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  • Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies edited by Meaghan Morris
  • Jan Baetens
Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies edited by Meaghan Morris and Mette Hjort. Duke University Press, Durham, NC, U.S.A., 2012. 297 pp. Trade, paper. ISBN: 978-1-9326-4320-6; ISBN: 978-1-9326-4302-2.

Initially conceived as the proceedings of a conference organized by Lignan University, which played a leading role in the introduction and subsequent institutionalization of cultural studies in East Asia, this volume has grown into an important collection of essays that raise fundamental questions on “doing” cultural studies today, in a highly competitive and almost completely entrepreneurially oriented academic context. It offers a wide range of innovative, thought-provoking and revitalizing insights that are not only dramatically helpful for the new field of Inter-Asian cultural studies but that help rethink what should be at stake in the (often reluctantly or unhappily) [End Page 193] established field of cultural studies in the Anglo-Saxon universities.

For many reasons, this is a very timely publication, which should be read by all those interested in cultural studies as well as in one of the key notions mentioned in the title of the book (creative industries, activism, academic life, institutionalization). First of all, the texts gathered by Morris and Hjort are deeply rooted in the financial, managerial, ethical and professional crisis that has been shaking the humanities for nearly two decades now (Bill Readings’s The University in Ruins dates from 1996 already!). In such a context, the traditional, yet often slightly hypocritical, reluctance of cultural studies scholars to institutionalize their activism needs of course to be questioned in new ways, and the examples given by the contributors to this book should provide traditional cultural studies scholars with many new ideas, a lot of new energy and, why not, a certain degree of shame. For it would be absurd to imagine that the working conditions in East Asian universities are by definition more open to cultural reflection and cultural activism than those in U.S., U.K. or Australian ones.

What are the most important lessons one can draw, in this regard, from Creativity and Academic Activism? First of all, this book defends a new stance toward institutionalization. Instead of considering the step from activism to institutionalization as a way of giving up one’s ideals (of criticism, of social commitment, of political labor, etc.), the authors of this book demonstrate that institutionalization is not only valuable in itself, but also the inevitable result of a job well done. Institutionalization is no longer seen as something that signifies the end of a process, and even a dead end, but a tool, a springboard, a warrant that further action can be undertaken. Second, the book also criticizes the idea that there would be an incompatibility between institutionalization and participation in social, cultural, political and economic life outside academia. To institutionalize does not mean to turn away from society but on the contrary to open the walls of academia to the needs, the interrogations and the expectations of society, in particular to those groups in society that are waiting for support from critical engagement with mainstream culture most. Third, Creativity and Academic Activism also makes very clear that there exists no single answer to the need for institutionalization. Struggling with the imperative to adopt the standards of U.S.-dominated academic life (as far as publication issues are concerned), the authors of this book, not all of them Asian-born or -raised but often working in East Asian institutions, insist without any exception on the necessary local aspects of what it means to do cultural studies, although this localism is also a tool for rethinking in a glocal manner with regional (inter-Asian) and global (mass media and creative industries-related) aspects.

The courage and openness with which the innumerable smaller and larger difficulties of humanist research in East-Asian academia are tackled in this book should be taken as an example by all those working in institutions where cultural studies have now been part of the core curriculum for many decades and and as encouragement to make room for much needed...


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pp. 193-194
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