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

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Below is an archive of CCCS Public Seminars delivered in 2002, along with their original abstracts. For further information on any of these seminars, please contact CCCS Admin.


Dr Hillegonda Rietveld: 'Dancing in a Global Matrix', 28 March 2002

During my current research period, I am looking into the power of London based media in the mediation of dance cultural capital in far flung places. I'm also developing a comparative chapter on subjectivity and secular religious aspects in electronic dance cultures. In relation to this, I'm looking into issues of globalisation of electronic dance cultures. this talk will address some of my findings, covering Bangkok, Singapore and SE Australia.


Professor Scott Slovic: 'Numbers and Nerves: Seeking a Discourse of Environmental Sensitivity in a World of Data', 11 April 2002

I come from a society that appears to believe in numbers, that trusts quantitative information as a relatively firm version of "the truth," while anything non-quantifiable tends to come under suspicion. In the United States, people want to know "the bottom line." What does it all add up to, what does it cost? We're ready to pull out our wallets and pay for whatever we want at a given moment, and yet we're likely to fight to avoid changing our lives if that's what's called for to achieve our purposes. We have difficulty realizing that changing our lives may be the cost of certain things we profess to want. Data, statistics, and technical scientific jargon seldom inspire soul-searching and major lifestyle reform.

This ambivalent devotion to quantifiability emerges in many different aspects of American experience, and in the lives of people in various other countries. But I think the benefits and the limitations of numbers-of numerical thinking-are particularly clear and poignant in the environmental context. As a scholar of contemporary environmental literature, chiefly in the United States, I have taken a special interest in certain kinds of environmental topics-such as human population growth, global climate change, and biodiversity/extinction-that seem to require assessment and explanation by way of statistics, by way of "numerical discourse." Environmental writers, ranging from literary artists such as Terry Tempest Williams and Rick Bass to more journalistic writers such as Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, have realized that readers tend to have minimal sensitivity to information expressed through numbers. In this talk I'll focus on a few particular examples of contemporary environmental writing that seek to describe quantitative subject matter by way of narrative and image rather than statistics and technical jargon. This process of translating numbing numbers into the language of experience and emotion may be one of the crucial functions of environmental literature today.

Dr Sarah Ferber: 'Senses Working Overtime: The Bodies of the Possessed in Early Modern France', 16 May 2002

Demonic possession and exorcism in early modern France were displays of often extreme violence, both by alleged devils in the bodies of the possessed and by those who attended them, exorcists and medical doctors. Possession and public exorcism formed part of a culture of religious violence. Historically the most dramatic and violent stories of possession involve women, and the fact that the possessed were women is critical. In early modern France, women's bodies were used to dramatise real institutional weaknesses in the Catholic church and to make these seem to be something easily remedied through exorcism.

Possession affected every aspect of physical ability and comportment. The possessed often lost hearing, sight, feeling and the power of speech. Exorcists also appealed to the senses of onlookers: they offered people the chance to touch the bodies of the possessed, to feel their unnatural rigidity. Female demoniacs whipped themselves to become more acceptable to God. Doctors pricked their flesh and examined them to see if they were virgins. Exorcists manhandled them,whipped them, trod on them and spat at them, in the name of humiliating the demons in the women's bodies. The women's bodies themselves were utterly invisible in these transactions.

In a religion where the idea of incarnation was of central theological importance, and where the body of Christ in the Host was a major means of exorcism, the price of sustaining a sacramental religion, for the possessed, was a high one. This paper will argue that the body of the possessed can be understood as a metaphor for the frailty of the Catholic church in this period, the weakness of each strengthened through public suffering.


Associate Professor Paul Griffiths: 'Bodies and Souls in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England: Punishing Petty Crime, 1540-1700', 15 July 2002

Up to now, we know next to nothing about the rate at which petty crime was punished in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. The use of whipping, the stocks, ducking stools, carting, caging, and committals to houses of correction (bridewells) has never been analyzed over time for one part of the country or a single city. This lecture uses the wonderful records of the city of Norwich to explore penal practice and culture there between 1540-1700. I count and interpret the use of punishment over this long period. The rituals and performance of individual punishments are recreated through contemporary records and descriptions. What I call the optic order, a society and culture that places a high premium upon the visual validation of order, is a key to understanding the resort to public punishment. Running through the lecture is the relationship between punishing in public (in the market-square, for example) and punishing in private (behind the doors of the Guildhall, for instance). The balance between the two tips towards private penalties over the seventeenth century, and I spend some time explaining this. Issues of particular significance include the accelerating use of the house of correction, and the growing development of an information and surveillance culture and system, but there are other parts to this story too. Finally, I argue that the overwhelming prominence of the study of felony (serious crime) in existing historical work means that we do not yet have a full picture of past punishment. Interpretations of the historical development of punishment and penal culture since 1500 look very different from the perspective of petty crime.


Associate Professor Margaret Maynard: '"One World"? Dress, Identity and Globalisation', 1 August 2002

Can a study of dress and its practices explain wider social and political issues within the global landscape? Using a relational theoretical model, this paper challenges the notion of the homogenising influence of 'global' fashion. Instead it demonstrates the entangled, often unbalanced, articulations between global homogeneity, such as branded garments, and other shifting processes of identity formation in dress. These can be found as much in the developed world as in income poor nations. Touching on temporal and spatial discrepancies between retention, or recreation, of customary dress and the 'up to date' influences of the West, the paper examines interactive, cross-cultural patterns of consumption. It considers an often intensifying sense of 'difference', in terms of the dress of sub groups, pressure groups, and that of new nations. Arguing against 'creolisation' it shows how specific ethnicities, personal tastes and differences emerge as part of social encountering. Appearance today is shaped by a complex mix of cultural, economic, institutional and political factors. But within the overarching uniformity of much global attire, patterns of wearing exist that are locally distinctive. Wherever we choose to look, people are making quite particular, strategic and personally meaningful decisions about what to wear.

