Cultural Studies: State of the Art -  - ebook

Cultural Studies: State of the Art ebook

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G. Stedman: Editorial - Cultural Studies. State of the Art – S. Berg: Locating the Political in Cultural Studies – R. Emig: Cultural Studies and Literary Studies. A Troubled Relation – J. Schwarzkopf: The Relationship of History to Cultural Studies – U. Göttlich: Media and Communication Science in Germany and its (Inter)relations with Media and Cultural Studies – Reviews: Monika Seidl, Roman Horak & Lawrence Grossberg, eds. (2010), About Raymond Williams – Jürgen Kramer (2011), Taking Stock. 35 Essays from 35 Years of Studying English-Speaking Cultures – Gabriele Linke, ed. (2011), Teaching Cultural Studies. Methods - Matters - Models – Jana Gohrisch & Ellen Grünkemeier, eds. (2012), Listening to Africa. Anglophone African Literatures and Cultures

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Liczba stron: 166




Sebastian Berg, Englisches Seminar, Ruhr-Universität Bochum,

Universitätsstraße 150, 44801 Bochum, Germany.

Rainer Emig, Englisches Seminar, Universität Hannover,

Königsworther Platz 1, 30167 Hannover, Germany.

Gesa Stedman, Großbritannien-Zentrum / Centre for British Studies,

Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Mohrenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin, Germany.

Dirk Wiemann, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik,

Universität Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, Haus 19, 14469 Potsdam, Germany.

Reviews Editor:

Christian Schmitt-Kilb, Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik, Universität Rostock, August-Bebel-Straße 28, 18051 Rostock, Germany.

Editorial Committee:

Susanne Gruß (Erlangen-Nürnberg), Ina Habermann (Basel),

Jürgen Kamm (Passau), Jürgen Kramer (Dortmund),

Gerry Mooney (Glasgow), Anette Pankratz (Bochum),

Ralf Schneider (Bielefeld), Jutta Schwarzkopf (Hannover),

Merle Tönnies (Paderborn).

Advisory Board:

Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (Salzburg), Simon Frith (Edinburgh),

Stuart Hall (Milton Keynes), Richard Kilborn (Stirling),

Bernhard Klein (Canterbury), Bernd Lenz (Passau),

Gabriele Rippl (Bern), Roland Sturm (Erlangen-Nürnberg).

Editor of this Issue:

Gesa Stedman, Großbritannien-Zentrum / Centre for British Studies,

Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Mohrenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin, Germany.

Cover Design:

Patrick Daus / Gesa Stedman

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Verlag Königshausen & Neumann GmbH, Leistenstraße 7,

97082 Würzburg, Germany

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Printed in Germany

ISBN 978-3-8260-5355-9


Volume 20 · No. 1/13


Gesa Stedman


Cultural Studies. State of the Art

Sebastian Berg

Locating the Political in Cultural Studies

Rainer Emig

Cultural Studies and Literary Studies

A Troubled Relation

Jutta Schwarzkopf

The Relationship of History to Cultural Studies

Udo Göttlich

Media and Communication Science in Germany and its (Inter)relations with Media and Cultural Studies


Monika Seidl, Roman Horak & Lawrence Grossberg, eds. (2010), About Raymond Williams

Jürgen Kramer (2011), Taking Stock. 35 Essays from 35 Years of Studying English-Speaking Cultures

Gabriele Linke, ed. (2011), Teaching Cultural Studies. Methods – Matters – Models

Jana Gohrisch & Ellen Grünkemeier, eds. (2012), Listening to Africa. Anglophone African Literatures and Cultures

Addresses of Contributors


Cultural Studies. State of the Art

Gesa Stedman (Berlin)

Journal for the Study of British Cultures, Vol. 20/1 (2013), 3-9Verlag Königshausen & Neumann

When I was a student of English Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin in the late 1980s, Cultural Studies did not feature on the curriculum, or not so that one would notice. Introductory courses were based on line-by-line translations of canonised works, mainly Shakespeare, the Brontës and a little Dickens. One was lucky if one encountered lecturers who were at least interested in historical contexts and were good at teaching. Theory was largely absent, unless one had the chance of being taught by some of the more daring and radical junior lecturers and researchers. When I went to Warwick University, a whole new world opened up: here, surprisingly, literature was taught in context. It was seen as part of society, not aloof and apart from it. Here, theory mattered. Here, most importantly, politics mattered. And they mattered in a specific shape, largely informed by a Birmingham-style approach to Cultural Studies. I had the luck of finding new and quite different senior and junior staff at the Freie Universität on my return, and to have input from French Studies which offered Bourdieu, the Annales School, and similar ventures.

