Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the Successful Institutionalization and the Political Failure of Cultural Studies

Remarks on the Successful Institutionalization
and the Political Failure of Cultural Studies
B. Ricardo Brown
Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
 Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies
Pratt Institute
March 16, 2008

Session participants:
*Stanley Aronowitz – Sociology, Graduate Center, CUNY, “Against Schooling.”
*B. Ricardo Brown – Social Science and Cultural Studies, Pratt Institute.
*Michael Pelias – Philosophy, LIU, Brooklyn, “Doing Philosophy and confronting its consistent depoliticization in the academy - restoring historical materialism.” 
*Edwain Stokes – Long Island University, Brooklyn.
*Dominic Wetzel  Moderator

I want to mention two things that I will argue are fundamentally linked: the successful institutionalization of Cultural Studies and the meaning of public intellectual. In mentioning these, I want to argue that the role of public intellectual should be critically examined in light of the successful intervention of Cultural Studies in education.  

In some ways, Cultural Studies did not really exist until it was recognized as a field and accepted into the academy. It was the incorporation of Cultural Studies into already established, but often foundering, disciplines and fields such as English or the sociology of culture that had the effect of reinvigorating these areas, though not necessarily in a radical direction. Along with this incorporation of Cultural Studies came also the establishment of formal graduate and undergraduate programs authorized to grant degrees in Cultural Studies (variously named in keeping with the schools where such programs were installed).

Now Cultural Studies has no one genealogy. In fact, one might say that the scope of its genealogy is almost as vast as the breadth of areas where Cultural Studies has been accepted. But there are general tendencies that ---perhaps only in hindsight--- can be seen as coalescing in Cultural Studies in the United States.

The rise of Cultural Studies coincided with a general intensification of a politics of identity, debates surrounding multiculturalism, and the so-called postmodern condition. This coincidence no doubt made many on the left suspicious of Cultural Studies, despite the direct engagement with Marx and marxism that one finds in the works of critical theory and of the Birmingham School. Still, there can be little doubt that the debates over multiculturalism and the shift to identity and “new social movements” provided strong forces for the increasing coalescence of Cultural Studies and its intervention into education. This alliance was always a tenuous one, however, for in many respects it depended upon the public intellectual as an agent for change. 

The notion of public engagement, or of being a public intellectual was a part of Cultural Studies from the beginning. We can find it in Birmingham's emphasis on literacy and media representation, and in Adorno's radio lectures of the 1960s. In the United States, the link between the public intellectual and the political intervention of Cultural Studies was flatly stated by Cornel West when he called for the recognition of a new identity, the “culture worker.” This Culture Worker would serve, he said, as a “critical organic catalyst” and help to usher in “a new cultural politics of difference”. These “intellectual freedom fighters” ---as he called them--- would be public in the sense of being “attuned to the best of what the mainstream has to offer... yet maintain a grounding in affirming and enabling subcultures of criticism” (West, “New Cultural Politics of Difference”, in During, 266).

Of course, such a cultural worker never emerged, or if it did, it was in a rather enfeebled form. The study of culture as “life as it is lived” (Horkheimer), the breaking apart of things and identities has been countered by a privileging of particular abstractions, such as the “visual” or “visual culture” or “the body” or the media. The critical work has also been countered by a commitment to identities and movements, and to the politics of representation. This holds especially true when we think of Cultural Studies as an intervention into education and the production of knowledge. In deference to Stuart Hall's remark at being “completely dumbfounded” by recent American Cultural Studies, it is necessary to turn the critical theory that underpins Cultural Studies back upon itself. This is to ask if Cultural Studies can be salvaged from the collision of Critical theory, Birmingham's class (and later gender and race) critiques, and the American context of identity, multiculturalism, and a disorganized Left.

The notion of the public intellectual is always tied to a notion of public education and schooling.  Schooling is not just about disliking standards, but about creating publics (or a public). Education is obviously then about the State. Although civics might be out in curriculums, there is no need for civics classes when the entire educational apparatus is about training for work. The intervention against this notion is of lasting and significant importance, but our opposition to education as schooling for work can not lead us to overlook the importance education always plays in the maintenance of the social order.

It is said that Socrates “lived ever in the open,” walking the promenades in the morning, the market at midday, and spending the evenings wherever the most people were to be found. Anyone might listen, his student wrote, and “his conversation always concerned human things” What made Socrates a public intellectual was that the public was the state, the polis, and he was immersed in it. The public intellectual could not help being a educator, and the educator a public intellectual. 

