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Diacritics 31.3 (2001) 67-88

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In the Wake of Cultural Studies
Globalization, Theory, and the University

Tilottama Rajan


Theory today has become an endangered species, as evidenced by the resistance to difficult language. This is not to deny that it leads a quasi-life as the domesticated ground for what has replaced it, or as a form of prestige: a signifier for "cutting-edge" discourses. But in using the term here, I refer to the work that came into prominence after the Johns Hopkins conference on "The Structuralist Controversy" (1966), the modes of thought it made possible, and the antecedents for such thought going back to the late eighteenth century. Like the humanities generally, this Theory has become submerged in Cultural Studies, 1 which displaced it in the nineties as a central concern of institutes, interdisciplinary programs, and lecture series. "New" academic undertakings in the humanities are by definition those that have a cultural focus. Occasionally we come across programs in "Theory and Cultural Studies" which equate fields that could overlap dialogically but are not identical.

Let us grant that practices at the ground level of teaching are more diverse because hiring has occurred over generations; or that there are no absolute epistemic shifts because of what Mary Poovey calls a process of "uneven development," in which "emergent" "rationalities" develop from "and retain a constitutive relationship to . . . residual domains" [Social Body 14-19]. At the level of marketing and image (and thus also the self-image of academics), Cultural Studies has become the primary focus of North American academic publishing in the humanities, 2 which thus reimagines itself in terms of the globalism of culture rather than the nationalism of "literature," even as the wider [End Page 67] technocratic apparatus thereby reduces the entire humanities to a form of "area studies." And as Heidegger presciently saw in 1938, publishing is a form of governmentality: through the "prearranged and limited publication of books," publishers "bring the world into the picture for the public and confirm it publicly" [139]. On the other side, if a space has been kept for Theory, it has migrated out of English into continental philosophy departments and book series. The result has been an esotericizing and narrowing of Theory to post-Heideggerian French philosophy: the most powerful current in American continental philosophy departments—hence the survival of Derrida but not the early Foucault, and hence the survival of a Derrida very different from the one who made an impact in the seventies. 3

Why did Cultural Studies so readily replace Theory? And why focus on the loss of Theory rather than literature, which has also entered the domain of the residual? After all, Anthony Easthope, a decade ago, saw Theory as no more than the "symptom" of a crisis leading from the collapse of literature to the emergence of Cultural Studies [5]. In starting with the cathexis onto "culture" of an academic desire once mediated through "Theory," I suggest that both Theory and Cultural Studies are encyclopedic organizations of knowledge that have therefore served as meta- or flagship disciplines for the humanities. Constituted outside the regular structure of departments in programs and "centers," both have been responsible for a decentering innovation (recognizing the emergence of knowledges outside traditional boundaries) and a recentering of the humanities' "mission" by which it addresses the university at large. The encyclopedic impulse goes back a long way, whether it takes form in such gatherings as the early cabinets of curiosities, in universities as attempts to gather different disciplines into an institutional plurality, or in actual encyclopedias. Enkyklos paideia, meaning "circle of learning," is a gathering of subjects that are meant to be interrelated as knowledge by a single individual, in contrast to indexical systems (such as dictionaries), which are secondary reference tools that store information outside the mind for selective retrieval by different people. Actual encyclopedias, from Anglicus and Vincent of Beauvais to the Encyclopédie and Hegel's "philosophic encyclopedia," have thus been intimately tied up with existing or projected organizations of knowledge. They have functioned as proto-universities...


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