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links for 2009-09-27

Cultural Studies Food Fight!

The Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis picks a fight with Michael Berube:

A Note from the Unicorns: A Cultural Studies PhD Program responds to Michael Berube: As students and faculty in one of the only PhD-granting cultural studies programs in the nation, we are prompted to respond to Michael Bérubé’s recent opinion piece, “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies?” Located in the University of California system where we face dramatic program cutbacks, faculty and staff furloughs, a 40% tuition increase, and a general hiring freeze, and we know firsthand how the trend toward privatization systematically devalues scholarship that critiques profit rather than produces it and threatens the future of programs like ours.  The timing of an attack (couched as a lament) on something Bérubé calls “Cultural Studies” couldn’t be worse–our graduating PhD’s face not only hiring freezes but skepticism. A PhD in cultural studies: what can you do with that? Bérubé described the effect of cultural studies in higher education in the United States as equivalent to the “carbon footprint of a unicorn.” We disagree. On the one hand, we want to highlight the dangerous ways in which Bérubé’s critique obscures the more pressing issues facing scholars working in cultural studies.  On the other hand, we hardly recognize the field described at some length in Bérubé’s piece and that cannot pass without comment. Through claims unsupported by evidence beyond the anecdotal, Bérubé sketches out a caricature of a field as opposed to a set of dynamic, complex intellectual and institutional practices...

I don't know which is more disturbing:

  1. That the level of reading in the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis is so low that they interpret Michael Berube's genuine ritual lament as some sort of concern-troll attack.

  2. That the level of social, political, and cultural analysis carried out by the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis is so low that they think now is a good time to pick a fight with Michael Berube, in all likelihood one of their few potential allies anywhere on the globe.[1]

  3. That the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis thinks that it ought to have a "party line"--rather than being composed of a number of different intellectuals who think somewhat differently--that is in some sense expressive of the positions of and in some sense binding on all members of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis--as though they were some sort of a "party of a new type."

  4. That nine people[1] feel able to speak for the students, faculty, and staff of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis--and to do so without providing the rest of us with any clue as to how it is that all of the students, faculty and staff of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, UC Davis authorized them to speak in their name.

Michael Berube is gentle in response--considering that his normal rhetorical mode is:

Fraudulent journalist, c’est moi: Professor Carby has indeed re-set the bar at the next level, and perhaps in another decade or so I will learn that my little New Yorker essay was the journalistic equivalent of distributing smallpox-infested blankets to the editors of Phylon and The Crisis.  Only worse, for being totally unselfconscious.

Here he merely points out:

Things I did not know: Actually, if you’re in one of the nation’s only Ph.D.-granting departments in cultural studies, then you’re really kind of making my point that “in most universities, cultural studies has no home at all..."


No, this isn’t right. Here’s what I actually wrote: “The situation is even bleaker if you ask about cultural studies’ impact on psychology, economics, political science, or international relations, because you might as well be asking about the carbon footprint of unicorns.” So it’s great to hear from the unicorns, but (a) I’m sorry they missed this point and (b) I wish them all the luck in the world with making some inroads into departments of psychology, economics, political science, and international relations.  Because I wish cultural studies had some impact on those fields. Indeed, it might serve as a nice rebuttal of my point if UC-Davis’s program had even a single faculty member (in a group of more than 80) from psychology, economics, political science, or international relations.  But it doesn’t....


When I wrote, “I’m not saying that it has had no impact,” I meant, more or less, that it has had some impact...


OK, now back to those dire financial conditions.... I am indeed privileged—absurdly so. Every day, I say to Moloch, “mighty and powerful Moloch, I can’t believe I have this job.” But despite that, cultural studies has no institutional home at Penn State.  And when I wrote that neoliberalism "has dominated the political and economic landscape for 30 years, and its effects on higher education are palpable, baleful, and undeniable—the corporatization of administration and research, the withdrawal of state financing for public universities, the enrichment of the student-loan industry" I actually thought I was calling attention to larger institutional structures and the undermining of the public education mandate.... Anyway, it’s good to hear that UC Davis has a vibrant cultural studies program that draws on 24 different departments, and I wish it—and all its students—well.

[1] Were Mark Yudoff to ask me, for example, I would have no hesitation in recommending that Cultural Studies at U.C. Davis be defunded--and the money transferred to U.C. Davis's fine History and Economics departments. And I am somebody who has occasionally openly avowed that I am a pupil of that mighty thinker Michel Foucault.

[2] Toby Beauchamp, Abbie Boggs, Marisol Cortez, Cathy Hannabach, Caren Kaplan, Liz Montegary, Magali Rabasa, Ami Sommariva, and Eric Smoodin.