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What Is Cultural History? Author(s): Geoffrey Eley Source: New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural

What Is Cultural History? Author(s): Geoffrey Eley Source: New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies (Spring - Summer, 1995), pp. 19-36 Published by: New German Critique Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488530

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Whatis Cultural History?

GeoffreyEley

First, some quotations:

Cultureis ordinary: thisis thefirstfact. Every human society hasits own

shape, its own purposes, its own meanings.Every human society

expressesthese,

society is the finding of common meanings and directions, andits growth

is an active debateand amendmentunderthe

contact, and discovery,writing themselvesinto

society is there,yet it is alsomadeandremadein

The making of a mind is, first, theslow

meanings, so that work,observations, andcommunicationare

Then,second, but equal

ence, the making of new observations,comparisons, and meanings. A

ture has two aspects: the known meanings and

membersaretrained to; the new observationsand

offeredandtested.Thesearethe

andhuman minds, andwe see through themthenatureof a culture:thatit

is always bothtraditionaland creative; thatit is boththe most ordinary

common meanings andthe finestindividual meanings. Weuse theword

thecommon

meanings; to meantheartsand

andcreativeeffort.Somewritersreservethewordforone orother

significance of their conjunc-

tion.The questions I askaboutourcultureare questions aboutour general

andcommon purposes,yet

Cultureis ordinary, in everysociety andin every mind. -Raymond Williamsl

covery of these senses; I insiston both, andon the

learning -

culturein thesetwo senses:to meana whole

in

institutions, andin artsand learning. The making of a

in

pressures of experience,

the land.The

individualmind.

every learning of shapes,purposes, and

possible.

growing

importance, is the testing of these in experi-

cul-

directions, which its meanings, which are

ordinaryprocesses of humansocieties

way

the

of life -

specialprocesses of dis-

also

questions about deeppersonalmeanings.

1. RaymondWilliams, "Cultureis Ordinary," Resources of Hope. Culture,Democ-

racy, Socialism (London:Verso,1989) 4.

19

20 What is Cultural History

After all most of the work I was

called "culture," even in thenarrower sense, so thatthetermhada cer-

tainobviousness.But

you hadneverheardof the damnedword.I havebecomemoreawareof its difficulties, not less, as I have gone on.

knowthenumberof timesI've wishedthatI

doing was in an areawhich people

-

RaymondWilliams2

The institutionally or

reproduction of sense,meaning, andconsciousness.

informallyorganized social production and

- TimO'Sullivanet al.3

["Popularculture"]may suggest,

forms

in one

anthropological inflexion

which has been influentialwith social historians, an over-consensual

view of this cultureas "a

values, andthe symbolic

are embodied."But a cultureis also a

which traffic passes betweenthe literateandthe oral, the superordi-

nate andthe subordinate, the village andthe metropolis; it is an arena

of conflictual elements, which

as, for

consciousness -

"culture," with its cozy attentionfrom social

invocationof consensus,may serveto distract

and cultural contradictions, from the fractures

and oppositions withinthewhole.

system of shared meanings, attitudesand

(performances,artifacts) in which they

pool of diverse resources, in

requires some compellingpressure

example, nationalismor

prevalentreligiousorthodoxy or class

to takeformas "system."And,indeed, the very term

- EdwardP. Thompson4

Weare thinking of the extraordinarysymboliccreativity of themultitude

of ways in which youngpeopleuse,

meanings theircommonandimmediatelife

-

music, TV,magazines; decorationof bedrooms; the ritualsof romance

andsubcultural styles; the

music-making anddance.Nor

style, banteranddramaof friendshipgroups;

humanize, decorateandinvestwith

spaces andsocial practices

personalstyles

and choices of clothes; selectiveand active use of

arethese pursuits andactivitiestrivialor

widespread

they

canbe crucialto creationandsustenanceof

identity itself.

Willis5

desperatework, intheir play.

-Paul

inconsequential. Inconditionsof latemodernizationandthe

crisisof culturalvalues

individualand groupidentities, evento culturalsurvivalof

Thereis work, even

2. Williams, Politics andLetters.InterviewswithNew LeftReview (London: New

Tim O'Sullivan, John Hartley,DannySaunders, andJohn Fiske,KeyConcepts

57.

Traditional Popular Cul-

EdwardP. Thompson, Customsin Common.Studiesin

Left,1979) 154.

3.

in Communication (London:Routledge,1983)

4.

ture (New York:New P,1993) 6.

