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The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.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 2005, along with their original abstracts. For further information on any of these seminars, please contact CCCS Admin.


Professor Andy Bennett: 'Virtual Music Scenes', 15 March 2005

In this paper Andy will examine how developments in internet technology have given rise to a new form of music scene referred to as a virtual scene (Peterson and Bennett, 2004). Unlike local music scenes, which are situated in a specific urban location and facilitated through face-to-face contact of scene members, virtual scenes are made up of individuals dispersed across the globe. In the absence of opportunities for face to face contact, members of virtual scenes must find other ways to build and maintain the scene. In examining this process of virtual scene building, Andy will focus on the example of the ‘Canterbury Sound'. The term Canterbury Sound was originally coined by music journalists during the late 1960s to describe the music of Canterbury jazz-rock group the Wilde Flowers, groups subsequently formed by individual members of the Wilde Flowers - the most well known examples being Caravan, Hatfield and the North and Soft Machine - and a number of other groups with alleged Canterbury connections. Since the mid 1990s, however, the term Canterbury Sound has acquired a very different currency as a new generation of fans have constructed a discourse of Canterbury music that attempts to define the latter as a distinctive ‘local' sound with characteristics shaped by musicians' direct experience of life in the city of Canterbury. A particularly significant aspect of this re-working of the Canterbury Sound is the spatial relationship of fans both to the city and to each other.  Thus, the revived interest in the Canterbury Sound comprises debates, discussions and definitions of the Canterbury Sound based fanzines, internet newsletters and websites via which a globally diffuse fanbase communicates.  In relation to this virtual scene, Canterbury itself performs an important anchoring role as myths surrounding the city are constructed online and worked into discussions concerning the defining characteristics of the ‘Canterbury Sound'.

Dr Geoff Wilkes: 'Irmgard Keun (Irmgard Who?) and the Prevention of Literature', 5 April 2005

The German novelist Irmgard Keun (1905-1982) is little known in the German-speaking world, and even less known in the English-speaking one. This paper argues that Keun's obscurity is in a sense the most significant aspect of her career, and what makes her life and work relevant to anyone interested in literature. For Keun's career offers repeated examples of how social and political factors inhibited authors in the 20th century. The production and reception of her work was adversely affected at different junctures by her age, her gender, the psychological and economic restrictions of both Nazi totalitarianism and anti-Nazi exile, the sensitivities surrounding post-1945 attitudes to the Nazi past, the ephemerality of electronic media and (largely in consequence of the factors already mentioned) alcoholism and mental illness. Thus Keun's life and work provide clear examples of the contingent nature of how literature is produced, disseminated, received by critics and readers and (dare one say it?) studied by scholars.

Adjunct Professor Kerry O'Brien: 'Responsible Journalism', 15 April 2005

This is not an exercise in painting all journalists as white knights and all the media minding industry as the black knights. There is a legitimate and practical interface between the two that can facilitate good, honest journalism. Equally there is legitimacy in the various institutions of society—public and private—in protecting themselves against incompetent, inaccurate, lazy, or dishonest journalism. But I believe the balance is increasingly and unhealthily out of kilter in the way the game is played today; weighted towards the information managers and away from the information gatherers.

This isn't just about journalists gathering basic, practical information and disseminating it in a way that helps keep society going. At the heart of what we're about is the burning need to scrutinise. It has been said many times before: Power corrupts. The more power accrues, the greater the temptation and opportunity for corruption of one kind or another to occur. It's often a subtle process, and as the wisdom goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's not some kind of warped prejudice or paranoia on my part: History is littered with examples, including recent history.

The bottom line is that we do need to remind ourselves from time to time that there really is a noble cause along with the excitement; the adrenalin; the travel if you're lucky; the glamour if you can find it; the meeting of all those interesting people. It's telling the stories of our society; it's plotting our path through history; but importantly, it's keeping the system honest.


Dr Graham St John: 'Making a Noise? Making a Difference: From Techno-Punk to "Punk-Hop"', 16 June 2005

The seminar maps the ground out of which "punk-hop" outfit Combat Wombat arose, exploring, in the process, how punk became implicated in the cultural politics of a settler society. Charting the contours of Sydney's early 1990s techno-punk emergence, and tracking the mobile and media savvy exploits of Combat Wombat (and their sound system Labrats) from the late 1990s, I will cast light on the counter-colonial trajectory of post-punk.


Professor Thom Swiss: 'New Media Literature and Art: A Writer's Perspective', 9 August 2005

The aims of this seminar/presentation are to discuss the possibilities for literature offered by the electronic convergence of words, images, and sound, with an initial focus on the work of the presenter; explore the changing contexts in which literature is produced and consumed as a result of new media environments; and showcase a series of visually interesting, aurally charged, and dynamic examples of this kind of writing.

In taking up these topics through employing new media works as my tutor texts, I will consider some of the ways in which new media literature reconfigures the field of literature and literary practices. The seminar begins from the assumption that "New Media Literature" like "Literature" is a conversation-among writers and professional critics, writers and other writers, writers and programmers, sound artists, and graphic designers, writers and their non-professional readers, writers and publishers, publishers and their investors, grant-giving agencies, universities, even governments.

