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18 Interdisciplinarity and Cultural Studies N icholas Da ly • Does the interdisciplinary turn inVictorian studies mean that the latter has become a historical branch of cultural studies? Now that some of the dust has settled around cultural studies, can we see it as interdisciplinary work by a different name?The answers depend on how you define the terms. I will assume that interdisciplinarity is a more transparent term than cultural studies (a purely heuristic assumption, needless to say). How then to define cultural studies? In a recent special edition of the European Journal of Cultural Studies, for example, editors Joke Hermes and Peter Dahlgren describe cultural studies as “a strong interdisciplinary academic practice which is invested deeply in empirical research in everyday meaning-formation” (Hermes and Dahlgren 261). Cultural studies has also, though, been seen as an “anti-discipline,” a bracing formulation that, if nothing else, implies that cultural studies means to stand for no nonsense. As Karl Maton and Handel Wright put it,“anti-disciplinarity ” suggests that cultural studies can somehow wriggle free from “the suffocating grip of procedures specialized to a delimited object of study” (Maton 386).1 But interdisciplinary or anti-disciplinary, many, if not most, cultural studies practitioners have tended to assume that since their object of study is culture—perceived as a whole way of life rather than as a narrow band of high cultural activity—they must draw on a wide range of approaches, from art history to anthropology, to understand that object. Does this mean that cultural studies and interdisciplinarity are allotropes of the same substance? I think not.We might see cultural studies as comprising an orientation towards the popular, towards audiences’ creating their own meanings out of the cultural material that comes their way, towards the “materiality” of cultural texts. None of these orientations is inconsistent with interdisciplinarity. But these aspects of cultural studies are political symptoms rather than ends in themselves. Cultural studies, at least in its earlier versions, was not interested in the popular as a rich but neglected realm of cultural endeavour. Rather, it saw the popular as a field of political conflict—a proxy war, you might say—where the dominant and dominated fractions of society struggle over meanings, identities, and values. This is also to say, of course, that the realm of culture is the realm of ideology, the place where selves are shaped and where individuals are interpellated as subjects; or the realm of competition for symbolic capital; or the realm where oppositional groups create their own meanings out of the cultural flotsam and jetsam that comes their way.Whichever one of these formulations you follow, it means assuming that culture is political, and thus teaching culture is also political. It is not clear to me that interdisciplinary work shares this politics, though I look forward to reading what others have to say about this. 19 Special Forum: Victorian Studies and Interdisciplinarity Perhaps none of the above is news to anyone. I am beginning to sound a little shrill even to my own ears. It might be better to descend from the soapbox and stick to some analysis of my own academic practice. However tentatively, I see what I do as fitting within the big tent of cultural studies, though I am not sure that I am“in the true” of that enterprise; and I have done some interdisciplinary work (for my current project on British culture in the 1860s, for example, I have been looking at art and music as well as literary and dramatic texts). Generally, I am interested in cultural history and in tracking the way in which particular cultural forms worked to reshape consciousness at particular historical moments. I am particularly interested in forms that were enormously popular for a period before fading into obscurity, sometimes to be revived again at a later date for a different audience. For example,Wilkie Collins’s sensation novel The Woman in White (1859–60) has enjoyed an academic vogue long after its original moment, where, say, Robert Coote’s A Sensation Polka (1863) has not. In these sudden flare-ups of popularity we can most clearly see how cultural forms interact with their historical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 18-21
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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