Sunday, September 2, 2007

Johnson thoughts


This is not a discussion lead: I just like to jot down questions and ideas while they're still fresh, and what better way to get some practice with the blog?

I was engaged by Johnson's discussion of how fragmented--perhaps multidisciplinary is a better term--cultural studies is. His suggestion, that the various disciplinary components of cultural studies should not be compressed into an aggregate, is fascinating to me; nearly all other academic reading I've done suggests otherwise, that a rigid and well-articulated means of inquiry should. . .no, must be employed. In Johnson, it seems less about forming an unbending, formal approach, and more about redefining and repositioning the different components and how they work together. It struck me that this is very similar to the type of inquiry cultural studies, at least to some degree, undertakes: an investigation of how different individuals and groups interact and grapple for power or position in their environments.

The question Johnsons poses at the outset of the piece also caught my eye: "should cultural studies aspire to be an academic disciplne" (75). For me, it raised the question of disciplinary validity. Historically, composition and rhetoric struggled to escape the stigma of a "soft science" until it was legitimized in the eyes of critics through theory-building and research (quantitative and otherwise). The means of inquiry Johnson presents is fascinating to me and clearly valuable, but I wonder if its openness and versatitlity would incite resistance to it being considered a discipline all its own.

That's all for now,


Mike said...

Bill -- This looks like a good enough discussion lead to me. This is a nice summary. I'm struggling to get through the article--my brain hasn't switched back to academic mode--so your summary really helps. Much appreciated. - Mike

tom peele said...

Like Mike, I think this serves as a good discussion lead. I didn't get so much the sense that Johnson was arguing against CS being compressed into an aggregate as he thought, as you say, that the various approaches to the study of culture should be more inclusive. Each approach--say, production studies--should not forget the other approaches--say, reception studies.

You're right, though, about how he absolutely refuses to make the claim that any one way is right. I like your point that Johnson, in this article, seems to be doing the very thing that he's advocating in cultural studies itself -- examining his subject from a wide variety of perspectives.

Your point about disciplinarity is also well-taken, but this article was published in 83. Cultural studies is certainly a recognized discipline in this country, Britain, and Australia, with journals and publications and Ph.D. programs. I wonder how much of that anti-disciplinary stance has lasted. I also wonder about another set of dangers associated with anti-disciplinarianism: if those in the discipline don't tell you what that discipline is, doesn't that leave you open to the risk that someone outside the discipline (dept. chair, dean, provost) will?

Bill said...

Thanks for taking on the anti-disciplinary idea: it's just the time period and the manner in which the piece was written that got me thinking along the lines of academic disciplines and legitimacy.

Your final comment is well taken: it sparks the thought that information about a discipline from its members is likely more valuable than potentially harmful misinformation from someone outside that field.