This conversation is dispersed throughout many textual and institutional sites, not simply in texts already recognizable as literature.  I will foreground the "social form" of literature as a genre, with special emphasis on new media literature as it makes a place for itself among writers, readers, and scholars. The social form of new media literature includes, among other overlapping elements, its relationship to literature's historical practices and meanings; the interpretations it invites from its readers; its uneasy fit in institutions like the university and museums; and its evolving material presentations.


Professor Ken Gelder: 'Introducing The Subcultures Reader, Second Edition: Cultural History and Social Practice', 7 September 2005

The second edition of The Subcultures Reader begins by turning to cultural history and to the precursory social logics of subcultural studies, to establish two primary ways in which subcultures have been understood. First, subcultures have been tied to a sense of 'vagabondage': located outside of property and ownership (and at times, the law), and detached from organised and official forms of labour. In their modern incarnations, subcultures are therefore generally understood in relation to 'territory' (rather than property) and leisure/pleasure/idleness (rather than work). We can trace a social logic here deriving from commentaries on Elizabethan rogues and vagrants, 'vagabondiana', Marx's lumpenproletariat and Henry Mayhew's 'wandering tribes', amongst other things.

Second, subcultures - especially in their modern forms - are understood as a reaction against both 'modern society' (which is seen as alienating) and modern/postmodern atomization or individualisation (which is also understood as alienating). The key concept here is 'community', with its accompanying sense of authenticity, the organic, and the utopian - as well as its accompanying nostalgias and its sense of community-as-residue (so important as a counter-logic to accounts of subcultures as 'progressive'). I take the work of Tonnies as a point of origin for contemporary subcultural studies: substantially different in kind to Cultural Studies, which continues to ground itself in the work of Adorno and the Frankfurt School. I also look at related concepts in use in subcultural studies: sociability, scene, figuration, network, and 'virtual communities'. This paper will also have something to say about the current turn to 'post-subcultures', a British sociological trend that wipes away sociability and social difference even as it replicates the social logics of subcultural studies.


Professor Carmen Luke: 'As Seen on TV or was that my Phone? New Media Literacy', 15 September 2005

Information literacy, media literacy, and technology or computer literacy are current ‘must-have’ skill repertoires and curriculum components in schools and higher education. In a broad sense, these ‘new’ literacies are tied to issues of globalization, global connectivity enabled by new media, and new information and communication technologies.

Given the rapid drift toward media convergence, and consumer abandonment of newspapers, magazines, and network TV in favor of cable and internet news and entertainment, I argue in this presentation that a critical media literacy relevant to today’s school-aged users of new media and ICTs can no longer afford to fixate on broadcast media or narrow ‘media text’ deconstruction (whether genre, narrative or semiotics), but must engage with the cultural politics of representation in ways that move beyond a view of ‘politics’ as equivalent to analysis of textual or image stereotyping, exclusions, reading paths or positions, media bias, and so forth. Rather, what is required is a critical social and cultural literacy—a cultural analysis of the politics of new times. I scan recent events (such as 9/11; Abu Ghraib; and the Boxing Day tsunami) to illustrate media spectacles and political issues that provide a rich multimedia, multimodal text-image base from which to engage students in political analysis of, and dialogue about media globalization, the rapid metamorphoses of new media and the staying power and hybridization of old media, and new world orders.


Associate Professor Chi-Kong Lai: 'The Power of Hair in Chinese Society, 1500-2000', 27 October 2005

For centuries, Chinese people have used their hair to publicly convey their individual or collective qualities such as gender, sexuality, marital status, religion, class, occupation and ethnicity. The Chinese have used their hair to conform or stand apart, to comply or resist, to follow or to lead. And so as in all societies, in Chinese society control over what people do with their hair has been a potent but generally unrecognized means to exert power and influence. Hairstyle is made a public site of [state regulation and] coercion as well as a private site of personal choice.
My talk explores narratives about hair in Chinese society from 1500 to 2000. It will explain how Chinese people have chosen—or been forced—to use their hair creatively to express their identity as individuals and as members of collectives within Chinese society, making hairstyle a distinctive mirror of social, political and economic change in China. Here I treat hairstyle as a unique lens for observing historical change that other analytical tools have not revealed. From making plaits, to chopping them off, to ornately decorating long pastures of hair, the rich collection of examples in this paper will illustrate how hairstyle is a site of high drama and intrigue, and also of simplicity and commonness, as the people have used their hair to initiate and respond to forces transforming their nation. Narratives of what people have done with their hair reveal extraordinary insights into the daily lives of the Chinese people and their nation.

Dr Susan McKay: 'Selling Health: Media, Medicine and Risk Communication', 10 November 2005

We are becoming better informed about what constitutes good health and ill health, about symptoms and diseases, about diagnosis and treatment choices, and, understandably, we have high expectations of living long and well. As ‘health consumers’, we obtain medical information and advice not just from various professionals, but increasingly from the media with newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the internet providing health information and advice, news about new drugs, medical breakthroughs and treatments. Much of this information is framed by notions of risk. In this talk, Dr McKay looks at the ways in which the media convey risk within a more general risk culture, noting increasing health consumerism, more strident consumer advocacy, and an increasing emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one’s health.