The next phase of Cultural Studies in Germany I witnessed as a very junior person, when the English Departments in the former East Germany had new professorships and chairs advertised, many of whom were taken up by people with an explicit interest and track record in Cultural Studies. I listened to debates on the orientation of English literature: should it be turned into Cultural Studies entirely? What was the difference between Cultural Studies and British Studies? What denominations should chairs have and who should be recruited? Which qualifications were needed and were there enough people who were so qualified? How could one ensure that Cultural Studies found a place not only on the curriculum but also became part of examination requirements? What were the difficulties of teaching this diverse field which resists definition and is not a discipline? The main memory I have of these years in the late 1990s and early 2000s is one of excitement, excitement at intellectual discoveries not only new because I was young, but new because not many people had worked in this area, or had done so in positions where their influence had been hitherto rather marginal. Now, their voices were heard, positions were taken up by Cultural Studies people, often originally trained in English Literature.

The subsequent phase was one during which institutions were founded, not least the Association for the Study of British Cultures, and the Working Group on Cultural Studies. The debates concentrated on questions of institutionalisation and the dangers thereof.

Compared to today, what strikes me is the sense of fervour, of debate, of positions being hotly contested, given up and reshaped. This sense of excitement and debate seems to have disappeared in favour of a laissez-faire attitude. Most people let other people get on with their work and don’t mind what the others do, so long as they themselves need not adopt anything radical. This is in some respects normal when new fields open up in academia. The hottest phase is followed by a cooler one, in which institutions are set up and become part of everyday scholarly practice. But should Cultural Studies, can Cultural Studies ever become part of such everyday academic practice? Where has the excitement gone? Are we doing enough to ensure the quality of the work that we and in particular younger scholars are producing? Are we thinking hard enough about the kind of impact that these works might have? Are we showing sufficient awareness of the historicity of our own work, and of anything that we care to analyse? Are we paying enough attention to the represented, rather than to representation only, as important as it may be? And most of all, do we still share the political impetus that first-generation Cultural Studies activists emphasised in their work? Perhaps it is unfair to demand a visible, obvious and succinct political orientation of an academic endeavour whose shape is constantly evolving. It has, however, become quite marked that in particular younger scholars quite happily adopt Cultural Studies methods and interests by focusing for example on media and popular culture, but have shed the erstwhile (fraught) consensus of a left-wing political orientation which seeks ultimately to change academia as well as society as a whole. This kind of depoliticisation has led scholars such as Oliver Marchart to call for a reintroduction of politics into Cultural Studies which Sebastian Berg, in his contribution to this volume, differentiates further by explaining how such a process would work and how it would amount to more than just paying lip-service to a woolly notion of politics.

The question poses itself what exactly might be lacking in Cultural Studies today. Is it a big name, or a set of big names, like the founding fathers and few founding mothers whose influence is still important but whose successors have become so diverse it is difficult to keep up with all of them? Is it an institution such as the CCCS in Birmingham which can function as a focal point for everyone, in dissent as well as in agreement? Do we need one or several degree courses devoted entirely to Cultural Studies in the Birmingham/English Studies sense in order to establish them in their own right, rather than being appendages to English Literature (or Media Studies or Ethnology)? Do we need a new theory, or several new theories? The future of Cultural Studies (in Germany) seems to be somewhat unclear.

In contrast to formerly more wide-sweeping claims, a number of Cultural Studies practitioners have begun a process of ‘provincialising’ Cultural Studies. They address a Western audience explicitly, and contextualise their suggestions for the future direction of Cultural Studies in a British or US-American context (cf. Barker 2002; Berubé 2006 and 2009; Grossberg 2010), thus implicitly acknowledging that the British and American models may lack applicability elsewhere in the world. A sense of humility and self-scrutiny might help to overcome the current impasse. However, the process of actually learning from other models of Cultural Studies developed outside the UK or the US has only just begun.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of current Cultural Studies publications focus on the contemporary situation (in the West) or on the most immediate past, often without reference to earlier historical periods. In contrast to some of the work of founding fathers such as Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson, this sense of historicity has been lost. It would help to point the searchlight on our own recent and not-so-recent institutional history of Cultural Studies and how it has become what it is, to find ways out of the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. Sebastian Berg, Jutta Schwarzkopf and Udo Göttlich all provide such historical perspectives which explain to some extent the problems of interdisciplinarity, criticism by neighbouring disciplines, and more established university subjects, which Cultural Studies often have to face. I would like to emphasise the uses of historicising one’s own practice, and taking a longedurée look at both the concepts we use and at social, cultural and political phenomena. This kind of approach helps to avoid ‘presentism’ and the notion that recent developments have no precursor. It adds depth to the analysis of empirical material.

