Radical media, politics and culture.

Anonymous, "Policing the Crisis in Cultural Studies"

Les C. Kressi writes:

"Double Crossing Back"
A Review Essay of the 2004 Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference


Part One: Send in the Spies?

Where is cultural studies?

Well it seemed like it was hiding in public at the headlining events of Crossroads. The two keynote speeches prompted a combined total of three questions. A star-studded plenary talk on the last day began almost twenty minutes late. "Why?" you may ask — was someone missing? were there technological problems? did someone forget their materials? None of the above. The speakers and the panel chair were standing and breezily chatting, while gazing at the audience. It was obvious, as one audience member observed, that they were disappointed with the turnout and were turning to the standard rock concert delay technique. The plenary was indeed one of the best moments of the entire conference, with provocative, engaging, and bold ideas. All the more reason it was baffling that Q&A almost didn't happen, as the silence went for so long the session almost closed. Three questions did eventually emerge, one of which came out of "friendship" from an audience member seeking to give a speaker a chance to talk. The paucity of questions, as well as the timidity of dialogue throughout the conference, makes one want to ask "Dude where's my conflict?"Contestation and challenging conventional wisdom have been indispensable to cultural studies conferences, as evidenced in the heated discussions recorded in the Cultural Studies Bible (the document of the famous 1990 University of Illinois conference). Small wonder then that many expected to find this tradition of dissonance in the Crossroads panel devoted to remembering that landmark conference. The Revisiting 1990 panel (scheduled on the last day as one of the regular sessions) could have been a focal point for a discussion of crossroads past and present. Instead the panel was a motley bag of late arrivals, substitutions, and panelists who weren't even at the original conference. Each presenter gave strong testimony, either to what went on then or what ought to be done in the future. But one wonders what detour we're on now when the most compelling moment of the panel was a mea culpa. It came when one panelist apologized for not including a graduate student as the fourth editor of the CS Bible, and then the first audience question was a public expression of gratitude for this public act of contrition. While certainly an important affective event for the handful of people in attendance who knew the background story, it became emblematic of the kind of links across Crossroads.

To mark the panel with this sentiment, instead of the contentious and lively banter that was also 1990, is a sure sign there are too many ghosts on the prairie. In two years, wherever the new Crossroads is laid, will cultural studies let go of its own hauntology and call upon other forces of the crossroads as a way of becoming-world again?

Then again we may be asking too much from the public and visible moments of the conference. Maybe cultural studies is not to be found in the ever-increasing hierarchical grades of public gatherings. As Paul Rabinow argued years ago about the "micropractices of the academy" (like corridor talk and gossip), perhaps Crossroads flourished in the murmurings below the radar (and out of mic range). In the informal discussions after panels, in the conference building's large cafe area, in the late nights expended at large loft parties, restaurants, and sundry pubs: these are the unrecognized yet crucial sites of cultural studies. It is quite possible that in participants' return trips, in reminiscences, and in reports home we will see the true effects of Crossroads.
But there is another question regarding the "where" of cultural studies. Where might it be found? That is, in one sense, a where (what) is our object of study, our project, that which we want to elucidate or engage and, secondly, where might we find cultural studies being done (and maybe a third question of when ). On what terrain or plateau might we look?ot dig? From many accounts the "where" is a bit of a worn out place. Someplace we've certainly been before and someplace from which bombs have been lofted our direction for years. It's the economy stupid. In this conjuncture junction, where the function is to hook up logics, and peoples, and products, and politics, we're not clear how it is that this time, via an understanding of the new conjuncture, cultural studies will be able to make a difference in a way that it hasn't in the past.

One resurrected past of the Crossroads was Stuart Hall's proclamation to do Sociology better than the sociologists, but this time with a new inflection. We were asked to understand this new conjuncture by doing economics better than the economists and by doing political science better than the political scientists. This is an interesting claim worthy of investigation. One could ask, why originally go to sociology versus, say, anthropology? Don't we both do culture? Yet we have a suspicion that, even with all of its overly empirical and often normalizing categories, its belief in society as being able to be equilibrated, and its often too comfy relationship with the state, sociology still had something that anthropology lacked: a commitment in some fashion to not only understand the social, but to make it better. Now we are in NO WAY defending the history or current status of sociology as a project, but we are in SOME WAY recognizing an impulse that is grounded in the social and a commitment to making that social work, not better, but more equitably.