Adorno said in his radio lectures that “The society that confronts people is nonetheless these very people” (Adorno, “Resignation,” Critical Models, 291). This confrontation makes the public intellectual a real problem, for in serving the public, the public intellectual also serves the state.

Obviously, our conception of the public intellectual as educator is not the same as the ancient one. In many ways we can agree with the view “that the public is born in myth and is sustained by superstition” (Dewey, The Public and its Problems, 38). But the image of Socrates going about in the open allows us to consider how the organization of a public is a problem of the state power: “to organize the public, it is necessary to equip the public with official representatives” and the “mark of the organization of the public ... is thus the existence of officials,” John Dewey wrote. The public intellectual, or “Critical Organic Catalyst,” easily becomes, on the one hand, a representative of a public, and on the other, a producer of knowledge that is heard by more than just its intended public.

We have to be clear that this knowledge serves not only the needs of the public to which the intellectual is committed, but also serves to produce knowledge that is crucial for the State's understanding of its' own composition and dynamics. So a field like Cultural Studies came in time to not only critique, but also to explain. It began to explain why we like TV, or certain fashions, or who we choose to have sex with, and what it all means. It seems almost unavoidable that on some level, critiques produce knowledge that is useful. That is, knowledge that ultimately props up groups and holds together identities instead of breaking things apart and making representations uninhabitable.

Commitment to produce useful knowledge marks the work of the public intellectual. In the light of the lessons learned from the institutionalization of Cultural Studies, it would seem that the public intellectual is a position that is as much compromised as it is committed. Because the intervention of Cultural Studies in the United States depended so much on the figure of the public intellectual, is it still possible to loosen these institution constraints, or should the project of Cultural Studies be abandoned altogether? This second choice would, of course, dissolve the notion of the public intellectual as “Critical Organic Catalyst, too. It may be romantic to believe that either alternative is possible. At least we can be assured that dispersed critiques and resistances are emerging all the time in everyday life, but it is not clear what role the public intellectual can play in the open ended critique of everyday life when the public it seeks to change is also the public it represents.

West's call for committed Culture Workers is a demand for conscious commitment, for criticism to have a particular intention and alignment with a public. However, when everyday life becomes the affirmation of the existing order, “What does it matter who is speaking?” (Beckett in Foucault, “What is an Author?”) as has been asked, “What is the point of the demand for commitment” in a society where everything is aligned and committed? (Williams, “Alignment and Commitment,” 199). With that, I will end by noting Raymond Williams comment in his essay “Alignment and Commitment,” which those of us who helped institutionalize Cultural Studies in the United States should have paid more attention to: “Social reality can amend, displace, or deform any merely intended practice, and within this (at times tragically, at times in ways which lead to cynicism and disgust) 'commitment' can function as little more than ideology.”

[Of course, I am saying all of this in public and to a public.]

lathe biosas

Originally published on 9/27/12, 9:52 PM Eastern Standard Time


Cultural Studies: Introductory Lectures

Honoring and Engaging Aronowitz: Remaking the Knowledge Factory (2011)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stanley Aronowitz and Cultural Studies

Honoring and Engaging Aronowitz: Remaking the Knowledge Factory
Left Forum
Pace University, New York City March 18 – 20, 2011
Description of Panels: 
Honoring and Engaging Aronowitz: Rethinking Labor and the Labor Movement  E326, O. Panel Session 7—Sunday 3:00 p.m. – 4:50 p.m.
Dr. B. Ricardo Brown—Pratt InstituteDr. Michelle Fine—CUNY Graduate CenterMichael Menser—Brooklyn College/CUNYMike Fabricant–Hunter/CUNY Graduate Center, PSC-CUNY
Panel Abstract: This panel will engage the work of Stanley Aronowitz withrespect to social and political movements and the current crisis in higher education. Particular focus will be on the idea of the university as aknowledge factory and the role of students, faculty, communities, andmovements to not only combat privatization and defunding but to makethe university a place where learning and research serve the public,cultivate solidarity, and make 21st century education democratic,inclusive, combative, and liberatory.
See also: Honoring and Engaging Aronowitz: Rethinking Labor and the Labor movement.  
Ed Ott—Murphy Institute for Worker EducationMichael Pelias—Long Island UniversityPenny Lewis—Murphy Institute for Worker EducationPhil Nicholson—Nassau Community CollegeWilliam DiFazio—St. Johns University, Situations Collective
Panel Abstract: An engagement and critical dialogue with the work of Stanley Aronowitzon the "labor question" and the failure of institutionalized labor today.

