Notes for Richard Johnson “What is Cultural Studies Anyway?”

Key concepts: consciousness, cultural circuit, cultural studies, decentering, economism, ethnography, literary criticism, Marxism, narrativity, post-post-structuralist account of subjectivity, power, production of subjects, productivism, publication, subjectivity.

Philosophical influences compare epistemology's concerns with empiricism, realism and idealism to culture theory's concerns with economism, materialism, and cultural specificity. Culture studies keenly interested in consciousness and subjectivity, defined as imaginary life with unconscious determinants. Apply cultural circuit model to cyberspace; look for comparisons in software studies and critical code studies. Econonism skews cultural production by its function unit operations of capitalist logic. Productivism skews cultural product by conditions of production. Texts are polymorphous; need decentering to consider social life of subjective forms, including technologies and devices. Structuralist foreshortenings equivalent to staying in textual analysis, not reaching theory of subjectivity. Account of reading positions, treating reading as production. Promiscuous encounter, intertextuality, context crucial in subject production. No subject because no object specified ahead of time for processual, post-post-structuralist theory. Ethnography represents culture of others, already a power relation. Nice description of homogenized cultural identifications as slabs of significance. Best when group is the analyst, and attention to concrete text-like structures forming discourse network. Dumit uses group of PET pioneers, Hayles of cybernetics. Try for software studies.

Related theorists: Barthes, Bogost, Bourdieu, de Lauretis, Feenberg, Foucault, Hoggart, O'Gorman, Turkle, Raymond Williams.

The Importance of Critique

Critique as alchemy for producing useful knowledge by stealing useful elements and rejecting the rest, for which Janz has cautioned philosophy demands deeper interrogation of inconsistencies.

(38) A codification of methods or knowledges (instituting them, for example, in formal curricula or in courses on “methodology”) runs against some main features of cultural studies as a tradition: its openness and theoretical versatility, its reflexive even self-conscious mood, and, especially, the importance of critique. . . . Critique involves stealing away the more useful elements and rejecting the rest. From this point of view cultural studies is a process, a kind of alchemy for producing useful knowledge; codify it and you might halt its reactions.

Literary criticism applied to everyday life and post-WWII social history of Maxism.

(38) In the history of cultural studies, the earliest encounters were with literary criticism. Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart, in their different ways, developed the Leavisite stress on literary-social evaluation, but turned the assessments from literature to everyday life. Similar appropriates have been made from history. The first important moment here was the development of the post-war traditions of social history with their focus on popular culture, or the culture of “the people” especially in its political forms. The Communist Party Historians' Group was central here, with its 1940s and early 1950s project of anglicizing and historicizing old marxism.
(39) Central in both literary and historical strands was the
critique of old marxism.
(39) The first [premise] is that cultural processes are intimately connected with social relations, especially with class relations and class formations, with sexual divisions, with the racial structuring of social relations and with age oppressions as a form of dependency. The second is that culture involves power and helps to produce asymmetries in the abilities of individuals and social groups to define and realize their needs. And the third, which follows from the other two, is that culture is neither an autonomous nor an externally determined field, but a site of social differences and struggles.

Philosophical influences compare epistemological concerns with empiricism, realism and idealism to culture theory concerns with economism, materialism, and cultural specificity.

(39) Other critiques have been distinctly philosophical. . . . There is a very close cousinhood between epistemological problems and positions (e.g. empiricism, realism and idealism) and the key questions of “cultural theory” (e.g. economism, materialsm, or the problem of culture's specific effects).

Importance of critiques deriving from womens movement and struggles against racism (add postcolonialism).

(40) More important in our recent history have been the critiques deriving from the women's movement and from the struggles against racism.

Light entertainment like casual gaming, but why not consider rigorous programming; run through Turkle.

(40) Feminism has influenced everyday ways of working and brought a greater recognition of the way that productive results depend upon supportive relationships. . . . In media studies, for example, it has shifted attention from the “masculine” genre of news and current affairs to the importance of “light entertainment.” It has aided a more general turn from older kinds of ideology critique (which centered on maps of meaning or versions or reality) to approaches that center on social identities, subjectivities, popularity and pleasure.

Bogost fear of devolution to system operations.

(40) If we have progressed by critique, are there not dangers that codifications will involve systematic closure?

Knowledge-power Foucault and Bourdieu; OGorman Republic of Scholars academic knowledge-forms part of the problem.