Economics, especially as it is practiced in United States universities, primarily works to not only understand capital, but to make capital work better; to maximize efficiencies and profits, to increase flows, reduce labor costs, shift legal responsibilities, and the only caveat to making the world a better place is through a belief that capital is the engine that will power it forward to progress. Political science, again as practiced in the United States where the sub-field political theory is nearly-extinct, has been dedicated for years to an understanding of political policy via statistical analysis, very often of an economic sort. In this field the goal is to make the state operate more effectively, domestically and geopolitically. Clearly, doing economics better than economists and doing political science better than political scientists must mean something different than this. Obviously our goal cannot be to make the state and capital work more efficiently. But what might such a renewed investment in economics and political science look like? What worries us is that this sounds like an impulse toward grand mapping, specifically of this new conjuncture in order to (long pause) unveil its evil nature for the world populace to finally see, prove once again how strong a hold it has on our lives? Certainly great work in cultural studies has been highly invested in understanding specific workings of capital in specific contexts for specific political purposes. And this is not the work we are anxious about. However, if indeed the grand map is the direction cultural studies is heading, we are concerned for at least a few reasons.

One of the dangers of being that kind of economist is the very force having the most to gain from a clearer understanding of its operation is capital. We see this happening all the time. Why give conceptual tools to the enemy that they may not possess? Instead our investment, in so far as the economy is concerned, is not with understanding all of its grand schemes, but rather its fissures, breakdowns, and points of weakness, as well as forms of active contestation to it, differential economies not based on capital, and forms of affect that produce disdain for capital and love of something else. This is the economics we call for, an economics of creative dissidence. Should we not be looking to where capital is weakest and its enemies strongest to better understand, learn new tactics from, and build alliances with these forms? We join in the new collective utterances that point to capital and proclaim along with revamped Leninist game show host Anne Robinson: "YOU are the Weakest Link!"

The second danger is speed or what we might call "conjuncture and the too-long-and-winding road." How fast is capital? Is this not one of its most powerful features? Do we have time to engage in the type of project it would take to fully map this new conjuncture? Is there a sheet of paper large enough to draw that map? It may simply take too much time to produce such a grandly detailed mapping. It may be too late to do anything about a conjuncture by the time it ever is fully mapped. When we stand back with pride looking upon the grandeur of our work, is there any guarantee we wouldn? be facing Conjuncture 7.2 with a map for version 2.7? (For a statement regarding how our publishing machinery disarms our work see the Appendix.)

Rather, might not we look to the ruptures in the conjuncture not only to understand the conjuncture as Foucault suggests, but equally as important, to locate the points of its weakness? Understanding a process and understanding how to alter, redirect, prevent, or stop it may be two very different things. We know cultural studies is a land of no guarantees, but how about at least knowing the odds are against us and finding out who else is in the race? Maybe we'd rather place our bets on the underdog and at least have a shot at winning big. More importantly, the job is not to know capital, but to stop, resist, or newly engage with it on terms amenable to the goals of equality and creativity. No-ing capital is not the same as knowing capital. If conjunctures are composed of lines of flight as well as capital's maneuvers, then cultural studies, in addition to patiently working on capital's cartography, must take on the speed of flight.