 ‘...keeping alive the critical analysis of the social world was and remains an important program’ 
Stanley Aronowitz and Cultural Studies

B. Ricardo Brown
Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies, Pratt Institute

I came to CUNY to work with Stanley. I had dropped out of graduate school at Syracuse University ---a brief but inevitably important exploration of Cultural and Historical Geography. While working as alaw librarian, I read Stanley’s Crisis in Historical Materialism and was immediately taken by both his range of knowledge and his critical approach to knowledge and everyday life. So As others have said, I too led a rather strange life at CUNY, where I would work the reference desk until 4:15 and then leaveto walk the 10 minutes to the old Grad Center on 42nd Street. So within 15 minutes, I would go from the very belly of the Beast and into Stanley’s classroom. The contrast could not be greater, of course, both intellectually and ethically.

To speak on Stanley and Cultural Studies... Well, I’ll not speak about his many books and essays on thesubject, nor about his acknowledged place in the reception of Cultural Studies in the Americas. I think this is well known to us all and would take a lecture series more than a short talk! And as a member of a unionized faculty and of the grievance committee, I know his influence extends into other areas of higher education as well, but I’ll leave that for others to discuss. At Pratt, we are one big union in a small sense, with FT, PT and a special category for tenured adjuncts all under the same contract.

While I was a Graduate Student at CUNY, the name of the Center for Cultural Studies was changed tothe Center for Culture, Technology and Work. At the time I did not think that this was a very good idea. Cultural Studies was just consolidating its position within the academy, after all. What was reallyhappening was that it had become a career path as well. A reading of Stanley’s Roll Over Beethoven will make this transformation quite clear. It is, by the way, simply the best historical genealogy of Cultural Studies ever done, especially the first few chapters.

In his teaching, Stanley pointed many of us towards a way of thinking about Cultural Studies that is firmly rooted in Critical Theory and the critique of everyday life. This version of Cultural Studies, ashe says of the genealogy of Cultural Studies in his Roll over Beethoven, at its best, Cultural Studies sought to “transcend the boundaries of formal academic sites” to be “not anti-disciplinary [or ‘interdisciplinary’] but transdsciplinary” in our approach to the “authority of knowledge.”

But the name change alerts us to two things about Cultural Studies that Stanley taught his students...

1] Cultural Studies transgressed disciplinary boundaries. But also that because it had no disciplinary boundaries to defend, and it was rather defenseless and easily overwhelmed and colonized by the moreestablished, though crisis ridden, academic fields.

2] The second insight that Stanley gave us was that the Critique of Cultural Studies is not just anexternal one, but that it demands a self-critique as well. So, it was not that Stanley did not supply a definition of Cultural Studies, but that all such efforts can be contested. Certainly our work at Pratt did not contain enough self-criticism. Our efforts opened the work to administrative imperatives andconcerns, and thus we undermined our own work.

Suddenly “everyone does Cultural Studies” became a mantra. It was a phrase especially useful to those who preferred to ignore the political commitments of Cultural Studies in favor of its potential as a partof the cultural industry, with niche markets in the various traditional disciplines that embraced the idea that “everyone does Cultural Studies”. Cultural Studies was not undefined, but came to be defined inways that suited the needs of the marketplace

Two examples: The bookstore and the Program at Pratt
[Expand as an aside:Cultural Studies Develops a Market: Book stores in the 1990s, the realists as well as the creation of a market for CS. No longer marketing books as Sociology, Anthropology, or Literary Theory and Comp. Lit, but as Cultural Studies.]

It was at this same time that we established the Program in Cultural Studies at Pratt.And after three years, purely for reasons of marketing, the name of the program was changed to Critical and Visual Studies. Apparently at the time, according to Admissions, College students knew about CS, but not High Schoolers.

Pratt’s program, which ironically I helped create and have recently begun to again direct, is a microcosm of the American reception or construction of Cultural Studies, and a good example of thereasons why many have walked away from the contest over its meaning, since its meaning is nowrestricted to its deployment by various traditional fields. I notice that Stanley rarely uses the phrase inhis writings over the past decade, just as I have noticed that many of his students no longer embrace the term, either.

What has drawn us away from Cultural Studies are the very interests that once drew us to it:an Encounter with Materialism, the legacy of Marx, and the Critical Theory of society and everyday life.

