Search

Cultural Studies Interrogated

By LeAnne Froese


Black and white photo of powerlines

*Image credit: kismihok, “Power lines,” photograph, 2012. Creative Commons permission.

July 26, 2018

 

Cultural Studies…questions the taken for granted.

It sloughs the skin of normalcy, of common sense assumptions.

It unwraps the defensive layers protecting our security and entitlement,

peeling them back to affirm a space, a place

that does not repress,

limit,

inhibit,

subsume,

prescribe,

undermine,

subordinate,

suffocate,

silence,

choke,

stifle,

any

1.

 

Cultural Studies…disinters the instrumental from the instrumentalized,

the trendy from the terminal,

the conjunctural from the historical,

the implied from the expressed,

the shadow from the shape.

 

Cultural Studies…turns nouns into verbs, ideas into action.

It problematizes: elevates the art of taking issue

to an academic level;

digs into the social construction of culture,  

how it benefits a particular people

at a particular time.

 

                                                           Cultural Studies…examines “how cultures work,

                                                                                                          are contested,

                                                                                                divide and cohere, or

                                                     how transpersonal historical structures consort with

                                                   human activity to produce social and political change.”[1]

                              It is a study of those whose struggles make (or don’t make) history.

 

 

Cultural Studies…interrogates hegemony;

challenges one social group’s control over another,

exposes assumptions of superiority,

as Antonio Gramsci critiqued

the dominance of capitalism

in his day.[2]

 

Cultural Studies…queries how capitalist economies of profit

pressure, influence, dictate, divide, stratify,

human behaviour,

social structures,

policy.

 

It confronts the economy of power

and the power of the

economy.

 

                                                                “…for though hegemony is ethical-political,

                                                                                         it must also be economic,

                                                                             must necessarily be based on the

                                                                       decisive nucleus of economic activity.”[3]

 

Cultural Studies…lives outside the boxes

that define and determine in and out.

It calls box makers to analyze and account

for their allocation of privilege and merit.

 

Cultural Studies…complicates the duality, the binary,

of black/white, male/female, settler/indigenous, enslaved/free, conservative/liberal, post/colonial.

It questions the construction, the origin, the utility of these dyads;

whose experiences they reflect,

whose purposes they serve,

whose rules they follow.

 

                                              Cultural Studies…invests in the dynamics of interaction,

                                             and how these associations affect our perception of self,

                                                                                                             and others; 

                                                                                        how our intercorporeality,

                                      our intimate relationships “with and in” the world, shape us;[4]

                                           … considers how our Skin Ego bears witness to, testifies

                                                                against the desomatisation of the psyche.[5]

                                                How our bodies are testimonies to lived experiences.

 

Cultural Studies…looks at how we position ourselves as a self among

others,

in our news, our religions, our education systems, our governments,

in our reconciliation commissions and inquiries,

in our museums, and art galleries,

in our monuments, billboards,

statu(t)es, and

stories.

 

                         Cultural Studies…challenges the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

                                                                                  to consider a version of hope

               that does not rely on the comfort of “positive stories” or an “optimistic tone”

                                                    but where the future is opened to change through

                                                                  critical and unsettling engagements with

                                                                                  present and ongoing histories

                                                                                                 of colonial violence

                                                                                                             in Canada.[6]

 

                                 Cultural Studies…invites Canadians to watch themselves cringe

                             when they hear words such as “genocide,” betrayal,” and “abuse”;

                                        “this image of colonizer as abusive perpetrator so at odds

                                                                                   with the peacemaker myth.”[7]

 

Cultural Studies…complicates the conscience of academia.

It reveals covert assumptions, agendas, preoccupations, presuppositions,

by exposing, querying, reframing, repositioning, reconfiguring, extending, transposing

realities, histories, meanings, conclusions,

language, terminology,

policy, identity,

polity.

 

                                                  Cultural Studies…attends to dual ambitions, “where

                       the ‘organic intellectual’ must work on two fronts at one and the same

                                       time”; at once engaged at the forefront of intellectual work

                                                                            and also with the political project.[8]

 

Cultural Studies is…an indictment of public education as colonizer,

perpetrator and perpetuator of cultural values and norms,

through curriculum, textbooks and literature,

these stories we tell ourselves

and our children.

 

Cultural Studies is…a challenge to break down the complicated relationships between

colonial knowledge,

ignorance,

denial, and

colonial beliefs.[9]

 

Cultural Studies…exposes systematized oppression

in our attitudes, approaches, frameworks, justifications,

in politics, academia, economics, leisure, media;

in how we work, travel, love, dream, protest;

in how we spend our days, our money,

our natural resources,

our futures.

 

Cultural Studies is…naming and owning

my identifiers,

my signifiers,

my markers,

            of success and failure,

            of hope and despair,

            of truth and myth.

 

Cultural Studies is…accepting the historical weight and future implications of my identity.

It is taking responsibility for how my life

impacts others.

 


References

[1] Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy & the American Working Class

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 11.

[2] Andrew Edgar and Peter Sedgwick, eds. Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts(New

York: Routledge, 2008), 155.

[3] Antonio Gramsci, “Hegemony, Intellectual and the State.” in Cultural Theory and

Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. John Storey (New York: Routledge, 2009), 76.

[4] Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, eds. Thinking Through the Skin(New York:

Routledge, 2001), 5.

[5] Ahmed and Stacey, Thinking Through the Skin, 6.

[6] Angela Failler, “Hope Without Consolation: Prospects for Critical Learning at the

Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies37, no. 2-3 (2015): 228.

[7] Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth

Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada(Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), 114.

[8] Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacy.” in Stuart Hall: Critical

Dialogues in Cultural Studies, eds. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (New York: Routledge, 1996), 268.

[9] Jennifer Hardwick, "Dismantling Narratives: Settler Ignorance, Indigenous Literature

and the Development of a Decolonizing Discourse," Topia33 (2015): 115.