(40-41) Recognition of the forms of power associated with knowledge may turn out to be one of the leading insights of the 1970s. . . . Academic knowledge-forms (or some aspects of them) now look like part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Pressures to Define
(41) Academic tendencies, then, tend to be reproduced on the new ground: there are distinctively literary and distinctively sociological or historical versions of cultural studies, just as there are approaches distinguished by theoretical partisanship. . . . Actually it is not definition or codification that we need, but pointers to further transformations.

Strategies of Definition

Definition of cultural studies enters dangerous interdisciplinary places such as where texts and technology studies operate.

(41-42) Cultural studies can be defined as an intellectual and political tradition, in its relation to the academic disciplines, in terms of theoretical paradigms, or by its characteristic objects of study.
(42-43) Cultural processes do not correspond to the contours of academic knowledges, as they are. No one academic discipline grasps the full complexity (or seriousness) of the study. Cultural studies must be
inter-disciplinary (and sometimes anti-disciplinary) in its tendency. . . . I still find most sociological description thin and obvious and much literary discourse clever but superficial! On the other hand, the rooted empiricism of historical practice is a real liability often blocking a properly cultural reading. I am sure it is the same for other disciplines too. Of course, there are lots of half-way houses, many of the serviceable workshops for cultural study, but the direction of movement, to my mind, has to be out, and away, and into more dangerous places!

Importance of starting from concrete cases as done by SCOT theorists as literary critics cite specific texts (Hayles).

(43) In teaching situations or similar interchanges, theoretical discourse may seem, to the hearer, a form of intellectual gymnastics. . . . This is one set of reasons why many of us now find it useful to start from concrete cases, either to teach theory historically, as a continuing, contextualised debate about cultural issues, or to hook up theoretical points and contemporary experiences.
(43) The key questions are: what is the characteristic
object of cultural studies? What is cultural studies about?

Simple Abstractions: Consciousness, Subjectivity

Culture studies keenly interested in consciousness and subjectivity, defined as imaginary life with unconscious determinants (the subject aspect of consciousness).

(43-44) For me cultural studies is about the historical forms of consciousness or subjectivity, or the subjective forms we live by, or, in a rather perilous compression, perhaps a reduction, the subjective side of social relations. . . . I think of consciousness, first, in the sense in which it appears in The German Ideology. . . . [Marx] distinguishes the worst architect from the best bee . . . human beings are characterized by an ideal or imaginary life, where will is cultivated, dreams dreamt, and categories developed.
(44) Subjectivity includes the possibility, for example, that some elements or impulses are subjectively active – they
move us – without being consciously known. It highlights elements ascribed (in the misleading conventional distinction) to aesthetic or emotional life and to conventionally “feminine” codes. . . . It connects with the most important structuralist insight: that subjectivities are produced, not given, and are therefore the objects of inquiry, not the premises or starting-points.
(44-45) In all my thinking about cultural studies I find the notion of “
formsalso repeatedly recurs. . . . Our project is to abstract, describe and reconstitute in concrete studies the social forms through which human beings “live,” become conscious, sustain themselves subjectively.
(45) Given our definition of culture, we cannot limit the field to specialized practices, particular genres, or popular leisure pursuits.
All social practices can be looked at from a cultural point of view, for the work they do, subjectively.

Circuits of Capital – Circuits of Culture?

Need more complex, layered model.

(45) So we need, first, a much more complex model, with rich intermediate categories, more layered than the existing general theories.

Diagram models circuit of production, circulation, consumption of cultural products.

(46-47) I find it easiest (in a long CCCS tradition) to present a model diagrammatically (see below). The diagram is intended to represent a circuit of the production, circulation and consumption of cultural products. . . . if we are placed at one point in the circuit, we do not necessarily see what is happening at others. . . . Processes disappear in results. . . . the conditions of their production cannot be inferred by scrutinizing them as “texts.” . . . we cannot predict these uses from our own analysis. . . . As anyone knows, all our communications are liable to return to us in unrecognizable or at least transformed terms. We often call this misunderstanding or, if we are being very academic, mis-readings. But these misses” are so common (across the range of a whole society) that we might well call them normal. To understand the transformations, then, we have to understand specific conditions of consumption or reading. There include asymmetries of resources and power, material and culture They also include the existing ensembles of cultural elements already active within particular social milieux (“lived cultures” in the diagram) and the social relations on which these combinations depend.