Cultural Studies had as much to do with an approach to the material as it did to any group of theories. In many ways, our near abandonment of the term Cultural Studies to the markets expresses how we have to constantly reorient our approaches to our studies, teaching, and everyday lives.

As he wrote in Left Turn: After “...the abandonment of the concrete utopia... keeping alive the critical analysis of the social world was and remains an important program.” (Left Turn: 53)

So, the name change at CUNY was a Sign that I missed. A reminder that critique is self-referential--something not all of us appreciated at the time. We might have read Stanley a little closer when hewrote the “most profound stake in the crisis of cultural authority... is the authority of knowledge. Whohas the right to determine criteria of validity? Who may speak truth to power? What is theresponsibility of intellectuals with respect to their own knowledge?” (Roll Over Beethoven: 9) Once we had the right and authority, we assumed that it was in the hands of “good people.” Thus, the critique that we speak of is self-referential both intellectually and in terms of our self: it is about how one lives in and responds to what Horkheimer called the “vicissitudes of everyday life” This is, after all what education is about, developing the means to understand the relations of our many selves to the world.

From where I now sit amid the workings of the Knowledge Factory Stanley’s intervention as a teacher and major figure in Cultural Studies are, broadly speaking:

A. That knowledge belongs to everyone but is denied to most and so we must constantly find way to subvert the authorities of knowledge and in so doing subvert the authority of the dominant ideologies.

B. That a new educational intervention is better than trying to defend the boundaries of an old one, even one that once held such promise.

C. And finally, understanding our teaching as a critical political intervention is something we got fromAronowitz, and further that our studies and work should express critical interventions on multiplelevels. We critique the present because it is what we know while we accumulate knowledge for thosewho might have a different future.

Thanks, Stanley!

See also:
Stanley Aronowitz --- On the Origins of Cultural Studies (1998)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Darwin, Gray, and Duppa on the Passion Flower

Being curious about this neighborhood flower, I looked up some references to it in Duppa, Darwin, and Asa Gray:

 Passiflora incarnata from Fort Tryon Park, New York City

 PASSION-Flower. Of this genus there are no less than thirty-seven different species. This is the common blue Passion- flower, which in a few years may be trained up to more than forty feet high, and the stalks grow to a very considerable size. It grows naturally in Brazil, but is hardy enough to thrive here in the open air, and is now become the most common species in England.
This beautiful tribe of plans was unknown until the discovery of America, and the different species are chiefly found in South America and the islands. It has its name from a fanciful analogy of the different parts of the flower to the Passion of Christ. The Jesuits, who went as missionaries to South America, though they discovered in the three pistilla the representation of the three nails with which our Saviour was nailed to the Cross; the five stamina the five wounds; and the radiant purple Nectary the representation of the rays that might be supposed to have surrounded his head when he expired on the Cross. Duppa, Richard.  1809.  Elements of the Science of Botany, as established by Linnaeus with examples to illustrate the classes and orders of his system, Vol. 1.  London: T. Bensley, Bolt Court for J. Murray, Fleet Street: 27-28.

Order 44. PASSIFLORACEAE . (Passion-Flower Family.)

Herbs or woody plants, climbing by tendrils, with perfect flowers, 5 monadelphous stamens, and a stalked 1-celled ovary free from the calyx, throat 3 or 4 parietal placenta, and as many club-shaped styles; — represented by the typical genus

