Modern cultural criticism, like the younger discipline of cultural studies, has long struggled to reconcile the antagonistic logic at the heart of the idea of culture. Social Text's project as a journal has been energized throughout by the contradictory genealogy of the term itself, of the inner dynamism and instability generated by the pull between culture defined, in Arnoldian terms, as the highest, disinterested “cultural” achievements of a civilization's elites, and its contrary anthropological definition as a “whole way of life.” This ethnographic expansion of the range of culture, generated in part by the colonial encounter and in part by the collision with working-class subcultures, allowed it to include the whole way of life of other populations: now culture could include the popular and demotic, the marginalized and oppressed subjects of modernity. This contradictory inheritance from the nineteenth century was complicated and enriched by the emergence in the twentieth century of successive instantiations of culture within mass communications, signifying systems, and subaltern cultural productions generated out of decolonization and further class struggle. The picture is complicated by culture's intimate ties to the state: administration, governmentality, and war. These days, the culture concept's combination of expansionist energies and inner antagonisms makes it a slippery and untrustworthy idea: it offers, at once, too much and too little. Social Text's long romance with culture offers some invaluable lessons about the culture concept's continuing viability, or what it means, as editors Brent Edwards and Randy Martin asked in 2002, to pursue “the question of cultural politics after cultural studies.”

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