5. Paul Willis,

CommonCulture. Symbolic Workat Play

of the Young(Boulder:OpenUP, 1990) 2.

in the Everyday Cultures

Geoffrey Eley

21

I don'ttreatthesecultural representations as the

false and

these representations, thedesirewhichtouchesfeministandnon-feminist

somethinguniversal,

unchangeable,arising

representa-

women alike.But nor do I treatfemaledesireas

forcible imposition of

limitingstereotypes. InsteadI explore the desire presumedby

fromthe femalecondition.I see the

easy to kick off, nor are they

tionsof female pleasure anddesireas producing andsustainingfeminine

These positions areneitherdistantroles imposed on us from

positions.

outsidewhich it would be

attributesof

the

definitionsof desirewhichencircleus. Thesearethe

make change sucha difficultand dauntingtask, forfemaledesireis con-

stantly lured by discourseswhichsustainmale

pleasures offeredto us; our subjectivity and identity areformedinthe

experiences which

the essential

femininity. Feminine positions are produced as responses to

privilege.

- RosalindCoward6

agreed limits to what is and is not acceptable, and

although

shapes

fashions, its furniture, its build-

ings -

and habits, its

they are pre-

cisely

in shapes and formsthat

as lightning lives in a con-

sion -

woundintothese forms,only to spring backatus with an apparent life

two-dimensional pho-

tographs obviousness, full of natural

reflect.Butwe investtheworldwithits significance. Itdoesn'thave to

meanings which these media merely

seem to contain truths.The world itself seems filled with

of theirown. Movies seem to contain

ductor -

in films, photographs, televi- visible. Ouremotionsare

[T]here are

these are constantlyshifting,they must always

fixed, since they formthe ground-plan of social stability.

of an era aremore easily foundin its

be seen as The

whose lines do seem to tracethe 'moods' of social change-

whatwe takefor granted. How thencan we "see"them?If it is

passions live -

it is likely to be in images -

thatsuch conduitsaremost

clearly

feelings,

than in the equally significant outlinesof its thoughts which are harderto see because

conceptualcategories,

be the way it is, or to meanwhatit does.

-Judith Williamson7

The conscious, chosen meaning

morefromwhat they consumethanwhat theyproduce.

in most people's lives comes much

-JudithWilliamson8

sees popular cultureas a site of struggle, but,

while accepting the power of the forces of dominance, it focuses

[This position]

6.

Rosalind Coward, Female Desires.

How They Are Sought,Bought and Pack-

aged(New York:Grove Weidenfeld,1985) 16.

7.

Judith Williamson, Consuming Passions: The Dynamics of Popular Culture

(London: M. Boyars,1986) 15.

8.

Williamson230.

22 Whatis Cultural History

rather upon the

pro-

cesses of incorporation, it investigates ratherthat popularvitality and

creativity

of

nant

evasions that make that

maintainitself and its values. This

potentially, and often actually,progressive(though

it is

people motivationto driveit.

and of the

of the

radical), and

popular tactics by

whichthese forces are copedwith,

tracing exclusively

the

Instead

are evaded or are resisted. Insteadof

thatmakes

incorporation sucha constant necessity.

concentrating on the omnipotent, insidious practices

ideology,

it

attempts to

understandthe

everyday

ideology

work so hard

essentially optimistic,

evidence both of

of the domi-

resistancesand

and insistently to

cultureas

approach sees popular

not

for it finds in the

vigor and vitality

the possibility of social change

-

JohnFiske9

That

under present conditionsfor meaningfulactivity

endlessly

to liberate people from their

ordinarypeople

use the symbolic resourcesavailableto them

is bothmanifestand

elaborated upon by new revisionism.Thus emancipatory

alleged entrapment, whether

they are entrapped or not, arecalled into questionby this

projects

projects

they

know

fundamental insight. Economic exploitations, racism, gender and

sexual oppression, to name but a few, exist, but the exploited,

estranged and oppressedcope, and, furthermore, if such writers as

believed, they cope very well

John Fiske and Paul Willis are to be

indeed,making valid sense of the worldand

sure from what they receive. Apparently, thereis so much action in

the micro-politics of everyday life

ter future, which were once so enticing for criticsof popularculture,

have lost all credibility.

obtaininggratefulplea-

thatthe

Utopianpromises of a bet-

-Jim McGuigan10

By

lar class, group, or social category, the complex

actuallyadopted as moral preferences or principles of

this

usage as a momentof the

lar

relationto attitudesandbeliefsthatare

address ("interpellate") a

are

already have a

alist

cultureless interpellation "never comes." Ideologies always work

unitary,primary,primordial and

cultureis understoodthe commonsenseor way

of

of life of a particu-

ideologies

thatare

life. Toinsiston

ideologicaleffects

particu-

be understoodin

never

is to insist on the

analysis of

aspect

workor

complex

recreationof

consciousness.Theeffectsof a

of

hegemony

can

only

ideological

already lived. Ideologies

"naked" subject. Concretesocial individuals

culturally classedandsexed

agents,

alwaysalready constructedas

texts, the "lonely

complexly formed subjectivity. Outsidesome structur-

hour"of the

9. John Fiske,UnderstandingPopular Culture (Boston: Unwin

10.