Apply cultural circuit model to cyberspace like Johnson does with Mini-Metro: look for comparisons in software studies and critical code studies.

(48) We can, for example, whiz a Mini-Metro car around it. . . . this raises interesting questions too about what constitutes the “text” (or raw material for such abstractions) in these cases. . . . Shouldn't we include, indeed, the Metro's place in discourses upon national economic recovery and moral renaissance?
(48) What was
made of the Metro phenomenon, more privately, by particular groups of consumers and readers?

Publication and Abstraction

Process of public-action from design to consumption.

(49) The circuit involves movements between the public and the private but also movements between more abstract and more concrete forms.
(49) As a designer's idea, as a manager's “concept,” the Metro remained private. . . . It acquired a more general significance, gathering around it, in fact, some pretty portentious notions. It became, in fact, a great public issue, or a symbol for such. It also took shape as an actual product and set of texts. . . . To draw out more general points, three things occurred in the process of public-action. First, the car (and its texts) became
public in the obvious sense: it acquired if not a universal at least a more general significance. . . . Second, at the level of meaning, publication involved abstraction. The car and its messages could now be viewed in relative isolation from the social conditions that formed it. Thirdly, it was subjected to a process of public evaluation (great public issue) on many different scales: as a technical-social instrument, as a national symbol, as a stake in class war, in relation to competing models, etc. . . . Note, however, in the moment of consumption or reading, represented here by the woman and her children (who have decided views about cars), we are forced back again to the private, the particular and concrete, however publicly displayed the raw materials for their readings may be.
(49) I want to suggest that these processes are intrinsic to cultural circuits under modern social conditions, and that they are produced by, and are productive of,
relations of power.

Forms of Culture – Forms of Study
(50) On the one side there are those who insist that “cultures” must be studied as a whole, and in situ, located, in their material context. . . . Methodologically, they stress the importance of complex, concrete description, which grasps, particularly, the unity or homology of cultural forms and material life. Their preferences are therefore for social-historical recreations of cultures or cultural movements, or for ethnographic cultural description, or for those kinds of writing (e.g. autobiography, oral history, or realist forms of fiction) which recreate socially-located “experience.”
(50) On the other side, there are those who stress the relative independence or effective autonomy of subjective forms and means of signification. . . . The preferred method is to treat the forms abstractly, sometimes quite formalistically, uncovering the mechanisms by which meaning is produced in language, narrative or other kinds of sign-system.
(50) Private forms are not necessarily private in the usual sense of personal or individual, though they may be both. . . .
It is their particularity or concreteness that marks them as private. . . . Gossip is a private form deeply connected with the occasions and relations of being a woman in our society.

Shop floor culture example, then try on TV program.

(51) An even more striking case is the working-class culture of the shop floor. As Paul Willis has shown there is a particularly close relationship here between the physical action of labor and the practical jokes and common sense of the workplace.
(51) Compared with the thick, conjoined tissue of face-to-face encounters, the television program “going out on the air” seems a very abstracted, even ethereal product. For one thing it is so much more plainly a
representation of “real life” (at best) than the (equally constructed) narratives of everyday life.

Public-ation and Power
(52) Cultural production often involves public-ation, the making public of private forms. On the other side, public texts are consumed or read in private. A girls' magazine, like Jackie for instance, picks up and represents some elements of the private cultures of femininity by which young girls live their lives.
(52) It is important not to assume that public-ation only and always works in dominating or in demeaning ways. We need careful analyses of where and how public representations work to seal social groups into the existing relations of dependence and where and how they have some emancipatory tendency. Short of this detail, we can nonetheless insist on the
importance of power as an element in an analysis, by suggesting the main ways it is active in the public-private relationship.

Construction of public/private division; culture studies deeply implicated in relations of power.

(53) One further general mechanism is the construction, in the public sphere, of definitions of the public/private division itself. Of course, these sound quite neutral definitions: “everyone” agrees that the most important public issues are the economy, defense, law and order and, perhaps, welfare questions, and that other issues – family life, sexuality for example – are essentially private. The snag is that the dominant definitions of significance are quite socially specific and, in particular, tend to correspond to masculine and middle-class structures of “interest” (in both meanings of the term).
(53) Whether it takes its main object the more abstracted public knowledges and their underlying logics and definitions, or it searches out the private domains of culture, cultural studies is necessarily and deeply implicated in relations of power. It forms a part of the very circuits which it seeks to describe.

