Elizabeth Stephens: Celebrating 30 Years of the CSAA: Reflections of a Departing President

In 1992, the year the CSAA was officially inaugurated as an association, Paul Keating was Prime Minister of Australia, the Mabo Case had finally overturned the legal fiction of ‘terra nullius’ in this country, and, in the former colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology that had just been renamed as universities under the Dawkins Act, new-minted Departments of Cultural Studies were graduating their first cohorts of students.

I was one of those students, in the Department of Communication and Cultural Studies at Curtin University. This was during the years that Graeme Turner, Noel King, John Hartley, Jon Stratton, amongst others, were passing through its Brutalist corridors. Around the same time, at nearby Murdoch University, Ien Ang, Niall Lucy, Tom O’Regan, John Frow, and others were also introducing some of the first Cultural Studies courses in the country. It was an exciting time.

That it was possible to study popular culture, or the practices of everyday life, or the entanglements of power/knowledge, as subjects of a university course was a revelation to teenaged me. Like many of my student peers at Curtin, I was a first-generation university student and largely disinterested in, as well as unfamiliar with, the sort of texts and cultural forms on which more traditional humanities courses then focused. Discovering Cultural Studies made my own cultural experiences and positionality comprehensible in new ways, legitimising texts and subjects that had previously seemed outside serious scholarly consideration.

Over the past thirty years, the CSAA has not merely survived but flourished—no mean feat in Australia given that at least twenty of these years have been under a conservative government, one increasingly hostile to politically engaged teaching and research. The institutional and academic success of Cultural Studies as a field of research in this region is truly testimony to the commitment of the CSAA’s community of scholars.

This success is especially remarkably given that Cultural Studies has always been a rather scruffy and undisciplined sort of academic discipline. While this has often posed challenges to its institutional footing, it has also been a source of strength, and a key to its endurance. The CSAA has long acted as an incubator for new and emergent fields of research, many of which have since become established as important fields of research in their own right: the environmental humanities, affect studies, critical race study, queer theory, disability studies and more have all had important sites of emergence and engagement within the CSAA community. It is important that the CSAA continue to welcome and foster new fields of research as these emerge in the future, even as it retains a growing sense of its own history and methodological specificity.

To have had the opportunity to serve as President of the CSAA over the past four years, and to complete my tenure as the association celebrates its 30th anniversary, has been an honour and a real joy. It goes without saying that the last few years have been enormously difficulty and disruptive for the university sector as a whole. I thank both the CSAA Executive and National Committees for their dedication and service during this period: Rob Cover, Holly Randell-Moon, Jay Daniel Thompson, Michael Richardson; and Anita Brady, Karin Sellberg, Daniel Marshall, Katrina Jaworski, Dennis Bruining, Lola Montgomery, Jude Elund, Megan Rose, Elham Golpushnezhad and Brydie Kosmina.

I hand over leadership of this community to our incoming President knowing that the CSAA, and its future, are in good shape. This is evident in the fact the CSAA has enjoyed no less than two national CSAA conferences this year. The first of these was held in Perth at Edith Cowan University in June, having been originally scheduled as the 2020 annual conference. Many thanks to the organization team of Panizza Allmark, Thor Kerr, James Hall, Jessica Taylor and Laura Glitsos for their perseverance in putting on this fantastic conference.

The second will be held at RMIT University from 1-3 December – next week! This coincides with the CHASS consortium of humanities association conferences and marks the official 30th anniversary of the CSAA. All thanks to Rob Cover, Jay Daniel Thompson, Anna Hickey-Moody and Mark Gibson for their hard work on this conference, and for the many celebratory panels and events they have planned.

This series of blog posts celebrating the CSAA, which will conclude at the end of this year, has provided a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the history of the CSAA and its role in teaching and research in this region. I thank (in order) Mark Gibson, Greg Noble, Rebecca Olive, Lisa Slater, Sukhmani Khorana, Lola Montgomery, and Baden Offord for their earlier contributions to this series. Thanks as well to the CSAA’s Social Media and Website Editor, Jay Daniel Thompson, for his hard work on this series.

All the posts can all be found and enjoyed here on the CSAA website: http://csaa.asn.au/csaa-blog/.

Elizabeth Stephens is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland and the outgoing President of the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia.

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