Cultural Studies Under Fire

A debate started last month in the Chronicle of Higher Education with the publication of Michael Berube’s article “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies?” His article was the spark that set fire to a debate (although not new by any means) over the significance of Cultural Studies programs. Has Cultural Studies positively impacted the University? What value does the body of knowledge produced by Cultural Studies have outside of the discipline? Berube arrives at a conclusion that is wholly negative.

Defining Cultural Studies

Despite how one may feel towards Berube’s conclusions about the field, he does make at least one salient criticism; that Cultural Studies lacks definition. He writes:

Cultural studies now means everything and nothing; it has effectively been conflated with “cultural criticism” in general, and associated with a cheery “Pop culture is fun!” approach. Anybody writing about The Bachelor or American Idol is generally understood to be “doing” cultural studies, especially by his or her colleagues elsewhere in the university. In a recent interview, Stuart Hall, a former director of the Birmingham Centre and still the most influential figure in cultural studies, gave a weary response to this development, one that speaks for itself: “I really cannot read another cultural-studies analysis of Madonna or The Sopranos.“…

In response to article, one commenter supported Berube’s point: “As a philosopher, I understand ‘no fixed content,’ but neither content nor methodology? Isn’t this reducible to ‘smart people talking about whatever interests them’?”

Arguments in defense of Cultural Studies can be found. Several of these take issue with Berube’s genealogy of Cultural Studies; including on Blogora and The Valve. On Bully bloggers, two posts defend the field. The first ‘What’s the Matter with Michael’ responds with an attack on Berube, while the second post makes several points of defense; including the fact that Cultural Studies has positively impacted research across disciplines in the University.

To these Berube posted a reply on Crooked Timber where he elaborated on some proactive recommendations.

I am not versed enough to comment on the genealogy of Cultural Studies or the level of rigor achieved in different universities. This is what I have observed while attempting to wade through this (occasionally petty) debate: Despite their attempts, the various defenses of the field fail to delineate a clear definition of the discipline. Perhaps this is not unique to Cultural Studies. Never the less, Berube’s critiques hopefully will spark a vigorous attempt to redefine the parameters of Cultural Studies.

Defining gnovis

Considering Berube’s criticisms on the micro level, I question how we at gnovis define our scope and standards. Although we’re not Cultural Studies specifically, we also struggle to define what content is clearly inside or outside of our scope.

To be perfectly honest, this is a new problem for gnovis to address. In the previous 2 years, gnovis could not afford to define our scope too narrowly. Almost any content was appropriate content. But this is no longer the case. More people join the conversation on gnovis every day. We have been backed up with content the last few weeks. With more options, we now have the luxury and challenge of a refining our definition.

I have some ideas of what that should be, but we also need the feedback from the gnovis community. How would our readers and contributors suggest we define our content and mission???