Spectres of culture [with a capital C]

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LAW, Wing Sang
Critical and Cultural Studies
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The fortunes of the word ‘culture’ have been taking a bumpy ride over the past centuries ever since it surged to its prominence. By making itself distinctive from ‘nature’ and ‘reason’, ‘culture’ always carries mission(s) impossible in different local or national contexts exciting intellectual, aesthetic and political energies in various tasks including, most spectacularly, the redemption of human souls from the relentlessly advancing mechanical and materialistic civilization – which, in Weber’s view, has resulted only in the disenchantment of the human world. However, such heroic endeavors are not without their problems. Recent emergence of cultural studies, by stressing ‘the cultural’, is another attempt to redress the problematic notion of ‘culture’. In our pedagogical context, cultural studies is sometimes received as defined by juxtaposing two approaches: one adheres to ‘Culture’ (with a capital C) and another to ‘culture’ (in small letters). A tendency is to augment their differences by implicitly exorcising the former in favor of the latter. The presentation is a reflection upon the usefulness of such a distinction by drawing upon my experiences of encountering as well as teaching ‘culture/cultural studies’ in Hong Kong over the past decades. The discussion will focus on the danger of disenchanting ‘culture’ and, perhaps, the necessity of ‘re-enchanting’ the teaching of cultural studies in the present circumstances.