Making Culture: An eJournal of Theory and Practice

The proposed journal Making Culture will be based in the Cultural Production graduate program at Brandeis University.

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Proposal for new e-journal “Making Culture: An eJournal of Theory and Practice” (Brandeis University)

Overview. The faculty and students in the Cultural Production M.A. Program propose founding a new electronic journal, to be based at Brandeis University and titled “Making Culture: An eJournal of Theory of Practice.” This peer-reviewed online publication will showcase important new work by faculty and students in cultural analysis and the creative arts, including literature, drama, dance, music, and the visual arts. The journal will foreground imaginative new digital design concepts as well as creative multimedia works of video, digital photography, audio and hypertext. While based in the Cultural Production graduate program, the journal will solicit submissions from a wide range of scholarly and artistic contributors at Brandeis and beyond. We anticipate extensive use of (edited) blogs and commentaries by internal and external interlocutors, and the emergence of an intellectually dynamic and stimulating virtual community that will extend beyond the boundaries of the Brandeis campus, including international colleagues and broader public audiences.

Intellectual Scope and Mission . The scope of the “Making Culture” journal will reflect the rather eclectic engagements of the Cultural Production faculty and students. We are deeply interested in the production, circulation and reception of cultural forms in local, regional, and global contexts. We are centrally concerned with analytical and practical interventions in the making of cultural form, with close attention to democratic co-participation, the pedagogy of the imagination, the social dimensions of artistic practice, and the challenges of building sustainable community at home and abroad. We anticipate publishing works of scholarship and creative art in the general areas of visuality, museum studies, memory work, performance and verbal (written and oral) texts.

We are deeply interested in textual analyses that reflect on the nature and possibilities of writing, reading, and publication/performance as modes of cultural production, critical agency, and/or performativity. Such analyses would call attention as well to the historical, national/regional, and aesthetic specificity of textual forms, including but not limited to genres, and the specific relations among verbal texts and other forms of discursive production. We also will solicit analytical and interpretive work on a wide range of cultural artifacts and meaning-bearing elements, including dress and adornment, food and foodways, architecture, landscape and landscape features, tools, everyday comportment, music and soundscapes.

The journal will publish edited academic papers and works of digital scholarship, with an emphasis on original interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work, as well as book reviews, film reviews, exhibition reviews, digital art works, and short commentaries on contemporary art and culture. We plan a close working relationship with the Rose Art Museum, publishing commentaries and analytic work on exhibitions and works of art in the permanent collection, as well curatorial entries and artists’ statements.

We anticipate that the journal will enable lively discussion and debate in many areas of inquiry, including;

• What is the status of the text and processes of entextualization under conditions of digital encoding and internet-based circulations of "content"?
• What is the relationship between art and other cultural forms and practices? Does great art exemplify, or transcend, or even negate, the cultural field in which it emerges?
• What are the conditions, and likely fates, of “national cultures” and "local cultures" under conditions of globalization?
• What ways, if any, are available to us for revising specific cultural practices, restoring worlds we have lost, or re-creating cultural forms that are threatened?
• What modes of critique of contemporary culture are especially apt and effective?

This project emerges out of the Cultural Production’s commitment to the democratization of knowledge and creative re-imaginings of the public sphere. The journal will be easily accessible to practicing and potential scholars and to members of the broader public, in the United States and abroad, who seek new opportunities for learning and intellectual engagement.

Editorial Structure and Procedures. The journal will have a permanent faculty editor, and two rotating graduate student editors. The Editorial Board will consist of a group of faculty/scholars, primarily at Brandeis, and a rotating group of graduate students. We anticipate that copyright for contributions published in "Making Culture" will be retained by the authors, with publication rights granted to the journal. Content is free to users. Any reproduction of original content from "Making Culture" must a) seek copyright from authors and b) acknowledge "Making Culture" as the site of original publication.. Academic papers will be peer-reviewed by scholars at Brandeis and comparable institutions.

A Provisional Introduction to the first issue --Please Comment!