Thirdly, there are times when a partial map, or what we call directions are more useful than a full-blown topographical gazetteer. We need directions adequate to the job we're trying to accomplish. If we know where we want to go, why not ask those who have traveled the path? There are times when the points of recognition are not cognition, but affect; when the directions from place to place cannot be known, but must be felt, intuited, guided, directed. In other cases there are short cuts, not known by the agents of striation, but only those who work the contours of the land differently, resisting the obvious route for fear of capture and love of speed. This may take us to a place where the streets have no name, a place we can't know from above, a place unmarked by any map. The grand map on the other hand, by its nature, is from a very specific perspective and, even for all its detail, always still an imperfect representation of the real. From whose perspective? From that of God? As if we also could look down, furrowing our brows, tugging at our beards (sic), declaring, "I see all. My work is done." Is it not possible to get lost not in a detour through theory, but in the dictates and desires of absolute empiricism? Is it possible to fall in love with the process of mapping and lose sight of that for which it is meant to be used? Will this Will to Map get us (you-k)no(w)-where; unfashionably late to boot?
Another question of where, is where exactly are cultural studies practitioners, the "foot soldiers" so to speak, waging battle? There was much talk at Crossroads of the grand battles taking place in provost? offices and in the war rooms of departmental meeting houses; struggles over turf, tenure tracks, and tribal affiliations. And these are monumental battles actuated to behead. But there are many other battles, skirmishes you might say, taking place everywhere else. Some are being fought in the streets, some in chat rooms, some in clandestine meetings of malcontents and disenfranchised. (More on these "wheres" later.) Some even take place in lowlier halls of academe, not in ivory towers but in the off-white modernist outcroppings of second-tier schools, where tenure tracks are not the issue, but tenure itself. In these wrong-side-of-the-tenure-track battles the concern about how to conduct cultural studies is whether it can be conducted at all. For those soldiers, the battle lines look very different. They are often fought alone against forces that the generals sometimes no longer recognize. Lines in the sand hem untenured scholars in, they don't simply provoke indignation. And these are battle lines that don't look nearly as grim as those being waged in community colleges and non-tenuring institutions. Nor does it look as grim as it does for those for whom each semester is an adjuncted crapshoot. And then there are, and hopefully always will be, invested graduate students, hoping for the chance to even wage battle, even though they may be the least protected of all. It must be remembered the morale of the foot soldier is just as important as the strategies of generals.

One indicator of forgetting where these battles are being fought was an oft-repeated discussion which we'll call, "Minding Your T's and t's." These discussions regarded what was most often referred to as "little t truth" and "Big T Truth." To us this is a debate that is just as much about where we (cultural studies practitioners) have come from as it is an ontological and epistemological fact finding mission. It is also a contextually specific question regarding the where any one of us may practice Cultural Studies. On the one hand we have strains and scholars emerged from the social sciences and engaged against the forces of empiricism for the past forty-some years. For them, cultural studies allowed for an inclusive and politically engaged approach to their objects of study, which had previously discounted the experiences and perspectives of the researcher, most specifically those of gender, race, class, place, and sexuality. Social science was to be objective and so therefore were its practitioners. Coming from this strain of scholarship, arguments over truth are clear-cut, "Big T truth" equals scientific empiricism and "little t truth" equals the realization that understanding is experiential and perspectival. The "Big T Truth" supporters in Cultural Studies would appear not to come from this social scientific empiricism, but rather from a response against the kind of textualism that flourished in overly Lit-Crit forms of Cultural Studies during what we might now call the postmodern period. This empiricism is contextual and disciplinary and fights against the endless state of deferral that was both empowering and disempowering at the same time. Through a particular reading of Deleuze and Foucault that claims a new type of empiricism, this differently post-structural logic acknowledges the truth effects of power/knowledge and the limits of deferral. Our investment is not in dismissing this debate nor either version of truth (both of which are clearly not the old-time "Big T Truth" of empirical social science). Rather, we want to keep the context in mind when thinking about where these uses of truth take place. Many Cultural Studies scholars are involved in very contextually fixed and institutionally bound struggles against the forces which both forms are responding. This leads us to argue that, insofar as truth might be understood as a tactic within and effect of power relations, both may be correct to the extent that for the particular battles waged in specific departments, in classrooms, on specific graduate student committees, through editorial decision making apparatuses, on hiring, tenure, and promotion committees, in methodology classes, etc., truth must be treated by many of us as a contextual strategy, not an ends unto itself. At times each of us seems to bring a little "little t" to the table and, when called for, "Big T." We saw at Crossroads even the most prominent use this bit of tactical trickery. We must not forget to contextualize our selves.

A spy in the house of cultural studies?

It is a public secret that during the Cold War, the CIA funded, organized, and promoted a series of research agendas and cultural programmes in the US. These initiatives, deployed under the Congress for Cultural Freedom (which included organizing conferences and founding magazines), sought to win over left-leaning intellectuals. As Francis Stoner Saunders notes, these programmes entailed funding particular research agendas which, during the McCarthy era, were designed to promote a favoured form of moderate, consensus liberalism among the cognoscenti. These programmes served many functions: 1) they traveled around the world publicizing American tolerance and inspiring youth to praise liberalism; 2) they set the parameters of debate in numerous disciplines (mostly in the social sciences) through publication and grant-funding networks; 3) they presented a controlled opposition to the spectacle of the Right-wing State and cultural repression. Ultimately, they took the fangs out of some radical scholarship by drawing those elements toward a more moderate centre, marginalizing them, or else eliminating them altogether.

