problems with cultural studies…

[Nigel Thrift’s] theoretical propositions suggest at least three crucial elements that any accounts of everyday life must contain if they are to be plausible and interesting. First, they must be respectful of the social practices through which the everyday unfolds. They must recognise that much social practice is different (but certainly not inferior) to more contemplative academic modes of being in the world – embedded as they are in the noncognitive, preintentional and commonsensical. Second, they must contain a sense that practices (and thus the subjectivities and agencies of which they are a part) are shot through with creativity and possibility (even though these are ‘constrained’ and limited by existing networks of association). Third, the everyday should not be viewed as a world apart from more rationally grounded realms of social action such as ‘the state’, ‘the economic’, ‘the political’, or whatever. Rather, what needs to be recognised is how all elements of social life, all institutions, all forms of practice are in fact tied together with the work of getting on from day-to-day.

Seen through the filter of these criteria we can begin to make more sense of the substance source of Thrift’s unease with human geographic work about the everyday. Cultural [turn] was largely built upon a commitment to a particular politics of representation, and it remains obsessively focused on representation. This obsession not only implicitly downgrades the importance of practice, stressing as it does the symbolic over the expressive, “responsive and rhetorical” dimensions of language. It also has an alarming tendency to a slip into simplistic (and often exaggerated) narratives based on highly romantic stereotypes of both politics and persons. Thus, to take an example close to the concerns of this paper, white professionals living in an ethnically diverse area of North London, and eating out at its ethnic restaurants, are not reaching out towards some kind of engagement with the existing community (ambiguous, limited, and inadequate though that may be). No! They are ‘eating the Other’, and are implicated, despite their protestations, in a process of cultural imperialism intricately bound within a complex historical geography of racisms!

Alan Latham, 2003, ‘Research, performance, and doing human geography’, Environment and Planning A, vol.35, pp.1993-2017.

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