1. PASSIFLORA, L. Passion-Flower.

Calyx of 5 sepals united at the base into a short cup, imbricated in the bud, usually colored like the petals, at least within; the throat crowned with a double or triple fringe. Petals 5, on the throat of the calyx. Stamens 5: filaments united in a tube which sheathes the long stalk of the ovary, separate above: anthers large, fixed by the middle. Berry (often edible) many-seeded; the anatropous albuminous seeds invested by a pulpy covering. Seed-coat brittle, grooved. — Leaves alternate, generally palmately lobed, with stipules. Peduncles axillary, jointed. Ours are perennial herbs. (Name, from passio, passion, and flos, a flower, given by the early missionaries in South America to these blossoms, in which they fancied a representation of the implements of the crucifixion.)
 1. P. lutea, L. Smooth, slender; leaves obtusely 3-lobed at the summit, the lobes entire; petioles glandless; flowers greenish-yellow (1' broad). — Damp thickets, S. Penn. to Ill. and southward. July -Sept. — Fruit 1/2' in diameter.
 2. P. incarnata, L. Nearly smooth ; leaves 3-cleft ; the lobes serrate ; petiole bearing 2 glands; flower large (2' broad), nearly white, with a tripil purple and flesh-colored crown; involucre 3-leavcd. — Dry soil, Virginia, Kentucky, and southward. May - July. — Fruit of the size of a hen's egg, oval, called Maypops. Asa Gray,  Manual of the botany of the northern United States : including the district east of the Mississippi and north of North Carolina and Tennessee, arranged according to the natural system. New York : Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman, 1867, p. 185-186.    
Passiflora incarnata from Fort Tryon Park, New York City
 (6) Figs, flower. — Passion Flower, (as it is required to impregnate it artificially.) — Asclepias — Flowers not seeding — Put pot of boiled earth on top of House Aristolochia, plant wh require insects to impregnate it
de Beer, Gavin ed. 1960. Darwin's notebooks on transmutation of species. Part III. Third notebook [D] (July 15 to October 2nd 1838). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical Series 2 (4) (July):119-150.
NOTE: See David Kohn in Barrett, Paul H., Gautrey, Peter J., Herbert, Sandra, Kohn, David, Smith, Sydney eds. 1987. Charles Darwin's notebooks, 1836-1844 : Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. British Museum (Natural History); Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Darwin also mentions the Passion flower in his discussion on the fertility of hybrids in the Origin of Species:
Now let us turn to the results arrived at by the third most experienced hybridiser, namely, the Hon. and
[page] 250 HYBRIDISM. CHAP. VIII.Rev. W. Herbert. He is as emphatic in his conclusion that some hybrids are perfectly fertile—as fertile as the pure parent-species—as are Kölreuter and Gärtner that some degree of sterility between distinct species is a universal law of nature. He experimentised on some of the very same species as did Gärtner. The difference in their results may, I think, be in part accounted for by Herbert's great horticultural skill, and by his having hothouses at his command. Of his many important statements I will here give only a single one as an example, namely, that "every ovule in a pod of Crinum capense fertilised by C. revolutum produced a plant, which (he says) I never saw to occur in a case of its natural fecundation." So that we here have perfect, or even more than commonly perfect, fertility in a first cross between two distinct
few days perished entirely, whereas the pod impregnated by the pollen of the hybrid made vigorous growth and rapid progress to maturity, and bore good seed, which vegetated freely." In a letter to me, in 1839, Mr. Herbert told me that he had then tried the experiment during five years, and he continued to try it during several subsequent years, and always with the same result. This result has, also, been confirmed by other observers in the case of Hippeastrum with its sub-genera, and in the case of some other genera, as Lobelia, Passiflora and Verbascum. Although the plants in these experiments appeared perfectly healthy, and although both the ovules and pollen of the same flower were perfectly good with respect to other species, yet as they were functionally imperfect in their mutual self-action, we must infer that the plants were in an unnatural state. Nevertheless these facts show on what slight and mysterious causes the lesser or greater fertility of species when crossed, in comparison with the same species when self-fertilised, sometimes depends.
Darwin, C. R. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray. 1st edition, 1st issue.
And in his work on the movement of plants: 

By tendrils I mean filamentary organs, sensitive to contact and used exclusively for climbing. By this definition, spines or hooks and rootlets, all of which are used for climbing, are excluded. True tendrils are formed by the modification of leaves with their petioles, of flower-peduncles, perhaps also of branches and stipules. Mohl, who includes with true tendrils various organs having a similar external appearance, classes them according to their homological nature, as being modified leaves, flower-peduncles, &c. This would be an excellent scheme; but I observe that botanists, who are capable of judging, are by no means unanimous on the nature of certain tendrils. Consequently I will describe tendril-bearing plants by natural families, following Lindley, and this will in most, or in all, cases keep those of the same homo-
[page] 49
logical nature together; but I shall treat of each family, one after the other, according to convenience*. The species to be described belong to ten families, and will be given in the following order:—Bignoniaceæ, Polemoniaceæ, Leguminosæ, Compositæ, Smilaceæ, Fumariaceæ, 
Darwin, C. R. 1865. On the movements and habits of climbing plants. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green and Williams & Norgate.  See also Darwin, C. R. 1865. On the movements and habits of climbing plants. [Read 2 February] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 9: 1-118, 13 text figures.
Passiflora incarnata from Fort Tryon Park, New York City