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Seeing is conceiving : gender, race and visual semantics at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies Carnie, Henry Joseph

Abstract

This paper deals with the discourses of visuality in the intellectual history of British cultural studies as it developed in the postwar period at the University of Birmingham's Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). Visual representation has long been perceived by western thought as a terrain unaffected by perception, language and conceptions; however, recent thought has contested this notion and in the process problematized cultural "ways of seeing." The paper asks how the subjects of British cultural studies were produced but also how and why they were conceived through a visual discourse. It discusses the extent to which this visual discourse at the CCCS was ruptured by the breaking in of previously "invisible" subjects and how this visual discourse itself actually facilitated this rupture. The paper approaches this discussion through a close analysis of key texts produced at the CCCS. It demonstrates that the intellectual trajectory of British cultural studies at the CCCS involved a shift from an oral means of cultural expression to a visual one and then back to an oral form. It examines how the interventions by thinkers on gender and race influenced this shift. The paper concludes that visuality and orality were held in constant tension throughout the intellectual history of British cultural studies at the CCCS, but that a more inclusive and democratic form of orality finally gained ascendancy over a visuality, which was inherently implicated in social and cultural structures of power.

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