Toby Miller


This Essay performs two functions. First, it surveys cultural studies. Second, it takes issue with criticisms of cultural studies for being socially irrelevant by pointing to its capacity to galvanize opposition to exploitation even though many of its operating assumptions are awkward for governmental normativity (such as the law) to accept.

Cultural studies is a tendency across disciplines, rather than a discipline itself. This is evident in practitioners' simultaneously expressed desires to refuse definition, to insist on differentiation, and to sustain conventional departmental credentials (as well as displaying pyrotechnic, polymathematical capacities for reasoning and research). Cultural studies is animated by subjectivity and power-how human subjects are formed and how they experience cultural and social space. It takes its agenda and mode of analysis from economics, politics, media and communication studies, sociology, literature, education, the law, science and technology studies, anthropology, and history, with a particular focus on gender, race, class, and sexuality in everyday life, commingling textual and social theory under the sign of a commitment to progressive social change. Cultural studies' continuities come from shared concerns and methods: the concern is the reproduction of culture through structural determinations on subjects versus their own agency, and the method is historical materialism.' In this sense, it is vitally connected to issues of collective self-determination, or how social movements gain control over the means of their existence. This link became manifest to me via the significance of cultural studies in the struggles by graduate-student employees at American universities to attain the right to vote for or against unionization, and then through the way in which legal proceedings to determine that struggle excluded certain approaches associated with cultural studies. Hence my interest here in bracketing these topics.