Revision of Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature from Fri, 05/04/2012 - 13:18

Published by Ted Striphas on Fri, 03/23/2012 - 16:05

‘The Boiler Room Which Was to Become Cultural Studies’


In writing the history of cultural studies in Birmingham, two approaches have commonly been taken. The first approach to the Centre is organized around its key figures—faculty like Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall and Richard Johnson as well as the long list of students who have risen to prominence in the field since their time in Birmingham. Generally this body of work consists of their own personal recollections on their time at the Centre and the reflections of fellow travelers in cultural studies who have followed in their wake.[1]  The second approach focuses less on the individuals and more on the enduring body of work they produced, both individually and collectively.  This way of documenting the history of cultural studies in Birmingham is sometimes organized with regard to the procession of texts that emerged from the centre over the years.[2] However, more frequently, this is discussed in terms of the debates, arguments and advancements that emerged around thematic, theoretical and methodological problematics taken up at the centre.[3]


There is, of course, ample crossover between these two approaches and, taken together, they have yielded a useful portrait of the cultural, political, and economic conditions both leading up to and following the Birmingham Centre’s founding in spring 1964.  The histories that have resulted provide a fascinating glimpse into the Centre’s complex interpersonal and organizational dynamics, which is to say its everyday life throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  And, if there is any coherence to this historical picture, it is in the fraught process by which faculty and students at the Centre arrived at a sense of institutional identity, and at the broader intellectual commitments of cultural studies.[4]  This is not necessarily to say, common purpose.  As Hall once put it, ‘My own memories of Birmingham are mainly of rows, debates, arguments, of people walking out of rooms.’[5]  Cultural studies’ success was hard won, in other words, and costly in terms of hurt feelings, disappointments, and damaged egos.[6]


However, rather than follow either of these approaches to work in Birmingham, the primary focus of this essay is the writing and publication practices that developed in and around the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Through our engagement with these practices, we would like to develop an approach that is both historical and speculative. Historical in so far as it is an attempt to expand existing histories of cultural studies beyond the biographical and the conceptual aspects of the work that took place at the Centre by focusing on some of the ways in which work was made public and how these publications were circulated. Speculative to the extent that we hope to build upon these historical traces to make some arguments for the ways in which textual production in cultural studies might be reformulated in ways that might allow for a more productive engagement with the  contemporary conjuncture.


Such an approach broadens the scope of historical investigation to encompass (putting it crudely) the instruments of production of cultural studies, taking ‘a trip “below decks” into the “boiler room” which was to become Cultural Studies,’ as Hall has recently described it.[7]  Beyond all the juicy bits of insider knowledge, beyond all the major works and their intellectual history lies a more mundane but no less important story to be told about Birmingham, and about cultural studies more generally.  This is a story about the knowledge infrastructure by which cultural studies developed at the Centre and gradually seeped out into the world.  More straightforwardly, the history we want to develop focuses on the Centre’s publications, but not on their content per se; nor, for that matter, on the major works that posterity has come to see as exemplary of ‘the Centre.’  Instead we want to focus on the form, function, and frequency of its serials, and to linger on a few lesser known works whose significance warrants their inclusion within the standard accounts of cultural studies’ social, institutional, and intellectual history.[8]


Given that the present moment is one marked by debates and struggles at the intersection of knowledge production, intellectual property and labour, we believe that reconstructing this earlier moment might serve to remind those of us currently working in cultural studies that the modes of research, writing and publication that are hegemonic today (namely those forms that favour the single author and the discrete self-contained text) were not always the only forms of work that mattered. As we will argue in the later parts of this essay, recovering the history of diverse forms of textual production identified with an earlier incarnation of cultural studies gives some precedence for allowing a greater diversity in the kinds of activities engaged in as part of the broad intellectual project that might today be constituted under the same name. While we develop this history in relationship to particular forms of writing, specifically the working paper, we do not see this as being about different kinds of outcomes (i.e. the working paper versus the monograph.) Rather, we would like to position this essay as an invitation to consider the ways in which different modes of writing might relate to different forms of research, specifically those that encourage collaboration, as well a different understanding of how the individual scholar relates to the institutional contexts in which they work.


