Re: The CFP for Space & Culture

Roderick, Ian (roderick@PATHCOM.COM)
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 20:44:50 -0500

-- [ From: Roderick, Ian * EMC.Ver #2.5.02 ] --

> From: Beth W. Baldwin \ Internet: (
> To: Rhetnt-l Rhetnet \ Internet: (rhetnt-l@mizzou1.missouri.

Hello Beth,

> 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
> of tangents.

Thank you very much for your welcoming to Rhetnet. I can see it is a very
lively list from the size of my email in folder this afternoon. I apologize
in advance to the Rhetnet members for the time it will take me to respond to
your posts.

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

> 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 entirety.

Well I'm glad it got a fair reading and I am pleased it was able to touch
off as much debate as it has. I think, all practicalities aside, this
outcome has been as satisfying as a flurry of submissions (though we are
doing well on that front too). Like any academic publication, the plan is to
nurture debate and discussion and there is no reason why it has to be bound
by the cover of the journal.

> > I am not sure exactly what is to be expected of me here. I find it
> > to imagine anyone who would say "Yes, I'll stand up and right the
> > defence of theory." I suppose the best route to take will be to respond
> > the criticism levelled at our call for papers and not to so-called
> > theoretical language (and post modernism) as a whole. Furthermore, I
> > 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
> I don't think we're asking for a defence of theory, but are interested in
> language of the post. Of course, the two are interrelated.

Yes this is very true. I think more than anything, given my current
commitments I wanted to shy away from a defence of postmodernism. For one
thing, I wouldn't want to find myself in the position of trying to defend
*it* since there really is no one thing called postmodern theory. My
position is often a not so very original one of ambivalence. I see
postmodernism as more of a terrain upon which a wide variety of debates and
positions are being mulled over, worked through, and often abandoned. The
contentious issue of identity is perhaps an ideal example. Also, my training
lies somewhere between the social sciences and the humanities (I have a b.a.
in sociology, an m.a. in in anthropology and an about to be completed ph.d.
in English) and my take on postmodernity is sometimes very different from
what is being discussed here.

> > The initial question being posed seems, to me, to be "Are these people
> > stringing us another line of bullsh*t?"
> I think that seems to be one possible interpretation. Again, as for
> I've seen far too many instances of stringing together 50 lb. words in
order to
> impress the academic community, intentionally beffudle those not in the
> 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
> 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
> people! Beyond that, the conversation has gone every which way.

Don't worry, I can appreciate the sardonic. For some reason or another, my
net presence is rarely sardonic though "in the flesh" I am often told I am
sardonic if not down right negative.

I think the Limbaugh criticism had to do with what I also took to be a
certain claim to populism in your post which relies upon claims to a
knowable class called "the people". Re-reading your post I can see that the
criticism is not simply making reference to 'the volk' but rather the
problems and consequences of representing 'others'. And I will respond to
this further down where you raise the issue again in terms of language and

> My first intro to theory was pleasant because I introduced myself to
> 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
> 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
> texts. Now, if you've read my posts on this subject, you know I mean what
> library means by primary text and secondary text and that I don't mean
> worthwhile (or canonical) vs. worth-less (or non-canonical).

Yes but I am still puzzled as to how Lyotard is a secondary source? Should
Foucault be a secondary source to Nietzsche and Heidegger, the stoics, and
Weber? Deleuze and Guattari could also be considered a secondary source to
Artuad among others. Sorry if I am continuing to misrepresent your position,
I really have not teased out the full discussion of primary vs secondary
that has happened here.

> > "My point here is that in current educational practice, theory of all,
> > any kind, is left to circulate in this way, as social practice, like
> > in the system, destabilizing it, producing unpredictable and
> > results. Everyone, from the policy makers to the teachers to the
students in
> > the classrooms, is immersed in it, positioned and constructed by it,
> > 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
> > 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
> 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
> this list, we do a lot of enacting. The fact that we enact in text makes
> 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
> now includes your voice in reflection is a text appropriate for CFP
insofar as
> it is about language on practical as well as theoretical levels, is an
> of everyday conversational exchange among a community of scholars, and
> in a place -- a cyber-place.

Well despite the problems associated with Bourdieu's use of the concept of
habitus, I am still trying to extend his notions of a theory of practice or
practice theory. I think the while question of elites and language is quite
well treated in his book _Language and Symbolic Power_.

> > When I am told that "the Emperor ain't wearing no clothes!" I take it
> > the charge is that there is no substance to our proposal and that we
> > just strung together a group of trendy but empty signifiers. And to this
> > 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
> used to express ideas that could be more easily understood in simpler
> I speak only for myself.

Well I only take exception to the quality you ascribe to the clothes ;)

I am not too keen on notions of 'simpler' or plain language. To position my
self further, I also make occasional use of Hallidayan systemic-functional
linguistics and I think it is dangerously misleading to deem any register
'simpler' and more straight forward. I think this entails thinking of
language as a conduit for piping through essences of meaning which are
otherwise unaffected by how they are expressed. I prefer to think of all
genres and registers as being inherently constitutive and that there is no
such thing as straight forward and transparent language.

> > The theoretical positions we are trying to host through
> > _Culture & Space_ do have consequences for people and their everyday
> > and by trying to ground theory in the problems of everyday life, I
> > we can discourage that mode of theoretical production which sees it as
> > 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
> > 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
> now locally famous Annie question either *are* those people or that their
> actions through writing will "trickle down."