Concepts and theories, of course, are also essential in order to make sense of the sprawling mess of such materials. One might even venture into non-English speaking territories and find inspiration for example in the French school of cultural history and social analysis in order to gain such depth. But with Stuart Hall, I would claim that theory tout court does Cultural Studies a severe disservice. What we need is theory as a tool, as a ‘servant’, rather than the master (Hall 1997: 152; Grossberg 2010: 27). The role of the Cultural Studies practitioner as an intellectual with a political agenda – one that implies the world can and needs to be changed, rather than simply analysed and described – would thus be one which relies in equal measures on both empirical knowledge and methodological and theoretical innovativeness and rigour. Grossberg rightly reminds us that in some Cultural Studies publications, politics does not follow the analysis, but comes before it. I would agree with Oliver Marchart’s trenchant call for a reintroduction of politics to Cultural Studies which makes explicit that any analysis will always be informed by the analyst’s political convictions:

Wenn es eine analoge [analog zur Psychoanalyse, G.S.] Leistung der Cultural Studies gibt, dann scheint sie darin zu bestehen, dass sie die ursprüngliche politische Motivation scheinbar unpolitischer kultureller Handlungen und Phänomene wieder ans Tageslicht gebracht haben. „Politisch“ sind diese Handlungen nicht etwa, weil sie ihren Ursprung im sozialen Subsystem der Politik hätten, sondern politisch sind sie, weil sie Machtverhältnissen entspringen, die wie ein Netz den gesamten sozialen Raum überziehen. (Marchart 2008: 13)1

However, one does need to actually do the work and show how one comes by one’s results, rather than simply assuming that everyone agrees politically anyway. This, of course, assumes, that a political agenda is still explicitly present at all which, as I have indicated above, is not always the case. In some instances, to follow Grossberg’s suggestions further, contextualisation of the material in hand yields results which might even go against one’s own political convictions. We don’t further the cause of Cultural Studies if we don’t acknowledge the possibility of such divergences between the material we analyse and our own prior convictions. And we certainly don’t provide students with adequate models of critical work if we fall into this trap. This applies to any academic or scientific endeavour of course, and is not a problem which Cultural Studies alone has to face. To quote Lawrence Grossberg:

Therefore, cultural studies has to avoid two increasingly seductive traps that let the analyst off the hook. The first takes its own political assumptions (however commonsensical they may be) as if they were the conclusion of some analysis, which is always assumed to have been completed somewhere else (but always remains absent). Political desire trumps the actual empirical and theoretical work of analysis. At its extreme, partisan political journalism (sometimes deteriorating into rants), substitutes for intellectual work. Cultural studies has to combat the self-assurance of political certainty by recognizing that whatever the motivations, hopes, and assumption that brought one into a particular study, politics arrives at the conclusion of the analysis. The second assumes that the world substitutes theory for social analysis, as if theoretical categories were – by themselves – sufficient as descriptions of a conjuncture. It often mistakes philosophy and ontology for the contextual analysis of the concrete. Cultural studies requires that one brings conceptual and empirical (although the separation is never so clear-cut) together, with the possibility that the latter might actually disturb the former even as the former leads to a new description of the latter. (Grossberg 2010: 54-55)

In spite of the difficulties which Cultural Studies in Germany and elsewhere has to face, and in spite of the ongoing criticism of this unruly approach to culture and society, the contributors to this volume have bravely attempted to outline not just their respective discipline’s relationship with Cultural Studies in its various guises, but have suggested ways forward. We are offered topics and approaches from history, ideas for collaboration from the political and social sciences, ethnology and media studies, and a trenchant criticism of the relation between literary analysis and Cultural Studies as it is often to be encountered in German departments of English Studies. Sebastian Berg suggests that English Studies-related Cultural Studies scholars should learn from their colleagues in the social sciences how to work with empirical material whereas the social scientists might profit from the advanced levels of textual analyses which literature- and discourse-trained scholars are capable of. Although even with such a cooperation, one aspect of the circle of cultural production and reception would still be marginalised, namely production. But to acknowledge the need of cooperation rather than simply continuing in one’s own vein might prove helpful. Sebastian Berg rightly warns us of the academic rigour required for such an approach: “Such a project requires a comprehensive understanding of the political – more urgently than it needs countless self-reassurances that it still is political, or admonitions that it should become political again.” (Berg 2013: 24)