Jim McGuigan, Cultural

Hyman,1989)

2

Populism(London andNewYork: Routledge,1992)

Geoffiey Eley

23

upon a ground: that ground is culture.To insiston this is also to insist on "history"

RichardJohnsonl1

Here

Studies

role assigned to "thecultural."In its different ways, it conceptualizes

cultureas interwovenwith all social practices; andthose

turn, as a common form of human

the activity through

opposed

base-superstructureway of formulating the relationship

is the outlineof one significant line of thinking in Cultural

It stands

opposed

to the residualand merely reflective

practices,

in

activity: sensuoushuman praxis,

history.

It

is

which men and women make

forces, especially

meanings

to the

where the "base" is

definedas the determination by "theeconomic"in

defines "culture"as both the

amongst distinctive groups and classes, on thebasis of their

toricalconditionsand

respond to the conditionsof

practicesthrough which these "understandings" are expressed and in

which they areembodied.

his-

between ideal and material

sense. It

and values which arise

any simple

given

relationships,through which they

existence;

"handle"and

and as the lived traditionsand

-Stuart

Hall12

In culturalstudies traditions,then, cultureis understoodbothas a

of life -

tions, and structuresof

tices: artistic forms, texts, canons,

commodities, andso on. - Cary Nelson et al.13

way

encompassingideas, attitudes,languages,practices, institu-

anda whole range of cultural prac-

power -

architecture,mass-produced

This collage of quotations is meant to hold a place for the extended definitional reflection a short paper of this kind can't hope to perform; given the notorious difficulty of organizing the disorderly profusion of intradisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and varying national-intellectual meanings and understandings of the "culture concept" into anything resembling consensual form, it may be that this approach would in any case be the most sensible. As Thompson says, "'culture' is a clumpish

11. Richard Johnson, "ThreeProblematics:Elementsof a

Theory of Working-Class

Clarke, Chas

Culture,"Working-Class Culture:Studiesin History

and Theory, eds. John

Critcher, andRichardJohnson (London:St.Martin's,1979) 234.

12. Stuart Hall, "CulturalStudies: Two

Paradigms,"Culture/Power/History. A

Readerin Contemporary Social Theory, eds.NicholasB. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B.

Ortner (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993) 527.

"CulturalStudies:An

Introduction," Cultural Studies, eds. Grossberg,Nelson,

legde, 1992) 5.

andTreichler (New York:Rout-

13. CaryNelson, Paula A. Treichler, and LarryGrossberg,

24 Whatis Cultural History

term, which by gatheringup so many activitiesand attributesinto one common bundle may actually confuse or disguise discriminationsthat shouldbe madebetweenthem."14Its usage can extendfromthe arts, let- ters, and aesthetics,through some more generalized notion of the life of the mind, to a moreinstitutional perspective on suchthemesvia the pub- lic sphere of artistic and intellectual activity, the educational system,

other institutionsof higher learning, and so on (broadlyspeaking the "high-cultural" traditionof scholarship); to the realmof symbolic andrit- ual meaning in a society's forms of cohesion and overall ethos (the anthropological field of approaches); and what Eagleton calls "the whole complex of signifyingpracticesand symbolicprocessesin apar-

ticular society," which

course, even this gross clumping of

survey of currentworkwouldhave to includecurrentsocial science the- ories of action as well, eitherbecause they bracket questions of culture

altogether(rational choice models), or because they territorializeits rele-

systems theory,

vance into a separable domainof study(as in formsof

including recentHabermasian conceptions of the lifeworld). One recent symposium on Culture in History, for instance, defines its subject almost entirely via a combinationof neo-institutional approaches, ratio-

nal actor models, and ideas of consumer preference. Here "culture"is acknowledged as "a fundamental part of the distributionof resources and the relationsof power in a society," but disappears for the bulk of

the volume from

which "informthe strategic calculationswhich people make abouttheir

interests"andwhich

the forefrontof the analysis,except as the "values"

has become the domainof cultural studies.l Of

approaches is insufficient, and a full

support orinhibit particularpaths of development.16

The bank of quotationsheading this essay is thus an incitementto

thought. It doesn't pretendcompleteness, but marksout a space

nition that can be filled, extended, or added to, as we choose. For the

purpose of my own contributionto our discussion, I'm

explore the usefulness of culturalstudies- again, not as some suffi- cient or ready-madesolution, or as an approach that can work all by itself, butas a set of proposals withwhichto think. A still-emergentcross-disciplinaryformation, culturalstudies comprises

of defi-

going

to

14. Thompson

15. Eagleton,Ideology: AnIntroduction (London:Verso,1991) 28.

16. JosephMelling

13.

