Saturday, November 27, 2010

boundary 2

Another journal founded in the poststructural moment of early 1970s, boundary 2 today has taken a turn away from its initial concerns, but seems unsure of where it's going. Initially edited at SUNY-Buffalo, it once mixed theory with postmodern poetry (Black Mountain and SUNY-Buffalo poets like Creeley, Olsen, and Bernstein), publishing as many poems as essays in its early issues. boundary 2 implicated itself in the debates around deconstruction and postmodern aesthetics through the 70s and 80s. Postmodernism for this journal was, with few exceptions, celebrated as a sort of Nietzschean anti-enlightenment discourse full of liberatory potential, leveraged against the totalizing knowledges of scientific modernity and the ambitious aesthetic and architectural works of high modernism.

Now edited at the University of Pittsburgh, boundary 2 has reimagined itself. In the early 2000s, its submissions page was revised to read the following:

The editors of boundary 2 announce that they no longer intend to publish in the standard professional areas, but only materials that identify and analyze the tyrannies of thought and action spreading around the world and that suggest alternatives to these emerging configurations of power. To this end, we wish to inform our readers that, until further notice, the journal will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

(We should note in passing that they haven't closed submissions: each issue tends to contain CFPs for upcoming special issues.) Whether they've lived up to this re-politicization, though, is a matter of debate. They haven't entirely abandoned the literary forms on which they staked their initial reputation (recent special issue on contemporary poetics from Chistian Bok to flarf; another on “big” novels since Gravity's Rainbow; essays discussing Bernstein, Ashberry, and Baraka). But beyond these literary interests, boundary 2 appears to have taken seriously questions raised by the globalization of culture. Special issues on Chinese cultural politics and political form, as well as on the 1960s as a multi-polar “event” (in France's May '68, but also Latin America, Poland, the Caribbean, and the “New” South [U.S.]), as well as a continuing interest in global film, suggest a genuine attempt to engage with non-western epistemologies and political forms. This despite the obvious constraints of a journal published and largely written within the American academy.

Other recent concerns include the fate of the university; the Tea Party; techno-animality; the Catholic Church's relationship to science; Said on Zionism; Gramsci on civil society; Virilio on Virilio; states of emergency and republican power; and, at last, a “zombie manifesto”.

Critical Inquiry

A prestige journal in the humanities that seems quite aware of its status. But given the academic celebrity of many of its contributors, and its generally forbidding editorial standard (it very rarely publishes grad students), it tends to reflect, and occasionally set, many of the current agendas of (American) humanities research.

The journal is supported at the University of Chicago, from which it draws much, but not all, of its editorial board. It was founded in 1974, a latecomer in the spate of journals founded after “theory”'s introduction to the American academy. Here's editorial board member James Chandler on the journal's reticent engagement with theory:

There was something latent in [CI's] strange unfashionability that gave the journal its chance. I want to describe this as a distinctive kind of attention to the disciplinary system of the cold war university. Not exactly theory—at least not theory in the sense that we have come to associate it with, say, the famous Johns Hopkins symposium on structuralism in 1968. It was something more, well, Aristotelian than that, a methodological self-consciousness about critical practice that might better be described as a sense of where one is in the disciplinary scheme of things—at least in that part of the scheme that pertains to the arts, the humanities, and the interpretive social sciences. (James Chandler, “Critical Disciplinarity”, CI 30.2 (Winter 2004): 355-60)

Ambivalence towards disciplinarity in the wake of 1960s poststructural critiques of the human sciences has always informed CI's sense of itself. It continues to tack closer to the literary uptake of high theory (or at least high seriousness) than cultural studies. Where cultural studies's interdisciplinarity has always been a critique of academic disciplines, direct or implied, CI's focus on a meta-disciplinary idea of the humanities is far less willing to dismiss past scholarship, for better and for worse.

