The CFP for Space & Culture

Roderick, Ian (roderick@PATHCOM.COM)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 13:58:28 -0500


I thought I would make myself present having received Nick Carbone's
invitation and read the responses to our CFP on this list. Besides, it has
been a while since anyone has called me chicken sh*t.;) I am sorry I didn't
join in right away but it would seem that the threads that have been spawned
are not going to go cold soon.

I believe the catalyst for discussion was Annie Armentrout's response to our
choice of registers. She cites in particular, the following sentence from
our call:

"We encourage the application of contemporary theoretical debates in
cultural studies, discourse analysis, and post-colonialism to research on
migrant and diasporic identities, virtual identities and virtual citizenship

I am not sure exactly what is to be expected of me here. I find it difficult
to imagine anyone who would say "Yes, I'll stand up and right the definitive
defence of theory." I suppose the best route to take will be to respond to
the criticism levelled at our call for papers and not to so-called
theoretical language (and post modernism) as a whole. Furthermore, I will
not be speaking for my co-editors, who are presently unable to join this
discussion, but I can present my understanding of our call for papers intent

The initial question being posed seems, to me, to be "Are these people just
stringing us another line of bullsh*t?"

I recall my first introductions to "Theory" were less than pleasant ones and
I always take exception to the shaming practices which are sometimes used to
conquer the seminar room. Nevertheless, I obvious do believe there is a
place for theoretically self-conscious research and that theory is somehow
detached from a 'real world out there'. Terry Threadgold, who was my
doctoral supervisor, writes in a plenary paper entitled "Poststructuralist
Theory and the Teaching of English" ([Australian] English Teachers'
Association Conference, 1992):

"My point here is that in current educational practice, theory of all, or
any kind, is left to circulate in this way, as social practice, like noise
in the system, destabilizing it, producing unpredictable and _untheorized_
results. Everyone, from the policy makers to the teachers to the students in
the classrooms, is immersed in it, positioned and constructed by it, with
different, partial, competing and more or less explicit awareness and
understandings of that positioning. Everyone enacts it, performs it,
embodies it, debates it, contests it, as social practice, on a daily basis
in the ways in which they read and write, speak and listen, see and look,
behave and live."

When I am told that "the Emperor ain't wearing no clothes!" I take it that
the charge is that there is no substance to our proposal and that we have
just strung together a group of trendy but empty signifiers. And to this I
take exception. The theoretical positions we are trying to host through
_Culture & Space_ do have consequences for people and their everyday lives
and by trying to ground theory in the problems of everyday life, I believe
we can discourage that mode of theoretical production which sees it as an
end unto itself. It is precisely that sort of orientation to theory, seen as
distinguished from practice, which turns it into the capital to be hoarded
and used to oppress others (in the classroom, in the shopping centre, in
welfare programs, and so on).

I understand my use of cultural and social semiotic theory, not to be an end
in itself but rather as part of a political practice which seeks to produce
new social actors-subjects and new genres. In other words, theory for me, is
simply part of the struggle to find new ways of being-in-the-world and being
-with-others. _Space & Culture_ recognizes that this process of sociability
is not exclusive to the academe but takes place everywhere and perhaps most
inventively in those places which have been historically marginal to proper
sites of politics (the state) and knowledge (the academy). Our sentence "We
are not seeking applications of theory but rather work on the frontiers of
theoretical development which nonetheless retains an organic link to
everyday life and its positionality within its culture of origin" is
intended to make this explicit.

_Culture & Space_ is not a program for colonizing the lives of others as one
poster suggested. Indeed, like any other specialized journal, _Space &
Culture_ is written by a for a particular community of researchers. This is
not to say that the knowledge produced there is the exclusive property of
those whom it addresses. If the work being discussed in _Space & Culture_ is
to maintain its organic links then it has to be used and used for those
people who helped produce it.

I rather like in a "perverse" way Beth W. Baldwin's comment there is no
emperor only I don't see it as a problem. I understand knowledge (and this
includes theory) to be something that is produced collectively though often
without concern for of the consent of many of its producers. The politics of
_Space & Culture_ as I understand it, is to do as Foucault suggested, and
cut the head off the king. This means that there is no centre of knowledge
and there is to be no clear distinction between theory and practice. As I
see it, _Space & Culture_ is *not* going to hold the everyday up to the
theoretical light in order to examine it more effectively. A forum such as
ours should make theoretical work accountable to the everyday as well as
provide ways for the theoretical to be introduced to the everyday in new and
innovative ways.