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April 2010

Note from the author: This article was written as a provocative short piece to answer the call from Melissa to ‘boost’ the departmental ‘Thinking Culture’ blog. I regretted writing it as soon as I had finished it and sent it out to Sarah and Viv. But as Sarah and Viv have kindly agreed to write articles in response to it, and as we have reached understanding that this is an academic discussion instead of a personal attack, I post this article here to invite more comments and discussions from the departmental staff and student community (and those interested in the issue). Sarah’s and Viv’s responses are coming soon, and I expect that they are going to be very tough.

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GCS runs a public research seminar every fortnight during semester. The details for tomorrow's event are below.

James Donald, Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and Professor of Film Studies at UNSW

"The House I Live In: Paul Robeson’s formation in Harlem"

Abstract: Paul Robeson arrived in Harlem in the Red Summer of 1919, as the Negro Renaissance was getting underway. In the decade that followed, while Harlem was in vogue, Robeson achieved the status of both New Negro hero and black star. His attempts to negotiate the claims and expectations of the Renaissance, at the same time as establishing a career as a performer, while often trying to justify pragmatic career decisions in terms of Renaissance cultural politics, often made him a controversial figure. This paper looks at the difficulty of ‘being Paul Robeson’ in the 1920s, with special reference to his stage and screen roles and his music.

Julian Murphet, Professor of Modern Film and Literature at UNSW

"My mother is a Graphophone; or, Faulkner’s radio play for voices"

Abstract: In late 1929, when William Faulkner famously wrote his novel As I Lay Dying in a 47-day white heat next to a coal powerhouse dynamo, the commercial contest between the established phonograph industry and the nascent radio industry entered its decisive stage. The reproduced American “voice” was straddling the technical divide between grooves that stored sonic frequencies, and the “ether” in which radio waves vibrated; and large capitalist interests were demanding rapid fidelity-convergence on the one hand, and prohibiting the playing of phonographs on the air on the other. Never had the question of represented voice been so loaded with economic and medial determinations; which may help to explain the unprecedented atomizing of Faulkner’s narrative voice in his novel into 15 distinct ones. This paper explores the sonic background to Faulkner’s self-described “tour de force” in capitalist media history, and the enormous shifts in gendered psychoanalytic functions triggered by that history. It asks the big question: how can a dead mother speak?

Date: Friday, April 30, 2010
Time: 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: The Refectory, Main Quadrangle, University of Sydney (downstairs from the Faculty of Arts)
Chair: Mark Steven

All welcome. Drinks will follow at Manning Bar.


An intention I have for this blog is to further the cultural studies tradition of sharing "Working Papers". Researching my PhD, I tracked down a number of the original "Working Papers" published by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. These were pretty rudimentary photocopies of typed scripts, but they were useful for showing the kind of research being done within the Centre, as well as the development of staff and students' ideas over time.

The Centre actually developed this concept to publish a specific journal, Working Papers in Cultural Studies, from 1971. As Graeme Turner explains, the Centre's collectivist practice - students often published in collaboration with staff - worked against the established hierarchies of teacher and pupil, indeed the publishing program itself was a measure of the Centre's unconventional institutional ambitions.

We can see this tradition continuing in other initiatives since this time. In Australia, for instance, M/C Journal began in a similar fashion (it would be great to hear more about this history if anyone involved is reading!). Meanwhile postgraduate journals like Melbourne University's Antithesis offer an important role for students seeking to get involved in publishing, and to have their writing read alongside more senior scholars (the blogroll on that site has links to other postgraduate journals of this type).

At a time when publishing seemed to matter as much as thesis completion, there were conflicts in the BCCCS between the perceived urgency of political and intellectual consolidation and the need to produce more sanctioned qualifications. This is a tension that continues to drive many students in our Department, and I hope that by sharing their work here they may be able to come to some kind of accommodation.

For feminists in the BCCCS, working groups were also important. The Women Thesis Writers' Group invited feminist grad students and other friends of the Centre "to exchange written work, provide and receive feedback, and discuss ideas" according to the editors of Off Centre: Feminism and Cultural Studies . This important book marked the 10 year anniversary of Women Take Issue - the feminist edition of the Working Papers journal, which holds particular meaning in the scholarly history our Department follows. Perhaps this space can offer a similar, if wider, function of support.

As I have argued in my own research, blogging is useful for thesis writers in particular because it breaks the isolation of the sole-authored project. In increasingly professionalised and competitive graduate programs for cultural studies, it may even provide a space for dialogue across campuses and regions so that the politics and ethics for contemporary cultural theory may continue to be defined and realised.


Welcome to the relaunched Thinking Culture blog. This space will feature writing from staff, students and friends of the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. It will be a place to share news and ideas, current research, matters of public debate, and experiences of studying and teaching culture.

Links on the side will take you to other blogs authored by staff and students in the Department. We'll also build a list of affiliate blogs over time, so if you like what you see here and want to share links, do get in touch. As the new web mistress (!) around here I'll be introducing some of the blog's authors over a series of posts. So stay tuned for that. And in the meantime, feel free to leave us a comment and tell us about the issues you think cultural studies could and should address.


About the Blog

This is the blog for thinking and talking about culture, Cultural Studies and cultural analysis at the University of Sydney.