Welcome to “Making Culture”

Mark Auslander (Director, M.A. Program in Cultural Production and Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brandeis University) June 2008

“Making Culture” emerges out of conversations within and around the interdisciplinary Cultural Production M.A. program at Brandeis University. Over the past two years or so, a group of faculty and graduate students, along with our interlocutors in varied arts and activist communities, have been pondering emergent formations of cultural practice at home and abroad. We’ve been especially intrigued by how cultural form is, or might be, deployed to help create alternate forms of community and to re-imagine social collectivities. Our areas of exploration have ranged from verbal and written texts, art museums, tattoo parlors, football teams and heritage parks to gay weddings and punk rock bands. Our modes of engagement have been simultaneously contemplative and hands-on: in the midst of reading and debating postcolonial theory, we’ve worked with artists to create works of public art on campus and in public housing developments. While reading and discussing the pedagogy of the imagination, we’ve partnered with local teens creating 'zines and murals that ponder the joys and anguish of coming of age in the city, created videos about public housing activists, talked with scientists and artists about the aesthetics of DNA and protein crystallization, and debated pervasive postmodern networks of electronic surveillance. Our students have curated exhibitions and installations in galleries and on unexpected street corners, helped develop alternate memorial ceremonies for those killed in Middle Eastern conflicts, produced animated renditions of West African folktales, staged happenings synthesizing jazz performance and Afro-futurist science fiction readings, held theater workshops with immigrant women recently arrived from Central American conflict zones, and helped low-income children write short stories and create digital artworks.

In all these endeavors, we have come to appreciate that the making of culture is fraught with contradiction, ambiguity and paradox. On the one hand as the apostles of “soft power” remind us, cultural form is often integral to systems of domination and coercion, all the more effective for their capacity to hide in plain sight. In neo-liberal globalized marketplaces, the seeming profusion of consumer choice amidst corporate appropriations of “culture” can often lead to the intensive regimentation of consciousness and everyday life. Yet cultural production can be a vital arena for democratic experimentation, opening up new possibilities for liberation when hope seems most tenuous and the imagination seems most imperiled. The work of creating alternative spaces in which people of varied ages and backgrounds are encouraged to play (with words and images, with their bodies and their environments) holds profound potential to empower those who have long been excluded from the taken-for-granted center of things. This work calls upon us to navigate an often-perplexing set of paradoxes. We long for community and solidarity mediated through cultural form, even as each of us struggles individually for decidedly singular modes of aesthetic and intellectual integrity. We find ourselves committed to untrammeled popular participation in the arts and culture-making, while insisting on excellence and virtuosity in our analytic and creative endeavors. Even as we hone our critical skills in unpacking global mass mediated signifiers, we find ourselves reveling in the seductive qualities of the very images we analyze. We seek to celebrate and help catalyze subaltern imaginations while working with and through institutions and technologies that are embedded in pervasive systems of privilege and inequality. We sense that cultural practices fundamentally help to constitute overarching structures of domination and authority, yet find that culture and the arts are so often dismissed as epiphenomenal sideshows by the institutions and discourses of power. We seek to challenge structural violence and oppression on a global scale, yet learn again and again that the most meaningful transformations and interventions are often pursued on a limited local canvas, through the nurturing of personal friendships and intimate relationships. Finally, while we recognize that making culture is a profoundly serious thing, we are reminded that these processes call for a light touch, filled with humor, playfulness and a sense of the absurd.

It is our hope that this new online journal will serve as a dynamic shared space as we go traveling together, through these vital, inescapable paradoxes. Making Culture, we trust, will be a simultaneously serious and playful enterprise, showcasing an array of intellectual and aesthetic work, juxtaposed and integrated in unanticipated ways. Our web-based platform allows us not only to share works in video, audio and hypertext form, but also to expand the circle of cultural participation, allowing for blogged commentaries by all our interlocutors, near and far. We welcome short and long submissions, including critical articles and speculative interventions; poetry and fiction; reviews of books, exhibitions, and happenings; works of digital photography, video, audio/music and art; and offerings that question or elude conventional genre classifications. Through our on line threads and digital commentaries, we hope to build an on line community of cultural theorists and cultural producers, even as we seek to complicate normative notions of what a "community" is or ought to be. Together, then, let us engage in that most joyous and perplexing of human endeavors, the ongoing making of culture.

What is Culture?

Read initial queries and commentaries related to the broader question, "What is Culture?"