Monday, 27 January 2020

Andrew Hemingway on Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (2002)

Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture
Written By: Andrew Hemingway
Date: September 2002
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 16: Autumn 2002 

Most readers of this newsletter will be aware of the IHR seminar on Comparative Labour and Working-Class History that Rick Halpern set up in 1991, and many will have attended it on occasion. From 1996 to 2001 I was privileged to act as Rick’s co-chair in organising this. Several of us who were regulars at the seminar had hoped to keep it going after Rick departed for the University of Toronto, but our experience over the last academic year has shown us that the series is unviable without a larger number of students working on labour and left history at the University of London. In the circumstances, the only sensible course was to fold it.

Despite its very different title, the new seminar on Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (MIC) builds on the experience of the CLW-CH series, which had incorporated a substantial cultural component in recent years. It is also intended to build on the success of the Marxism and the Visual Arts Now conference that was held at University College London in April 2002, and which I co-organised with Matthew Beaumont, Esther Leslie and John Roberts. MAVAN involved 160 people from at least 8 different countries over two and a half days. It sparked some quite fierce debate, and indicated a widespread and continuing interest in Marxism as an interpretative system among artists, art historians and critics. (The conference was sponsored by the journal Historical Materialism, which will publish a selection of the papers.) Within the new series we hope to explore some of the issue raised at MAVAN, but not just in relation to the Visual Arts.

The ‘culture’ in the title of the new series is understood in a broad sense (akin to Raymond Williams’s usage), and encompasses a wide range of symbolic practices that extend from the traditional fine arts to sports, popular musics, and television soap operas. Indeed, the relationship between high culture and popular forms is one of the issues that the series is intended to address. It is hoped that the seminar will bring together scholars interested in the Marxist tradition working across a whole range of disciplinary fields such as anthropology, art history, history, literature, sociology, and cultural studies. Its brief encompasses (inevitably) both theoretical and historical questions.

The organising committee of the MIC seminar includes myself, Warren Carter, Noel Douglas, Esther Leslie, and David Margolies. We have received a very positive response to our Call for Papers with more than enough to fill the programme for 2002-3 and take us through into 2003-4. But please spread the word or offer us a paper yourself. The programme for the Autumn Term is reproduced on page 2.

Our hope is that the new series will enjoy the mutually supportive relationship with the LSHG that the Labour and Working-Class History seminar did, and that many will want to participate in both. Within the Marxist tradition culture is not separate from politics: culture is political and politics takes cultural forms. This should go without saying, but it often seems to be forgotten. Thus although we will sometimes address specialist issues, we welcome the participation of non-specialists who may well have important knowledge or insights to contribute. We look forward to welcoming you!

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