Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

5
Pop Goes the Academy: Cult Studs Fight the Power

Attention, shoppers. If you've been cruising the academic press catalogues lately, you may have noticed a new line of products for use in the home or office. Perhaps you've noticed humanities professors starting up special imprints and series called 'Cultural Studies and X' or 'X and Culture' or 'Studies in Culture and X', or, at worst, just retooling whatever they've been doing for the past ten years and calling it a 'cultural studies' approach to the subject. Or maybe you've begun to hear of articles and conferences with titles like 'What is Cultural Studies Anyway?' or 'Cultural Studies and Pedagogy' or 'Cultural Studies in the 90s' or 'Cultural Studies in My Soup'. And you figure that a big book with the title Cultural Studies might be able to tell you what all the fuss is about--but first, you want to know why there's all this fuss to begin with.

It's tempting to think of cultural studies as academe's Next Big Thing, as just another intellectual trend sweeping through American higher education. You know the way the anti-academic crowd speaks of such trends: they usually rely on metaphors about sheep or lemmings, and imagery that suggests The Wave cascading round and round a large oval stadium. But even academic trendiness isn't that simple--or, truth be told, that coordinated. Although cultural studies, which began in Britain, is enjoying an international 'boom', in the United States it's pretty muffled and diffuse. It's not as if cultural studies simply installed itself someplace in American life, with four great locations and plenty of parking. So far, the boom is more like a loud murmur, and it's competing with a lot of interference and surface noise. You can bet, though, that the next few years of work will pump up the volume. Let me put it this way: as British Invasions go, cultural studies isn't as noisy as the Beatles' appearance at Carnegie Hall, but it's every bit as exciting, and probably more durable.

To date there's only been one major American cultural studies conference, 'Cultural Studies Now and in the Future', held at the University of

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