So whither the secret services' Cultural Affairs programs in these times? A bolder voice might announce that a spectre is haunting cultural studies, but that voice would not be a very well-tempered one. No, the programs have worked so well that there is no need for any International Scholar of Mystery! To assess how a cultural affairs program now runs itself, let us look at the emerging structuring positions in US cultural studies. In one corner, a rhetorically inflected strain of cultural studies whose sole purpose seems to be the legitimation of a global juridical order. From the loquacious sophistry of public sphere theorizing to the will-to-consensus (and de-sensual) musings of the cosmopole, this strain of cultural studies seems to have easily crossed over from Cold War propaganda studies to the global all-too-civil society of rational intersubjectivity and polite recognition. Containing conflict is the (new world) order of the day, but one wonders how these scholars' fetish of the juridical would've held up had their beloved UN been attacked on 11/9/01 instead of the symbols of global capital and military imperialism.

In the other corner, the "competing" strain of US cultural studies can be best described as Decaffeinated Political Economy. As discussed above, calls for a return to economic analysis were prominent at the Crossroads. Which political economy, one might ask? In a famous debate (curiously unreferenced at the conference) between political economy and cultural studies in the mid-1990s, the metaphor of courtship infused the poles. The political economy proponents called for a reconciliation or divorce between the two, while cultural studies responded that they were never married to begin with, even hinting that political economy was not marriage material (they were closer to being cousins). So are we now kissing cousins? Who's this new materialist tart that suddenly has cultural studies so enamored, who has put a spell on cultural studies to the extent that spokespeople have forgotten so much so quickly? Well, it certainly isn't the strident and messianic political economy of the 1970s and 1980s (not that we'd want to return to these "correct" analyses, infused as they were with purism and purging perceived heresies). The new political economy glides effortlessly across policy and reformism, seeking to plug into these very currents. Friction-free analysis: many seek to develop an analytic sweet-tooth with this confectioner. While this new version eschews the dogmatic, it keeps the dog, or more accurately a defanged and well-trained puppy.

As we frustratingly know, critical scholarship lags behind world events. In this case the dismantling of Marxism that occurred on the global stage 15 years ago only now is coming to fruition in cultural studies. The cultural neoliberalism of the 1990s needs its lyricists. Now entire field-reorganizations are being arranged through scholarly publishing outlets, though this time without a central agency behind it. One of the most effective means of neutralizing opposition is by organizing the parameters of its own positions, thereby ensuring what can appear "in the true". Controlled opposition: it's not just for elections anymore. So here are two of the main poles currently occupying cultural studies. How would you like your liberalism served, encased in a delicate rhetorical shell or smothered in a sweet materialist syrup? In either case the dish arrives lukewarm.

These new trends in cultural studies, like most usurpers, desire to make us forget that they have only recently arrived on the scene. It's as if cultural studies is the scholarly version of the widespread con(neisseur) game of wine-knowledge. Amateurs (a.k.a. those with an amorous passion for drink) feel a lack in their capacity to understand subtle differences, and surrender their intellectual tastebuds to more informed pacemakers. Those opinion leaders aren't necessarily commissioned by anyone, but their performance is all the more effective because of this. The intelligence non-agencies create a new generational cadre of cultural affairs analysts in the very house of opposition itself.

As the twice dead (once in body, once in legacy) Guy Debord once said, the goal of the new spectacle is to turn "secret agents into revolutionaries, and revolutionaries into secret agents ". In cultural studies it appears we have neither, or else Debord's prophesy has been fulfilled. Pressing home the point: as a number of cultural studies ancestors proclaimed, we don't study intentions or causations, all we really need to understand are the effects. In the case of cultural studies infiltration, what does it matter what the author is here? There is no need for Cultural Affairs because we already act as if it is in effect. While under welfare statism the Cultural Affairs programs were housed in official agencies, in the neoliberal logic of decentralized self-governance dissent regulates itself. This is true deep background, all the more effective because it conceals itself in the stars. From secret agents to secrecy's agencies: who will be the first public agent, the courageous voice of the Crossroads, to proclaim "there are no spies in our house!"?

