Tuesday, October 25, 2005


All right, my chickens have come home to roost.

I've always loathed reading mainstream cultural studies theory, and when I was required to do so for graduate seminars, I usually did the reading, took a few notes (maybe), participated a bit in class, and then promptly forgot what I had read before jamming my brain full of the next week's dose of densely- (and too frequently poorly-) written articles. That's a horrible admission, isn't it? Perhaps I can redeem myself by saying that I read other material outside of class that did stick with me? But now those texts aren't helping me much either.

See, I'm much more of an American studies person, and in my experience, American studies isn't as good with the high-falutin' theories for which a dissertation in cultural studies seems to call. I love reading articles and books based heartily in the world, texts that reference material culture and draw conclusions about the culture whence it comes without relying too heavily on the popular theorists of the day. But it ends up I'm still learning how to do that myself, and perhaps a cultural studies dissertation just isn't the place to try to generate meaningful new theories. I dunno.

I usually embrace interdisciplinarity, but theory-wise, it's a hard position to maintain, especially when I think about targeting particular chapters toward journals or job talks. The theories I know from the fields in which some people think I fall—science and technology studies, history and philosophy of science, feminist theory, history, cultural studies—just don't seem to work for my dissertation. . .or at least they're not meeting my needs in terms of a unifying theory or two for my project.

Part of the problem is that cultural studies theories on museums deal almost exclusively with representation, with the content of exhibitions rather than with the actual people who work(ed) behind the scenes. And the feminist theories that I used to espouse—namely the idea of standpoint or situated knowledge—just aren't working out as well as I thought they would in the face of archival evidence about women museum scientists. I don't want to force those scientists into too tight a dress, theoretically speaking.

What to do? I'm giving myself a week—yes, a whole week—to figure this one out. And then I must move on.

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