Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

From Criticism to Research: The 'Textual' in the Academy

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

From Criticism to Research: The 'Textual' in the Academy

Article excerpt

When the first joint workshop on cultural research between the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Cultural Research (CCR) and the Department of Cultural Studies at Hong Kong's Lingnan University (LU) began in July 2002, I had to admit to a little uncertainty in opening the proceedings. It was a novel experience for me to speak in Sydney as a member of a foreign delegation, and I spent an anxious moment wondering how to pitch my remarks: should I be telling old friends from UWS about what we do at Lingnan, or introducing new friends from Hong Kong to the Sydney-no, the Parramatta-based environment where we would spend the next few days? Put like that, the moment quickly passed: despite David Simpson's provocative assertion that 'the methodological preference of cultural studies will almost always be for some narrowly national archive, since the thick description that it pursues almost demands that we stick to what we think we know best', I the accompanying imperative to situate and localise description in analytically scrupulous ways is more corrosive than affirmative of 'narrowly' national claims. I knew much less about Parramatta than I did about Hong Kong, and my knowledge gap has widened in the intervening years. Now as then, I will begin with what I think I know best, the Lingnan Cultural Studies program and our reasons for collaborating with the CCR in workshops on cultural research. My justification is that this relatively new local knowledge helps to clarify some older issues which I first encountered in another land.

Held under an Academic Cooperation Agreement between UWS and LU, the cultural research workshops initiated (on a modest scale) a new kind of 'transnational' research enterprise, not least because they brought together parties having little in common in certain important respects. Take the two Universities committed to the Agreement. Both UWS and LU are new universities, facing all those problems of financing, organisation and (as we say in Hong Kong) brand definition that the term 'new' suggests, and both happen to be the youngest universities in their respective cities. However, while UWS is a huge, sprawling, comprehensive university created in part by the amalgamation of diverse older elements, LU is a small, compact, residential liberal arts university. Lingnan claims a tradition running back to 1888 in Guangzhou, where 'Lingnan University' was a progressive Protestant establishment distinguished for its pioneering initiative in employing Chinese teachers, but it has a more recent profile in Hong Kong as a Business-dominated College created in 1967. From 1995, under President Edward Chen, Lingnan College moved from Wan Chai in the heart of the city to Tuen Mun in the far western New Territories and began to develop new programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences, achieving University title in 1999.

In practice, the LU-UWS workshops involved only one small area of each university and here, too, there is an asymmetry: the UWS participants are based in a research centre while those from LU work in a teaching department. The CCR develops research contracts, trains postgraduates and orchestrates the work of post-doctoral and research fellows. Life at Lingnan is organised around close, intensive contact with undergraduate students. Our Department of twelve full-time staff delivers a full Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies, enrolling around 33 new First Year students annually. There is a small postgraduate group (four of whom actively participated in the workshops), but our MPhil and research PhD students work by thesis alone, in the old British way, and some are involved in undergraduate tutoring. Most staff must produce research as a condition of contract renewal (tenure is very rare and there are no 'continuing' positions), but we must do so on our own time. Funding is secured through external or internal grants but, in a key difference from Australian practice, those grants generally exclude the possibility of 'buying time off teaching'. …

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