From the Perspective of Production
(54) A more systematic approach to cultural production has been a relatively recent feature of the sociology of literature, art or popular cultural forms. . . . Studies of production within these traditions have been equally varied: from grandiose critiques of the political economy and cultural pathology of mass communications (e.g. the early Frankfurt School) to close empirical inspections of the production of news or particular documentary series or soap operas on television.
(54) They are interested, first and foremost, in the production and the social organization of cultural forms. Or course, it is here that marxist paradigms have occupied a very central place, even where continuously argued against.

Recall de Lauretis feminist reterritorialization of Gramsci that focuses on equivalent of light entertainment texts.

(54) In Gramsci's writing the study of culture from the viewpoint of production becomes a more general interest with the cultural dimensions of struggles and strategies as a whole.

Limits of the Viewpoint of Production
(55) I find two recurrent limits to looking at culture from this viewpoint. . . . [In economism] Cultural production is assimilated to the model of capitalist (usually) production in general, without sufficient attention to the dual nature of the circuit of cultural commodities. . . . The raw material is structured not only by capitalist production imperatives (i.e., commodified) but also by the indirect results of capitalist and other social relations on the existing rules of language and discourse, especially, class and gender-based struggles in their effects on different social symbols and signs. . . . As accounts of cultural production, of the production of the subjective forms, they tell us at most about some “objective” conditions and the work of some social sites – typically the ideological work of capitalist business (e.g. advertising, the work of commercial media) rather than that of political parties, schools, or the apparatuses of “high culture.”

Econonism skews cultural production by its function unit operations of capitalist logic; productivism skews cultural product by conditions of production: consider Feenberg and Adorno versus Benjamin on creative potential inherent in the commodified, advertising culture.

(55) The second difficulty is not economism but what we might call “productivism.” . . . The problem here is the tendency to infer the character of a cultural product and its social use from the conditions of its production, as though, in cultural matters, production determines all.

Famous criticism of Lukacs What We Want is Watneys concrete example.

(56) The conflations and reductions that result are well illustrated on one of his [Lukacs'] few concrete examples: his analysis of the British brewer's slogan - “What We Want is Watneys.” [quoting] “The brand of the beer was presented like a political slogan. Not only does this billboard give an insight into the nature of the up to date propaganda, which sells its slogans as well as its wares . . . the type of relationship which is suggested by the billboard, by which the masses make a commodity recommended to them the object of their own action, is in fact found again in the pattern of reception of light music. They need and demand what has been palmed off on them.” The actual differentiated drinkers of Watneys and readers of the slogan are assumed to act also as the brewer's ventriloquists' dummy, without any other determinations intervening.

Creator emphasis in Benjamin ignored by Adorno; relate to theories of texts and technology Dumit text and produced different than text as read.

(57) Benjamin certainly took a more open view of the potentialities of mass cultural forms than Adorno. He was excited by their technical and educational possibilities. . . . Yet we can see that all of these insights are primarily the comments of a critic upon the theories of producers, or take the standpoint of production. It is here, still with the creator, that the really revolutionary moves are to be made. . . . It was not rooted in any extended analysis of the larger experience of particular groups of readers.
(57-58) Of course, we must look at cultural forms from the viewpoint of their production. This must include the conditions and the means of production, especially in their cultural or subjective aspects. In my opinion it must include accounts and understandings too of the actual moment of production itself – the labor, in tis subjective and objective aspects. . . .
The text-as-produced is a different object from the text-as-read. The problem with Adorno's analysis and perhaps with productivist approaches in general is not only that they infer the text-as-read from the text-as-produced, but that also, in doing this, they ignore the elements of production in other moments, concentrating “creativity” in producer or critic.

Text-Based Studies
(58) A second whole cluster of approaches are primarily concerned with cultural products. Most commonly these products are treated as “texts”; the point is to provide more or less definitive “readings” of them. . . . I am thinking particularly of the theories associated with Cubism and Constructivism, Russian formalism and film-making, and, of course, Brecht on theater.

Means of formal description used in linguistic and literary studies indispensable for cultural analysis.

(58) The major humanities disciplines, but especially linguistic and literary studies, have developed means of formal description which are indispensable for cultural analysis. I am thinking, for example, of the literary analysis forms of narrative, the identification of different genre, but also of whole families of genre categories, the analysis of syntactical forms, possibilities and transformations in linguistics, the formal analysis of acts and exchanges in speech, the analysis of some elementary forms of cultural theory by philosophers, and the common borrowings, by criticism and cultural studies, from semiology and other structuralisms.