Part 2: Manifestos for Machinic Intellectuals

Happiness at the bottom of a new bottle (of old wine)

At Crossroads, accompanying the praises sung to the "economic turn" was another refrain. One good turn deserves another, and in this case it meant a turn away from "theory." It seems that turning the clock back to Stuart Hall, Gramsci, and Policing the Crisis meant turning our backs on deleuzians of grandeur (and other speculative indulgences). But enough troping — we're back on the tarmac now, in our articulated lorries apparently none the better for having taken the theory detour (which in current revisionism is more like a ludic truck stop).

Others at the conference were not content to get back on the bus (nor go to the back of the bus). A cadre from the UK bordered on heresy by arguing that theory might be our best hope, the last refuge for experimentation and possibility in an age that seeks to make everything function, to turn meandering into instruments, and surrender speculation to financial markets. Rather than return to the road (a call for mobility within a strict itinerary), might we think about moving clandestinely and publicly through underground networks? From the perspective of the new economic turn, these Brits looked like they were auditioning for "I Love the 80s, Francophile style" when the only nostalgia show allowed in town is the "I Love the 70s, Birmingham edition".

This panel, along with others, was attuned to potentials and new strategies, something that speculative thought encourages. Instead of bemoaning the god that failed (one more time) or seeking comfort in verifiable analyses, these breeds of cultural studies promote current potentialities in an open-ended, experimental fashion. It would be a mistake to call these strains "optimistic" as they were hardly motivated by the possibilities of a better world. Rather, like the alchemists of old, they seek a space of refuge where new combinations and conceptual creations are possible. The outcome, as CS knows well, is without guarantees, but it is a safe bet that these dire times will only grow worse with the melancholic resignation of intellectual leaders.
One global lightning rod for this current strategic division in cultural studies and activism is Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's Empire (its hip to like it or to dis it, depending on whom you ask). At one Crossroads panel, the controversial tome was condemned for functioning as Capital's happy self-reflection, a text-mirror where Empire could narcissistically bask in its own totalizing victory and glorious future. Precisely! If Capital sees its own lustrous face here, then all the better. Let us make mirrors to enamor this subject. Better to write a book that bewitches Capital than one written under its spell. And while entranced with its own countenance, Capital forgets it is really seeing a mask, even mirrorshades that hide no true face. What this disguise keeps secret are the swarming micro-organisms creating their own experiments while leaving others to describe the smooth global face of power. Even more, this seething multitude is increasingly worming its way through, secreting its own future at the very moment Capital sees its final triumph. So rather than seek another sad sign of incorporation in Empire's popularity, we see a signal that this tactical media worked. This is not the somber failure belonging to futilitarian criticism; it is the joyful production of potentials and reversals.

This is not your Parents' Resistance.

To paraphrase Theodor Adorno on philosophy, "Cultural Studies goes on because the moment to realize it was missed". This opening to Negative Dialectics gives us a clue to how cultural studies keeps on going, incessantly asking questions about itself (Who am I? What have I done? Where did we go wrong?). One way that cultural studies dreamt of its realization was, like Adorno's own critical philosophy, in the imagined union of theory and praxis. The separation of the two (found in other dichotomies like intellectuals/ masses and idealism/materialism) was thought to find synthesis in the "popular", with its organic intellectuals and counterhegemonic blocs. This imagined resolution of the ancestral call of Marx's Thesis 11 found its final exhaustion in the image of ethnographers sitting in other people's living rooms to commune with common folk. This last gasp would finally prove just how active audiences were, and how integrated into the everyday the researchers were.

Let us not be distracted here by petty judgements: this is no indictment of the ethnographic turn or its practitioners. They were simply responding to the orthodox pressures coming from the old guard (both outside of cultural studies as well as their nervous surrogates within). The dogmatists, always clamoring for scientific grounding lest something surprise them, demanded some proof that the masses could do anything except eagerly anticipate the latest correct analysis from HQ. The Active Audience moment was indeed fraught with peril, evidenced by its uptake by the Christian Right and by Moderate Consumerists. But the moment has been treated as if it was poisoned at the root, that the exploration into creative and innovative practices was itself misguided.

Instead of testing and expanding active audiences and readings, they became reduced to a reactive subject. This was held in common by rational choice consumer studies as well as materialism's palace guard. By leaving the production-distribution-reception circuit intact, the opposed camps found a common ground in Active Audiences. They neatly took their positions as proponents and detractors, while the potentials opened up by this intervention were now safely contained by the controlled opposition.

