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Cultural Turns


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Lecture slides for MA Contemporary Art Theory and for MFA Visual Culture students at Edinburgh College of Art.

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Cultural Turns

  1. 1. Cultural Turns
  2. 2. This lecture will introduce two key methodological issues key to this module: 1) Metahistory 2) The Cultural Turn
  3. 3. Metahistories
  4. 4. 1. METAHISTORY Hayden White - Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973). o Literary readings of historical texts / History writing is a form of literature. o The historiography of every period is defined by a trope specific to its time and place.
  5. 5. Roland Barthes ‘The Discourse of History“ (1967) Barthes applying concepts of structural linguistics to historical narrative: “Does the narration of past events, which, in our culture from the time of the Greeks onwards, has generally been subject to the sanction of historical 'science', bound to the unbending standard of the 'real', and justified by the principles of 'rational' exposition - does this form of narration really differ, in some specific trait, in some indubitably distinctive feature, from imaginary narration, as we find it in the epic, the novel, and the drama? And if this trait or feature exists, then in what level of the historical statement must it be placed?” In this sense, he has much in common with Hayden White who also saw History primarily as a form of narrative discourse.
  6. 6. Michel de Certeau The Writing of History (1975) Freudian reading of History writing in relation to the Uncanny – o In western histories the past explains the present. o In psychoanalysis, the past haunts the patient, its is a phantom in the present. o Hence, the past is read as an unstable or impossible reflection of death which de Certeau describes ambiguously as a “strange familiarity” or “familiar strangeness”. o Rather than manage events, Certeau argues that historiography should speak with the dead by adopting a psychoanalytic approach. o de Certeau argues that written history’s manageable past is at the cost of a massive exclusion of popular and oral forms of culture that did not fit the rationalist framework.
  7. 7. David Wojnarowicz Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978-79)
  8. 8. Dominick LaCapra Examines the writing of post- traumatic histories. o How do we write about the Holocaust? o How does memory effect our recollection of such traumatic events in history?
  9. 9. Against-Metahistory Many historians, such as Richard Evans, dislike the disregard of how historical facts limit what the historian might wish to say about the past. Metahistorians use narratives to assess other narratives. How can we tell which story is worth following? Is there, as Richard Evans suggests, a link between postmodernist theory and Holocaust denial?
  10. 10. Microhistoriography: Examines historical events from the perspective of the microcosmic, from the vantage of the ‘common’ people: the disenfranchized, oppressed, poor, non- conformist, or otherwise forgotten, as opposed to that of the power structure. e.g.s of People’s Histories: • A History of Racism, 800BC-Today • Radical Puppetry - 17th-today. • Revolutionary Song in France, 1789-1989 • The Radical History of Aussie Rules Football • Skinhead Culture, 1960-Today • Italians in Northern Ireland Casalattico is home to many Italians in N.Ireland
  11. 11. People’s Histories • In de Certeau’s psychoanalytic terms, People’s History is the return of the repressed. Can be written by amateur historians or gathered as oral / folk histories from the ‘people’ themselves. • Often local histories, or micro-histories emerge from communities themselves and are vanity or community published. (This can be good and bad). • Are potentially limitless - leads to proliferation of histories, debates and alternative voices. • Archival aspect is useful for alternative visual and oral forms of education and education through material culture and museums.
  12. 12. Co-Op The co-operative movement that flourishes all over the world today was started in 1844 with a shop in Rochdale by 28 men, known as the Rochdale Pioneers.
  13. 13. Football Football became a professional game in the 1880s with players being paid a wage. Attempts were soon made to form a union and in 1907 the Players Union was formed.
  14. 14. The People's Palace is Glasgow's social history museum and a chance to see the story of the people and city of Glasgow from 1750 to the present.
  15. 15. Rory MacBeth Jeremy Deller Ruth Ewan
  16. 16. Aleksandra Mir Beauty Free, Cold War Hot Stuff and Real Real Estate Flowers (2005)
  17. 17. Khalil Rabah, The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, 2005. Multimedia installation. 9th Istanbull Biennial
  18. 18. Michael Blum, A Tribute to Safiye Behar, 2005. Installation: mixed media. 9th Istanbull Biennial
  19. 19. 2. THE CULTURAL TURN: THEORIES AND METHODS [known often within art and design as the ‘linguistic turn’] o The hypothesis that culture powerfully shapes human histories (cultural determinism). o The idea that key aspects of life can best be understood by exploring the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of a culture (e.g. its music, language, visual art, etc.) o The idea that scholars and practitioners of all disciplines should examine the cultural implications (the meaning) and assumptions of their practice.
  20. 20. USA - SYMBOLIC ANTHROPOLOGY Clifford Geertz Interpretation of Cultures (1973) quot;The concept of culture I espouse… is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretative one in search of meaning. It is explication I am after…”p4-5.
  21. 21. France - Michel Foucault Enormous influence on Cultural Studies and historians interested in exploring cultural histories. Key texts are: • Madness and Civilization (1961) • Discpline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) • The History of Sexuality (1984)
  22. 22. UK (Birmingham School) CULTURAL STUDIES Raymond Williams, “Moving from High Culture to Ordinary Culture” in N. McKenzie (ed.), Convictions, 1958 “Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. […] The questions I ask about our culture are questions about deep personal meanings. Culture is ordinary, in every society and in every mind.”
  23. 23. Cultural Turn – Science and Technologies Ways of representing and researching that emphasise the determining role of culture in any given situation or discipline. Cultural determinism replaces biological determinism?
  24. 24. Discursive Psychology contends that, instead of looking at inherent or invariant human reactions, scholars should probe how different cultures generate quite different psychological reactions.
  25. 25. History of Medicine / History of Emotion Which of the following are medical conditions; which are ‘emotions’? • Grief • Anorexia • Nostalgia • Boredom
  26. 26. Bas Jan Ader I’M TOO SAD TO TELL YOU, 1971 16mm film, 16mm film transferred onto DVD, silent 3 min, 21 sec Edition of 3
  27. 27. Laurie Anderson Institutional Dream Series NYC 1971
  28. 28. Komar and Melamid Moscow in Mickey's Eyes (1998)
  29. 29. Rod Dickinson The Milgram Re-enactment
  30. 30. ‘Soft Data’? (Critique of ‘Discursive Science’) Many cultural-turn partisans have committed a number of blunders that have called their approach into question. Some have, quite simply, pressed the cultural case too hard, ignoring evidence of constant or quot;naturalquot; features in the human experience. This approach also undermines the claims of current medicine and science to objectivity. Despite this, many social scientists would still view such cultural data as soft.
  31. 31. Cultural Turn – Politics and Economics Ways of representing and researching that emphasise the determining role of culture in any given situation or discipline. Cultural determinism replaces economic determinism?