Blogging the Narrative of Culture, Media and the Arts

By Anneleen Masschelein

Tom Gauld

Image courtesy of Tom Gauld.

The blog “Cultural Studies Leuven, Blogging Since 1425”, hosted by the staff of the Institute for Cultural Studies in Leuven, aims to share interesting publications and events, and give insight into our research and the best work of our students. The research of ICS Leuven can be placed on three, interrelated axes: ‘cultural theory and concepts’, ‘applied narrative’ and ‘media, art and technology’. Interdisciplinarity is of course crucial to the concept of Cultural Studies and we enjoy collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines, departments and institutions. However, these three strands, we believe, do summarize our shared project and can help make our identity as a group visible. Last but certainly not least, these three thematic focus points are not purely research-oriented but they all have practical ramifications in various events that will be organized in the coming year.

Cultural theory and concepts encompasses research on important cultural theorists and ideas that belong to the canon of cultural studies, ranging from the theorists associated with the Birmingham Centre of Contemporary Culture Studies, like Stuart Hall or Angela McRobbie, to important thinkers about culture now (Meghan Morris, Andrew Ross, Lauren Berlant, Pierre Bourdieu and Gisèle Sapiro, …) and in the past (Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Theodor Adorno …). We also focus on certain concepts that are topical in cultural studies today: precarity, postfeminism, vernacular, identity, creative industries, amateur/professional, immunity, biopolitics and social choreography… Apart from traditional research, it is our aim to invite some of these theorists to Leuven and interview them for our blog. We will signal interesting events and there will be screenings of documentaries (or other public performances like plays or blogs…) related to theorists, theories and concepts.

Applied Narrative concerns all kinds of storytelling that are a bit outside or beside the focus of traditional narratology, i.e., the analysis of literature and film. More particularly, we study serial storytelling in quality television series, the culture of handbooks or How-To-Books for various literary genres, graphic novels and photonovels and photo narratives, illness narratives, and storytelling and new media. But also the question of dance and notation, archives and narrative and semiotic structures in culture can be seen as part of this focus. We not only study all these types of narrative, but we are also actively involved with different organizations that host events on new forms of storytelling – the Are You Series festival at Bozar or Passa Porta, a Brussels-based literary organization – and many of us enjoy working and experimenting with new narrative forms.

Media, Art and Performance is a label that groups together all work on the intersection between art, culture and technology on the one hand: the representation and social construction of technology, but also new cultural and artistic forms that stretch the limits of technologies. On the other hand, it also has to do with our mediatized society in which the distinctions between real and fiction, between authentic and fake, between live and staged have become highly complex and often problematic. This is perhaps most clear in the domain of performance in the broadest sense of the term – ranging from “art” to performing and staging the self and biopolitics – that holds up a mirror to society and ourselves and shows how the human body is always already mediatized and permeated by technology and by politics. Many of the concrete projects that staff members are involved with can be placed under this aegis. There are the collaborations of ICS with FabLab Leuven: Ex Vitro, an artist in residence program that will result in an artistic walk in the “science quarter” of Leuven, a Hackathon where hackers will remix photographic heritage, and a city quest using augmented reality that we elaborate with the city archives of Leuven. The new course on the theory and analysis of contemporary dance in collaboration with STUK will bring together various choreographers and dramaturgs in public debates. And there are several events coming up, such as an exhibition on interwar typography around the “Arts et métiers graphiques” magazine in October (University Library Leuven, opening Oct. 21st),  and a conference on ‘Photography Performing Humor’ in November (LUCA School of Arts Brussels, November 24th-25th).

As pointed out above, the three focus points intersect in interesting ways. Moreover, we are all cultural and intellectual omnivores who are basically interested in everything. So while we will try to consistently highlight our three research tracks in the blogposts, we also keep an eye open for everything interesting, especially when it comes from our students, who, in the course of their time with us, constantly feed us with new impulses and ideas.