Jutta Schwarzkopf stresses the need not only to historicise one’s own practice, but to actually look to history for inspiration. She suggests a different kind of cooperation, namely one between history and Cultural Studies and although this has been hindered rather than helped by the way that Cultural Studies has been institutionalised in Germany, I would agree with her hope that such a transdisciplinary outlook at the topics, concepts and questions that history and Cultural Studies may share will bring a deeper understanding of both the past and the present, in particular if we follow the material turn and pay attention to the contexts in which power or identity are distributed, formed and fought over. There is no doubt that such an agenda requires hard work. The potential results that this kind of analysis may yield are well worth the effort, even if they do not fit the current neo-liberal model of immediate ‘impact’.

Rainer Emig casts a critical eye at ‘fake’ Cultural Studies which masks more traditional literary analysis in his account of the relation between Cultural Studies and Literary Studies. He warns of the enemies of both these subjects and the dangers that the humanities face if they don’t take a stand to define and demarcate themselves:

If one does not wish to leave the field to enemies of Literary and Cultural Studies, whose conservatism is rarely based on their wish to protect their disciplines, and more often on the wish to freeze them at a convenient point determined by their own ideological bias, then one will have to promote and encourage a self-reflexive and indeed interdisciplinary self-assessment of the study of literature and culture, their intersections, but also their differences. (Emig 2013: 39)

Udo Göttlich is perhaps the least optimistic of the four contributors. He contextualises Cultural Studies in its relation to Medienwissenschaften, Medienkulturanalyse and Kulturwissenschaften. Although he, too, suggests one might profit from the social sciences and their uses of Cultural Studies, he is not entirely convinced that this may work in view of the criticism which is levelled at Cultural Studies : “But considering the long history of the reception of Cultural Studies in German-speaking academia, one can only be astounded by the arguments in the ongoing confrontation, which go around in circles and never seem to want to attain the next level that lies in the challenge of transdisciplinarity.” (Göttlich 2013: 67)

What the contributors to this volume share, however, is a renewed interest in debate across the disciplines and across the different interests of people involved in Cultural Studies. Perhaps we are witnessing a return of the sense of excitement, of debate, and of urgency whose absence I lamented above. This should prove to the sceptics that Cultural Studies are still vibrant, still alive, and still needed. We hope that this volume may contribute to such debates.


Barker, Chris (2002), Making Sense of Cultural Studies. Central Problems and Critical Debates, London: Sage.

Berg, Sebastian (2013), “Locating the Political in Cultural Studies”, Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 20, 11-26.

Berubé, Michael (2006), “The ‘Cultures’ of Cultural Studies”, in John R. Baldwin et al., eds., Redefining Culture. Perspectives Across the Disciplines, Mahwah: Erlbaum, 77-82.

– (2009), “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies?”, The Chronicle of Higher Education (; last accessed August 2013).

Emig, Rainer (2013), “Cultural Studies and Literary Studies. A Troubled Relation”, Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 20, 27-40.

Göttlich, Udo (2013), “Media and Communication Science in Germany and its (Inter)relations with Media and Cultural Studies”, Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 20, 53-67.

Grossberg, Lawrence (2010), Cultural Studies in the Future Tense, Durham – London: Duke University Press.

Hall, Stuart (1997), “Politics, Contingency, Strategy”, Small Axe, 1, 141-159.

Marchart, Oliver (2008), Cultural Studies (UTB), Konstanz: UVK.

Schwarzkopf, Jutta (2013), “The Relationship of History to Cultural Studies”, Journal for the Study of British Cultures, 20, 41-52.


1 “If there is an analogous achievement which Cultural Studies has attained then it seems to lie in the ability of Cultural Studies to shed light on the original political motivation of seemingly apolitical cultural actions or phenomena. These kinds of actions are not ‘political’ in the sense that they originate in the social subsystem of politics but they are political because they result from power relations which cover the whole social space like a web.” (My translation, G.S.)