Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Cultural Studies in the Age of Disciplinary Democracy

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Cultural Studies in the Age of Disciplinary Democracy

Article excerpt

cultural studies in the age of disciplinary democracy

GARYHALLANDCLAREBlRCHELL(EDS)

New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory

Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2007

ISBN 9780748622092

RRP $52.95

It came as something of a surprise to me when two former friends of mine were recently declared 'enemies of the people', to cite the title of a play by Ibsen. I knew Paddy Gibson and Dan Jones from my undergraduate time at the University of Sydney. Gibson and Jones were active participants in protests: political organisers. They certainly weren't outside the general milieu at the university. Nor were their political causes particularly radical. I recall participating with Gibson in protests against HECS tuition increases a few years ago. Last time I spoke to either one of them was over a year ago, at a time when Sydney's Abercrombie pub still smelled feucht and ungentrified, smoke stench oozing from its retro sixties-era couches.

Now, however, Jones and Gibson were banned from flying in and out of Sydney Airport for the duration of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.1 Along with dozens of others, they were disallowed from protesting in Sydney's central business district for the duration of the summit.2 They were later grabbed by a riot police snatch squad in Sydney's Hyde Park while drinking coffee after an anti-Bush demonstration.3 As the New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione put it two days later, when queried about allegations that police used excessive force during APEC, 'that's the way we do business now in NSW.4

Perhaps both Jones and Gibson were guilty of intending to stage violent protests. I don't really know. And based on all the information I could glean, they did have intent. They had after all, been pre-judged and proclaimed guilty by a people's tribunal in the Australian tabloid media. Political leaders and police had spent the past few days before the summit convincing the public that these few represented terror and a threat to public order. Blog-respondents on The Daily Telegraph website certainly held them and other protestors in low esteem:

I have a great idea for these so-called protesters. Treat them like terrorists and have a shoot to kill policy. 1 would be more than happy to go in and give the police a hand. All I need is a baton and a shield. I would have a ball.5

And to quote Ibsen's ironic formulation in An Enemy of the People, 'the majority always has right on its side'.6 Viewed from afar, the political mood in Australia seems grim, terror-alert and trigger-fixated. As the German photo-artist Boris Eldagsen put it recently, Australian politics now involves the ritual invocation of themes of safety and security. This is all to be achieved through the construction of a security state:

Firstly, the government makes people scared, and then calms them down with these words: you let us be, and we'll look after everything for you. As people give up more and more personal responsibility, they get used to the role of being helpless, and always want to be protected more.7

Eldagsen titled his Berlin exhibition, about the 'ubiquity' of security warnings in Australia, both in daily life and in politics, 'Safety in Numbers'.

All this talk of numbers, majorities and the politics of a contemporary security state is perhaps a fitting segue into Gary Hall and Clare Birchall's new collection of essays. New Cultured Studies aims to provide an emerging generation of cultural studies academics a more prominent voice. Many of the essays in the volume begin to engage with the immense task of remaking the academic Left after 9/11 and two decades of neo-liberal governance. Happily, there's no sense of a project in crisis (that leit-motif of Marxist theorising). Rather, the contributors provide readers with an introduction to different modalities of contemporary cultural theorising. Contributors draw on philosophy, social movement theory and media studies in an analysis of the present cultural/political conjuncture. …

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