This is always going to be a difficult area and I do not think there is an
easy solution to the problem (as the 'crisis' in anthropology clearly
attests). I think that as best as I can presently work it out, part of the
solution rests upon acknowledging how knowledge is produced and what is then
done with that knowledge. Who is doing the 'real' work of knowledge
production and who is profiting from that knowledge and how? The project of
_Space & Culture_ is not about translating local dialects into metropolitan
discourses. Indeed, I believe most of us would agree that there is no need
for translation. The real task is all about linking and allying academic
modes of intellectual production with the production and consumption of
disqualified subjectivities and knowledges.

Disciplinary knowledge is not, nor has it ever been, a top-down process (all
faults aside, Baudrillard's discussion of the seduction of political space
in _Seduction_ is worth reflecting upon). The whole point of Foucault's
genealogies is to show how forms of oppression and subordination are never
simply arrived at through the instrumental actions of one ambitious class.
If the humanities and social sciences are social technologies, by this I
mean Foucauldian notion of a set of practices for the production of subjects
(be they insane, imprisoned, sexual, gendered or whatever), then I believe
that these technologies are movable. To this end, as someone seeking to
become a practitioner in social research, I would not to want to throw out
the proverbial baby with the bath water but rather think about how these
technologies can be occupied to create new subjects. The point is not to
remake 'the people' into a revolutionary class nor is it to position oneself
as being in possession of an exclusive voluntary 'calling'. This would just
be another form of extra-local subjugation which seeks to disarticulate
social groupings from their particular and local context into universal
codifications. Instead, and here I find Foucault's distinction between
universal and specific intellectuals extremely useful, the plan should be to
make oneself subject to the delinquent and disparaged knowledges which have
otherwise been on the margins of the administration and rationalization of
the social.

In terms of your questioning whether our journal is of any use to those
outside of our own disciplining, I think this also touches upon the issue of
addressivity which is raised in another post to which I plan to respond. I
would also venture to suggest that the possibility of democracy does not
rest upon all people becoming technicians of every social technology. I
think it would be the height of arrogance if I were to presume that one has
to be a semiotician to be a 'competent' and even a critical reader of films.
Indeed many film scholars let alone filmgoers are not semioticians.
Nevertheless, there is room for such readings and indeed such readings as
those of Teresa de Lauretis do have an impact upon film practices (both
reading and production) regardless as to whether or not the practitioners
actually have any knowledge of the specific texts of de Lauretis et al. Our
journal is intended to address a particular group of cultural practitioners
who would be writing not solely for _Space & Culture_ but for other venues
and social spheres as well. Indeed the kinds of research which I want _Space
& Culture_ to highlight will not end with a refereed publication.

> > I understand my use of cultural and social semiotic theory, not to be an
> > in itself but rather as part of a political practice which seeks to
> > 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
> > -with-others. _Space & Culture_ recognizes that this process of
> > is not exclusive to the academe but takes place everywhere and perhaps
> > inventively in those places which have been historically marginal to
> > sites of politics (the state) and knowledge (the academy). Our sentence
> > are not seeking applications of theory but rather work on the frontiers
> > 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,
> though you see how the everyday is grounded in theory. Could one work on
> frontiers of theory, linked organically to everyday life, in a language
> would include people definitely linked organically to everyday life? This
> not a rhetorical question. I'm interested in how you feel about that.

I think this is entirely possible, in as much as I have already claimed that
all theory is lived and enacted through the bodies of social actors. Part of
what cultural studies does (or should do) is try to find ways to give
expression to these formations of knowledge/practice that does not deny them
their own logic and particularities. At the same time, it must be recognized
that there will be different audiences and different venues for articulating
these knowledge-practices and, to borrow from Bakhtin, to be an accomplished
polyglot one must be able to move the dialogue in appropriate ways to a
variety of spaces.

What I think is at stake is a mode of truth telling or parrhesia. Parrhesia
is a risky business, there is always the danger that your news will be
received badly and you will lose your head. In one of his later essays,
Foucault identifies four modes of saying the truth it is the parrhesiast
whom he privileges. This is because the parrhesiast tells a truth which is
personal and as such she is subject to the judgment of others.

> > _Culture & Space_ is not a program for colonizing the lives of others as
> > poster suggested. Indeed, like any other specialized journal, _Space &
> > Culture_ is written by a for a particular community of researchers. This
> > not to say that the knowledge produced there is the exclusive property
> > 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
> experiences, I would say that they are qualitatively different than those
> welfare recipients or high school students or stay at home mothers or
> and farmers. Will there need to be a "middle man" who interprets the work
> S&C for those who can use it?

I definitely meant the later. I would hope that if S&C is to maintain the
organic links we propose, then there is no need for a middle person any more
than _S&C_ could be that middle person. I never thought the 'midwife of
culture' scenario was much a solution to anthropology's ethnography problems
and I don't see it as much a solution for preserving the political within
cultural studies.

> > 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
> > includes theory) to be something that is produced collectively though
> > 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,
> > cut the head off the king. This means that there is no centre of
> > 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
> practice). Of course, I suppose that one still operates from complex
> 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
> about the theory.

Certainly, but reflexivity does not depend upon a "pedagogy of the
oppressed" either. In my experience, people are remarkably critical of their
encounters with bureaucratic forms of power and suppression.

> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> to make connections to the everyday. It will be interesting to see in
> ways this will lead to the theoretical being introduced back into the
> Thank you for your thoughtful participation.

Happy to oblige. It would be rather pointless to my own sense of politics if
I were to post something for others to read without also making myself
accountable to their readings.