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Monday, November 15, 2010

Practising Cultural Theory

Cultural Theory Class Note: 11/11/10
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!

3 comments:

JoseAngel said...

Yes, the big issue in cultural studies and cultural criticism is the issue of selecting your focus and attention. Everything can be deconstructed and subjected to criticism, but, a wise selection of the most relevant target in your own context... yes, that is the question.

neogarfield said...

Its like Morpheus welcoming Neo...
"Welcome... To the real world..."

And then suddenly also start deconstructing what is 'real'...


Welcome to eternal damnation. Yup, there's no going back. There is only realisation followed by realisation. The first few feeling like breaths after having been underwater for two whole minutes - liberating, freeing, gasping for more... Pretty soon, you will be choking, wondering if dying underwater wasn't so bad after all...

I wish there was a point to all this... Like some place it was leading us... Some divine promise of peace or bliss or enlightenment. Nope. There isn't. In fact, the discipline itself would establish criticism against such a belief...


There is just the restless uncreation of what has been, and recreation of it while including the previously un-included, making political situations so that the un-included include themselves, by applying the wit of our 'titans'.

Kanasu said...

The point of Cultural Studies is not to be liberated or to become enlightened. It is not to stop and take a breath and see where we have come. It is just about making meaning, continuously, and endlessly. The best way I can put it would be to say, "to live without Perception, because it is only perception that can and does deceive you.

I am glad that people have finally realised that it is not "boring" because, if at any point, Cultural Studies was found to be boring, then, that well, you haven't really done any Cultural Studies at all...

PS: I don't think I could've said it better than Mohan. Kudos.