The anti-active league assuredly assumed that the only site of production, innovation, and affective labor was in the culture industries, reviving the maxim that only Capital innovates while its laboring subjects are simply there to be taken. The Dogmatists "triumphed" again, and again by stunting popular activity in the name of redeeming it. This ghost of Marx was conjured in a classic orthodox moment: rather than develop the theory of activity, it abandoned and distorted it. It is in this sense that we do not exile Marx, but only a particular spectre, one among many.

To put it another way, Resistance was always Reactive. What we are witnessing in the current re-emergence of autonomist marxism, the anarchist invisible black thread, and a swarm of other practices is the following starting point: production and activity have always been on the side of labor and the many. Capital, and for cultural studies the media and culture industries, has been the reactive force to this active production. Through appropriation, exploitation, and usurpation, the vampires and parasites arrived. Their biggest triumph was in convincing critics that the dependent and reactive forces were indeed in charge. The history of media studies is built on this error, and cultural studies only too willingly adopted it.

Now, having missed the opportunity to complete Thesis 11, a number of conference attendees called for cultural studies to become relevant by translating our work to media professionals, policy tinkers, even business schools. In the words of a living ancestor, is that all there is? Beyond the resignation, even craving for relevance that these calls evoke, we need to examine how self-absorbed in interiority they are. To think others cannot take and remake tools for themselves is to be willfully blind. Stories abound about how marketers, mediamakers, even war planners are getting paid to read theory.

Attending a variety of conferences and speaking to graduate students, one finds that the next generation of scholars are tuning in to new political and social potentials (and not always relying on theory). A quick glance at the new crop of communications research projects (whether or not they're "cultural studies" is a different matter) reveals a panoply of projects involving independent and micro-media, virtual and cellular resistance, contestational robotics, network-centric activism, technologized collectives, and other experiments in the contemporary activist laboratory. These are not naïve technophiles seeking a cover shot on Wired magazine, they are apprentices in resistance-metallurgy: testing amalgams, doing trial runs on compounds, probing new syntheses, and assaying the results and potentials. To ignore (or worse yet, to misrecognize) these emergent networks of scholars-activists in favor of the tried and true identities of command centres and recognizable institutions is to imperil cultural studies. To overlook these developments also means we have no excuse to lament cultural studies' institutionalization — we're pounding in the last nail ourselves.And these new scholarly projects are not the only theoretical experimenters: check out just how many activists and critical cultural producers are using the term "rhizome" to describe their efforts, or are picking up "multitude" as a tool for transversals. Maybe these young turks are in contact with some good theory translators, but maybe they just aren't relying so much on intermediaries. In a world of symbolic and affective labor, "intellectuals" may simply be theory technicians, even conceptual typists. Without the hubris of saying "do activism better than the activists," we can at least attach ourselves to that milieu, as one function of connecting various forces into assemblages. Forget organic intellectuals — we now emerge as machinic intellectuals. Regardless of our origins or immediate relationship to institutionalized organized forms, machinic intellectuals produce relations and the same time are seized by them. A kind of strange attractor, you might say — not visible as centre or causal force, but nonetheless effective in gathering and distributing other forces. If this is still too self-important we can abandon our own strangeness as attractors and become one of the forces drawn to a strange attractor we cannot even name yet.

In sum, our skills may be particularly honed, but they are certainly not unique. The point is we don't always have to make our work function — our tools are being taken and put to the test. To overlook what's going on right in front of our eyes is a melancholic myopia that only gazes at what's missing. Adorno without the gloom — could we be so bold?

Could You Please Cut to the Chase

The Crossroads conference, in addition to recalling the 1990 conference, reached out to the Birmingham school in its theme, "Policing the Crisis". Being faithful adherents to the legacy of both, we are compelled to probe this phrase. What is it about the language of crisis that always seems so appealing for cultural studies and the Left? Crisis implies an imbalance and series of instabilities, and often one still attached to a stasis (either in a pre-crisis moment, or in a future re-legitimation). But what was the stasis to which we might like to return? When the hell has cultural studies ever been pleased with the static? What would it even mean? How do we speak of crisis yet shake its Parsonian functionalism, even when peppered with Hegelianism (entre Habermas)?

