II MA English
Mr. Pinto begins the class with an open question ‘Why would a company grant 3 months paid maternity leave?’
Answers like ‘welfare’, ‘concern’, ‘responsibility’, etc. flew around the room. Going by our responses, our faith in upright organizational codes of ethics looks very promising. But Mr. Pinto only smiles and urges us to probe and consider further the economics of such a policy.
Cultural Studies, he then reveals, will examine the meaning of this policy from economics’ point of view – which is that it is an investment the company makes in order to secure labour productivity as well as to prepare for a future work force. Now suddenly, the whole concept of ‘maternity leave’ doesn’t seem so purely noble.
Mr. Pinto also cited an example of his friend, a theorist (legitimised by his substantial publications), who found substantial flaws in the theories posited in the Dalit space (a relatively minor space) used for expression. But the theorist did not want to launch criticism because he felt it would come at too costly a price. Not to be mistaken for condescension, but rather the plain fact that if he had done so, then it would have resulted in the dissolving of even that minor space of expression. But does that mean that not addressing it will allow the crack to widen? His answer to that is that there are many cracks (hegemonic manipulations) already existing within the majority space. If we can live with those then the minor cracks existing in that smaller space can indeed also be borne. This was his negotiation with the politics of cultural space. Studying his decision and reasoning shows that for him, it was a decision based on his ethical code.
What is Mr. Pinto trying to achieve through these two cases of scrutiny? He’s trying to put Cultural Studies into practice by making us scrutinise the meaning making process involved in the concept of ‘maternity leave’ or even in the example of his theorist friend.
‘Culture’ simplified is after all nothing but a meaning making process. We are constantly embedded in cultural processes, but these activities are by no means innocent – i.e. they are never free from politics. Cultural Studies will study these processes and question, probe, and challenge in order to study these meaning making processes. It looks to question what others don’t know easily and also questions what is not easily evident.
Mr. Pinto is careful in not terming Cultural Studies as an ‘academic discipline’ quite like other disciplines. Rather, it is a methodology of sorts that is incorporated into all disciplines – sciences, social sciences as well as art/literature – and becomes a tool for scrutiny and self reflection.
Mr. Pinto also warns us gravely (and rather ominously) that any serious student of Cultural Studies, if bitten once by the serious probing Cultural Studies undertakes, will never truly go back to being the person he/she was before. While that may sound liberating and alarming at the same time, what we students are mostly relieved about is that it definitely doesn’t sound boring!