The Boys from the Brum: Establishing a male canon in the reinvention of the Birminham School

The Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies project (to mark to 50th anniversary of the setting up of the original centre) has placed 55 CCCS stencilled occasional papers in their archive.

Given the place that the Birmingham School holds nationally and internationally in Cultural Studies it’s hard not to see this as establishing a canon for what was core in contemporary cultural studies that the Birmingham School was concerned with. It is suggested that other papers will be added, but these are the texts that have been chosen as representative of their time (spanning nearly two decades).

Looked at in terms of discourse and reception (something the Birmingham School was keen to emphasise) what comes across is a male obsession to marry Marxism and French Theory to study male subcultures (which is quite different from race or class). Popular culture is privileged (particularly if it involved new media), but sexuality and gender are peripheral (less than 15% of the chosen papers are by women).

I’m not meaning to be over-critical but work by figures such as Dick Hebdidge simply hasn’t worn well (yet he has four papers; more than half the number of papers accorded to women). It doesn’t place the Birmingham School in a good light; surely there was work by a broader range of researchers, with a broader range of interests and ideologies over nearly two decades, to present as representative?

Otherwise (for an early-career academic who admires the Birmingham School very much; Allon White is a particular influence of mine) it’s hard not to feel a curious whiff of sexism rise up from these stencilled papers.

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