Friday, December 10, 2010

"Cultural Studies Vs. Political Economy: Is Anybody Else Bored with this Debate?" by Lawrence Grossberg – review and summary

Lawrence Grossberg's  "Cultural Studies  Vs. Political Economy: Is Anybody Else Bored with this Debate?" (1995) is a reply to Nicholas Garnham' attack on cultural studies in his "Political Economy and Cultural Studies: Reconciliation or Divorce?" article which ensued the cultural studies Vs political economy debate over the pages of Critical Studies in Mass Communication. Grossberg believes that one of the key points of disagreement between cultural studies and political economy is the weight the two approaches ascribe the economy as a determining factor of social formations. Grossbergs argues against the political economy reductionist approach which sees capitalism as a universal, unvaried structure with no variations in time and place.

Grossberg starts out by claiming that there is nothing novel about Garnham's criticism of cultural studies, and that this criticism arises from a misunderstanding of the relationship between cultural studies and political economy. Grossberg argues that cultural studies did not reject political economy, just the manner in which some political economists tended to their subject matter. On the other hand Grossberg agrees that cultural studies at times tended to over-celebrate culture while paying less warranted attention to the larger economic contexts.

 Political economy's main problem, in the eyes cultural studies according to Grossberg, is it’s ahistorical and universal perceptions which halt exactly at the point in which cultural studies begin their articulation of specific time and place societies. Grossbeg also claims that Garnham does to cultural studies what political economy does to society, that is reduce it from a complex to a black-and-white nature. Another aspect of Garnham's attack which Grossberg notes is his "critique by absence", that is criticizing a position for what it does not do or say. But this is also misplace for there has been significant work done in cultural studies regarding cultural production, reproduction and institutions, and not just consumption.

Grossberg continues to wonder what is the distinction, if there is any, between popular culture and dominant culture in the context of capitalism. He claims that cultural studies are engaged with people's experience, and the way to comply with and/or resist their subordination, an engagement which is crucial if they are ever to overthrow these power structures that are, admittedly, largely created by what political economy researches but is also sustained and reproduced by what cultural studies are concerned with.