andJonathan Barry, Culturein

History:Production, Consump-

tion and Valuesin Historical Perspective, eds. Melling and Barry(Exeter: U of Exeter P,

1992) 18f.

GeoffJeyEley

25

a varying miscellany of influences -

and social historiansin Britain (but interestingly ratherfew anthropolo-

gists); mass communications, film studies,literarytheory, and reflexive anthropology in the United States, with institutional supports in Women's Studies and American Culture, to offer only a couple exam- ples. So far the main U. S. initiativeshave come from the humanities,

whereas the proliferatinginterdisciplinaryprograms and institutes in the social sciences have shown much less interest.In Britainthe logic has tended perhaps in the other direction,although the greaterpreva- lence of qualitativesociologies on that side of the Atlantic has also blurredthe sharpness of the humanities/socialscience divide. On the other hand, feminist theory has had a big impact in both Britain and the United States, as has the post-Saidiancritique of colonial and racist forms of thought in the western culturaltradition. Again, individual influences vary (for instance, Gramsciand psychoanalyticapproaches in Britain, or Geertz and subsequent anthropologies in the United States), but the so-called linguistic turnand the fascinationwith post- modernismhave increasingly allowed the two national discussions to

converge. Moreover, although most of

focused on the "long present" of culturalstudies since 1945, this is in itself also a periodbadly in need of historian's attention, and transfer- ence of the interests involved to earlier times is already under way.

Simply enumerating some main areas of current activity should be enough to make the point: the growth of serious work on the visual

technologies of film, photography,television, and video; on commer-

cial media like

relationship of women in particular to popular reading genres (romances, gothic novels, and family sagas), television (soap operas, detective stories, and situation comedies), and film (film noir, horror, science fiction, and melodrama). One can see also the growth of new consumer economies, especially in the mass entertainment industries, but also affecting food, fashion and dress, domestic labor in house- holds, leisure and play, and all mannerof lifestyle concerns; of the use of autobiography andthe personalvoice; and,lastly, of postcolonial cul- tural critique andthe analysisof"race," to offer only a few examples. An importantaspect of thisculturalstudieswave hasbeenthe reopening of old debatesaroundthe opposition of "high" and "low" culture, with a notable commitmentto engagingpopular culturein non-dismissiveand non-patronizingways. Takingpopular culture seriously, as manifesting real

sociologists, literary scholars,

the concrete research has

advertising, comic books, and magazines; and on the

26 Whatis Cultural History

needs and aspirations, as something to be decoded imaginatively in that light, however banal and apparently trivialthe contents, has become a centraltenet of these discussions; and here feminist writing is showing

the way. Giventhe confrontational hostility to popular culturein the hey- day of the Women'sLiberationMovementin the late 1960s and early

1970s,

this

power

is a noteworthy turnof affairs, for in thatearliermomentthe

of conventional sex-gendersigns in everything from makeup to

romantic fiction was taken as evidence of backwardness,oppression, and male exploitation in some transparent and self-evidently indictable way. Against this early confrontationism, we've seen growing efforts to

get inside popular culturemore sympathetically to explore how cultural production works on needs in appealing and contradictoryways, from soap opera to MTV. The emergence of a discourse during the 1980s

around "pleasure"and "desire"as categories of politicalunderstanding, beyond their immediate place in the politics of sexuality in the stricter

sense, has been a

ing of the

feminist discussion. It implies more positive engagement with popular culturethaneitherthe "massculture"or the "folkculture"orientedtradi-

tions of analysis have

dian developments in the theory of power. And it requires a major shift in our understanding of thesitesatwhich political actioncan begin.