An anniversary issue in 2004 (from which I pulled the above quote) asked many contributors to comment on the project of “critical inquiry” today. Responses varied, but a major preoccupation was the disconnect between theory and politics. The immediate occasion was the beginning of the Iraq invasion, which caused some soul-searching about the (non-)effects of theory. Since then, the journal has published more explicitly political content, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (translation of an exchange between Blanchot and Levinas; controversy over the Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Tolerance planned for Jerusalem). Incidentally, major theorists's contributions tend to stay within the limits of some narrower idea of politics: Zizek (tolerance, pluralism), Jameson (space flight, Sokurov), Butler (academic freedom) and Nancy Fraser (justice) all apparently shop their more committed Marxist or feminist writings elsewhere.

Other recent directions: science studies and ecology; translations of essays by Jacques Ranciere, Alain Badiou, and Roberto Esposito; interrogating multitude and governmentality; art histories and media materialities; literature and reading, considered within a broader framework of media studies; individual essays on Agamben, Deleuze, Foucault; memorials for Edward Said and Derrida; and, laudably, more writing from social scientists than most other cultural studies journals. University of Chicago anthropologists like Marshall Sahlins, Michael Taussig, and Jean and John Comaroff publish here, bringing a different tradition of thinking about culture to bear.

Monday, November 22, 2010


TOPIA was established in 1997 and emphasizes, but does not limit itself to, investigations of Canadian culture and society. Published out of offices at York University through the combined efforts of Wilfrid Laurier Press and Cape Breton University Press, TOPIA remains Canada's only journal explicitly dedicated to cultural studies.

Papers published in TOPIA tend to consist of applied critical theory, or cross-disciplinary cultural analysis, with an emphasis on the political role culture plays as a vehicle for social transformation. The online archive emphasizes in TOPIA's mandate a concern for the reading, and re-reading of history in light of the mulitdisciplinary space offered by cultural studies, as well as encouraging reflection on the dynamics and politics of disciplinarity itself. In the editorial of the tenth anniversary issue, editor Jody Berland points out the advantage of cultural studies' relatively open status as a discipline in Canada: being one of the few Canadian journals dedicated to this emergent approach to the human sciences, TOPIA is able to escape the kind of splintering and specialization that might be produced by a more diversified field (Fall 2007).

Alongside its acceptance of diverse critical approaches to the study of culture, TOPIA offers a shifting focal point of analysis in the form of special issues dedicated to particular topics. It is also possible to detect in the journal's recent publication history an increased emphasis on globalism and the international. Recent issues have focused on diaspora (2007), Islam (2008), ecology and the environment (2009), a double issue on "Cultures of Militarization" (Oct 2010) and an issue on Bollywood (forthcoming, Fall 2011). Earlier special issues focus on feminist cultural materialism (2005), and technology and culture (2004).

Areas of research relevant to TOPIA are: the historical, institutional, and aesthetic formation of Canadian culture; analysis of visual art, film, television, music, literature and popular culture in Canada; the sociology of museums, galleries and the art market; the evolution of environmental geopolitics, city planning, architecture, landscape and new approaches to nature; cultural studies of science and technology; social, cultural and spatial configurations of new technologies; Canada's cultural industries; nationalism, multiculturalism, and the contemporary nation-state in the era of global integration. What unites these very diverse areas of investigation is the central role played by culture in contemporary social transformation. (TOPIA website)

TOPIA is published twice a year, and submissions are subject to blind peer review. In addition to essays, the journal publishes reviews, and regularly includes a catch-all section called "Offerings" which presents shorter pieces, round-table discussions, etc. The journal also publishes a regular column on "Cultural Studies and Political Economy". For the past two years, TOPIA has received funding from SSHRC.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cultural Critique

Bashful, cryptic, or something else altogether - I'm not sure what the reason is, but Cultural Critique doesn't have much information about itself posted online.

Perhaps not bashful, since one of the few statements the journal does offer includes the term "path-breaking." Its scope and content are meant to be "international," engaging in "cultural analysis" and "[e]mphasizing critique rather than criticism." It's unclear what precisely is meant by this last distinction. It's left up to the reader to discover that through reading through essays the journal has published.

