Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 7, No. 2, 1994
Screening Cultural Studies
Edited by Tom O'Regan & Toby Miller

Preface

Tom O'Regan

Screening Cultural Studies brings together screen and cultural studies. This is nothing new for Continuum. It has always been situated on the cusp of both: sometimes more of one, sometimes more of the other, sometimes both. In this issue we have tried to make the connection explicit (and to be honest we also thought doing so would prove a selling point). We have included essays which make a topic of the relation - and sometimes non-relation - between screen and cultural studies (Miller's two essays and those by Grundmann and O'Regan); essays which are concerned with objects shared by screen and cultural studies: popular fiction (Bukatman, Iwamura, Ludlow), performance (Roach), popular film (Routt and Mortimer) and television (McEachern), the film/television personality system (Bye); and essays which evidence the shared approaches of cultural and screen studies to questions of gender (Gilroy, McEachern, Leahy/King) and ethnicity (Griffiths). Such a collocation of articles will hopefully suggest divergences and convergences alike and enable a productive dialogue between cultural studies and screen studies.

Retrospectively, it is possible to see that it has been part of Continuum's mission to bring screen and cultural studies together into an often uneasy dialogue. At first - in 1987 - we called what we were doing 'screen studies with an interest in inter-media connections'. At the time we were trying to mark off what we were doing as more object- and site-centered than the approach-centered focus of The Australian Journal of Cultural Studies (which, at the time, was just about to become Cultural Studies). We were also trying to learn from the winding up of The Australian Journal of Screen Theory. While the latter had moved substantially away from its original 1970s agenda of screen theory it had not been able to develop a secure identity that could take advantage of that movement. We understood Continuum as being concerned with the cultural politics of the particular - rather than the general - instance. In a practical sense this meant attending to the sites in question in terms what was there: the assemblages of texts, the dispositions of knowledge, the institutional formations, and the practices of production and consumption (or writing and reading). It also involved giving due weight to how those involved in a site made sense of their own involvements and their sense of its politics. In this way Continuum looked at a series of communication or cultural technologies as forms of meaning in special sites (publishing, television, museums, radio, photography, "Communication and Tradition" (indigenous media), media discourse etc).

A consequence of our broad project to chart our contemporary communication technologies at their myriad levels was our commitment to a plurality of voices and approaches consonant with the sites examined. Curators, anthropologists, economists, geographers, Mills and Boon authors, theatre studies people and sociologists have all contributed to our pages. Each issue provided a sort of "montage of attractions". Our strategy was to create a mosaic in which through essay commission and placement in an issue a web is formed which makes the sum of the issue greater than its individual parts. At the same time this was not quite the relatively tight channelling and controlling of an edited book; it was looser, more "in process".

For a long time those involved as editors resisted describing what we were doing as 'Cultural Studies'. In a sense our readers and authors told us that this was what we were doing (see Morris 97). If this resistance seems odd now it also says something about the kinds of commitments that drove the journal and its cultural politics. The journal's existence has been tied to the Australian Film Commission's cultural policy. [1] If Continuum was a cultural studies journal then it was only through its being a screen studies journal. It had to be committed to the screen in some (even if somewhat tenuous) sense and to a certain kind of cultural politics to guarantee some chance of on-going funding. (As the principal editor over its life I did not mind these strictures too much; indeed I believe these constraints were integral to our success.) Only when it seemed possible to project cultural studies as a field and not a discipline-in-the-making did the label "cultural studies" sit comfortably.

What drove us to seek this kind of conjunctural, site-centered approach? Some of it was driven by the influence of the critical terminology and forms of critical attention of Michel Foucault with its emphases upon "technologies" - both governmental and those of the self (See King 233-4). Some of it was undoubtedly market-driven: the film culture community was simply not big enough to sustain a screen studies only journal in addition to Filmnews, Cinema Papers, Metro, Cantrills Filmnotes and Art & Text. Some of it was author driven: interesting work was being done in cultural studies or on the cusp of screen and cultural studies so we picked material up because we wanted the best available work. Some of it was driven by our Perth base where there simply is not a large enough screen/film culture to hold together an organised editorial base and where Eastern States and international connections have to be nurtured and continally maintained. Some of it was a function of the kind of work editors and the coterie of authors involved in these pages were involved in (these editors and authors had diverse interests and this encouraged the contemplation of a wide range of issues). Mostly, we sought to do more than simply reflect the field of an emerging discipline or publish only unsolicited material brought in the post.

Our project to bring screen and cultural studies together in thematic issues has not always been as legible or, indeed, as acceptable as it seems today. For some it seemed a heteroclite project without any discernible organising principle. Indeed some of the problems Continuum posed for readers stemmed from the relatively separate institutional enterprises screen studies and cultural studies appeared to be in the late 1980s and the pragmatic assessments about what was needed on the part of those in both enterprises. Recently someone described this early period of Continuum as 'before it became a cultural studies journal'; I pointed out that what was being remembered was the institutional separation of that time, not the actual journal which had in the first three volumes covered: museum and site criticism, Australian film in the 1950s, performance, Eric Michaels' media writings, Asian cinema and a general mixed issue 'Film, TV and the Popular' (of these six issues only three were 'screen studies').

