Cultural Studies, Deleuze and Glen’s Dissertation

“Cultural studies has had at least two romances in its life. One with the ideal state that critical and radical cultural studies counterposes to the actual one as a utopian critique. A state that was once Marxist but is becoming increasingly liberal and pluralist. The other romance is with the actual state, in the form of cultural policy studies. A Deleuzian In the Midst of a Deleuzian Cultural Studies cultural studies might diverge from both these options, by refusing the figure of the state, by looking for the lines of force out of which states, like all kinds of capture, including that of subjectivity itself, are composed.” — McKenzie Wark, “In the Midst of a Deleuzian Cultural Studies”, p 118-119.

Wark, similar to Thoburn of Marxism, asks Deleuzian questions of Cultural Studies. I want to ask ‘Cultural Studies questions’ of Deleuze. Is this possible?

I have figured out my dissertation will be a work of post-Gramscian Cultural Studies. Simple as that. I have laboured over this point for a long time as I quickly (or ‘slowly’ depending on which way you look at it) realised that part of my training at university in Cultural Studies (started with the Birmingham School and off we went) was incompatible with what I found useful or even relevant to my research. However, other parts were incredibly useful. How to rethink these dimensions and combine them with other ideas. Here is my problem, and it is not something unique to me (that is for sure!!).

Anyway, reading some of Jon Beasley-Murray‘s work has been very helpful. (So you can chalk up another success story for academic blogs and the internet, because even though I knew of him from the Spoon’s list days — specifically after I asked a question one day about anyone who was doing work on Bourdieu and Deleuze — I would not have read his work unless he had recently started a blog.) Although Jon is coming from a totally different area (Latin American Cultural Studies, I think?), his central concern with posthegemony resonates with my problem. The Gramscian influenced Cultural Studies, from my perspective, has had its day. Jon’s work engages with the notion of hegemony directly, my work is not really concerned with hegemony so much as the peripheral concepts that British(-American-Australian) Cultural Studies has developed in response to the focus on hegemony: subculture, cultural industry, moral panics. I have been wrestling with these over-arching concepts since the beginning of my research.

1) Subculture: I have discussed this and related issues on my blog before. Modified-car enthusiasts are not resistant in the Birmingham school sense. There is no social order which their ‘style’ affronts. The style in question is normally determined by measures of aesthetic and techno-mechanical concerns. In fact, their activities can be considered an expression of an enthusiasm for the dominant paradigm of mobility in developed, industrialised countries: automobility. Secondly, modified-car enthusiasts are not a clearly delineated social group; they are not all ‘youth’ or ‘male’, although there is a predominance of young males. So instead of a social organisation determined by a resistance to a real or imagined social order and as a necessary product of social position, I shall argue modified-car culture is evidence of a social organisation (in the sense of an ‘array’ or distribution, not a ‘structure’) determined by an enthusiasm for an activity: the modification of cars. Enthusiasm has a number of dimensions — desire, labour, sociality, communication and ethics — plus it has a number of scales: social/system-wide (automobility), body/object-based (cars), cultural/image-based (commodities).

Enthusiasm is part of a political economy and there are two parts: the first is represented by a cultural industry that extracts (‘machinic’) surplus value from the enthusiasts collective and creative enterprises, the second is represented by a ‘control industry’, that has media, police and technical regimes for the control of enthusiasts. The main difference between the two is that the culture industries operate by capture and inclusion into spatial thresholds of exploitation. The control industries are more complex and operate along a continuum. On one end the target is habit (in this context, think of the road safety arm of the industry) on the other end the target is the social exclusion of people from commodified public space. Its primary mode of operation is through coding — advertising campaigns, moral panics, fine systems — but can include actions of force — i.e. removal or confiscation.

2) Culture Industry: Adorno and Horkheimer were working during the era of Fordism. Their focus on technology and routinization of culture may have been accurate during the oligarchical reign of massive companies and state-run businesses. What happens when the mass-standard of Fordism becomes the standard-variation of post-Fordism? Case in point here is the ‘muscle car’, the first properly post-Fordist ‘type’ of car. The muscle car is not only a technology of mobility, but part of an elaborate apparatus of capture for an enthusiasm for the difference the muscle car embodies. The second type of car produced was the ‘personal luxury car’, what most would recognise as a ‘pimp mobile’. The repetition of ‘performance’ (muscle cars) and ‘style’ (‘personal luxury cars’) is not a coincidence. The automobile market transformed from one organised around a vertical order of hierarchical distinction to become one where difference was distributed into horizontally differentiated markets. So on and so forth.

SO that is one way to imagine the shift to post-Fordism. Another way is to focus on the emergence of a specific cultural industry proper to modified-car culture. Bert Moorhouse’s work on hot-rodding is instrumnetal here. His focus was on the development and role of the NHRA and Hot Rod magazine in the emergence of ‘hot rodding’ as a structured pastime. My argument, and, for that matter, the argument of Tom Wolfe, is that the enthusism captured already had a consistency before the emergence of the cultural industry (which is logical, the market comes after an enthusiasm, while it is immanent to fashion). Again ‘consistency’ pertains to an organisation, not in terms of a structure, but as a distribution.

3) Control Industry: I have been thinking about this for a long time, too. ‘Control industry’ is something I just came up with as it seems to capture all of my ideas, don’t know if anyone else uses the term. I think it may have general currency in the contemporary era. It is different from other related concepts like the ‘prison industrial complex’ and the ‘crime control industry’, which assumes deviancy at least as a functional concept.

Anyway, an example. I have long thought that the road safety industry is an exemplary institution of what Deleuze called the ‘control society’. Negri and Hardt go a bit soft on this concept and term it the communication society. Whatever. Communication is not control, and it belies their over-determining focus on immaterial circulation without an appreciation of the importance of material circulation (of which ‘automobility’ is the key paradigm). In this chapter I attempt to connect some of their insights, with some Foucaultian stuff on automobility, with the moral panic theory. My first paper I gave at a conference was on the hoon moral panic that was currently running in Queesland at the time (‘hoon’ is like a UK or NZ ‘boy racer’ or 1950s US ‘hot rodder’). It is an industry because it is underpinned by economic considerations and it operates as a political economy of exclusion (spatial, political, social, etc).

Intro chapter, outro chapter, and that, my frends, is my thesis. Boom boom.