Text-based studies of major humanities disciplines seem to have meager ambitions; tie to Turkle on postmodernism.

(59) Looking at it from outside, the situation in the humanities and especially in literature seems to me very paradoxical: on the one hand, the development of immensely powerful tools of analysis and description, on the other hand, rather meager ambitions in terms of applications and objects of analysis.
(59) Forms, regularities and conventions first identified in literature (or certain kinds of music or visual art) often turn out to have a much wider social currency.
(59) As usual, then, the problem is to appropriate methods that are often locked into narrow disciplinary channels and use their real insights more widely, freely.

The Importance of Being Formal
(59) Especially important are all the modernist and post-modernist influences, particularly those associated with structuralism and post-Saussurean linguistics.
(60) Modern formal analysis promises a really careful and systematic description of subjective forms, and of their tendencies and pressures. It has enabled us to identify, for example,
narrativity as a basic form of organization of subjectivities.
(60) I am sure that Roland
Barthes was right when he argued against the quixotic rejection of “the artifice of analysis.”
(61) It is because we know we are not in control of our own subjectivities, that we need so badly to identify their forms and trace their histories and future possibilities.

What is a text anyway?

Texts are polymorphous, for example James Bond genre, inviting Hayles MSA, as well as situated context of particular issues and historical periods.

(61) Remember the Mini-Metro as an example of the tendency of “texts” to a polymorphous growth; Tony Bennett's example of the James Bond genres is an even better case.
(61-62) If, for example, we are really interested in how conventions and the technical means available within a particular medium structure representations, we need to
work across genre and media, comparatively. . . . We certainly do not have to bound our research by literary criteria; other choices are available. It is possible for instance to take “issues” or periods as the main criterion. Though restricted by their choice of rather “masculine” genre and media, Policing the Crisis and Unpopular Education are studies of this kind. . . . The logic of this approach has been extended in recent CCCS media-based studies: a study of a wide range of media representations of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in October 1981 and a study of the media in a “post-Falklands” holiday period, from Christmas 1982 to New Year 1983. . . . By capturing something of the contemporaneity and combined “effects” of different systems of representations, we also hope to get nearer to the commoner experience of listening, reading and viewing.

Decentering text as object of study, to consider social life of subjective forms, including technologies and devices.

(62) More generally, the aim is to decentrethe text” as an object of study. “The text” is no longer studied for its own sake, nor even for the social effects it may be thought to produce, but rather for the subjective or cultural forms which it realizes and makes available. . . . But the ultimate object of cultural studies is not, in my view, the text, but the social life of subjective forms at each moment of their circulation, including their textual embodiments.

Structuralist Foreshortenings
(62) I understand formalism negatively, not as abstraction of forms from texts, but as the abstraction of texts from the other moments.
(63) Despite their variations, these approaches to “signifying practices” share certain paradigmatic limits which I term the “structuralist foreshortening.”

Structuralist foreshortenings equivalent to staying in textual analysis, not reaching theory of subjectivity, similar to focusing on codes of cinema.

(63) They are limited, in a very fundamental way, by staying within the terms of textual analysis. In so far as they go beyond it, they subordinate other moments to textual analysis. . . . I want to suggest that the common element in both these limits is a major theoretical lack – the absence of an adequate post-structuralist (or should I say post-post-structuralist) theory of subjectivity. . . . To sum up the limitations, there is not really an account or accounts here, of the genesis of subjective forms and the different ways in which human beings inhabit them.

The Neglect of Production

Not treating content as significant, neglect of production; invoke discussion of remediation.

(64-65) In Screen's theory there was a tendency to look only at the specifically cinematographic “means”--the codes of cinema. The relations between these means and other cultural resources or conditions were not examined: for example, the relation between codes of realism and the professionalism of film-makers or the relation between media more generally and the state and formal political system. . . . A critique of the very notion of representation (seen as indispensable to the critique of realism) made it hard for these theorists to pull into their accounts of film any very elaborate recognition of what an older, fuller theory might have called “content.” Cinema (and then television) were treated as though they were, so to speak, only “about” cinema or television, only reproducing or transforming the cinematographic or television forms, not pulling in and transforming discourses first produced elsewhere.
(65) Crucial insights into language and other systems of signification are therefore foreclosed: namely, that languages are produced (or differentiated), reproduced and modified by socially-organized human practice, that there can be no language (except a dead one) without speakers, and that language is continually fought over in its words, syntax and discursive deployments. In order to recover these insights, students of culture who are interested in language have had to go outside the predominantly French semiological traditions, back to the marxist philosopher of language Voloshinov or across to particular researches influenced by the work of Bernstein or Halliday.