majorsymptom of this move, and signifies a rethink-

"popular" in popular culturemuch larger thanthe specifically

tendedto allow.It conjoins with the post-Foucaul-

In this sense, "culture"is defining a ground of politics beyond the

traditions as the

space conventionally recognized by most political

appropriate context for policy-making in education and the arts. Indeed,reaching back through the twentiethto the laternineteenthcen-

tury, it's hard to find a democratic politics (whether of the liberal or

socialist left or the conservative, as opposed to the

deliberately and openly validated popular culturein its mass commer- cialized forms. Historically, the very notion of "high culture" has

always been counterposed to something else thatfsless valued, to cul- turethatis "low."In the late nineteenthandtwentiethcenturiesthe con- structionof this cultural"other"has taken two main forms, and both

have been heavily overdetermined by

and capacity. One is the colonialist representation of

genderedassumptions of value

fascist, right) that

non-western peo-

ples, which externalizesthe distinctionbetween high and low within

racializedframeworksof

cultural superiority, even (or especially) when

society

the differencesconcernedhave become internalto the Western

via processes of migration.(Parenthetically, we might observe that it is

GeoffreyEley

27

via analysis of this culturaland ideological field of relationships that the discussion of social imperialism, which rather quickly became rei-

fied

afterWehler's proposal of the concept,might be usefully revived.)

But

the second constructionof "otherness"has been produced inside

Westernculturesthemselvesand has generally been identifiedwith the

"mass," with an idea of popular culture in which

been dissociated from romanticnotions of authenticity and the folk,

becoming reattachedto the commercializedculture of entertainment

and leisure in

artificiality as opposed to naturalness,vulgarity ratherthan virtue. This idea of mass culturehas been furtherlinked to ideas of the city and a

distinctive twentieth-century structureof public communicationbased on the cheap technologies of film, radio, gramophone,photography,

television,motorization,pulpfiction, mass advertising, and magazines.

It is worth the mass has

moral danger - a negative imagery of "un-culture"and disorder, of drunkenness,gambling,unregulatedsexuality,violence, criminality, and unstable family life, organized aroundsocial anxieties about youth in

explicitly gendered ways. The political valence of this thinking has always been complex. The opposition of "high" and "low" is neither

right nor left in itself. Thus

sharp a line between, on the one hand, the ideal of an educative and uplifting cultureof the arts and enlightenment,and, on the other hand,

an actuallyexistingpopular cultureof base gratification,roughness, and

disorder, which (in mass provision has

cies,

tues

much working-class existence.For socialists,places of commercial pop-

ular entertainment -

"the popular" has

ways

which

imply corruption ratherthan preservation,

remaining with this set of associations.With the idea of invariably come a narrativeof decline, of corruption, and

the socialist traditionhas drawn just as

the socialist mind) the commercialized apparatus of been only too glad to exploit. Socialistcultural poli-

for example, have always stressedthe vir-

no less thanliberal ones,

of self-improvement and sobriety over the disorderly realities of

music halls, circuses, fairs, all kinds of rough

the dance hall and

the picturepalaces in the early twentieth century; and dance clubs, rock

boxes, bingo halls, and commercialtelevision since 1945

sports in the later nineteenth century; followed by

concerts,juke

- have been a source of frivolity and backwardnessin working-class

culture. Against this machinery of escapist dissipation,they counter-

should organize their own free

collectively and in morallyupliftingways. More recently, with the

late twentieth-century crisis of the inner city, this opposition has been

time

posed the argument that workingpeople

28 Whatis Cultural History

transcribedinto the racially constructed image of the immigrant urban poor, itself historically reminiscentof an earliersubsetof the dominant high/low binarism,namely, the xenophobic reaction against East Euro- pean Jewish immigrants in Britainand Germany before the FirstWorld

War.To this

a common discourse.The precise boundariesbetween the "high" and the "low," the "cultured"andthe "not," have varied - the power of the distinction per se has not. However, if "official" politics failed to respond positively or cre- atively to the mass culture phenomenon of the early twentieth century, this doesn't mean that mass culturewasn't producingpowerful mean- ings in eminentlypoliticalways. Indeed, the new apparatus of the "cul- ture industry"(to use one of the familiar pejorativenames), from the razzmatazzof the cinema and the dance hall to the rise of spectator sports, the star system, and the machineriesof advertising and fashion, proved remarkably effective in servicing a privateeconomy of desire, beginning in the 1920s, and expanding its hold on the popularimagina- tion ever since. This is wherethe recent validating of popular culturein culturalstudies makes its point. For the emergingpopular culturecan

extent,socialists,liberals, andconservativeshave inhabited

no longer be so easily dismissedas an empty and depoliticized commer- cial corruption of traditional working-class culture (the typical left cri- tique), but on the contrary evinceddemocraticauthenticitiesof its own. Some cultural practitioners of the 1920s could see this. It was precisely the new technologies andmediaof communicationandtheirmass audi- ences that excited the Germanleft-modernistslike Benjamin,Brecht, Piscator, and Heartfield.No less than the Russian futuristsand other avant-garde in the aftermathof 1917, they used popular forms like cir- cus, puppetry, and cabaret; worked through new technical media like

posters,photographs, and

of their work wheremore conventionalartistscontinuedto sanctify the

value and uniqueness of the individualcreation.

