Wednesday, February 26, 2014

After Some Kind of Fountain of Truth

Joanna Williams:

With the recent death of cultural theorist Stuart Hall, it is time to assess the impact of cultural studies on higher education. The Australian academic Toby Miller, a leading light in cultural studies, argues his subject has had a profound impact ‘on a host of disciplines’ and that it ‘accretes various tendencies that are splintering the human sciences: Marxism, feminism, queer theory, and the postcolonial.’

...Furthermore, cultural studies was built on the assumption that all content is political, that knowledge is reducible, as Michael Young describes it in Bringing Knowledge Back In, to the experiences of knowers and ultimately to an ideological expression of power relations. As such, Hall reportedly ‘half-joked’ to friends that ‘his cultural studies project was politics by other means’.

Toby Miller describes this commitment to exposing power structures for ‘progressive social change’ as being ‘animated by a desire to reveal and transform those who control the means of communication and culture’. This belies any pretence to truth or objectivity, values previously fundamental to the academic enterprise. Instead, as Young says of the sociology of education in the 1960s and 1970s, the truth was known in advance, it lay in the link between power and knowledge, and the aim of academics was to show how this truth manifested itself. Hall claimed his aim was ‘to take the whole system of knowledge itself [and] attempt to put it at the service of some other project’. Certainly it is the case that a suspicion of truth claims and an assumption that knowledge is political is now endemic throughout humanities and social-science departments.

This was a very interesting and useful article in my autodidactic quest to figure out how all these progressivist nesting dolls fit together. Now, if only someone could put it all in a flow chart to make it even easier...