Present and Past Debates
Programmes and Research
To what end do we practise and propagate Cultural Studies (and why do
we organize our annual Cultural Studies conferences)?
Hans Kastendiek and Sebastian Berg
Contribution to the 11th meeting of the working group “British Cultural
Studies in the New Lšnder of the Federal Republic of Germany”
on 12.1.2002 in Berlin (this version dated 15.1.2002)
A central thesis …
The German Association for the Study of British Cultures, which was founded
in November 2001, is a broad church. It will only achieve anything if
we protect and strengthen its pluralistic character. This means, however,
that we must remain conscious of our collective aims and clearly declare
and open-mindedly represent our differing interests.
… and thirteen (!) theses
I. British Cultural Studies and English Studies
1. Our collective aims relate to expanding the established research and
teaching ingredients of German English Studies to include the formulation
of problems and questions in terms of cultural science, together with
corresponding content and subject matter, theories and methods. This leads,
however, to the emergence of very divergent academic and political tendencies,
whereby Cultural Studies is understood as
(1) an innovatory and augmentative approach to Literary Studies and Linguistics,
(2) a new component discipline of English Studies, and
(3) a component of a new component discipline.
2. According to the first vision, the two traditional pillars of English
Studies are reinforced or given a new foundation. The second and third
visions of Cultural Studies presume a new architecture for English Studies,
for they postulate extending the structure of subject matter and investigation
whereby English Studies develops a third pillar.
3. The second vision sees Cultural Studies as widening the objective field
of English Studies to include cultural practices which formerly did not
fall within the scope of its teaching and research (e.g. media studies
or pop cultures). These may in part be worked on with philological “apparatus”,
but they also lead to the borrowing and trying out of theoretical concepts
and methodical approaches that come from other disciplines such as Cultural
History and Cultural Sociology.
4. The third vision sees Cultural Studies as an extremely important complement
(content, theory, method) to a historical- and social-science-based British
(etc.) Studies – and vice versa! Cultural and Social Science are
understood as separate but nevertheless mutually dependent ways of perceiving
and thinking about society.
5. The differences between the three tendencies can be vividly illustrated
with the so-called Landeskunde question. In the first vision, Landeskunde
serves at most for a sort of “applied language practice”.
In the second vision, Landeskunde is either replaced by Cultural Studies
or entrusted with imparting the unloved but not wholly dispensable facts
and figures. In the third vision, conventional Landeskunde is superseded
by British (etc.) Studies based on cultural studies and social science.
II. British Cultural Studies - British Studies – British/Cultural
6. The aim of cultural- and social-scientific British (etc.) Studies is
the comprehensive examination of the present society with the goal of
comprehending the collective identities, discourses and forms of social
organization, which have been influenced by specific historical and structural
7. The teaching and research objects that result from this should determine
the methods used for investigation. This way of working, geared to problems
and objects, differs from that which is geared to a discipline, where
theories and methods often dominate the choice of themes. Most of the
objects of investigation, however, are open to more than one approach,
and the use of several helps towards a more thorough analysis.
8. To be more concrete, the explanation of social processes requires not
only the examination of their discursive representations but also the
historical, structural and institutional locating of the actors. Such
an intention can never be more than partially realized by an individual.
For the discipline as a whole, however, the investigation of social and
cultural practices needs the perspectives of both cultural and social
9. The necessary combination of these perspectives, which may be pithily
understood as the (social science) question of the “why” of
social developments and the (cultural science) question of the “how”
of their discursive mediation and negotiation, has also occupied the British
practice of Cultural Studies, more however in its cultural materialist
than in its poststructuralist guise. It is perhaps not unimportant to
recall this starting point.
10. British/Cultural Studies can, in deference to the “Studies”
idea, make various complementary but also mutually
challenging and problematizing contributions to the re-/deconstruction
of the object “British cultures and society”.
II. Why Cultural Studies conferences?
11. Apart from the Journal for the Study of British Cultures, the conferences
are so far the only forum for the cultural studies diaspora in English
Studies. They should, however, be more than a thematic supplement to the
usual conference business and should serve as a forum for agreement over
the aims and tasks and the institutional forms and possibilities for a
“reformed English Studies” (Kramer).
12. The conferences should promote a productive competition between the
three tendencies mentioned in the first thesis, not in the sense of competition
between theories, methods and approaches, but as a competition in respect
of content in the contributions to the understanding of British (etc.)
cultures and society.
13. The conferences should purposefully try to widen the circle of participants
and to attract speakers for other disciplines (cultural, social and economic
history, cultural anthropology, comparative political and social research,
etc.). What discipline more than English Studies and what sub-discipline
more than British/Cultural Studies could potentially be more suitable
to become something like a focal point for British Studies in Germany?