4 Pages

Reflexive intellectuals

Two more books add to the now enormous collection of work that has grown out of the study of contemporary culture. These two, as do many in the collection, both have ‘cultural studies’ in their title but it is used as a point of reference in very different ways. Frow’s book is a contribution to the practice of cultural studies; more particularly he is concerned with the possibility and legitimacy of judgements of cultural value in reflexive cultural discourse. This does involve engaging with some of the most basic categories in the discourse of cultural studies but not as a systematic review. Davies, in contrast, takes the project of British cultural studies more directly as his topic; he is concerned to trace a particular reading of the development of that project in order to speculate about how to go beyond where we are now. In both books the work of intellectuals in producing accounts of culture that have important social functions is recognized and given a central role in their analytic narrative. Both books accept, then, for all their recognition of distinctive limitations, the significance of cultural studies, and engage with the implications of this rapidly evolving field; but the trajectory of their accounts is quite different and I shall therefore discuss, at least initially, each in turn. I shall begin by tracing the development of Frow’s analysis because it points to aspects of contemporary cultural theorizing that have been relatively neglected and because his book is not easy to follow.