Friday, December 10, 2010

The cultural studies – political economy debate

From its early stages cultural studies were under criticism from within the Marxist oriented agenda. This criticism asserted that cultural studies' preoccupation with representations, identities and so forth came at the expanse of addressing the economic structures of society and culture.

The debate heated up over a series of articles published in 1995 in Critical Studies in Mass Communication between Nicholas Garnham and Graham Murdock from the political economy side and Lawrence Grossberg and James Carey on the side of cultural studies.

The first shot was fired by Garnham in his "Political Economy and Cultural Studies: Reconciliation or Divorce?" where he accused the Birmingham School and their predecessors in favoring discussions of ethnicity and gender in favor of examining the more essential matter of economic factors which determine social stratification. Garnham did not argue that these issues were not important, but that they must be preceded by discussion of the economic aspects of culture. Symbolizing, signifying and representation are meaningless, he argued, if the material conditions stay the same.

Grossberg then commented by arguing that it is wrong to claim that cultural studies has disengaged itself from pursuing the economical power structures which underlie the cultural industry, referring to the work of scholars like Dorothy Hobson, Mike Apple, Cameron McCarthy and even Pierre Bourdieu which examined the relations of cultural production to social reproduction.

James Carey criticized another aspect of the political economy theory. He claimed that economical models aspire to absolutism which does not amount to the time-and-place intimacy of the work of cultural studies which do not simply deduce the nature of specific societies from abstract models.

Graham Murdock, from the side of the political economy, disagreed with Carey claiming that specific research like the one produced by cultural studies avoids discussing the essential political questions.
Garnham signed off the debate by again saying that the economical factor should precede any discursive discussion and that the work of the expert should have prominence over the wisdom of the common man so hailed by cultural studies. 

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