Readers in Texts; Readers in Society
(65) The most characteristic feature of later semiologists has been the claim to advance a theory of the production of subjects.

Connection to Semiotics of Programming on theories of production of subjects?

(66) The key insight for me, is that narratives or images always imply or construct a position or positions from which they are to be read or viewed. . . . If we add to this, the argument that certain kinds of texts ('realism') naturalize the means by which positioning is achieved, we have a dual insight of great force. The particular promise is to render processes hitherto unconsciously suffered (and enjoyed) open to explicit analysis.

How is the subject found: account of reading positions, treating reading as production, promiscuous encounter, intertextuality, context crucial.

(66) A careful, elaborated and hierarchised account of the reading positions offered in a text (in narrative structure or modes of address for instance) seems to me the most developed method we have so far within the limits of text analysis.
(66-67) There is only room to stress a few difficulties in treating reading, not as reception or assimilation, but as itself an act of production. . . . The isolation of a text for academic scrutiny is a very specific form of reading. More commonly texts are encountered
promiscuously; they pour in on us from all directions in diverse, coexisting media, and differently-paced flows. . . . The combinations stem, rather, from more particular logics – the structured life-activity in its objective and subjective sides, of readers or groups of readers: their social locations, their histories, their subjective interests, their private worlds.
Context determines the meaning, transformations or salience of a particular subjective form as much as the form itself. Context includes the cultural features described above, but also the contexts of immediate situations (e.g. the domestic context of the household) and the larger historical context or conjuncture.
(67-68) Even those theorists (e.g. Brecht,
Tel Quel, Barthes in S/Z) who are concerned with productive, deconstructive or critical reading ascribe this capacity to types of text (e.g. “writable” rather than “readable” in Barthes' terminology) and not at all to a history of real readers. This absence of production in reading parallels the ascription of productivity to signifying systems which we have already noted. . . . There is a huge potentiality, for cultural studies, in the critical use of Freudian categories, as critical that is, as the use of marxist categories has become or is becoming.

What stories and interpellations are already in place implicit in formalist analysis but not foregrounded: no subject because no object specified ahead of time for processual theory.

(68) One lack in these accounts is an attempt to describe more elaborately the surface forms – the flows of inner speech and narrative – which are the most empirically obvious aspect of subjectivity. . . . Perhaps all this is simply pre-supposed in formalist analysis, yet to draw it into the foreground seems to have important implications. It makes it possible to recover the elements of self-production in theories of subjectivity. It suggests that before we can gauge the productivity of new interpellations, or anticipate their like popularity, we need to know what stories are already in place.
(68) There is no real theory of subjectivity here, partly because the
explanandum, the “object” of such a theory, remains to be specified. In particular there is no account of the carry-over or continuity of self-identities from one discursive moment to the next, such as a re-theorisation of memory in discursive terms might permit.

Post-post-structuralist account of subjectivity, comparable to Deleuze dividual.

(69) This is what I mean by a post-post-structuralist” account of subjectivity. . . . the notion of a discursive self-production of subjects, especially in the form of histories and memories.

Social Inquiries – Logic and History
(69) To recapitulate, the problem is how to grasp the more concrete and more private moments of cultural circulation. . . . But the first lesson here is the recognition of major cultural differences, especially across those social relationships where power, dependence and inequality are most at stake.

Ethnography represents culture of others, already a power relation.

(70) The practice, like the word [ethnography], already extends social distance and constructs relations of knowledge-as-power. To “study” culture forms is already to differ from a more implicit inhabitation of culture which is the main “commonsense” mode in all social groups.
(70) Since fundamental social relations have not been transformed, social inquiry tends constantly to return to its old anchorages, pathologizing subordinated cultures, normalizing the dominant modes, helping at best to build academic reputations without proportionate returns to those who are represented.

