Cultural Studies without Structure: Co-optation of the Critical in Neoliberal Academe

Much of the current scholarship of cultural studies is a necessary and important accompaniment to diverse forms of neoliberal transformations of politics and economics globally. The emergence of cultural studies in communication in the 1990s is also juxtaposed in the backdrop of the hegemony of neoliberalism as the organizing framework of thought.

What role then did cultural studies play in the context of neoliberalism?

The ascendance of cultural studies in academia as "the" critical has taken over the performance of critique through cultural descriptors. These cultural descriptors most often are disengaged from questions of structure(s), and by occupying "the" critical space, they draw attention away from the everyday necessities of critiquing neoliberalism and challenging it.

Cultural Studies, performing as sites of radical difference within academic institutions, on one hand, position themselves as oppositional sites. On the other hand, the lack of engagement with structures, the absence of political economy, and the lack of critique of institutions means that much of cultural studies is more of a tool for reproducing hegemonic structures rather than interrupting such structures.

Descriptions of meanings, interpretations, and flows that don't attend to structures or direct their critique toward structures simply become tools for replicating these structures. The analysis of a popular television program that does not then engage with questions of how the program narrates the interests of the capitalist classes, how the program produces working class consent, or how it reproduces the imaginaries of neoliberal hegemony is not really a critique but rather a description or an interpretation.

In this backdrop, the radical posturing of Cultural Studies then as a site of critique co-opts the spaces and sites for real radical critique. The possibilities of imagining other worlds are backgrounded or erased by the performed radicalism of Cultural Studies as critique.


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