The Centre for Critical Studies was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

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Authorities of Freedom: Anthropology, Aesthetics and the Culture Concept

Thursday 1 May 2014, 5:30 - 6:30pm
Social Sciences and Humanities Library Conference Room, 
Level 1, Duhig Building (No. 2)

St Lucia Campus [see map]

Click here for the audio recording


The anthropological concept of culture as a way of life has often been interpreted as a democratic extension of, and break with, earlier aesthetic definitions of culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. The culture concept that defined the tradition of American anthropology, running from Franz Boas to Ruth Benedict, interpreted ways of life as the result of a creative patterning modelled on works of art. These patterns provided, at one and the same time, the basis for establishing culture as the object of an autonomous science, distinct from biology and psychology, and a new working on the surface of the social through which the governance of difference was managed in 1920s and 1930s America. Yet, although developed through fieldwork among Native American peoples, the culture concept found its greatest practical applications in the assimilationist policies that regulated the relations between earlier generations of white Americans and new generations of immigrants from southern Europe. The conceptions underlying these policies rested on a distinctive amalgam of anthropological and aesthetic perspectives whose fusion created a new set of ‘authorities of freedom’ who aspired to reorder the relations between cultures through the free activities of their members rather than via state directives. However, although thus partly displacing earlier concepts of race in the governance of difference, the culture concept did not do so entirely as racial coordinates continued to inform the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans. Professor Bennett will, in reviewing these episodes in the career of the culture concept, articulate their relevance to cultural studies which, although claiming the concept of culture as a way of life as its founding concept, has paid its earlier histories little attention. 


Tony Bennett is Research Professor in Social and Cultural Theory in the Institute for Culture and Society at the University of Western Sydney.  He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Academy of the Social Sciences in the UK. His research spans the fields of cultural studies, cultural sociology, and museum studies. His most recent books include Culture, Class, Distinction (2009, co-author), Material Powers (2010, co-editor), Assembling Culture (2011, co-editor), Making Culture, Changing Society (2013), and Challenging (the) Humanities (editor, 2013).

This lecture will be chaired by Professor Gay Hawkins.
Members of the public are invited to attend this free seminar, after which light refreshments will be served.
Enquiries: Fergus Grealy, Events Co-ordinator
P: (07) 3346 9764 | F: (07) 3365 7184 | E:
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