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133 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2009 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 5, ISSUE 1 PP 133–138 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174309X388527 BOOK REVIEW POWER UNDER- AND OVERDETERMINED JEREMY VALENTINE Culture and Power: A History of Cultural Studies, Mark Gibson, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007, 228 + xi pages, $29.95/£16.99, PB ISBN 9781845201173 Any book that opens old wounds and makes a few new ones is to be welcomed and one of the virtues of Mark Gibson’s Culture and Power: A History of Cultural Studies is that it does just that. For example it’s hugely entertaining to read about Sheila Rowbotham’s long-forgotten objections to the caddishness of, in her phrase, “all the men of New Left Review.” Another is its attempt to constitute a theoretical object and an analytical problematic around the issue of power in cultural studies. The originality of the book derives from the creation of an approach that is framed by references to political theorists such as Talcott Parsons and political philosophers such as Michael Oakeshott not usually found in mainstream cultural studies, although Steven Lukes is absent, and by the development of a Foucauldian approach to power which adopts Foucault’s strategy of objectification through JEREMY VALENTINE WORKS AT QUEEN MARGARET UNIVERSITY, EDINBURGH. HE WAS CO-AUTHOR OF POLEMICIZATION: THE CONTINGENCY OF THE COMMONPLACE (EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999) AND IS CO-EDITOR OF THE MONOGRAPH SERIES TAKING ON THE POLITICAL. MOST OF HIS PUBLICATIONS ARE ABOUT CULTURAL THEORY AND POLITICAL THOUGHT BUT HE HAS ALSO DONE SOME ON ART INSTITUTIONS, THE CULTURAL INDUSTRIES, AND CULTURAL POLICY. > CULTURAL POLITICS 134 BOOK REVIEW identifying a “thematics” instead of Foucault’s positive theory of it. One must also applaud the breadth and depth of detail with which those things are done. Perhaps the easiest although not necessarily the most accurate way to summarize the book is as an account of the development of arguments around culture and power from the work of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams through Hall and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at Birmingham University to more recent attempts to transnationalize and decenter Cultural studies. Rather than tackle the “what is culture” question, Gibson critically analyzes the ways in which power is thought and referenced in these debates. What Gibson finds is an undertheorization of power which explains the links between the debates and the sociocultural-political contexts in which they take place and which forms the political value attributed to cultural studies itself, both by those who affirm it and by those who attack or dismiss the whole enterprise. Power as it is figured in cultural studies is organized through an oscillation between a general concept of power and affirmative descriptions of dispersed powers without any particular theoretical or empirical unity. Sometimes that is theoretically based, and sometimes it is used to support different and often opposing accounts of the political value of culture. The reason for that derives from the “ethicohistorical specificity,” in Gibson’s acknowledged borrowing of Paul Gilroy’s phrase, of cultural studies itself. It allows Gibson to link cultural studies to its peculiarly English context as a consequence of the development of the political structure of the British state from the beginning of the “Long Revolution” in the eighteenth century characterized by weak central authority and strong and independently minded institutions. In other words as Foucault’s scandalous remark endorsed by Gibson puts it: “if there is one country that was not totalitarian in the history of Europe, it is undoubtedly Britain” (p. 51). That makes it hard to complain about an oppressive and dominating power. On Gibson’s account much of cultural studies is concerned either with inventing one or claiming that one doesn’t exist, often at the same time. Hence at times the adoption of totalizing explanations of power, often drawn from European Marxist theory and its theoretical and philosophical context, is simply a critique of the very Englishness of the context of cultural studies, while at other times the affirmation of culture, usually of the popular kind, as exterior or opposed to power is simply an affirmation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1751-7435
Print ISSN
1743-2197
Pages
pp. 133-137
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
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