The Cultural Studies Question in 2012: Literature, Specialization, Interdisciplinarity

There are three interconnected points that constitute this brief post’s point of departure.

One: the conflict between what are called literary and cultural studies approaches persists—that it continues to influence the seemingly discrete areas of peer-reviewed scholarship, postsecondary hiring decisions, departmental debates over curriculum shifts, proposals to reassert a disciplinary canon, and perhaps even discussions regarding the futures of existing academic departments.

Two: the antagonists and agonists (to use Miguel de Unamuno’s term) of this conflict—at times it is not even clear who is who—often do not agree on the meanings of these terms. ‘Literature’ and ‘cultural studies’ operate simultaneously at several scales of academic discourse, from the local (departmental) to the disciplinary community (at conferences) to the wider publishing realm (articles, books, web); and it is likely that consensus is lacking both within and across each of these contexts.

Three: where pockets of consensus regarding these terms may in fact exist there is relatively little awareness of what is at stake in continuing to distinguish between ‘literature’ and ‘cultural studies.’ This leads, first, to an internal schism among potential disciplinary allies and departmental colleagues, and it may lead also—where the rifts are strongest—to what is, in effect, a devaluation of the humanities.

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