Blog Post

Michael Berube @ Northwestern

Today and tomorrow, Michael Berube joins us at Northwestern for a talk and seminar as part of the Engaged Humanities Scholar as Public Intellectual research workshop.

Recently, Michael published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled "What's the Matter with Cultural Studies?," that sparked quite a debate. Perhaps the best place to start out in exploring this debate would be Michael's post at Crooked Timber, They Call It Theory Monday.

There's a lot circulating around in this debate: (1) the disciplinary home for (or homelessness of) cultural studies within the university, (2) the place of cultural studies beyond the university in the larger political and civic realms, (3) the history of cultural studies (British/British-French/Global/etc.), and (4) the distortions of cultural studies by its enemies, particularly by fellow progressive intellectuals on the "false consciousness" wing of the left -- these who use the ill-defined populism of cultural studies to dismiss the field as confusing base and superstructure, focusing on culture when basic economics should be the purview of the left.

I'll leave these (very worthy) debates to your own Internet explorations, but I do want to highlight one sentence from Michael's article. In speaking about the goals of the left (and I think we could even say a goal beyond partisan politics), Michael argues against the notion that all we must do to improve society is lift the veil of media manipulation and "manufactured consent." Instead, he writes, "you have to do a great deal of groundwork in civil society to try to forge an egalitarian response."

I am hoping that this weekend, we can explore this concept of civil society and the kind of groundwork that humanities scholars might do using the tools and knowledge of specialized research to engage more broadly in civic endeavors (and one of those tools is listening, which I plan to do a lot of this weekend).

As part of this conversation, I (and I hope others) will post to HASTAC so that we can investigate the digital dimensions of this groundwork, starting with the question that's been on my mind lately: how is digital networking not only affecting academic practice and knowledge production but civil society itself? And not just the netroots of political civil society, but the broader terrain of associational life, the "cultural ectoplasm" (as my teacher Bob Cantwell called it) of civil society? Now that seems a task that cultural studies (and cultural history, my own field) might be well-suited for.

Let the foundational (and anti-foundational, if your sensibility tends that way) labor begin!

X-posted to Culture Rover.

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