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Cultural Studies Program

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Current Conference

Sixth Annual Cultural Studies Conference

"Flexible Knowledges:
Interdisciplinarity, Globalization, and the Future of the University"

Saturday, March 3rd, 2001
10:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Indiana Memorial Union - University Club

Organized by Tom Foster, Purnima Bose, and Beverly Stoeltje

The topic of the sixth annual cultural studies conference is Flexible Knowledges: Interdisciplinarity, Globalization, and the Future of the University — a series of inquiries into the status of cultural studies’s interdisciplinary methods at a time when a similar logic of boundary-crossing informs universities’ institutional practices and the economic logic of global capitalism, more generally.  Arif Dirlik, a specialist in the history of Modern China,  postcolonial criticism, and global capitalism from Duke University; Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine, who does ethnographic work on global capital, anthropological work on law as well as finance, and has a book on offshore banking in the Caribbean; and Robyn Wiegman, Director of Women’s Studies at Duke University, who engages with feminist theory, sexuality studies, American cultural studies, and race studies, will join IU faculty and graduate students in addressing the question of ‘flexible knowledges’ from several perspectives.
   The conference will be held on Saturday, March 3rd from 10:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. at the University Club in the Indiana Memorial Union. If you plan to participate in these conversations, please register for the conference using the on-line registration form or by sending this information via e-mail to Don't forget to indicate whether you'd like to receive a short packet of readings that provide exemplary inquiries into these issues and whether you plan to stay for lunch. 

A description of the conference topic and the updated conference schedule are provided below.

Conference Description

The topic of the cultural studies conference this year is Flexible Knowledges:  Interdisciplinarity, Globalization, and the Future of the University.  From its origins, cultural studies has defined its interdisciplinary impulse as a necessity derived from the nature of its object of study.  Stuart Hall locates the origin of cultural studies in the refusal to allow "culture" to be distinguished from the social and historical totality of human practices, as exemplified by the refusal of cultural studies to acknowledge the autonomy of high art from mass or popular culture, or the autonomy of cultural artifacts from practices of reception and consumption in everyday life.  This refusal to define an autonomous cultural domain (the museum, the archive) defines the internal logic that requires interdisciplinary methods:  "this sense of cultural totality . . . must be matched by a totalizing movement 'in thought,' in the analysis," Hall writes, in "Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms."  The term "totalizing" in this statement does not connote a desire for closure or for an exhaustive inventory of cultural forms and practices; instead, "totalizing movement" is understood as a practice of remapping knowledge that necessarily leads the analyst to cross the boundaries of existing academic disciplines, since "cultural processes do not correspond to the contours of academic knowledges, as they are," to quote Richard Johnson's "What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?" 

Cultural studies also has a long history of skepticism and self-critique directed at its own institutionalization.  Typically, the way cultural studies seeks to make its methodologies mirror the "totalizing" nature of its object is cited as a defense against reductive institutional codification along disciplinary lines, which it is feared will not only reduce cultural studies to a formula but also eliminate the interdisciplinary forms of dialogue, collaboration, and critique of disciplinary limits that have informed the history of this movement.  The logic of epistemological mobility and boundary-crossing that cultural studies shares with its definition of culture is supposed to provide an inherent resistance to disciplinary formation, the traditional mode of academic legitimation.  The interdisciplinary logic of cultural studies makes possible an alternative mode of institutionalization, so that Stuart Hall distinguishes "institutionalization," as a positive process, from the dangers of "codification."  On one level, what a cultural studies program institutionalizes is its own skepticism toward institutionalization as a discipline.

One of the key questions this conference poses is whether we have now entered a new moment in the institutionalization of cultural studies and interdisciplinary work more generally.  What if it is precisely the logic of interdisciplinary boundary-crossing that universities now find it in their own interests to support -- that is, what if the precondition for institutionalization is no longer disciplinary formation and departmentalization but instead a wilingness to bypass existing departments?  To what extent does contemporary interest in interdisciplinary programs among university administrators reflect a new economic logic, in which traditonal departments may appear to be refractory "units" resistant to restructuring?  How accurately does this describe our emergent institutional environment, and how do we retain the critical function of interdisciplinarity in such a context?  What new opportunities and new dangers arise from these changes?

These kinds of questions emerge most urgently from work on globalization, transnationalism, and post-Fordist economic organizations, as well as from projects rethinking racial and gender formations within transnational frameworks (such as Paul Gilroy or Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal).  David Harvey defines decentralization and flexible accumulation as the central economic logic of late capitalism, with post-Fordism characterized in terms of the paradox that decentralization, which might seem to make it harder to impose authority, actually promotes greater control and greater economic efficiency, resulting in what Lash and Urry called "disorganized organization."  To what extent are universities moving toward their own specific versions of such economic models?  To what extent does interdisciplinarity seem to offer a model for thinking knowledge formations along the lines of "disorganized organization?"  The economic benefit of such new models lies in the way in which the process of decentralization depends upon extending instrumental control, making it possible to take apart and reassemble formations that seemed natural and given.  Does the ideal of interdisciplinarity within cultural studies play into this new economic logic? Is the interdisciplinary impulse to cross the boundaries of academic knowledge formations in danger of being assimilated to what Masao Miyoshi has defined as the new norm for transnational corporate elites: the ability to translate across the boundaries of cultural differences? Donna Haraway calls this "the dream of a common language," typical of certain forms of information theory, in which all materiality must submit to dis- and reassembly, and therefore to exchange and commodification.  Is  interdisciplinarity in danger of becoming a stage in the production of the new transnational, Internet economy's professional-managerial class?  How can we work toward what Arif Dirlik has called "critical localism," at the level of our own institutional structures of knowledge production, without simply revalidating traditional disciplinary formations?

Conference Schedule

“Insertions Into Ideological Circuits” by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles.

coke bottles

In the 1970s, Meireles carried out projects where he inscribed subversive messages such as “Yankees Go Home” onto Coca-Cola bottles, banknotes and subway tokens, and then re-introduced these into circulation.

10:30 a.m.- 12:00 p.m. Panel One - Globalization

Moderator: Purnima Bose 
Invited Participant: Arif Dirlik, Duke University
Interlocutors: Jane Goodman (CMCL), Jeffrey Isaac (Political Science), Radhika Parameswaran (Journalism)

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.  Buffet Lunch  (provided by Cultural Studies)

1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Panel Two - Interdisciplinarity

Moderator: Tom Foster
Invited Participant: Robyn Wiegman, Duke University
Interlocutors: Chris Anderson (CMCL), Stephanie Kane (Criminal Justice), Claire Sisco King

3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Break

3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Panel Three - The Future of the University

Moderator: Beverly Stoetje
Invited Participant: Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine
Interlocutors: Eva Cherniavsky (English), John Hanson (African Studies), Steve Watt (English)

5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Reception