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From Cultural Studies to Cultural Science?

There's a quiet revolution underway - a revolution that could result in the birth of an entirely new academic discipline. Spearheaded by John Hartley and Stuart Cunningham in QUT's Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi), and in collaboration with an international group of high-profile researchers, they're investigating the potential for joining elements of cultural studies, evolutionary economics, anthropology, and other disciplines in a new field called cultural science.

If successful, this would provide cultural studies with a rigorous scientific backbone and enable it to offer more quantitative and reliable data on cultural systems, while enabling economics to look beyond the study of stable markets and allowing it to grapple with creativity as an element of uncertainty and innovation. (Such needs have arisen for example out of the CCi's recent work in mapping the creative industries, which has required it to develop new methodologies for measuring and describing the impact of paid and unpaid, casual and full-time work in the creative industries on our overall economy.)

It's early days yet for cultural science, but if the track records of the individuals involved are any guide, it'll go far. For now, there's a Website with papers and presentations from the "Creative Destruction" meeting of the project's expert group in Brisbane in 27-28 March 2008 (I was lucky enough to attend the second day of this meeting); the site also hosts Popper Juice, the group's blog (with an interesting post from German researcher Carsten Hermann-Pillath, who applies cultural science ideas to the current struggle over public perceptions of China's role in Tibet)

Soon, the project will also launch the Cultural Science open access journal. Exciting times ahead...

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axel, please turn off the snap junk.

the cultural sciences have been around for ages. it is only the concretization of positivism in the anglophone world that makes the humanities not a science, isn't it? most of the rest of the world already recognize these things as sciences or sciencelike. of course i don't know why anyone wants to make a claim to be a science. science is merely 'to divide up and describe the world', everything else about science is just ideological constructions to increase the legitimation of it, concentrate the wealth involved, limit the circulation of ideas, etc.

Well, it's not my project, so I'll leave it to the group behind Cultural Science to make the full argument in favour of the new discipline - but from what I've seen so far (and there's a selection of some very in-depth papers already published on the site) there are a few very convincing points to be made here. (As always with these things, too, it's important not to get hung up about the terms used, but to see whether the substance is there.)

I think they're right in saying that cultural studies often lacks the ultimate scientific rigour that makes it immediately useful for wider societal debates (and especially also as an input for policy-making): it's a discipline that's very adept at tracing and interpreting sociocultural developments, but it's doing so often with implicit and idiosyncratic methodologies - its findings aren't necessarily testable and repeatable, which makes them easily dismissable by those with a vested interest in ignoring the results of cultural studies research. (As a case in point, Australia has just lived through 11 years of casual hostility and ignorance towards cultural studies research, for example.)

That's not to say that there isn't serious research being undertaken in cultural studies, of course, and I agree with you that many of us working in this field are fed up with reductionist debates of 'science vs. humanities'. Which is precisely what I find interesting about cultural science: it's not simply an attempt to give cultural studies a scientific veneer to increase its respectability, but genuinely aims to develop a truly interdisciplinary, even promiscuous combination of the best that cultural studies, evolutionary economics, and other disciplines have to offer. Whether the end result is called a science, an interdisciplinary field, or whatever else is not a question I'm particularly invested in (but John, Stuart, and the others behind it might feel differently).

P.S.: I thought I should also note that a substantial discussion about the pros and cons of cultural science would be better placed on the CS blog, rather than here - I'm only highlighting what's going on there, but can't claim to have entirely wrapped my head around it all yet...

the snap thing of course is about not the cultural sciences idea.