And let’s not forget Howard Becker’s criticism of this "social problem (crisis)" form and make sure we’re not simply another group of moral entrepreneurs needing and financially depending upon a crisis as the legitimating condition of our very existence. Like reformers of old, may we not constantly warn that it is this moment, NOW — this new conjuncture — that must be addressed with our means to these new self-defined ends. We self-recognize our work didn’t solve the previous crisis, yet we find ourselves claiming we can solve this new crisis. This was Becker’s observation; it is always this moment which is proclaimed to be the turning point in struggles against X. New figures, statistics, and theories are trotted out to show just how critical X has gotten, yet with renewed resources it is claimed the battle can be won. For the form to work and the entrepreneurs to continue to be relevant they must constantly convince their audience of A) the severity of problem/crisis X and B) the critical nature of their research of X. Does this not cast the moral entrepreneur as a parasite earning off the fear that hyping the crisis produces? Like ambulance chasers, they run behind documenting casualties; entrepreneurs of other’s pain. Surely this can’t be our desire. Could we be trapped in a logic "not of our making"? Might we be under the sway of outdated notions of the social, stasis, crisis, and solutions? Becker recognized not all moral entrepreneurs act callously, most in fact righteously believe in their cause, but fall prey to the logic nonetheless. We too believe in the cause, we’d just like to ensure we don’t fall prey to Chicken Littleism.

And even if we grant that we are in a conjunctural crisis, there is still the first part of the phrase. Why would we want to be police? Let us leave that to those who would wear badges on their sleeves (or falsified passports). Another way to read the Birmingham work of this name is as an analysis of how the State, faced with emergent flows of destabilization, tried to rein in this excess and produce new and better order. To put it simply, the police were policing, not the researchers. Why would we want to deputize ourselves in the current conjuncture? And if we still want to use the language of crisis (and try to keep it away from re-legitimation and homeostatic futures), let us not seek solutions to the crisis. Hegel's voice still murmurs in this desire for synthesis, and in good Hegelian fashion the resolution still finds its home in the State.

If the minor, popular practices that previous cultural studies scholars have assessed (and many have forgotten) are relegated to the interstices of strategic totalities, then crisis is precisely the moment where the future is not guaranteed. Widening the cracks and crevices, filling them with flows and fluxes of all sorts, gathering previously divided forces and redistributing them throughout the proliferating unstable pathways: these are not the directives of police. The crisis may end (or at least lose its status as crisis), but not necessarily in the bolstered repose of a new order. Its end may signal the end of many states of being, and an overrunning of becomings into an unrecognizable future.

This is not another final curtain call for "the" revolution (resulting in either disappointment or terror). Instead we ask: during a crisis what is revived? The reappearance may not be intelligible as resistance, but is something that cannot be fully embraced by the forces of order. It does not pass into representation. It escapes. Another language of crisis (currently debased into self-help mantras) finds in these moments of instability an opportunity. Rather than shepherd these openings into the State Pens of Thought why not join them in unprecedented ways? It is in this experimental spirit we say, "Neither their crisis, nor their police!"


Speed and the Politics of Publication

The question of speed and the academy’s difficulty in engaging with the contemporary conjuncture can be witnessed every time we make decisions regarding where to submit for publication. Tenure and prestige dictate we choose the time-consuming process of peer-review and the maddeningly slow venue of journal publication. In the instance of this "essay" we had to take into account just such considerations (please forgive us for not addressing so many other concerns regarding the normalizing standards of academic writing). Where we decided to attempt to publish carried with it many debilitating probabilities. How long will it take to reach the audience, some of whom had just experienced their own version of the Crossroads conference? We would like to reactivate not just the intellectual, but the affective dimensions, of the conference before they are lost. Yet, what are the possibilities for revitalizing memories and the affective capacities of an event, when its eventness has passed into history? Not to fetishize the news model of immediate information transfer, but how immediately will the concerns be felt (as proximity not speed) after months, quite possibly years before someone may finally read this "review". Long after the play and players have left town we’ll be writing to an audience excited now by this month’s conference. How long can one sustain a conversation with year long pauses before the atrophying properties of the unfulfilled gap wear it down? In simple terms, there is little potential for immediacy and some of its inherent possibilities. When our given model of publishing is old-school science, which assumed an a-historical notion of truth and the reproducibility of results (hence peer-review), are we not forced to love the time in the laboratory more than the affective results that someday might follow from what we produce? By the time our work is read, we may be multiple projects down the road, wondering why it was we were so fired-up and invested in that project? When people engage us in conversation about said work, we may look at them quizzically wondering why they aren’t instead interested in whatever new-found concerns we’re onto. This is not a criticism of the multiple lines of flight our work takes, but rather it is to ask wouldn’t it be a more dialogic and immediate process if the conversations we had via publication didn’t have such extended silences? More importantly, if one aspect of this potential conjuncture is the speed with which it can modulate and adapt to given and self-produced circumstances do we need tactics to respond in kind? Do we have to ask how we can modulate and adapt? How can we more quickly engage with, theorize, work on, and publish in the now?