sic essay of 1936, "TheWorkof Art in the Age of Mechanical Repro-

duction," is a brilliantmeditationon the actuality of

this sense, while by the end of the 1920s the practice of someone like

Brechtwas suffusedwith

similar recognitions. While culturalconserva-

tives of all stripes(left as well as right) could only counterpose the vul- garities of the cinema and other mass entertainmentsto the "true"

values of art, Brechtfoundthemthe sourceof an

The raucousness,cigar smoke, and plebeian tones of the boxing hall

film; and celebratedthe mass reproducibility

Benjamin's now-clas-

popular

culturein

artistic breakthrough.

GeoffieyEley

29

were the epitome of all thatthe "bourgeois" theater abhorred, and sport became the model for how such publicperformance could be reformed, "withthe stage as a brightly lit ring devoid of all mystique,demanding a critical, irreverentattitudeon the part of the audience."17 How could we respond to these discussionsas historians?Most obvi-

ously, the discourse of the

public, mass politics, and the rise of the masses) can be historicized confidently within the later nineteenth century, with a distinct set of beginnings in the years between the 1880s and 1914. This discourse not only articulatedanxieties about social boundariesand the pressure

of democracy on existing constitutional arrangements, it was also orga- nized by misogynist constructionsof the urbanmass public as danger- ously feminine. Whereas "mass" had already acquired its positive inflections in the usages of the left, with its connotationsof power in

numbers,solidarity, and

"mass" (mass society,

mass culture, mass

popular democratic strength, in the language

of

democracy's critics it implied "lowness"and "vulgarity," the threat

of

the "rabble"and the "mob," whose instinctswere only "low, igno-

rant, unstable,"exposed to demagogues,hucksters, and profiteers, and whose political preferences were "uninstructed,"ripe for manipulation by the dominantinterestsand the defendersof the status quo.1 More- over, such discomfortsalso permeated the sensibility of the left, with

its cultural languages of sobriety and uplift, reflecting essentially the fear that left to itself the new mass public would be seduced by the

city's pleasures and excitements,prey to unscrupulousagitators of

political right,

commercialism. Finally, the transformationof the public sphere -

reshaping of the political nationinitiatedso powerfullyby the popular

mobilizationsof the 1890s -

tentiousnessaroundthe appearance and allegiances of the urbanmass

public.

set of social histories, which arethemselvesstill imperfectly researched

and understood:the rise of a national reading public, the massive

expansion

postal

the

no less than to the quacks and charlatansof a tawdry

that

is the structuralcontextof this new con-

Here the opportunities of cultural analysis are adumbrated by a

of the popular press, the establishmentof comprehensive

communicationsand the laterintroductionof the telephone, the

17. John Willett, The New Sobriety,

1917-1933: Art and Politics in the Weimar

Period (London: Thamesand Hudson,1976) 103.

18. Williams,Keywords: A Vocabularyof Cultureand Society(New York:Oxford

UP, 1983) 192-97.

30 Whatis Cultural History

building of railway branch-linesand minor roads, the spread of librar- ies, the burgeoning of voluntaryassociation, and the unprecedented availability of cheap reading-matter, soon to be extended by the new technologies of printing,radio, andfilm. There are two furtherreflectionsI want to lay out on the subject of the mass, each of which bring in one of cultural studies' principal themes. The firstconcerns gender, andhereI wantto use a recent essay by Eve Rosenhaftto make my point. Commenting on the existing state

of

of

German historiography("It is still possible to writea general account German history thatexcludes women," she regrets), she points to the

public

affairs in the German field, which the two significant recent gains in

connecting women's activity to the formalworldof politics ("the femini- zation of the public sectorin the growth of the welfare state," and "the

barely

Nazi co-optation of the idea of female Lebensraum") have

touched.As she says, in establishing the political relevanceof these sto- ries ("in order to find women in politics"), historianshave had to

expand the definitionof what politicsconventionally includes:

