If they choose the former, they swear off real engagement (and full employment) in the world. If they choose latter, they swear off a deeper knowledge of the culture in which they will compete.
This is a long standing problem. It plays out that distinction between the "world renouncing" liberal arts and the "world embracng" professional studies. But it is a problem that has been made more grevious by two things: the continual retreat from the world performed by cultural studies and the continual interpenetration of culture and commerce in the marketplace. The rapproachment of the two fields is, in other words, both more difficult and more urgent.
Let me put this more concretely. Most business schools do nothing to advance the cultural literacy of the MBA graduate. This despite the fact that success in marketing, innovation, management and the capital markets now turns more and more on a mastery here. I noticed this particularly at the Harvard Business School, where almost without exception knowledge of contemporary culture is excluded from the classroom. Occasionally, when teaching there, I would make a contemporary culture reference (Righteous Babe Records, the early long tail experiment by Ani DiFranco, say). Students would look at me in astonishment, either because they had never heard of Ms. DiFranco, or because they knew her music perfectly well but never "in a million years" expected to hear her name spoken at HBS.
I am on record as believing that cultural studies has systematically removed itself not just from real world usefulness but from any intellectual vantage point that would allow us thoughtfully to examine the interactions of culture and commerce.
The question has long been who would step up and create a program in the excluded middle? Who would establish a rapprochment between these two worlds? Who would create a program that was fully informed and fully engaged?
I wonder whether blogging might someday serve this role. How would we turn the materials that issue from the blogging world into the stuff of a higher education? Interesting question, one that my new colleagues at Corante may well someday answer.
In the meantime, I am happy to report that the Comparative Media Studies at MIT is making extraordinary strides. I realised this when responding this morning to a request on the part of a Dartmouth undergraduate who asked me to recommend a graduate program. My reply:
Thanks for your note. I am happy to make myself useful in the review of some of the options, but I have to say I was yesterday (belately) getting to know the people at the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, and it’s a really impressive program (and probably your best choice).
The graduate students would be a joy to have as colleagues. […]
The core of the enterprise is Henry Jenkins, and he is the odds-on-bet for the most gifted/prolific/seminal/formative guy in the field of contemporary culture. He is well published which gives you a chance to have a look and decide if his approach works for you.
Finally, the program appears to be breaking out of that world renouncing reflex of the academic world and is now working with some of the cultural producers in contemporary culture (e.g., MTV) in the creation of a real partnership. This effectively collapses the distance between cultural studies and the business schools, using one to make up the deficit of the other.
All in all, it’s a pretty good choice for graduate study, equally useful as preparation for further academic study or a career in the world. Hope this helps. Let’s talk if there is anything I’ve left out or can elaborate on. Best, Grant
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Culture studies and capital markets: parallel or converging?
November 08, 2005. here. (for more on my unhappiness with Cultural Studies)
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Professor Quelch and the marketing manager
October 11, 2005. here. (for more on my unhappiness with the b-school world)