A deity called Elvis

International Journal of Cultural Studies - Cultural Values
October 8, 1999

Like the outbreak of a particularly virulent rash, cultural studies journals seem to be sprouting from nowhere of late. One suspects that this may be not entirely unconnected with next year's research assessment exercise.

As the arguably illegitimate offspring of English literature and the social sciences, cultural studies has always prided itself upon its steadfastly interdisciplinary nature, indeed the International Journal of Cultural Studies states in its first issue that it is "post-disciplinary", while Cultural Values pronounces itself to be "trans-disciplinary".

Yet these journals are both, to state the obvious, variations on a theme and quite often the divides between them seem to be arbitrary, or at the very least not entirely logical, perhaps appropriately enough in a time of ever-blurring boundaries and cultural fluidity. For example, International Journal of Cultural Studies offers a home to discussions on UK strategies for internet regulation and Hanif Kureishi novels - two themes that would surely qualify more accurately as "British cultural studies".

"Non-traditional" has also been a key watchword (or two) of the cultural studies canon, sometimes to the point that the subject appeared to be anti-traditional. Yet the fact that so many journals are now devoted to cultural studies is a sure sign of the very institutionalisation that it initially set itself up against. Despite any heroic self-images that these journals may have, mirroring that of their subject area, their adherence to the standard academic journal template is unstinting. Articles go at the front with book reviews shoved to the back. Both boast an international editorial board that on closer inspection turns out to be comprised of largely Anglo-Saxon academics.

Cultural Values succeeds in being the more geographically focused, consisting mostly of people from its base at the University of Lancaster. It is, however, a journal that is willing to take risks with its format. The second volume devotes a special issue to "time and value", which explores globalisation, and a themed "Cultural notes" section, which gives space to articles on cyber-matters written from different perspectives.

Oddly enough, despite its theoretical grounding in postwar continental philosophy and its longstanding popularity on United States campuses, the distinctly unglamorous setting of Birmingham is considered to be cultural studies' spiritual home. Richard Hoggart, first director of the university's Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), is interviewed in the first issue of International Journal of Cultural Studies as one of the subject's founding fathers. Unfortunately, the piece eschews theoretical developments, which many readers may find interesting, and instead revisits past internal politics and various vendettas of Birmingham vice-chancellors against the CCCS.

Hoggart does, however, memorably describe his involvement in a government quango to encourage reading. In this role he proposed that the Spice Girls, as a

significant contemporary cultural phenomenon, were worthy of serious study. Needless to say, this daring suggestion provoked baffled reactions all round. "I guess they thought that a little academic," Hoggart remarks.

Cultural studies has, of course, come in for more flak than most academic subjects. There is no shortage here of material guaranteed to have the subject's detractors hyperventilating, with articles such as "Is Elvis a god?", "Culture without society" and various analyses of postmodernism.

Yet recent years have seen something of a "normalisation" of the cultural-studies approach, with a convergence of high and low culture and media scrutiny from within the industry itself and from academia. As a result of the rise and rise of both cultural studies and media literacy, we have seen the spread of terms like "postmodern", "moral panic" and even "hegemony" into everyday media discourse.

As the appearance of these and other titles (such as the European Journal of Cultural Studies ) testifies, the fin-de-siècle trend towards media multiplication - the ever-proliferating number of websites, news-stand magazines and television channels - applies just as much to cultural-studies journals as to the popular cultural phenomena documented in them. One is inclined to welcome the establishment of these two titles, but while they promise much, what they deliver in the months and years to come will be the real test.

Rupa Huq researches youth culture and social exclusion at the post-16 studies unit of the education faculty, University of Manchester.

International Journal of Cultural Studies: (three times a year)

Editor - John Hartley
ISBN - ISSN 1367 8779
Publisher - Sage
Price - £1.00 (institutions), £36.00 (individuals)
Pages - -

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