Limits of “Experience”
(70) The pressure is to represent lived cultures as authentic ways of life and to uphold them against ridicule or condescension.
(71) Secondary analysis and re-presentation must always be problematic or intrusive if “spontaneous” cultural forms are seen as completed or necessary form of social knowledge.

Nice description of homogenized cultural identifications as slabs of significance.

(71) There is also a systematic pressure towards presenting lived cultures primarily in terms of their homogeneity and distinctiveness. . . . There is a discomforting convergence between “radical” but romantic versions of “working-class culture” and notions of a shared Englishness or white ethnicity. Here too one finds the term “way of life” used as though “cultures” were great slabs of significance always humped around by the same set of people.
(71) There is no better instance of the divorce between formal analysis and “concrete studies” than the rarity of linguistic analysis in historical or ethnographic work. Like much structuralist analysis, then, ethnographies often work with a foreshortened version of our circuit, only here it is the whole arc of “public” forms which is often missing.

Best Ethnography
(71-72) These studies [at Birmingham] have used abstraction and formal description to identify key elements in a lived cultural ensemble. Cultures are read “textually.” But they have also been viewed alongside a reconstruction of the social position of users. . . . We have tried to ally cultural analysis with a (sometimes too generalized) structural sociology, centering upon gender, class and race.

Ethnographic studies typically concern appropriation of elements of mass culture and transformation by specific social groups.

(72) Typically, studies have concerned the appropriation of elements of mass culture and their transformation according to the needs and cultural logics of social groups. Studies of the contribution of mass cultural forms (popular music, fashion, drugs or motor bikes) or sub-cultural styles, of girls' use of popular cultural forms, and of the lads' resistance to the knowledge and authority of school are cases in point. In other words the best studies of lived culture are also, necessarily, studies of “reading.” It is from this point of view – the intersection of public and private forms – that we have the best chance of answering the two key sets of questions to which cultural studies – rightly – continually returns.
(72) The first set concerns “popularity,” pleasure and the
use value of cultural forms. Why do some subjective forms acquire a popular force, become principles of living? What are the different ways in which subjective forms are inhabited – playfully or in deep seriousness, in fantasy or by rational argument, because it is the thing to do or the thing not to do?

Cool studies, theories of texts and technology: look at popularity of cultural forms and outcomes of cultural forms.

(72) The second set of questions concerns the outcomes of cultural forms. Do these forms tend to reproduce existing forms of subordination or oppression? Do they hold down or contain social ambitions, defining wants too modestly? Or are they forms which permit a questioning of existing relations or a running beyond them in terms of desire? . . . Judgments like these cannot be made on the basis of the analysis of production conditions or texts alone; they can best be answered once we have traced a social form right through the circuit of its transformations and made some attempts to place it within the whole context of relations of hegemony within the society.

Future Shapes of Cultural Studies: Directions

Rethink each moment in light of the others rather than adding together sets of production, text, and lived studies: compare to criticism of platform studies.

(73) Yet each approach also implies a different view of the politics of culture. Production-related studies imply a struggle to control or transform the most power means of cultural production. . . . Text-based studies, focusing on the forms of cultural products, have usually concerned the possibilities of a transformative cultural practice. . . . Finally, research into lived cultures has been closely associated with a politics of “representation” upholding the ways of life of subordinated social groups.
(73) It is not therefore an adequate strategy for the future use just to add together the three sets of approaches, using each for its appropriate moment. . . . it may be
more transformative to rethink each moment in the light of the others, importing objects and methods of study usually developed in relation to one moment into the next.

Different approaches to politics of culture, but cannot just add the three approaches together to use his model: best when group is the analyst, and attention to concrete text-like structures forming discourse network, which Dumit uses group of PET pioneers, Hayles of cybernetics, so try for software studies.

(73-74) Those concerned with production studies need to look more closely, for example, at the specifically cultural conditions of production. . . . Similarly, we need to develop, further, forms of text-based study which hook up with the production and readership perspectives. . . . The problem with both models [of the critical reader] is that by de-relativising our acts of reading they remove from self-conscious consideration (but not as an active presence) our common sense knowledge of the larger cultural contexts and possible readings. . . . The difficulties are met best, but not wholly overcome, when the analyst” is a group.
(74) Finally, those concerned with “concrete” cultural description cannot afford to ignore the presence of the text-like structures and particular forms of discursive organization.

Johnson, Richard. “What is Cultural Studies Anyway?” Social Text, 16 (Winter 1986-1987): 38-80. Web.