Washing the car or torching the car?

My article in M/C Journal “Right to the City, Desire for the Suburb?” is now available. Some may have heard the argument before; it has been developed through the “Creative Suburbia” ARC Discovery project that has also involved Christy Collis, Mark Gibson, Emma Felton, Phil Graham, Anna Daniel and Angela Lin Huang. The team were the editors of the current M/C issue.

For those not familiar with it, the conclusion is outlined below:

The assumption that the creative industries are best developed in cities by investing heavily in inner urban cultural amenity runs the risk of simply bypassing those areas where the bulk of the nation’s artists, musicians, filmmakers and other cultural workers actually are, which is in the suburbs. Moreover, by further concentrating resources among already culturally rich sections of the urban population, such policies run the risk of further accentuating spatial inequalities in the cultural realm, and achieving the opposite of what is sought by those seeking spatial justice or the right to the city. An interest in broadband infrastructure or suburban university campuses is certainly far more prosaic than a battle for control of the nation’s cultural institutions or guerilla actions to reclaim the city’s streets. Indeed, it may suggest aspirations no higher than those displayed by Kath and Kim or by the characters of Barry Humphries’ satirical comedy. But however modest or utilitarian a focus on developing cultural resources in Australian suburbs may seem, it is in fact the most effective way of enabling the forms of spatial justice in the cultural sphere that many progressive people seek.

In the paper, I refer to a 1972 article by Douglas Kirsner where he identified washing the car as an element of a suburban pseudo-life that was indicative of a conditioned and conformaist Australian subjectivity. Professor Kirsner was nice enough to email me about this, and to politely note that his neo-Marcusian arguments of 1972 were not indicative of his thinking today. I am certainly also aware of the risks of haivng a former self quoted back to you.

I did have reason to reflect on his comments, though, in relation to discussions about the recent London riots. Certainly the dominant way of thinking about these in the critical humanities is in terms of a sponteneous revolt of the most marginalised and precarious elements of society, reacting to neo-liberal austerity, as seen here, here and here.

Questioning these accounts runs the risk of being labelled a part of the “cynical left“. I guess that those are the risks that you take. But I would note that, in a vary familiar pattern, cultural studies is again being drawn to aberrant subjects and/or subjects in revolt. Subjects in everyday life are also very much a part of “culture”: focusing solely on the “wild” cities and demanding the “right” to them runs the risk of negelcting many of the more vital, if perhaps less visible, wellsprings of creative subjectivity.

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day …

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About Terry Flew

I am Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I am the author of New Media: An Introduction, the fourth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. I am also the author of Understanding Global Media, published by Palgrave in 2007, and The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, published by Sage in 2012.