This is the second session of J. Beverley’s Masterclass organised by the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS) during Birkbeck’s Arts Week, May 2017. John Beverley is Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh.
That the conjunction of postcolonial struggle and structuralism in the 1960s produces a kind of earthquake in academic knowledge and institutions, particularly in the domain of what the French call the human sciences. The shock effect of that earthquake may be named for sake of convenience "theory," and the disciplinary outcome of theory “studies" (cultural, postcolonial, queer, women's, Africana, Atlantic, global, global Pacific, etc.). The core issue is the relation of culture and politics, or to use Raymond Williams' term "cultural materialism". As the revolutionary vanguardist political formations of the 1960s, epitomized by the armed struggle in Latin America, collapse or are defeated, theory and studies nourish and in turn are nourished by new forms of politics, based on the principle of multicultural hegemonic articulation. One compelling form of this possibility are the new governments of the so-called Pink Tide in that emerged in Latin America in the first decade of the new century, which incorporated into their strategy elements of both poststructuralist and postcolonial thinking.
However, the tremors of the earthquake of "theory" have subsided. The politics of theory are resisted from both the right--in the form of a kind of "left neo-conservatism"-- and the left--in the form of deconstructive or libertarian ultraleftism. New theories of cultural agency emerge, often with a Deleuzian inspiration or provenance. (e.g. Hardt and Negri on the "multitude," "affect" theory. "posthegemony") and new, less overtly political forms of "studies" (media, visual culture, digital humanities, neo-philology etc., etc.). In this second session, we will look at two of the major products of the politics of theory in the academy. In the 1980s and 1990s, Cultural Studies and Subaltern Studies (a subset of postcolonial studies). We will see that both involve a critique of academic knowledge from the position of "excluded," and the basis for a new kind of politics of the left, based in the social movements. However, both in turn are re-institutionalized in the academy, in a kind of paradoxically syntonic coincidence with neoliberal globalization (especially the case in cultural studies).
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