Social text 1979: “This is to announce the publication of a new journal devoted to the problems in theory, particularly in the area of culture and ideological practices. These are the areas shared by the social sciences, philosophy, and the humanities. Social text is designed to offer a place in which theories developed in the various specialized disciplines can be made available for wider discussion. The framework of the journal is Marxist in the broader sense of the term. It should be possible today, now that Marx’s own writings are becoming more fully available, now that the rich oppositional currents of the various non-Stalinist Marxisms are being rediscovered, to free this term from sterile Cold War overtones.”
“Social text believes that the dialectical framework of the Marxian tradition is the only one in which these issues can be adequately raised and discussed. This is not, however, a claim that Marxism has all the answers. On the contrary, ours has been a period rich in the development of all kinds of theoretical work bearing on culture, sign systems, social relations, power structures, and epistemology […] For us, the vitality of dialectical thinking lies in its power to rehistoricize methods and positions and resituate them in the immense life history of human society from its tribal origins to multinational consumer capitalism and beyond.”
Social text 2002: “This issue of Social text marks a turn in the journal’s history. Several years into our third decade of publications, a great deal has changed in the surrounding intellectual and political climate.”
“Interestingly, [the journal’s] explicit call for historicization was to some degree overshadowed as Social text came to be identified with a growing “import” into the U.S. academy of methodologies associated with cultural studies, extending the work developed in England at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham. Early cultural studies was in many ways an attempt to come to terms with certain problems and blind spots in the Marxist tradition, and indeed to historicize Marxism itself. […] Cultural studies is in continual jeopardy ... of becoming a species of the very problem it was meant to solve. Our response is to restate the mission of Social text as the elaboration of the questions of cultural politics after cultural studies. The “after” is not meant to suggest emancipation from the past but rather the self-concious encumbrance of operating in the wake of what has come before us. This is to reassert the primacy of the journal’s original aim of a certain historicization, and at the same time to hew to its driving commitment to develop and keep open a Marxist problematic.”
Selected Subject Headings
- Anti-globalization movement
- Corporations - corrupt practices
- Fear - United States
- Hinduism and politics - India
- Intellectuals - United States
- Islamic modernism
- Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- Labor movements - United States
- Offshore assembly industry - Mexico
- Pharmaceutical industry
- Progressive education - United States
- Radicalism - United States
- Street theater - Peru
- Urban poor - Martinique
As with most of the current publications our database includes, ccindex’s indexing of Social text starts in the millennial 2000, twenty one years after the initial Prospectus was published and two years before a new direction is announced by the Social Text Collective, removing from the journal’s masthead the initial trinity: Theory, Culture, Ideology.
When the founding Prospectus was published Social text had three editors, it was published by Coda Press, the editorial office was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the business office was importantly located somewhere else, beyond university grounds. Attempts at critical agency. Thirty years after, as a new turn in the journal is announced, the periodical is firmly located in New York, Duke University Press publishes it and it boasts a healthy editorial collective with more than twenty members.
We mention these shifts not to suggest a softening of the journal’s political stakes, academic rigor or polemical attitude, but rather to point towards a self-reflective thought continuum, bound to change as the reality that envelops us affects our social texts. For example, in 1979 the world was divided into “three worlds” and there might have been talks about world system theory, but in 2002 globalization is the word, the Internet exists and we live with a War on Terror without date of caducity. Therefore, their reconsideration of the stakes and frameworks is nothing less than an organic necessity.
Immensely influential for the “import” of British cultural studies into U.S. academia, Social text also embraced other theoretical frameworks: “theories which range from semiotics and Lacanian psychoanalysis to information and systems theory, Habermas’s critical pragmatics, Foucault’s political technology of the body, Derrida’s deconstruction, Althusserian structuralism, and Chomskian linguistics.“But as the 2002 editorial incisively points out, in the 2000s and in the U.S. cultural studies were in danger “of becoming a species of the very problem it was meant to solve,” the paralyzing effect of a decontextualized and depolitized reading of Stuart Hall’s legacy, as well as a victim of the Culture Wars and the excesses of “identity politics.”
For this reason, Social text’s 2000s reorientation continues to bring us, as the journal has brought us since 1979, a renewed engaged scholarship, essential readings for a complex understanding of how a life of thought is enacted not from a social distance but rather from an inhabited, and importantly, felt social reality; after all, no matter if the relayed “truth” is bound to shift as our minds and realities change, what is of importance is to allay fears that thinking has no space in our current society and to bring to the fore the wondrously complex world we live in, to suggest that through knowledge and lived experience what needs to be done is to smash uncritical acceptances.
Shifting minds, textual shifts.
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”Prospectus,” Social text (Madison), no. 1 (Winter 1979): 3-6. When first published, Social text’s editors were Stanley Aronowitz, John Brenkman and Fredric Jameson.
Brent Hayes Edwards and Randy Martin. ”Editorial: Rallying Social text,” Social text ((New Brunswick), no. 70 (Spring 2002): 1-9.
"Prospectus,” Social text (Madison), no. 1 (Winter 1979): 3.
For example, Social text has been instrumental “in the heated current debates around the politics of labor in the U.S. academy” and as Edwards and Martin point out, their attention to these labor issues “serve as an example of the degree to which work on academic labor is burdened by the demands of activism in a hostile institution as much as it is enabled by that context.” Ibid., 3.
In 1996 Social text was at the center of an “infamous episode” revolving around claims of “truth” and “objective” academic standards of excellence. For further information, we suggest reading the following text: Bruce Robbins and Andrew Ross, “Response: Mystery science theater,” Lingua franca (Mamaroneck, N.Y), (July-August 1996): 54-57.