Re: The CFP for Space & Culture

Beth W. Baldwin (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 20:12:44 -0400

First of all Ian, welcome to Rhetnet, and accept a heartfelt thanks for
agreeing to join what has been a lively discussion. I am proud to be a
part of a community like Rhetnet which values conversation so highly
and which is responsible enough to invite you here to speak. If you've
read the thread, you've noticed that the talk has been lively and that
it's touched off a number of tangents.

On Thu, 10 Oct 1996, Roderick, Ian wrote:

> 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
> sexuality,
> migrant and diasporic identities, virtual identities and virtual citizenship
> ."

That's correct, Ian. And the conversation evolved from a remark I made
in response which was made solely to this sentence and completely out
of the context of the rest of your call. Upon our decision to invite
you to join, many of us returned to the original post to read it in its

> 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

I don't think we're asking for a defence of theory, but are interested
in the language of the post. Of course, the two are interrelated.

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

I think that seems to be one possible interpretation. Again, as for
myself, I've seen far too many instances of stringing together 50 lb.
words in order to impress the academic community, intentially beffudle
those not in the "inner circle," or to make otherwise mundane topics
(if there are such) seem grandiose. I'm sure you have seen your share
as well and that you know it grows tiresome. I was the first who piped
in with remarks from a rather sardonic perspective (because I am, alas,
sardonic). This led to some list members wondering whether or not I'm
heading towards Rush-Limbaughism (which I am not) or pointing out to me
that my use of humor reveals in me a deep neurosis of some kind. As
to the latter, neurotics are at least interesting people! Beyond that,
the conversation has gone every which way.

> 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
> [not] detached from a 'real world out there.

My first intro to theory was pleasant because I introduced myself to
theory. Later, I took a grad seminar in theory taught by a young prof
who waded directly into (and remained into) meta-theory. Theories
about the theories. He assumed that we had read *what I refer to*
as primary texts. Truth was, were remained awash in confusion unless
we ourselves sought out the primary texts. Now, if you've read my posts
on this subject, you know I mean what the library means by primary
text and secondary text and that I don't mean worthwhile (or canonical)
vs. worth-less (or non-canonical).

> "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."

I agree with the ideas expressed in what you quote. Sometimes there is
more enactment, performing, embodying, and living, than debating and
contesting. The closeness with which we live with, are immersed in,
theory the more difficult I believe it is for us to be aware of it. You
may notice that on this list, we do a lot of enacting. The fact that we
enact in text makes it the enactment therefore "rationally visible" and
more subject to critique, exchange, contesting, and understanding. This
is precisely what has been happening. Thus, in many ways, this exchange
prompted by your call and which now includes your voice in reflection is a
text appropriate for CFP insofar as it is about language on practicle as
well as theoretical levels, is an example of everyday conversational
exchange among a community of scholars, and exists in a place -- a

> 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.

I revised the statement to read "there is no emperor under the very
grand clothes" -- to which I am sure you take equal exception. I do admit
that, taken out of context, the sentence seemed full of those 50 lb
word/abstractions used to express ideas that could be more easily
understood in simpler language. I speak only for myself.

> 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 agree with the first thought here, but I'm wondering how the language
used in your call will help you reach the end where theory meets practice
in the everyday lives of classrooms, shopping centers, and particularly
welfare programs. Do you think that those to whom you appeal with
the language of the now locally famous Annie question either *are*
those people or that their actions through writing will "trickle down."

> 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.

I guess I can understand this -- that you're not looking for applications,
even though you see how the everyday is grounded in theory. Could one
work on the frontiers of theory, linked organically to everyday life,
in a language which would include people definitely linked organically
to everyday life? This is not a rhetorical question. I'm interested
in how you feel about that.

> _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.

Do you include in "those people who helped produce it" only those who
belong to the community of researchers, or do you also include those
who are "researched." While scholarly researchers certainly have
everday lives and experiences, I would say that they are qualitatively
different than those of welfare recipients or high school students
or stay at home mothers or welders and farmers. Will there need to
be a "middle man" who interprets the work of S&C for those who can use

> 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.

This both can and cannot be the case (no clear distinction between
theory and practice). Of course, I suppose that one still operates from
complex theories even if one is not able to be conscious of the theories
at play. To help people, however, I think it must be important to help
them think critically about the theory.

> 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.

I appreciate the clarification -- that S&C is not going to hold the
everyday up to be examined in theoretical light, but that theory will
be held accountable to make connections to the everyday. It will be
interesting to see in what ways this will lead to the theoretical
being introduced back into the everyday.

Thank you for your thoughtful participation.


Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *