New Writing – Working Papers in Cultural Studies

If it wasn’t clear already, I needed a little break from blogging.  This past year has been an amazing one here on The Late Age of Print, with remarkable response to many of my posts — particularly those about my new research on algorithmic culture.  But with the school year wrapping up in early May, I decided I needed a little break; hence, the crickets around here.  I’m back now and will be blogging regularly throughout the summer, although maybe not quite as regularly as I would during the academic year.  Thanks for sticking around.

I suppose it’s not completely accurate to say the school year “wrapped up” for me in early May.  I went right from grading final papers to finishing an essay my friend and colleague Mark Hayward and I had been working on throughout the semester.  (This was also a major reason behind the falloff in my blogging.)  The piece is called “Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature,” and we’ll be presenting a version of it at the upcoming Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference in Paris.

“Working Papers” is, essentially, a retelling of the origins of British cultural studies from a materialist perspective.  It’s conventional in that it focuses on one of the key institutions where the field first coalesced: the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which was founded at the University of Birmingham in 1964 under the leadership of Richard Hoggart.  It’s unconventional, however, in that the essay focuses less on the Centre’s key figures or on what they had to say in their work.  Instead it looks closely at the form of the Centre’s publications, many of which were produced in-house in a manner that was rough around the edges.

Mark and I were interested in how, physically, these materials seemed to embody an ethic of publication prevalent at the Centre, which stressed the provisionality of the research produced by faculty, students, and affiliates. The essay thus is an attempt to solve a riddle: how did the Centre manage to achieve almost mythical status, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t much in the business of producing definitive statements about the politics of contemporary culture?  Take for instance its most well known publication, Working Papers in Cultural Studies, whose very title indicates that every article appearing in the journal was on some level a draft.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will point you in the direction of the complete essay.  It’s hosted on my site for writing projects, The Differences & Repetitions Wiki (which I may well rename the Late Age of Print Wiki).  Mark and I have created an archive for “Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature,” where you’ll find not only the latest version of the essay and earlier drafts but also a bunch of materials pertaining to their production.  We wanted to channel some of the lessons we learned from Birmingham, which led us to go public with the process of our work.  (This is in keeping with another essay I published recently, “The Visible College,” a version of which you can also find over on D&RW.)

Our “Working Papers” essay is currently in open beta, which means there’s at least another round of edits to go before we could say it’s release-ready.  That’s where you come in.  We’d welcome your comments on the piece, as we’re about to embark on what will probably be the penultimate revision.  Thank you in advance, and we hope you like what you see.

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