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Feminist Cultural Studies Comprehensive Exam

Feminist Cultural Studies Comprehensive Exam

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Published by Bryce Peake

This exam traces the elision of women and development of an apolitical ontology within American and British cultural studies.

This exam traces the elision of women and development of an apolitical ontology within American and British cultural studies.

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Published by: Bryce Peake on Feb 15, 2013
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09/17/2013

 
Bryce Peake
 – 
Exam Day 3
1
Feminist cultural studies:QUESTION 1)
In “Traveling Theory,” Edward Said argues for paying attention to the
contexts (historical, cultural, social) in which theories are produced. The ways in which
class was elided in cultural studies’ move from England to the United States have been
well-rehearsed. Less attention, however, has been paid to the extent to which issues of race, gender, and sexuality appeared in the British tradition of cultural studies and howthese structuring absences or presences traveled to US cultural studies. In your essay, provide a map of the presence/absence of race, gender, and sexuality in British culturalstudies. How did these carry over into the US context? What are the epistemic legaices
of these traveling theories? What are their theoretical traps, in Said’s words?
 
Feminism, with its focus on the intersections of race and class, is often described as infiltrating
and interrupting cultural studies in the 1970‘s. In Stuart Hall‘s canonical biography of the field,
he describes feminism as breaking into the house of cultural studies, and shitting on
his 
table. InUS cultural studies today, and its mythology produced through the nexus of Hall andGrossberg, the shit has been cleared from the table, and a table cloth draped over to hide thestain
 — 
particularly in the field as it is canonized in traditional disciplines like Anthropologyand Sociology.How, this question asks, did we arrive at this point? Can epistemic legacies explain the
elision of gender, race, and sexuality? Using Said‘s notion of traveling theory,
which arguesthat theoretical appropriations are always haunted by the sociohistorical epistemic conditions of their original conjuring, I will show that the elision of women in US cultural studies stemsfrom the British Cultural studies general project, and that the absence of race in US culturalstudies is the product of a version of power theorized in such a way that it calculates on africtionless plane lacking material relations of force. Sexuality in this history is subsumed byboth critical race theory and feminist theory, as those political queer theories outside of normative adjustments make their emancipatory claims through gender
 – 
not throughsexuality.My goal in this question is to tell a different history of cultural studies, one in whichfeminism is located as the central protagonist. I begin, however, by recounting the Oedipaltrilogy myth, so as to establish the epistemic grounds in which the elision of women and raceoccurs
 – 
a product of the Leavisite tradition, as I will show. I then layout the map of feminist
thought in tension and struggle with cultural studies during the 1960‘s, 18 years before it
would break into the house with its hybrid of psychoanalysis and Marxist theory contained in
Women Take Issue.
I then describe the field of black British cultural studies as recounted byHouston Baker, but
 – 
in tension with Baker
 – 
show the importance of Hazel Carby and Pratbile
Parmar, two feminist of color, for predicting and challenging cultural studies‘ theories of race
and gender. In the second half of this question, I recount the ways in which feminist culturalstudies arose out of mass communication oriented fields in the US, and the challenges it faced interms of the institutional constellation within which it was imported. I do so throughdiscussing the tensions between feminist materialist technological critique of Emily Martin andthe cyborg theorizing of Donna Haraway, and the work of Carol Stabile and Anne Balsamo. Iconclude this section with the rise of intersectionality and feminists of color around issues of technology, and the way this arises more out of American studies than US cultural studiesitself.Mythology
 
Bryce Peake
 – 
Exam Day 3
2
If men produce history but not in conditions of their own making, John Storey arguesthat cultural studies examines the cultural enactments of this history and the ways thatpractices are product and productive of historical formations. A post-war field of study, culturalstudies arose out of three sites: Leavisite literary criticism, the birth of the New Left, and thepraxis of adult education.The New Left was a product of a fundamental schism in Marxism and party politics,amplified by the Soviet occupation of Hungary. The New Left arose out of a concern that the
party‘s focus on ownership and distribution caus
ed it to ignore the ways in which capitalistantagonisms continued to haunt the supposedly revolutionary politics. This pushed figures likeRaymond Williams and EP Thompson to turn away from doctrinal Marxism to a morehumanist approach, and from the Marx of Capital to the Marx of the 1944 manuscripts.Tom Steele argues that cultural studies found its site for political organization in Adult
education classes. The Universities in the late 40‘s and 50‘s absorbed the Workers EducationAssociation‘s role in
providing nighttime education to the labor force. A fundamental debateexisted between whether to raise class-consciousness through social science (worker agenda) orteach the humanities for the development of humanity (university agenda). Thompson,Williams, and later Hall, saw this as a false division, and attempted to do both. The adults,however, were not steeped in a tradition of classics, and so the humanist site of exploration wasthe culture of the masses. Education was aimed at finding emancipatory politics within apopular culture not produced by, but for the populace
 – 
and this is the fundamental differencebetween cultural studies and Frankfurt critical theory.In terms of theory, Hall states that cultural studies arose out of a tension with Leavisiteliterary criticism. Leavis, a conservative theorist in the postwar decline of British greatness,argued that language was the central site of cultural formation, not what is said necessarily as
what ‗what is said‘ says about the health of British
-ness. Leavis argued that the importing of American cultural and the mass culture that had taken hold of the world, and was to blame forthe decline in British culture. Popular culture was to be expunged from the academy, and highculture returned to its proper place
 – 
both preconditions for the return of British greatness.This argument was absorbed into cultural studies in two ways. Language, in both, iscentral in the development of culture. Hoggart drew from this framework in order to arguethat the import of American culture, and the mass-ification of high culture, was being used toclose a cultural gap in service of erasing the widening economic divisions between the classes.Mass culture, he argued, de-radicalized groups like Teds through American cultural standardslike that of the jukebox. The juke box, placed in a milk bar, itself the product of a moral crisisover working class youth drinking alcohol, presented an affordable reason for youth to buy intomiddle class culture that other was unaffordable
 – 
a 5 pence song brought them to a place
where they wouldn‘t be able to afford an espresso. The result could be measured in a decline in
class-consciousness
and the language used to describe experience. Only adopting Leavis‘
approach to language, Williams argued that based on the meta-level meaning, society could beseen engaged in three revolutions: industrial, economic, and cultural. The third was the mostimportant, as culture, as a whole way of life and not simply and elite holding, shaped the waysin which the other two were framed
 – 
potentially in emancipatory ways. The structure of feeling, the sense of life, which was embedded not least of all in language, which if alteredaccordingly could produce particular forms of consciousness.In the canonical retelling of this history, Grossberg argues that cultural studiesproceeds in dialectical fashion. When Marxism confronts humanism, the sublimation is acultural studies of Hoggart/Williams. This cultural studies is then confronted by Althusserianstruc
turalism and its critique of the state in the 1970‘s – 
 