"impenetrably masculine"characterof the history of politics or

The

role of women in politics as a

women's politics, but it took place

which state power was directlyassigned andexercised -

tional and confessional organizations, the women'ssectionsof

cal parties, the expanding field of public and private social work.19

tendency of

empirical research up to nowhasbeento establishthe

positivelychargedabsence; therewas a

in spheres distinctfromthe one in

in occupa-

politi-

Part of the difficulty, of course, is that

itself markedthese activitiesas different, as

sphere in the "true" sense, andto get closerto the place of gender in the

political process we have to make an additionaltheoretical move, by

considering the relationship to public life of the mutually constitutive

understandings of femininity and masculinityoperative in

and place. That is, we need to re-readthe

in orderto recognize women through the mechanismsand structuresof their exclusion, whethersuch silencings were the resultof directdiscrim-

inatory or exclusionarypolicies or practice, or whether they eventuated

contemporary consciousness

lying beyond the political

any one time

politics

familiar languages

of

19. Eve Rosenhaft,"Women,Gender, andthe Limitsof Political

History in the Age

of 'Mass' Politics,"Elections,Mass Politics, and Social

New

UP, 1992) 151, 149.

Change in Modern Germany:

Perspectives, eds. Larry E. JonesandJamesN. Retallack,(Cambridge:Cambridge

GeoffreyEley

31

through less consciously directed logics of social relationsand cultural behavior.Rosenhaftinvokesthe work of DorindaOutramon the mean- ings of the body in the French Revolutionto suggest how "modem

ideas of the body politic

to be

tity that was defined as essentiallymasculine," and argues that the pro- cesses of continuous negotiationthrough which this gendering of social

and political identity became articulatedwith and subordination during the nineteenthand

bring us closer to the circumstancesof women, as the group whose access to public virtue and the formalattributesof citizenship was so

expressly held at bay.20 Rosenhaft provides a numberof specific exam-

ples,

acquiescentreligiositythrough whichwomen'sactive involvementin the

organized cultureof Catholicismis usually devaluedas "de-mobilizing" or "de-politicizing," ratherthan being seen as a distinctive form of

women's political engagement. As she says, this

instanceof "the

'private'politics thatis not only implicit in the familiar

masculineformsof politics butconstitutesits premise."21 The most importantpoint she makes concernsthe discourse of the "mass"betweenthe 1880sand 1930s, in whichcertainfeminizedconstruc- tions of the urbanmass public "coincided" historically with the pressure of women for politicalrights,culminating underWeimarin bothaccess to the franchiseand large-scale recruitmentintothenew apparatus of thewel- fare state. For Rosenhaft,"mass," with its distinctivefeminine coding, "appears almostas a deliberatecircumlocution"on the part of male 1920s intellectualsfor "this significant feminizationof the political order."22The new public arenaof commerciallyprovided mass entertainmentthen pro- vides a rich field of analysis fora genderedreading of political discourse. But whereasworkin cultural studies,focusing on genre criticismand orig- inatingprimarily in literarytheory, hasaccumulateda largecorpus of rele- vant work for such a project,particularly on film, historianshave barely scratchedthesurfaceof these possibilities. As Rosenhaft says:

andof the bourgeois individualas citizen came

realizedin social practice and internalizedas part of a civic iden-

relations of domination twentieth centuries can

including the need to rescrutinizethe terms of conservativeand

is a particularlystrong

and theFrenchRevolution:

Sex, Class andPolitical Culture (New HavenandLondon:Yale UP, 1989); as well as Joan B. Landes, Womenand thePublic Sphere in the Ageof theFrenchRevolution (Ithaca: Cor-

nell UP, 1988).

20. Rosenhaft 159; see also

Dorinda Outram, The Body

21. Rosenhaft158.

22. Rosenhaft162.

32 Whatis CulturalHistory

As a termthat

lic andobscuresthe

simultaneously insistson the femininity of the new pub-

the

discoursesin the

politicalsubject) andto the issue of how

of new media of mass communicationaffects the

presence

of womenwithin it, 'the mass' has

advantage of directing us to the operation of gender

definitionof politics(and the

the development

ways

in which

politicalopinion and participation are shaped.23

The final reflectionI have concernsFoucault.Thereis no space here for an elaboratediscussionof Foucaulfs influence, but to explore the

challenge of culturalstudieswe do need to consider briefly the potential

uses of a latterhas

the conventionallyrecognized sites of public political life, re-directing

attention away from institutionally centered conceptions of government and the state, and towardsa more dispersed and de-centerednotion of power and its "microphysics." This approach takesthe analysis of power away from the core institutionsof the state in the national-centralized sense, andtowardthe emergence of new strategies of governance,regula-

tion, and control, focused on both

ries, whose operation rests as

subjectpopulations as it does on the more practical mechanicsof coer- cive or regulative control.On theother hand, Foucault'sideashave sensi- tized us to the subtle and complex interrelationsbetween power and knowledge,particularly in the modalitiesof disciplinary and administra- tive organization of knowledge in a society. "Discourse"is a way of theo- rizing the internalrulesand regularities of particular fields of knowledge

muchon the

post-Foucauldianperspective on power. On the one hand, the encouraged us to look for power and its operationsaway from

individualsand larger social catego-

very process of defining the

in this sense (their"regimes of truth"), as well as the more general struc-

tures of ideas and assumptions that delimit what can thought and said in particular contexts of place and

approach has challenged the historian'susual assumptions aboutindivid- ual and collective agency andtheirbases of interestand rationality,help-

ing us to see insteadhow subjectivities are constructedand produced

within and throughlanguages of identificationthat lie

tionandcontrolof individualsintheclassic Enlightenment sense.

