- By Prasanna Deshpande
The foundation of the academic discipline called ‘Cultural Studies’ is perhaps the most long reaching and futuristic intellectual investment of the Western Academics. Under the garb of an ultra-modern, empirical, realistic academic theories of Humanities, this discipline attempts to offer a subversive, anti-establishment, anarchist, rebellious, Marxist and communist philosophy to the young aspirants of higher education system in India.
This subject called ‘Cultural Studies’ is an engaged academic discipline which follows the legacy of the radical leftist theories and the metamorphosed versions of Marxist cannon wrapped in a culturally adaptive and workable ideological modules of communism as created by the NEW LEFT thinkers like Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart, E.P.Thompson, Raymond Williams and few other founders of the Birmingham Centre of Cultural Studies in England. This discipline has been studied and ‘practised’ all over India through following universities, most being Central Universities and research Centres or Post-Graduate Departments of Social Sciences, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Economics, Political Science, International Relations, Education Science, Humanities, Philosophy,Literary Studies, Women’s Studies, Social Change Studies , all IIT centres with Humanities Departments and so on. These centres are:
- Christ University, Bangalore
- Department of Culture & Media Studies, Central University of Rajasthan, BandraSindri , Rajasthan
- Northeastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong
- Tezpur University, Assam
- Central University of Jharkhand
- Assam University, Silchar
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Mumbai
- SavitribaiPhule Pune University
- The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.
- Department of English and cultural studies Punjab university Chandigarh.
- Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for art and Culture, Thrissur, Kerala
- Jawharlal Nehru University
- Delhi University
- Jadhopur University.
- Aligarh Muslim University
The discipline works towards the motto: “Cultural Studies does not study culture, it makes one.” This pithy sentence sums up the project of cultural studies. That is, it resists the existing culture of the nation like India, subverts it, questions it, challenges the norms and deconstructs its existing discourse and establishes the ‘alternative’ of what is commonly believed on the basis of faith or tradition or what is even commonly known as history of the people or a nation. The critical writings of thinkers, researchers, theorists, scholars and professors of Cultural Studies in universities across the world (list given at the end of this paper) have been prescribed in the syllabi, either in the form of books or ‘critical essays’. Although Cultural Studies is known to be an extremely interdisciplinary academic activity, it is still grounded on some of its fundamental preamble. This fundamental commitment is nothing but the same old idea of locating an intellectual and political space for the communist ideology. The model of resistance and subversion is applied to all the ‘academic engagement’ of Cultural Studies. Be it philosophy or medical science, music or film studies and even technology to ethics, Cultural Studies applies its model of offering an ‘alternative discourse’ to almost all the established principles of a discipline. It basically reveals the power structure of the established knowledge of a discipline and resists the ‘deterministic’ approach of ‘knowledge production’. It holds a view that all eternal, timeless values of a culture are of the ‘established’ kind which could be contested only by ‘contemporary’ modes of culture as the ‘contemporary’ modes are mostly the ‘deviant’ forms of a culture. They exploit the rebellious minds of youth by pushing them further to resist against the established mores of a culture. Cultural Hegemony can be discarded only by overemphasizing the distinctiveness of these ‘sub-cultures’ or ‘youth cultures’. Frederic Jameson, the American thinker of the same mode says, “One man’s idea of nation is another man’s hell.” This is a camouflaged attempt of the sympathizers of communism and such divisive and anti-national tendencies of academicians to offer a more ‘customized’, culture specific modifications of Marxist, Communist political ideologies through academics. The aim of cultural studies is to destroy the indigenous culture of Bharat by creating a totally negative atmosphere in all the walks of life.
Stuart Hall, one of the founders of Cultural Studies advises students of Cultural Studies across the world that “they should not aim only at gaining ‘theoretical fluency’ in this subject. They must make an attempt to ‘practise’ what they learn and apply it to life. They must always engage themselves with what is ‘contemporary’, since the contemporary is devoid of the fundamental or eternal value system of a culture. These students should engage themselves with a process of offering derisive and subversive forms of ‘resistance’ to dominant mode of a mainstream culture.” For doing this, Cultural Studies forms a presupposition that the culture of the majority or the mainstream culture is ‘produced’ by the dominant class and is imposed on the weaker classes of the society. Hence “these identities should remain in a permanent ‘confronting’ position in its relation with its counterpart,” is the essence of the social studies of this discipline.