Given the vast scope of the Crossroads conference (which took place at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, IL USA in 04/06, and included 140 sessions and 500 papers over 4 days) this review is necessarily a partial one (in both senses). Even though we are multiple, we could only cover so much. Rather than seek a comprehensive account of the conference, we instead focus on tendencies emerging from a number of panels. It is true that we are concentrating primarily on the more prominent events (keynotes, plenaries, panels that specifically address cultural studies), but as agenda-setting goes these seemed a good place to start. Ultimately, we hope that many other reviews emerge (either in response to this one or from their own multiple sites). A network of reviews, continuing the collaborative work that was Crossroads.

2 Must ideas and statements have recognizable mothers and fathers? Does the tag necessitate a tagger? Must there be an attachment to the past, to an identity already formulated? Can ideas be bastardized in this different way? Can they be the contented child of unknown ancestry? Or must you know the mother and father? Will you search out clues, traces of authorial identity, location, and association? a/m’s intent is not to not be known, but to ask readers if they can not care about this knowing; to disassociate authorial origin from idea. Is it not the force, or lack thereof, put into play by ideas that matter more than their origin? Should the origin determine their relevance; whether that voice should be listened to or believed?

3 One when was 8:30 AM; a when, when this very question of where was being asked in a panel titled "Looking for Cultural Studies in All the Wrong Places". Or we might respond, answering that question, "at all the wrong times." When was the last time you met a cultural studies scholar who preferred or even pretended to be excited about being awake for a panel that early in the morning? This whenever attitude seems out of step for a "discipline" that prides itself on self-reflexivity.

4 See for instance pages 153-157 of Multitude (2004) by Hardt and Negri titled, "Death of the Dismal Science?".

5 So how did these programs affect scholarship during wartime? As conference organizer Norman Denzin pointed out during one of his talks, mainstream sociology all but ignored the Vietnam war-context as it produced knowledge. In one of the more moving moments (we witnessed) at the conference, Denzin announced his own complicity in this, and noted that the Crossroads' mandate was written as a way of repeating this historical blunder. It is in this current context, where the Rightist State once again raises its repressive stick against dissenting voices, that cultural studies is to be measured.

6 Some might read this essay as itself part of some secret project, designed to inveigle cultural studies by promoting mutual suspicion among its members. Those who would condemn this essay in this manner would not be able to voice it, however, for they would be revealing too much about themselves. Unlike the finger-pointing and name calling that leads to the implosive ruin of so many dissident groups, our intervention makes no such claims of hidden agendas or secret agents. It is enough that the effects are the same through impersonal means. In other words, the old style of infiltrating and diverting through pacemakers has given way to the science of complexity, emergent networks, and self-organizing opinion-management.

7 Toby Miller made this point about where Active Audiences ended up during his plenary talk.

8 We could even locate this as distinction between Italian Marxisms. In the midst of another Italian Renaissance (namely, the autonomist trajectory in theory and practice) we hear a return to only one Italian, Gramsci, who as founder of the Italian CP was specifically critiqued by the Operismo Potere movement.

9 In a conversation a few years ago, a scholar who had spent a year with CSIS relayed to one of us that military and state department analysts were reading Deleuze and Virilio, since Foucault was already passe. An even more ominous example is the recent hiring of a "close reader" of the Critical Art Ensemble's work (who rely heavily on Guattarian concepts). Someone was paid to find in these books "evidence" for the grand jury investigation into the "bioterrorist" threat posed by CAE member Steve Kurtz.

10 It is telling that one of the only (if not the only) panels featuring performative, theoretically informed activists (Culture as Virus) was well attended (20-25) but stuck in a cramped room while one of the numerous Reality TV panels just a few doors down overflowed its capacity.

Becker, Howard. (1963). Outsiders; studies in the sociology of deviance. London : Free Press of Glencoe.

Rabinow, Paul. (1986 ). "Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Post-modernity in Anthropology." In Clifford, James, and George Marcus, eds. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: U of California P, 234-61.

  Saunders, F. (2000). The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. New Press.