‘Troubled Encounters’: Isabel Capeloa Gil integrou o painel da conferência de Warwick em Veneza


Isabel Capeloa Gil apresentou, na conferência Troubled Encounters , organizada pelo centro de Warwick em Veneza, no passado dia 13 de Maio, o texto “Culturocracy”, de que aqui transcrevemos um excerto.

1. The troubled encounter of culture@work
A buzz-word took the humanities by storm over the past two decades. Writ large in bold golden letters ‘culture’ was heralded as the road to salvation amongst the despondent rhetoric of crisis in the humanities. And as with other celebratory knowledge regimes it instilled a Culturocracy, the rule of culture – whatever that might mean – as a new dispositif herding together disciplines, methodological approaches and research topics. As the lure of literature subsided, and as the crisis of the humanities became a master narrative for the demise of literature departments all over Europe, culture, cultural studies, culture studies, the study of culture, have occupied the vacant seat of the old literary pope and inaugurated a new doctrine, a new rule, a new religion.
But a regime needs a set of rules, what in science is often brought under the label of paradigm, and this is undoubtedly problematic when it comes to measure culture studies under the guise of ‘modern science’. In fact, this metadiscipline, as Aleida Assmann calls it, becomes problematic in the ways it exceeds modern disciplinary boundaries and asks for a rethinking of the models and modes of knowledge production. Let me single out three main aspects of the culture studies challenge that may be subsumed as – the rule of conjuncture over the object; the programmatic drive and the transdisciplinary and transectorial volition of culture studies and finally culture studies as a practice of interference. First as a discipline of disciplines ‘Culture Studies’ is not defined by its object (whether literature, film or art) but is rather interested in the conditions that frame the cultural existence of an artistic object or the social fact. In fact, this is what Lawrence Grossberg calls the work of ‘radical contextuality’, because the study of culture treats the object, context and theory as being mutually constituted (Grossberg, 2010: 26-27). Context and problematics then, rather than a specific object define the work of culture studies. Secondly, the liquidity of the field derives from what many consider both its methodological looseness as well as its poor on the one hand, excessive, on the other, theoretical backbone. Instead, I would argue that culture studies is framed by a programmatic drive (‘we all want to change the world’) that rests on the continuous questioning of the very methodological premises of research.
The study of culture is unavoidably a troubled encounter, the coming together of difference. As sociologist Dirk Baecker argues, to study culture is precisely to try to come to terms with the trauma of cultural difference (Baecker, 2010). This troubled and conflict-torn encounter is not necessarily warring, but it may be guerroyant, if what is at stake is the respectful treatment of difference, be it individuals, objects or issues. The trouble arises not simply from the fact that this is a knotty process, but also because it is more likely than not to plunge the very interpreter into trouble, as it opens the ploughing field of research into the awareness that, as Hannah Arendt claimed, ‘the Other may also have a point.’
Because it is problem-driven, the field of culture studies deals with objects that allow themselves to become founding events in the constitution of the field. Lauren Berlant speaks thereafter of the case-driven dimension of research in the cultural sector which programmatically turns the case into a problem-event, one that is selected due to its pedagogical qualities and its ability to offer “an account of the event and the world.” (Berlant, 2007:665). This ability to shape an account of the world builds from the researcher’s choice, a selection, which, as Mieke Bal pointedly remarks in Travelling Concepts in the Humanities (2002), constructs the field in a continuous poetic feed-back loop. Let us listen to Bal:
The field of cultural analysis is not delimited, because the traditional delimitations must be suspended; by selecting an object you question a field. Nor are its methods sitting in a toolbox, waiting to be applied; they, too, are part of the exploration. You don’t apply a method, you conduct a meeting between several, a meeting in which the object participates, so that, together, object and methods, can become a new, not firmly delineated field. (Bal, 2002:10)
The fact that neither cultural objects nor the methodologies selected to approach them sit in a toolbox ‘waiting to be applied’ but are indeed part of the exploration, seeping into the research field and infiltrating analysis speaks volumes. Anchored in an area that is by definition porous, the study of culture incorporates a transsectorial grammar of problems that demands transdisciplinary, and almost custom made, methodologies.
The third challenge of our current culturocracy is metaphorically condensed in the literary formula of Herman Melville’s “Bartlebly the Scrivener’s” assertion ‘I prefer not to’. In fact, culture studies is defined by a strategic conceptual injunction to do otherwise. Rather than reproducing accepted knowledge, culture studies recuperates the task of the humanities as a practice of interference in the dominant organization of knowledge. As Jacques Rancière puts it in The Politics of Aesthetics, its work is about: “ways of doing and making that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making” (Rancière, 2004:13). The rule of culture, or contemporary culturocracy, is then basically defined by a form of cosmopolitan criticality that is proper to the humanities and cannot be subsumed under the co-option of culture by business driven intents.
Let me draw a parenthesis here to say that this not the statement of a destructive market luddite, and that collaboration between academia and the cultural sector (Cultural industries and creatives) is truly key for a further expansion of the field. The danger lies, I contend, in the coming together of the critical humanism of culture studies and the mantra of convergence culture that subsumes the analysis of culture to industrial production, that obscures people for products and that from a Southern European perspective is endangering the possibilities of democratic, open-ended critical reasoning.


BAECKER, Dirk (2000), Wozu Kultur?Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos

Bal, Mieke (2002), Travelling Concepts in the Humanities. A rough Guide, Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press

Bal, Mieke (2002), Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide, Toronto:            University of Toronto Press.

BERLANT, Lauren (2007), “On the Case”, Critical Inquiry, 33: 663-672

GROSSBERG, Lawrence (2010), Culture Studies in the Future Tense, Durham and London: Duke University Press



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