"Culture" and the Problem of the Disciplines

"Culture" and the Problem of the Disciplines

"Culture" and the Problem of the Disciplines

"Culture" and the Problem of the Disciplines


What is the university's role in the production of cultural ideals? With increasingly interdisciplinary approaches being employed in scholarship, can we speak of discrete fields of study?

The results of a collaborative research project by the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine, this collection explores the role that scholars and universities play in shaping and defining culture, and how teaching and research institutions are changing in response to international movements and social forces. Investigating the way "high" culture (literature, liberal education) and popular culture (fashion, film) are dealt with in the classroom, these essays show that the "culture wars" of the 1980s and '90s are by no means over; they have simply warped into new, less visible struggles for control of educational funding, curricula, academic "standards," and pedagogical authority.

The essays in this volume range widely. Sacvan Bercovitch defends the literary ideal of culture through his examination of Faulkner's Light in August; Linda Williams explores visual culture through Hitchcock's Psycho; and Leslie Rabine considers the intersections of fashion, race, and gender. J. Hillis Miller details how "cultural studies" might positively change the structure of the university, and Mark Poster challenges historians to develop methods of representing history that are adequate to the complexity of lived experience.


John Carlos Rowe

From the fall of 1992 to the spring of 1995, the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine, worked on the topic “ ‘ Culture’ and the Problem of the Disciplines.” This volume reflects that work and consists largely of essays by members of the group and invited guests that were presented, discussed, and revised during that period. Work on this research project actually began as early as the spring of 1991, when the members of the group began to discuss possible topics for a new research project to follow “Critical Theory, Contemporary Culture, and the Question of the Political,” which was published as Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture (Columbia, 1993) and edited by the previous Director of the Institute, Mark Poster. in the spring of 1991, we were unable to agree on an appropriate topic and focus, even though it was clear to most of us that some consideration of the renewed importance of concepts and theories of “culture” would be central to our work for the next three years. Our discussions that spring undoubtedly resembled those of many other scholars in the humanities and social sciences in the first half of the 1990s as they struggled to come to terms with the dramatic changes in their respective disciplines as a consequence of internal institutional and professional crises, some of which were provoked by larger social, economic, and political forces. Our common interest in the changing meaning of “culture” as a concept and term was matched by our interest in how the institutions of teaching and research—universities, professional organizations, research centers, foundations that fund research— were changing in response to both intellectual movements and often-contrary social forces.

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