Readers had to build up an image of Continuum over time. The interdisciplinary, quasi-public forum style of Continuum did not provide the kind of ideological and stylistic consistency necessary for those who wanted the journal's mission to be an association or "professional journal" particularly in the context of the felt need by 1989 to legitimize cultural studies as an area in its own right with a particular methodology (see Turner "Dilemmas"). Yet that same putative 'inconsistency' in Turner's terms was also read positively as a necessary part of a larger project.

In late 1988 Adrian Martin unexpectedly paid tribute to the journal and its associated publications ( History on/and/in Film and Film and Meaning) describing it as having a synoptic and multifaceted project unlike any hitherto in Australian screen studies (this was the claim for a more commodiously defined screen studies). Adrian was writing in Filmnews (a broadsheet publication with a broad film/making/criticism/reviewing remit). In many ways Continuum is temperamentally closer to Filmnews than it is to an 'association' journal such as Australian Journal of Communication (that Turner was writing for). It is more capricious, it is more partisan, it is more diverse, yet it is also academic. We were and are neither a screen studies nor a cultural studies journal. We were both - and being both attracted criticism and praise alike.

For our part - and all those who worked editorially on Continuum over its life shared this brief - ours was never one to protect and nurture cultural studies as an enterprise, it was to engage with cultural matters broadly defined in a range of sites. We were not disciplinary caretakers. The objects and sites surveyed were more important than the approach constructed to do the surveying with. If anything we were distrustful of monolithic approaches. [2] If Continuum looks more coherent and legible today it is because the field has moved with us and, to be sure, we have moved too.

In a sense Continuum could be seen to have continued the work of Intervention in that we did inherit some of its cultural politics and critical edge. We were not as overtly political and leftist but like Intervention we strove to be 'cross-disciplinary' and to serve as broad an intellectual public as was possible given the topics dealt with and the people involved. Consequently in terms of Australian journals we have ended up somewhere between Meanjin and Media Information Australia (both of which we now compete with for articles). And like these journals, we have had a quite explicit cultural politics to develop, renovate, criticise and assist the formation of Australian-based networks, cultural criticism, screen analysis, cultural practice and cultural policy.

We like to see this collection as Continuum's version of the cultural studies reader phenomenon: this time a screen/cultural studies reader. Since 1990 a largish number of cultural studies readers have come onto the market (see Blundell et al., Grossberg et al., Turner Nation, Frow and Morris, During). Each assay their own angle of incidence on cultural studies. Some of these readers are edited out of Australia: During's international collection, Turner's and Morris and Frow's Australian cultural studies readers. Readers represent as much a stocktaking of the past as suggesting future directions. Most are geared for the general reader and the national and international text-book markets.

Our version of a Cultural Studies Reader strives to be less synoptic, to be happily chaotic, to be mostly made up of new material, to canvass some new authors and to seek out screen-related objects on the margins of screen and cultural studies' central points of focus. It would be, we hoped, fresh (in both senses). In this we were hoping to continue what Continuum has always done: creating a mosaic that is something more raw and less fully developed than a 'book', but would have the advantage of throwing up work/ideas/interconnections that are in the making rather than being fully achieved. One such idea running through this collection is the notion of the specificity of popular art - its particularity, its mutations, its 'morality', its relation with an audience - explicitly developed by Routt and taken up in various ways by Bukatman, Iwamura, Bye, Mortimer, Miller, McEachern and O'Regan.

For my part I regard each issue as a kind of journey through a field/a site that I want to know more about. Toby and I hope you enjoy this journey as much as we did in putting it together.

Notes

1. For an extended discussion of the Australian Film Commission's relationship to the journal and Continuum's relation to cultural studies see O'Regan "Contemplating".

2. Of the four editors over the life of the journal - three (Tom O'Regan, Alec McHoul and Toby Miller) shared a distrust for grand theories and were directly influenced by Ian Hunter's piecemeal approach to social meanings.

Works Cited

Blundell, Valda, John Shepherd and Ian Taylor, eds. Relocating Cultural Studies: Developments in Theory and Research. London: Routledge, 1993.

Douglas, Ian. Film and Meaning. Ed. Horst Ruthrof. Perth: Continuum and the Film & Television Institute, 1988.

During, Simon, ed. The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1993.

Ferguson, Russell, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha and Cornel West, eds. Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art and Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1990.

Frow, John and Meaghan Morris, eds. Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1993.

Grossberg, Larry, Cary Nelson and Paula A. Treichler, eds. Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Giroux, Henry A. and Peter McLaren, eds. Between Borders: Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Hunter, Ian. Culture and Government. London: Macmillan, 1988.

King, Noel. "What was Then, This is Now: Writing and Teaching in the 1990s". Continuum, 7:1 (1993): 232-6.

Martin, Adrian. "The WA Project" Filmnews, 18:10 (Nov. 1988): 14,16.

Morris, Meaghan. Ecstasy and Economics: American Essays for John Forbes. Sydney: EM Press, 1992.

O'Regan, Tom and Brian Shoesmith eds. History on/and/in Film . Perth: History and Film Assn. of Australia, 1987.

O'Regan, Tom. "Contemplating Culture: Continuum's editor Tom O'Regan talks about cultural studies". Australian Book Review. n.153 August 1993: 51-53.

Turner, Graeme, ed. Nation, Culture, Text: Australian Cultural and Media Studies. London & New York: Routledge, 1993.

_____. "Dilemmas of a cultural critic: Australian cultural studies today" . Australian Journal of Communication. 16 (1989). 1-12.


New: 5 December, 1995 | Now: 14 May, 2015