Does it make sense to attend graduate school for a degree in the field of cultural studies? Maybe not, because job descriptions rarely call for critical thinking and a deep understanding of the concept of ideology. Yet, it is unwise to reduce the cultural studies degree to intellectual acrobatics and alienated constituents. Cultural studies may be useful for applying a metric, to use a term that I learned from watching this YouTube New School talk on the future of the humanities. Cultural Studies, as metric, might answer the big question surrounding humanities, that of the usefulness and relevance of the humanities.
Still, there are risks associated with pursuing a Ph.D. in cultural studies. These risks reveal and reflect the problem of accountability in higher education. If universities offer graduate students the degree in cultural studies, a niche field, according to one of my professors, then should not universities be absolutely committed to producing cultural studies scholars? The same question might be asked of any niche field such as economics or film studies.
Anyone pursuing a cultural studies degree is automatically an academic trailblazer.
But, being ahead of the pack is risky in the field of academia. Perhaps this is easy to understand. Academia is built on replication of intellectual acts, methods, and processes. If a an academic has not seen it, read about it, or practiced it before, (the “it” could be a theory, or an experiment) then said academic has no comparisons to make, and therefore is rendered incapable of offering any commentary. When this happens, he or she is left without any wisdom to display. Of course, from the perspective of a cultural studies scholar, this way of thinking is one demonstration of the foibles of elitism. After all, how can one be rendered voiceless, without being complicit? Yet, change may not be possible within an organization that exists to perpetuate the replication of things as they have always been.
Still, cultural studies departments exist in academic institutions. People apply for such programs, and enroll in classes. Some people even get the Ph.D. In cultural studies. Elite institutional leaders may want to closely examine any pre-existing organizational metrics, or metric. One question to consider is, “What institutional impediments exist that might stymie the growth of the intellectual trailblazer?”
Resistance to change by institutional gatekeepers can inhibit a graduate student’s matriculation. Graduate-trailblazers, like artists, ought not be impoverished due to their being accepted into niche-academic programs designed, ostensibly, to produce trailblazing scholars, intellectuals, humanities professionals – and possibly humanitarians.
Yet, graduate students must be aware that cultural studies is a relatively new field of study. Thus, it does not carry the same credibility, in some minds, as does a degree in psychology, education, economics, history, physics, or English. However, the world is changing. Many types of English are spoken and read throughout the world, for example. Yes, there will always be standards, but once upon a time it was illegal for women to wear pants. Things change. Standards change.
Today’s academic and business worlds are increasingly complex and diverse. Academics court intellectual and professional suicide by retreating into their silos, silos devoid of discourse on the topic of metrics. Business and technology specialists who lend their quantitative expertise to qualitative experts enhance interdisciplinary awareness. We might question the relevancy of the wall separating the humanities from the sciences.
Cultural studies provides a bridge.
Here are some reasons why one should not be deterred from pursuing cultural studies, especially if reading intrigues you.
Breadth of Knowledge
As a cultural studies scholar I read about topics related to economics, psychoanalysis, biology, media/communications, gender and technology on a regular basis. Reading broadly makes me a nimble, flexible thinker.
Receptive to Abstraction
Reading broadly makes me aware of all that I do not know. My mind stays curious.
Embrace the Ambiguity
When someone at a dinner party throws out a topic for discussion, I may or may not have a swift comeback. That is the point.
Cultural studies blossoms. This blossoming cannot be scripted, or even formatted, though it can be observed.
What are your perceptions of cultural studies as a pursuit?