I see this new phase in the history of a well- established scholarly journal as offering a major opportunity. That opportunity needs to be placed in a context. There are three key elements to this context, from the point of view of the American research university and the geographies of the rest of the world. First, globalization has encouraged greater traffic among disciplines, regions, and institutions based primarily on growing access to information, knowledge, and methodology through the Internet and the World Wide Web. Second, and in roughly the same period, the humanities have become increasingly marginalized as a result of the rise of vocational, professional, and skill- based knowledge throughout the world. This has been tied to a deepening crisis of the research university, which has lost any clear sense of its distinctive mission. Third, there is growing tension everywhere between the claims of heritage, identity, and religion and the claims of free expression, opinion, and debate.
Each of these contextual factors, and their joint force, requires renewed attention to what I see as the critical humanities. Under this rubric, I assemble the traditional humanities (from linguistics and literature to history and philosophy), the newer brands of cultural studies, postcolonial studies, media studies, and the softer social sciences, especially anthropology. This is the space that I see as the anchor for CSSAAME.
I see four known challenges requiring continued engagement and fresh ideas. First, the tension between Western theories and local or non- Western archives remains unresolved. Discussions about this particular challenge continue to emerge, most recently in John and Jean Comaroff’s book Theory from the South. While there has been much effort to disturb the somewhat static earlier geographic underpinnings of this debate — on the grounds that the North within the South has further blurred the problem of the West within the East, both as regards geopolitics and academic knowledge — the effort to build knowledge of and across areas without privileging some as superior guides to method or theory has not had much success. My own view, outlined in my recent book The Future as Cultural Fact, stresses that an important basis for progress here must be the effort to enable research to be a better distributed capacity across regions, classes, and disciplines. As far as CSSAAME is concerned, I think it would be useful for the journal to monitor, encourage, and publicize efforts anywhere in the world that have the democratization of research as a primary goal.
Second, we need to continue to engage the hoary issue of “text” and “context” that has historically been, inter alia, a proxy for the distinction between the humanities and the social sciences. It is clear that there has been considerable progress on the “text” side of this binary, in linguistic, literary, and philological developments in the era after structuralism held sway. There has been comparatively slight progress in the study of “context.” Apart from a handful of linguists and philosophers, the problem of context remains part of the inert language of the social sciences and the humanities, and it is a ripe subject for a deep investigation based on case materials as well as revisitations of our conceptual languages. What defines a context? How do we handle the problem that all contexts also have their own contexts? Can there be a method for the study of intercontextuality? Are all contexts, such as temporal, spatial, regional, and disciplinary contexts, similar in their structure or form? If not, what does this mean for our scholarly practices?
Third, these considerations, if properly pursued, surely have implications for the study of the relationship between written media and all other media, including visual, electronic, and digital, all of which now play a crucial role in the critical humanities. Regional and areal histories affect the form and force of each of these media and thus of the relationships between them. These relationships cannot be grasped except by the structured investigation of materials from the maximum diversity of regions and of their comparison.
Fourth, none of these desiderata can be addressed except by confronting the dominance of English as a language of scholarship, debate, and publication worldwide. Absent a thoroughgoing effort to tackle problems of translation, dissemination, and linguistic democratization, non- English arguments on all of these issues will remain marginal, and the universe of comparison will be unacceptably narrow.
These challenges suggest some priorities for the critical humanities and thus for the mission of CSSAAME. First, the rapidly growing field of visual culture studies should have a prominent place in the journal. We have seen remarkable develop- ments in the study of mapping, image studies, and the visual technologies of warfare, borders, identification, and security. Each of these has involved new ways of reading the history of visual technologies and of using these readings to reexamine fields as diverse as censorship, travel, iconoclasm, and journalism. These developments need to be harnessed to reexamine classical problems of language, translation, and interpretation.
Second, it is time for the critical humanities to cease to consign the study of such topics as hunger, energy, climate, planning, and war to the political and social sciences. Each of these topics raises important questions about epistemology, comparison, history, and archive, which have rarely been taken seriously by the harder human sciences. It is now vital to engage them critically, in the manner, for example, that Timothy Mitchell has addressed the category of the “economy” in the modern Western academy.
Third, insofar as contributions to CSSAAME involve regions and sources that are not dominated by English, it will be important to insist that authors be as explicit as possible about their approach to non- English sources, philologies, and archival practices. This should replace the older philological obsession with etymologies and roots with a dynamic understanding of how linguistic traditions influence how traces are formed and how such variably deposited traces can both enable and disable comparative our strategies of interpretation.
Fourth, it would be a major accomplishment if CSSAAME encouraged publications in the critical humanities from scholars and critics who now publish mainly in professional journals such as those of law, medicine, science, and business. Among these authors are a significant minority who are alert to problems of language, history, region, and genre, and they could bring into the journal vital new debates in fields such as climate, privacy, genomics, and financial derivatives (to name just a few) that have usually been absent in the pages of such journals as CSSAAME.
CSSAAME comes to a new point in its history at a time when there is a general exhaustion with involuted recent debates in the humanities and cultural studies — over postcolonialism, identity politics, deconstruction, the linguistic turn, and of course postmodernism — and when traditional social sciences have increasingly become allies of the neoliberal global market, largely by abdicating any and all deep criticisms of the global economy. There has never been a moment when the world has been so visibly large and varied and the methods for its study so narrow and parochial. CSSAAME can correct this worrisome imbalance.
Appadurai, Arjun. The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition. London: Verso, 2013.
Comaroff, Jean and John. Theory from the South: Or, How Euro- America is Evolving Toward Africa. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011.
Mitchell, Timothy. “Rethinking Economy.” Geoforum 39 (2008): 1116 – 21.
© 2013 by Duke University Press