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Time Action VisionConversations in Cultural Studies, Theory, and Activism

Anne-Julie Raccoursier
(p. 4-7)
(© JRP|Ringier, Les presses du réel, Anne-Julie Raccoursier)

Time Action Vision, the title of which plays on a programmatic song by the punk group Alternative TV, (1) brings together twelve conversations held by Christian Höller between 1996 and 2006 with theoreticians and activists critically engaged in the cultural field. Not only do they trace a substantial part of Christian Höller's editorial practice and his range of interests over a period of ten years, but they have also been an important source of material for his teaching in the field of Cultural Studies and on issues related to globalization and popular culture in the CCC Postgraduate Study Program (2) at the Geneva University of Art and Design [Haute école d'art et de design – Genève].

Since its creation in 1999, the CCC Program has been committed to developing a learning community that gathers teachers and students around critical studies (études critiques). The program encourages the theoretical and critical study of practices, institutions and discourses that constitute the field of culture. It is engaged in a continuous dialogue with an international network of artists, curators and academics. As one of the program's numerous resources, Cultural Studies has become an extremely stimulating model, particularly for the definition of culture, fields of study and inventive methodologies as they have developed since their origin at the CCCS (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) in Birmingham. The CCCS's approach of maintaining a strong relationship with the time and political context in which theory is being written, discussed and developed makes it a useful tool in addressing the relationship between theory and practice, and looking at art in relation to its contemporary surroundings.

As stated by Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler and Lawrence Grossberg, Cultural Studies, “unlike traditional humanism, rejects the exclusive equation of culture with high culture and argues that all forms of cultural production need to be studied in relation to other cultural practices and to social and historical structures. Cultural Studies is thus committed to the study of the entire range of a society's arts, beliefs, institutions, and communicative practices.” (3) In this perspective, then, culture encompasses ideas, attitudes, languages, practices, institutions and structures of power, as well as artistic forms, texts, architecture, mass-produced commodities and so forth.

A fundamental characteristic at the core of Cultural Studies is its interdisciplinary mode, which is present both in its objects of study and in the wide range of methodologies and cognitive or investigational tools adopted: “Its methodology, ambiguous from the beginning, could best be seen as bricolage …” (4) But the main contributors to the field have also always stressed that Cultural Studies is not just anything: it is defined around a commitment and an engagement. And although Cultural Studies is open to an ever-widening scope of study, and constantly developing and being reevaluated, it “shares a commitment to examining cultural practices from the point of view of their intrication with, and within, relations of power.” (5)

The extension of the definition of culture, questions of critical engagement, and issues of power and identity, as well as historical and political contextualization, are a fantastic resource for a place of education trying to create awareness and a critical positioning. Stuart Hall's description of the Birmingham project is a vivid model: “At Birmingham, a central goal was to enable people to understand what was going on, and especially to provide ways of thinking, strategies of survival and resources of resistance.” (6)

The expansion of the subjects of study and the development of Cultural Studies in the Anglo-Saxon academic world have been phenomenal, whereas it took a long time before interest in the field grew in the French-speaking realm. Among the many reasons for the persistent resistance to Cultural Studies to be found in the French context, even though— paradoxically—French intellectuals have largely contributed to its development, one could cite the scientific approach toward the validation of theory, as well as the strong republican and universalist models which are not ready to be questioned and challenged by multiple voices and heterogeneous methodologies. Cultural Studies has had the merit of politicizing theory by directly questioning the institutions of knowledge and the scientific measurement associated with disciplines, and by opening a discussion about the politics at large embodied in culture.

Taking as its starting point some of the authors and main characteristics of Cultural Studies, this publication is “a collection of conversations” that expands way beyond what is usually defined as Cultural Studies and explores many realms around contemporary cultural practices and theory. At no point when the interviews were conducted was there the intention to publish them together. They have been part of Christian Höller's contributions to the Austrian and German art magazines springerin and Texte zur Kunst, as well as following his ongoing interest in issues of globalization, popular culture and activism. The result is a rather heterogeneous range of positions, references, works and discussions recorded over a period of ten years, which in this publication enter into a dialogue with one another.


[ 1 ] The actual title of Alternative TV is “Action Time Vision,” on The Image Has Cracked – The First Album by Alternative TV, Deptford Fun City Records, 1978.
[ 2 ] Since Fall 2008, the name of the Program is Research-Based Master Programme CCC—Critical Curatorial Cybermedia.
[ 3 ] “Cultural Studies: An Introduction, ” in Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler, Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Cultural Studies. New York/London: Routledge 1992, p. 4.
[ 4 ] Ibid., p. 2.
[ 5 ] Ibid., p. 3 (quotation of Tony Bennett).
[ 6 ] S tuart Hall, “The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities,” in October 53 (1990), p. 22.

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