Any contemporary mode of culture is manifested through the youth. This manifestation is usually somewhat deviant from the primordial, eternal, timeless values of culture. So, the followers of established cultural norms would perceive this contemporary modes as somewhat ‘valueless’ or ‘casual’. This difference in the perception and execution of culture by two different generations is exploited by cultural studies as ‘suppressive established, socially controlling determinism’ of the older generations. This difference is manipulated into ‘subversion’ of cultural norms and a strategy of creating ‘alternative’ culture.
It is also important to know why this discipline is named as ‘Cultural Studies’. Knowing the academic engagement of cultural studies it is easy to understand that it mainly works on the ‘social’ aspect of everything, practically everything. For example, Cultural Studies undertakes the task of ‘socializing’ science. But it understands single logic of the ‘social’, and that logic is the denationalizing, culturally disintegrating logic of Marxist, communist’s view of the world. Hence the only ‘alternative’ that it could offer is that of the same ‘socialist revolution’. So, its primary concerns are social, with a focus on ‘power of knowledge’ and ‘knowledge of power’. In short, it aims at the incorporation of the social principle of everything and anything by exposing the power structure in order to resist and subvert it and establish the authority of the ‘communist’ point of view in the processes of nation as well as that of the state. The question still remains unanswered that why is it called ‘Cultural’, then? And also that if the world already has innumerable disciplines that study the ‘social’ why was this discipline founded? The search of answer to this may require us to understand Cultural Studies’ view of the traditional disciplines of social sciences or studies. Cultural Studies’ founding fathers maintained a stance that these traditional disciplines of Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science, Anthropology, and Philosophy maintained and projected themselves as ‘objective’ in the production of knowledge. Cultural Studies looks at the ‘objectivity of knowledge’ as a myth. According to Stuart Hall, these traditional social studies and sciences failed at many levels. They could neither ensure change nor reformation. They were highly dominated by the Western academics and hence the ‘discourse’ largely became ‘unrecognizable, unidentifiable, alien and strange’ to the non-western world. Hence these disciplines largely remained restricted to their academic and intellectual consumption. The insistence on ‘objectivity’ of this knowledge also always maintained the supremacy of the western logic through its projection of universality. Hence, these disciplines became infertile as far as the ‘leftist’ goals were concerned. Moreover, the Western academics, through these disciplines maintained the superiority of ‘an intellectual’ which largely widened the gap between actual, social realization and execution of the theories they brought out and hence people from different countries like those from India, in a majority, could never relate themselves to the ‘academic theorization’ of social politics or social change which was promised by these traditional sociological disciplines. Their ‘universality’ and ‘global’ identity largely became a hurdle in the process of absorption of diverse cultures across the world. This insistence on ‘theoretical accuracy’ narrowed the scope of actualization of these theories or of the ‘knowledge’ produced by these disciplines. Hence, a new alternative, unconventional, subversive, ‘anti-discipline’ became an intense need in the perception of these founding fathers of the Cultural Studies. Stuart Hall envisioned this discipline to be ‘subjective’ in its rationale. It is this ‘subjectivity’ of Cultural Studies which provides it a scope to customize ‘knowledge’ under its rubrics. Since the traditional ‘sociological’ disciplines and social sciences were ‘objective’ and since they failed in their pursuits, or they maintained a rational distance from Communism and Marxism, the name ‘Cultural Studies’ would seem as an ‘alternative’ to the unproductive apolitical disciplines and would adapt ‘political subjectivity’ instead of ‘academic objectivity’. So, ‘Cultural’ sounds more subjective and recognizable and identifiable than ‘social’ and also that it is concerned with the everyday life of the people(s) of the world. Stuart Hall has openly acknowledged in his essay, “ Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies”, that ‘Cultural Studies is a political discipline and it does cultural politics’. That is why the discipline is called “Cultural Studies”, which does not engage itself with the study of cultures as they are or as they have been knowing by preserving the most desired distinctiveness of them but ‘Cultural’ because it establishes a ‘new, alternative, subversive culture’ of its own ideologies and perceptions.
