Lost in translation

Feminist media studies in the new millennium

Authored by: Suzanna Danuta Walters

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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Assessments—particularly of a work in progress—are always troublesome. To reflect on a field that is as amorphous as “feminist media studies” is akin to trying to pin down the truth in a Republican Party convention. Slippery business indeed. In addition, sometimes periods of enormous intellectual ferment are followed by periods of stasis or at least less explosive and reverberating innovations. For roughly twenty years—from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s—the production of feminist media scholarship was both prodigious and pioneering. Many—myself included—have written about the (nonlinear, overlapping) heady shifts in this scholarship from a largely quantitative “images of women” approach through the many challenges and revisions wrought by psychoanalytic film theory, spectatorship studies, audience work, theories of the gaze, institutional and political economic framings, and beyond. Many of these histories frame the trajectory of the field through disciplinary logics, as humanities-based film studies debated/contested the more social-science oriented TV studies, or through logics produced through theoretical allegiances (psychoanalytic work vs. social structural) or, yet again, logics derived from the specificity of the medium itself (film, television, advertising). As helpful as these histories can be, they never quite resonated for me, largely because the more overarching frame of cultural studies (rather than, say, film theory or sociology of culture) was my entrée into the field, cutting across disciplinary logics, genres, and media. For many of us, this was indeed the main draw of Birmingham-style cultural studies—its deep and wide range, and its refusal to be cornered in by the demands of allegiances other than that of critical, political analysis. Formed in the post-1960s milieu of new social movements and institutional reevaluations, cultural studies couldn’tafford the Marxist longue durée of avoidance; the barbarians were through the gate too quickly and the borders were too porous to begin with. Although in its early years cultural studies struggled mightily with the challenges posed by feminists and other others, I was surprised by how quickly the boys seemed to come around, or, at the very least, give ground so that cultural studies could begin to expand into something quite other than originally imagined (e.g. not just a working-class white boy’s own story).

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