Here’s an update on our current research project on the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, from our colleague Kieran Connell.
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment by Richard Hoggart of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Hoggart was appointed Professor of English at Birmingham in 1962, and it was in his inaugural lecture that he signalled his intention to research ‘mass’ culture: advertisements, popular fiction, fashion, and television programmes, subjects that had hitherto largely been ignored by the academy. Two years later, with the arrival of Stuart Hall as Hoggart’s deputy, the Centre was born. Now, an AHRC-funded project in the Department of History, run by Professor Matthew Hilton and Dr Kieran Connell, seeks to reflect on the legacies of the Centre, which played a pivotal role in the establishment of what has become the international discipline of cultural studies.
Alongside the focus on popular culture, the Centre also adopted a range of innovative teaching and research methods. It only ever operated with two or three full-time members of staff, for example, and great emphasis was placed on collaborative work, another feature that set the Centre apart from the practice of individualised scholarly research that remains the convention in the arts and humanities.
Every major Centre publication, including Policing the Crisis (1978), Women Take Issue (1978), and The Empire Strikes Back (1982), was written in collaboration with or solely by postgraduate students. Students had ownership of the cultural studies project. They shaped its syllabus, established their own research groups and even sat on the Centre’s admissions panels. Intellectual work at the Centre was inseparable from a highly politicised engagement, influenced by a range of left-wing political projects and the growing influence of continental Marxism, which was beginning to be translated into English.
The research project is exploring these themes through a number of activities. A Centre archive has been established at the Cadbury Research Library, which includes material from former members of staff and students. In summer 2014 a conference reflecting on the legacies of the Centre will be held at the University of Birmingham. At the same time there will also be an exhibition at the Midland Arts Centre, which will explore the continuing relevance of the Centre in the modern day through the work of a range of contemporary artists.
For regular updates you can follow the project on Twitter. For further information – or if you have any material for the Centre archive – please email Kieran Connell at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the project website: www.birmingham.ac.uk/cccs.