Professor John Treat: 'The Sex Life of Collaboration: Wartime France, Korea and Japan', 8 August 2002

Jean-Paul Sartre's 1946 essay "What is a Collaborator?" is most famous, even notorious, for its association of collaboration with both homosexuality and masochism. The collaborator, always gendered male in Sartre's scenario, effeminately seeks to seduce a masculinized invader; and he not only seeks out but revels in the hatred shown him by his more patriotic countrymen. This psychosexual pathologization of collaboration is the lasting legacy of Sartre's essay and its arguments, rightly or wrongly, remain in circulation to the present day. Without it, the conflation of the "underground spy" and the "underground homosexual" during the United States' McCarthyite panic in the 1950s would have made less sense to many people; and later, the scandal of Paul de Man's anti-semitic, pro-German wartime writings would surely have been muted: if collaboration is, par Sartre, the result of a flawed psychology, then presumably de Man's later deconstructionist criticism would logically have had to be tainted by the same innate deviancy.

That collaboration is not an intellectual conviction, but rather the expression of a psychological propensity, effectively removes the event of modern collaboration from history and leaves it a clinical curiosity. One goal of this presentation will be to argue that collaboration, at least in the Korean peninsula during its modern occupation by Japan, needs to be reinserted into a history less idiosyncratic and more structural.

The "passivity" (sexual, intellectual) that Sartre made the hallmark of his diagnosis of the collaborator is also one part of the story told of Korean collaboration with the Japanese from the peninsula's formal annexation in 1910 to the liberation in 1945 that came with the American defeat of Japan in the Pacific. But it is a small part. While echoes of the Sartrean pathologization of the collaborator can be heard in Korea (Yi Kwangsu's pro-Japanese activities, for example, have been blamed on sheer insanity), far more common is the charge that Korean writers, of those who collaborated, did so not out of self-interest or ambition -never the case, says Sartre, of collaborators in general-but out of a conviction (sometimes eagerly arrived at, sometimes reluctantly) that absorption into the Japanese empire was both historically necessary and beneficial for the Korean people. That position seems absurd to us now, but it was not necessarily so at the time. Collaboration itself was not quite the shibboleth it has since become, and our first task to try and recreate not just the political stakes but also the cultural and intellectual milieu of that era which licensed treason against the nation-state: the wholesale assimilation of the Korean population into the imperial ethnos of the Japanese people from 1939 to 1945.


Associate Professor Ken Gelder: 'In "The Forest of Human Becoming": Haitian Voodoo, Culture and Counterculture', 4 September 2002

This paper looks at Western intellectual investments in Haiti and Haitian voodoo from the late 1930s to the end of the 1940s. It discusses an important film from 1943 - Jacques Toureur's I Walked with a Zombie - and then examines a range of surrealist and anthropological interests in Haitian voodoo at this time. It argues that these interests focused on Haitian culture and re-cast it as countercultural. Voodoo complicated this vision, however, since it was seen as both obscure and progressive, even revolutionary: impenetrable, and yet everywhere. Voodoo's blackness was a particular source of debate, tied to an emergent Negritude in the Caribbean and yet stratified enough to provide a 'new vocabulary of colour' that long predates postcolonialism's current emphasis on creolisation and hybridity. The paper ends with a discussion of popular investments in voodoo at this time as both countercultural for, and radically different from, the West, and examines the return of 'folk essences' to African American literary studies in this context.


Dr Morris Low: 'Displaying the Future in Japan', 24 October 2002

Where will Japan go in the future? This is a question that the Japanese have been asking themselves since the end of World War II. This paper examines the role of museums and department stores in helping the Japanese to envision a future tied to science and technology. The state helps Japanese to dream, to imagine a techno-scientific future for themselves and their children through futuristic displays. These exhibitions engender a sense of national identity and commitment. The paper focuses specifically on the promotion of atomic energy in postwar Japan and the recent opening of the new National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, to show that the state in Japan continues to pin its hopes on a science and technology-led future.


Dr Elaine Lally: 'Ethnography for Hire', 7 November 2002

Recent experience as a researcher for a large corporation hints at the possibility that product developers may finally be recognising the potential benefits of in-depth qualitative research into how technologies are taken up and used in real-life contexts. This presentation will explore how this style of research- on a multinational ethnographic study of domestic information technology - can produce useful insights and analyses for product designers and developers and which find practical application.

The project focuses on elaborating how things are more complex than they first appear, rather than on finding simple solutions to well-defined problems. The presentation is illustrated with examples from research into home information technology and looks at the consequences of the following issues:

  • that homes are organisationally complex, so that social relationships and interaction, along with differentials of power, gender and age, must be taken into account;
  • that technologies are not used in isolation from each other but group together in ensembles, so that a technology within the home both collaborates with and competes with other domestic objects;
  • and that our use of technologies is always part of some broader process-that is, what the user actually wants to get done-and which generally involves the technology in only part of the process

Professor Catharine Lumby: 'It Feels Real: Teenage Girls Talk About Big Brother', 8 November 2002

This paper draws on emerging and extensive focus group data we are gathering as part of a Large ARC Discovery Grant titled GirlCultures held by Catharine Lumby and Elspeth Probyn. In it we use their reactions to Sara-Marie Fedele (defacto star of the first Big Brother series) as a focal point for analysing both young women's interest in the Big Brother format and, more broadly, their responses to popular discourses of protection which circulate around their media consumption. We conclude that, like the genre of reality television, Sara-Marie is a figure who allows young women the opportunity to discuss and, to some extent, return the media's gaze, along with the gaze of experts, parents and educators who seek to speak on their behalf.