged on and at this stage I had been walking for a little over an hour. I reached the intersection or Bexley Road and Canterbury Road.

To my astonishment and delight just up Canterbury Road a little is a autoparts shop called Rossco’s. Now this is really weird and why this incident will become part of my fieldwork: Almost the exact same thing had happened about a year and a half ago when I had been travelling to a dyno day for Fordmods up Canterbury road. I had also walked to Rossco’s. This time I got two belts (not the aircon, but two of the essential alternator-water pump belts) and a socket set. I told the guys there my story. The punchline of course was that next door was a footware factory outlet store. So I went next door and bought some overpriced horrible looking sandals. Luckily I waved a cab down on Canterbury road and he took me back to the M5 tunnel entrance (dropping me on Bexley road). Around 20 minutes later I had changed the belt after finding out that I had forgotten how much easy it is to do with ring spanners and not sockets. We were on our way again. We went back to my place and got my tools and my 24mm ring spanner which is essential for tightening the alternator tensioner properly. Done.

Best thing about returning was being told last night over dinner that I had been missed. I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t behave as if I would be (!!). Pleasant surprise.

Edit: Heaps of errors in this post. Deal. Here are some more accounts from Graham and Michael.

CSAA Conference Blogging

So I gave my paper this morning and I think it went well. I feel like I know my stuff 😉

Went out last night and was reasonably responsible, only singing one song at kareoke and not drinking too much. I even went to the gym yesterday morning before the conference started. It is more expensive in Canberra!!

Also last night after the plenary address, I asked Ranciere if he’d done the ‘tourist thing yet’ and then launched into a discussion of tourist spaces versus spaces of monumentality, as Canberra (compared to say Sydney) uses nationalist monuments to interpolate the citizenry, while Sydney has tourist icons that interpolates tourist populations (including the ‘tourist’ subjectivity of locals). He was saved from the random drunk Australian postgrad by a wonderful French woman.

I met some people who read this blog. So, hello!

More later, including photos.


Is it wrong to be up late downloading baile funk for the car trip to Canberra? 🙂

I just fitted a 12″ sub…

youtube video is Bonde Do Role and their track “Vitiligo”. The ACDC “You Shook Me All Night Long” sample with Tone Loc “Wild Thing” bass line sounds a little bit wrong 😉

I’m not writing a paper this year. I am going to speak from a power point instead. See how I go.