Cultural Studies as ‘Psycho-babble’. Post-LitCrit, methodology and dynamic justice

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Methodology, policy and the turn to post-LitCrit, are both strengths and weaknesses in cultural studies. As strengths, they have freed the field from the tyranny of quantitative methods and a deterministic positivism; but they are simultaneously weaknesses, in that cultural studies now exhibits an ambiguous relation to the ‘material’–to contexts. Texts are disarticulated from contexts in the post-LitCrit ‘tradition’. The consequences of inapplicable appropriations of cultural studies are now seen in regressive applications supposedly couched within the democratising imperative that was once the raison d'etre of the field. This study examines the consequences of the loss of the ‘material’ from certain inflections of cultural studies. Reports of the South African Human Rights Commission into Racism and the Media constitutes my case study. Using the concept of dynamic justice, I propose a return to context based on evaluative criteria rooted in the human condition. Instead of ‘Texts’, or even ‘class consciousness’, I argue that the principal contextual criteria for cultural studies research could be based on the socio-political value ideas of Freedom and Life Chances. [T]ensions and contradictions abound; sophistry has replaced rigour in many an instance and dilettantism parades as expertise and informed judgement. John Williams (1999) on intellectuals in the ‘new’ South Africa. I'm not racist, I only hate whites, not blacks Ma Maloi, rejecting her daughter-in-law's allegations about her racism against their white neighbours. Going Up, sitcom, Episode 24, South African Broadcasting Corporation. Though cultural studies emerged from an impeccable lineage of both theoretical critique and empirical immersion, some post-1990 variants reflect an ambiguous relationship with empirical methodology, factual accuracy and the material. Media studies exhibits an often strained relationship with content analysis and numerical methods (Ruddock 1998). Cultural policy studies tend to forget the dialectic which keeps critique alive in its delicate relationship with state and funding agencies (Tomaselli and Shepperson 1996). Originally concerned with the study of power relations and democratisation, cultural studies has been on occasion over the past decade definitionally reduced merely to a form of ‘writerly expression’ (Willoughby 1991). Conversely, it has been accused of becoming a discourse of pseudo-liberation (McChesney 1996), and, during the struggle against apartheid, of being the vanguard of new fascisms (Edgecomb 1984). For some, cultural studies is the central disorganising principal in journalism education (Windschuttle 1998). The relationship between cultural studies, which emphasises the ‘popular’, and the propositions of human rights movements, is also unclear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-57
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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