It is this ‘subjectivity’ which equips this discipline with an ability to resist, subvert, distort and deter the traditional, eternal, timeless values of the Hindu society. The process is simple. They simply apply the Cultural Studies or NEW LEFT ‘models’ of ideas to the ‘reality’ of Indian societal norms, beliefs, faiths and modes and manners and try to deflate and destroy the popular views of men and their work.
For example, the popular image of the great ShivajiMaharaj as a Hindu King and a saviour of Hindu people against the tyranny of a Muslim ruler is questioned, resisted, refuted by applying the ‘deconstructive’ practice of ‘reading against the grain’ and a new, alternative ‘knowledge’ of ShivajiMaharaj is being established for the last 20 years. (This politics of ideology over ShivajiMaharaj coincides with the introduction of Cultural Studies in India). So, the ‘new knowledge’ about Shivaji (They drop ‘Maharaj’) would require you to understand him as a secular, socialist leader who was utterly sympathetic to the ‘minorities’ and the ‘downtrodden’ (which is not shown by the traditional knowledge-makers). This ‘new knowledge’ would take a radically critical stand (for the sake of it because resistance is the ‘norm’ under Cultural Studies) about the existing, traditional history and go to the extent of saying that the “popular image of Shivaji as a Hindu icon was manufactured’ by the upper caste Brahmin historians who had wanted their own dignified position in the caste structure to be intact. Hence, they ‘manipulated’ facts about Shivaji and made him a saviour of ‘the cow, the Brahmin and the Dharma’. If Shivaji is long understood as a Hindu icon, Dharma will remain as supreme value and if Dharma lasts, upper castes will continue being privileged forever.” There have been attempts also to co-opt this ‘knowledge’ by the film industry and entertainment and media circuits. A similar logic of Cultural Studies is extended to the ‘alternative’ readings of Swami Vivekananda. This methodology reads the literature of Swami Vivekananda with a purpose in mind. This purpose is commonly to locate the loose strings of logic in a text and to exploit the possibility of multiple interpretations. This multiplicity results into a substitution of discourse. This is what is called ‘reading against the grain.’ This substitution is actually a political strategy of reading the text against what is primarily conveyed by it and holding the alternative meaning as its ‘deconstructive meaning’. For example, there are certain statements in the writings of Vivekananda in which he has written against the excess of rituals by Hindus, how the excessive ritualistic traditions isolate a human from the social cause, the poor and the downtrodden and so on. Such ideas in Swamiji’s writings are exploited to show the ‘socialist’ discourse in Vivekananda’s writings and to foreground and focus this ‘alternative meaning’ of Vivekananda’s writings. This is a process by which Cultural Studies attempts not to mobilize its followers on motivation sought by mentioning the names of the Western thinkers but it mobilizes them by identifying the local, culture-specific icons of nationalism and faith with an ‘alternative’ readings and understanding so that the masses would be prepared to receive this ‘new knowledge’ of the ‘known ideals’.
This relationship of the Marxist, leftist ideologies and academics has got so firmly rooted now that it will not be a surprise if the word ‘leftist’ would mean ‘academic’ in coming years (which has almost taken place even in the current times). The sheer loss due to this stronghold of ‘leftist’ academics is that the fine brains of the nation are being diverted to a divisive and socially harmful activism (of which the JNU recently provided an example). Will it not be a loss of the nation like Bharat that the talent of hundreds of thousands of promising young boys and girls of our country has been misdirected and invested into an absolutely unproductive social activism which neither ensures change nor education? Is it not detrimental to the fabric of life in Bharat to allow such dubious ideologies to spoil the career of innumerable fine youth of the nation for the realization of some preposterous idealism of ‘revolution freaks”? If we must avoid this, which we must, some fundamental reforms need to be done in the ‘social studies’ discipline. Otherwise, the college youth, whose prowess could be our strength as a nation, if not properly groomed up in its ‘ideological orientation’, may soon become our weakness. This is not just to play a victim but if we fail to address this now, even our families will not possess the strength enough to rectify this social malady.
Prasanna A. Deshpande, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Fergusson College, Pune.