There seems to be a fair amount of breadth in what the journal is willing to cover, anything involving "culture, theory, and politics," it seems, from analysis of media texts and cultural issues, to close readings of theory and dialog with theoretical frameworks (including "Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, semiotics, political economy, and hermeneutics"). In addition to essays they regularly publish fairly substantial book reviews with an explicit emphasis on work that might not get reviewed elsewhere.

The journal has three main editors, all from University of Minnesota, and Cultural Critique is, in fact, housed in Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. The larger editorial collective mostly comprises American scholars but includes a couple from elsewhere  (UK, Canada).

Although our understanding is that the journal is peer-reviewed, the website doesn't say so. Unsolicited manuscripts seem to be welcome, but allow for a minimum four-month response to contributions.

Cultural Critique publishes three times a year, and since it's onto issue 75 now it's probablyt 25 years old, though again, the website doesn't say.

They do have a sense of their readership though, and state that the journal is subscribed to by:
"Academics and students in English, cultural studies, drama, literary theory, language studies, sociology, political science, and comparative literature."

There are themed issues but also many issues with no particular focus. Essay topics range widely. But in general there seems to be an emphasis on issues and theories more than texts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Culture Machine

Established in 1999, Culture Machine (CM) is an annual, online, open-access journal that presents itself as a site of “fundamental research” in cultural studies and cultural theory, with a goal to undercut existing paradigms and assumptions of the field. Based in the UK, the editorial board of CM is dominated by younger scholars such as Gary Hall, Clare Birchall, Joanna Zylinska and Jeremy Gilbert (all featured in the 2006 New Cultural Studies anthology). In opposition to the prior generation of cultural studies journals, such as Social Text, CM explicitly rejects any particular agenda or project (cultural, theoretical, social, ethical or, perhaps most interestingly, political) and retains a traditional system of peer-review. Despite this, many of the articles published in CM seem to favour a lighter, playful style of scholarship which would seem to indicate a common editorial tone.

Central to CM is a particular focus upon issues of “experimentation.” While the journal seems to follow the recent trend towards themed issues – all 11 issues of CM have been themed – articles often take up familiar themes such as “biopolitics” and “deconstruction” in unusual ways, whether through shifts in interpretation and emphasis (for example, biopolitics is understood in terms of scientific biology, such as biotech, cellular biology and drugs) or through experimental forms of presentation, particularly with respect to new media. In recent years the journal seems to have become increasingly concerned with new media, both as a site that speaks to wider cultural concerns, and as a means to offer new forms of more open-ended, speculative and risk-taking scholarship.

Even more interestingly, CM seems willing to let these experiments fail if they’re not working out, as evinced in their somewhat abandoned supplementary projects, such as the under-stocked Csearch Archive, and the Interzones, a section for non-standard forms of scholarship (which mostly consists of shorter or longer, lyrical or polemic pieces). They do, however, retain their rolling reviews section, which takes advantage of the ease of online publishing to stay as up-to-date as possible, and the more unorthodox wiki-inspired Liquid Theory project (

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies

Continuum is the journal affiliated with the Cultural Studies Association of Australia (CSAA).

They've been around for a couple of decades, publishing around 6 peer-reviewed issues a year. They claim to be a venue for new voices and renowned scholars, looking at "new areas for investigation" and "new agendas for enquiry." The papers they print might engage with teaching or thinking about media and culture, but they're generally expected to focus on the "relationship between media texts and wider questions of culture."

Stated themes and issues:
  • communities, publics, nations
  • taste and value
  • international mediascapes
  • policy, industry, academic interventions
  • disciplinary issues in history, media studies, cultural studies, philosophy, visual arts
  • technologies, identities, cultures

As all the above suggests, the articles in the journal tend to hone in on particular media texts as an entry point into broader cultural and social issues, but in a way that reads these texts not simply as indicators or symptoms but looks at the kind of work they do and how they do it. The emphasis on media tends to lead to a lot work (including themed issues) on various facets of popular culture, particularly film and television.