- Streams of Cultural Capital: Transnational Cultural Studies
Taking their lead from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the essays in this collection reconsider the relationships between questions of value and the global traffic in cultural [End Page 184] objects and ideas. In his stimulating introduction to the volume, David Palumbo-Liu announces that one of its goals is to examine diverse “transpositions and recontextualizations” of cultural goods in transnational circulation (3). The volume challenges the assumption that globalization produces an increasingly homogeneous world culture, focusing instead on “uneven flows of culture,” “multidirectional currents of cultural objects,” and the “syncretic nature of culture as capital” (8). Given this concern with the global movements of cultural capital, the anthology promises to bypass the limits of nation-specific cultural criticism. The volume is composed of essays on a remarkably varied set of topics, including the temporality of the new credit cultures (Arjun Appadurai, “Consumption, Duration, and History”); the cultural politics of the international academic lecture circuit (Jean-François Lyotard, “Marie in Japan”); the reception of U.S. movies in Germany (Irmela Schneider, “Wide Worlds in Confined Quarters”) or of Western drama on the Chinese stage (Xiaomei Chen, “Occidentalist Theater in Post-Mao China”); the marketing of U.S. political discourses (Mary N. Layoun, “A Capital Idea”); and French debates over American cultural exports such as Euro Disney (Brad Prager and Michael Richardson, “A Sort of Homecoming”).
At one point Palumbo-Liu worries that with its global ambitions Streams of Cultural Capital “may seem an impossibly wide net to cast” (3), and the collection partially warrants such fears. Large portions of the world are given short shrift, with one essay covering all of Africa (Biodun Jeyifo’s fascinating “Determinations of Remembering: Postcolonial Fictional Genealogies of Colonialism in Africa”), one essay on Latin America (Carlós Rincón, “Streams Out of Control: The Latin American Plot”), and all of Asia represented by an essay on Chinese theater (Chen). Most of the remaining pieces focus on the U.S. and/or Europe. Moreover, what Bourdieu would call the academic “field” represented by the volume is also overwhelmingly American, for the majority of its authors are affiliated with U.S. academic institutions. While the collection claims to take the world as its object of analysis, its institutional origins and critical objects often suggest a distinctly Western world.
Though different and more limited than the goals announced by Palumbo-Liu in his introduction, the preoccupation with streams of U.S. cultural capital in particular raises some interesting issues concerning the global dissemination of U.S. mass cultures. Bruce and Judith Kapferer, for example, argue that official forms of monumental architecture imaginatively resolve the contradictions in a (white) Australian national identity that remains dependent on Great Britain and, increasingly, U.S. mass media, for its cultural cues. Particularly important to their analysis of “The Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre” is the circulation in Australia of the U.S. cowboy. The Hall of Fame, based on the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Utah, projects an understanding of Australian identity sedimented with a white settler-colonial “land-and-people mythology” that mirrors American frontier lore and film westerns (92). And as in representations of cowboys and Indians in the U.S. West, the monument to the national spirit represented by the Australian outback “appropriates Aboriginal history, and incorporates it as central to the reproduction of white hegemony” (94). Similarly, Irmela Schneider argues that contemporary German notions of authority, duty, and the state have been partially informed by TV viewings of John Wayne westerns. These two examples suggest some interesting questions: Which U.S. entertainment genres travel well, which don’t, and why? Where do different genres travel, and what happens to them when they get there?
The essay by the Kapferers also underlines the international significance of distinctly African American streams of cultural capital. As they note, African American slang, dance, music, and fashion are all popular among Australian youth...