and cannot be time. Such an

beyond

the voli-

In these two senses, Foucaultfinds

ries of moder

social understanding -

power at work in the basic catego-

in the visions and imaginings

Streets:Womenand Melodra-

matic Representation in Weimar Germany(Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989); and Linda

Mizejewski,

Bowles

23. Rosenhaft163f. See also Patrice

Divine Decadence:

Petro,Joyless

Fascism, Female Spectacle, and the Makingsof Sally

(Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992).

GeoffreyEley

33

that project the coherenceand transparency of society, in the matic descriptions and re-descriptions of its desirableformsof

tion, in the theories (both practical and esoteric) that seek to orderand alter its workings, and in the policies and practices that act on its actu-

ally existing forms. Now, we don't have to commit ourselves to the entire Foucauldian package, so to speak, in orderto see the usefulness of these perspectives, and I want to consider briefly some of the impli- cationsforworkin the Germanfield. At one level, for instance, this discursivemove - the refocusing of attentionon the histories through which dominantand familiarforms of understanding(such as categories,assumptions,perspectives, butalso poli- cies and practices, as well as theories,programs, and philosophies) have

been shaped -

understand why such a Foucauldian approach can be attractive, some reflectionon treatmentsof ideology in Germanhistoricaldiscussionwill help. Basically, the termsand tone of such discussionwere set for many years by works such as those of Fritz Stem and George Mosse.24Here "ideology" was approached as a set of false andmalevolent beliefs, often

distortionsof oldertraditionsof thoughtproducedby pathologies of Ger- manhistoricalcontext (the Sonderweg!), butwhichcould only takewide- spread hold in conditionsof extremity,crisis, and disorientation, and which couldbe tracked visibly and unambiguouslythroughpolicies, insti- tutions, and decisions,assigned to individuals, and derivedfrom precur-

sors. An entire genre of works exists on the "ideologicalorigins" of Nazism in this sense.To a greatextent, the turning to social history in the

conscious rejection of this stresson "ideology,"

on the grounds thatthe peculiardynamism of Nazism had an altogether more complicatedrelationship both to its own internalstructuresand to the larger socialcontextthansuchan emphasis hadallowed. For a while this turn encouraged a certain indifference,bordering on

outrighthostility, to ideologicalanalysis as such, in a dichotomizedhis- toriographical outlook privileging social history which in many ways

program-

organiza-

involves a turning back to questions of ideology, and to

1960s and 1970s was a

still defines the field. Yet

given a different conception of ideology, one

this

to be so. I'd argue thatthe recentinterestin the racialist,gendered, and

discursively foundedand socially embedded, thereis no reason for

bio-medical dimensionsof Nazi policies has provided ideal ground for

24. FritzStem,ThePolitics of Cultural Despair(Berkeley: U of CalifomiaP,1961); and

George L. Mosse, TheCrisis of German Ideology(London: Weidenfeldand Nicolson,1966).

34 Whatis Cultural History

such a differentlyconceptualized discussionof ideology to begin, even if in most particular worksthis is happening so far in a mostly practical (as opposed to consciously theorized)way. The larger domainof "bio- logical politics" as a unifying principle of Nazi practice,linking anti- Semitism and the racialistoffensive of the war years to a complex of policies before 1939, is the key: populationplanning, public health, welfare policies directedat women, family policy, euthanasia, steriliza- tion, and eugenics. The best work on the ThirdReich has also stressed the origins of this racialized social-policycomplex in ideas and innova- tions going back to the Weimar Republic and beyond. Withoutdimin- ishing the centrality of the Nazis' anti-Jewish genocidal commitments, this has increasingly shiftedattentionto the larger racialistambitionsin which the Final Solution's logic was inscribed. Moreover, the latter could only become feasible with the prior diffusion of eugenicist and related ideologies of social engineering, which to a great extenthad per- meatedthe thinking of social-policy and health-care professionalslong before the Nazis themselveshad arrived.It was in this deeper historical