at the end of which Feminism ‗breaks
 
Bryce Peake
 – 
Exam Day 3
3
in‘ with psychoanalysis. It is from this that EP Thompson emerges as a central figure in
cultural studies history. For Thompson, ideology could not be complete, nor could culture be awhole way of life, otherwise there would be no class consciousness at all
 – 
class consciousness,which Thompson describes as the product of experience and not economic categories, is not inthe upper-class' best interest. Instead, culture, not ideology but also not neutral and static, is a
whole way of struggle. He best makes this argument in ―The moral economy of the English
crowd in the 18
th
 
century.‖ Class, as an experience, requires that history be told from thepeasant‘s standpoint. Where previous historians had described the hunger riots of the 18
th
 century as irrational, Thompson points to the ways in which they arose out of an ideologicalconflict between the moral expectations that peasants had of the market, and the accumulationof surplus that drove grain merchants to sell outside of the market. Rioting, the peasants wouldgo to the mills, and destroy grain. Thought of as irrational by other historians, Thompsonargues instead that this is an economically rational approach, in that it decreases the surplusavailable for sell outside the market, driving down the prices of grain. And it is only throughthis perspective that the hunger riots can make sense.The sublimation of the cultural studies of Thompson and Althusserian structuralismwas a cultural studies focused on practice and ideology. Under the leadership of Stuart Hall, theCCCS shifted to a Gramscian theory of culture, in which it was no longer the case that practicewas a dead site of politics (Althusser), but rather a constant negotiation of the symbolic systemsof consent (hegemony, Gramsci). Following this theoretical shift, cultural studies moved to theUnited States, as I will discuss in the second half of this question. For now, I will leave it withthe rise of hegemony as the central concept of cultural studies.Feminism and a different (hi)storyIn this section, I will argue that feminist thought in many ways prefigures the supposeddialectical progression of cultural studies history. I will trace its growth starting with the workof Juliett Mitchell, through the introduction of psychoanalysis, and finish with the method andmethodological critiques of British feminists at the CCCS.
Juliett Mitchell‘s 1966 ―Women, the longest revolution‖ exist in tension between
feminist thought and socialism. Feminist, she suggest, have mistakenly posed patriarchy as anahistorical and monolithic whole, which consequently makes its resistance seem futile. And,although New Left political analysis, with its focus on language, offers a way of historicizingpatriarchy as a historical formation produced by capitalism, figures like Williams have failed toaccount for women at all
 – 
in part
, a legacy of women‘s issues being ignored if not wholly
invisible to theorists. In
Politics and Letters 
, Williams goes so far to place the fault of crumbling
democracy on women‘s fleeing from the home, this fleeing overdetermined by economic/labor
needs and mass culture. Mitchell argues, in 1961, that the family, and patriarchy at large, mustbe theorized historically through the language used to describe women as tied to the home.
Women‘s liberation, in turn, requires revolution within 4 interlocking stru
ctures: production(position in labor), reproduction (position in family), sexuality (position inobjectification/pleasure), and domesticity (nature of double labor requirements). This fourtharea extends
Willims‘ sites of revolution.
The canonical absen
ce of Mitchell‘s engagement with Williams, published in New Left
Review shortly after the books production, reveals an obvious elision within the mythology of 
cultural studies. 13 years before feminists ―interrupted‖ cultural studies from the ―outside,‖
Mitchell was engaged with the absence of gender in the work of Williams. With all thelanguage about re-appropriating feminists like Hoggart and Williams as
feminists‘
sites of theorizing, a bibliographical history reveals the ways in which what first needs to be done is are-introduction of feminist to the development of cultural studies as a field. Arguably, in

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