Writing at the Centre


The history of writing at Birmingham often begins with, or at least moves quickly to, what you might call ‘the big four’: Hoggart’s Uses of Literacy (1957); Raymond Williams’ Culture and Society (1958) and Long Revolution (1961); and E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1963).  These books immediately preceded the Centre’s founding and served as touchstones for its fledgling intellectual enterprise.[9]  There is fifth publication, however, that deserves to be included in this pantheon. However, while hardly lost to history, it does not often figure prominently in relationship to the big four: Rachel Powell’s twenty-two page essay ‘Possibilities for Local Radio,’ published in December 1965 as the Centre’s first ‘Working Paper.’[10]  According to the Centre’s third annual report to the University of Birmingham, dated December 1966, it was ‘widely circulated and commented on.’[11]


Powell was full-time staff Research Associate working on what, over several years of Centre reports, was called the ‘Gulbenkian project.’  This initiative, funded by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, investigated ‘the relationship between the providers of television programmes and their audiences’ (and, obviously, that of radio as well).[12]  The appearance of ‘Possibilities for Local Radio‘ is important if for no other reason than it first demonstrated the Centre’s ability to deliver on one of its more ambitious promises, namely, that it would not only pursue but also publish scholarly research.[13]  It thus marked an important threshold for cultural studies, at least in Britain, where publication had tended to be more the exception than the rule.  As Williams noted: 

[I]n the late forties, and with notable precedents in army education during the war, and with some precedents…even in the thirties, Cultural Studies was extremely active in adult education.  It only got into print and gained some kind of general intellectual recognition [later on].  I often feel sad about the many people who were active in that field at that time who didn't publish, but who did as much as any of us did to establish this work.[14]

What the release of Powell’s essay represented, in other words, was a first step in the direction of establishing an institutionalized publishing routine for cultural studies.


However, unlike the big founding books, Powell’s essay took a dramatically different form. Called a ‘Working Paper’ upon its release and primarily circulated internally, its status was provisional rather than definitive.  But even this designation of the working paper merits closer examination, because neither the terminology nor the meaning of ‘Working Paper’ seems to have been determinate at this point in the Centre’s history.[15]  The author of the 1964 annual report, for example, referred to this type of publication as an ‘occasional paper.’  Note the lack of capitalization, as if to suggest a strong degree of informality for the work that would eventually be appearing under this rubric.  The same type of publication would be referred to in the report dated October 1965 as an ‘Occasional Paper,’ now capitalized, suggesting a higher degree of formalization and perhaps, then, a growing recognition of this body of work’s potential intellectual and practical import for the Centre.  In fact Powell’s essay, which was then in preparation, was referred to as such in the report.[16]  The second installment of the Centre’s series, Alan Shuttleworth’s ‘Two Working Papers in Cultural Studies,’ appeared during the 1966-1967 academic year.  Here, though, ‘Working Paper’ functioned as a particular, not a categorical, description; in the annual report dated January 1968, the series was once again referred to as ‘Occasional Papers.’[17]  In other words, the Shuttleworth piece was a work-in-progress belonging to what was now understood to be, more or less conclusively, a series of intermittently released publications.


Clearly, more was at stake in the decision to call the series ‘Occasional Papers’ than just a name.  Because the papers were a primary point of public contact for the Centre, they would be instrumental in helping to secure scholarly authority for its faculty and students.  They would also then help to establish credibility for the little-known field of cultural studies beyond the Centre’s walls.  The decision to stress the periodicity (‘Occasional’) of these papers over their definitiveness (‘Working’) seems to have been an outcome of these types of considerations.  When the series of Occasional papers was discontinued in 1971 it totaled seven publications in all.  The Centre report dated October 1968 notes they were ‘distributed to our growing mailing list’ and ‘also available on general purchase’ by writing to the office secretary, Felicity Reeve.[18]  The same report contains an extensive list of contacts at the University of Birmingham and at host of other universities scattered throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America, which, presumably, comprised the bulk of the mailing list.[19]  While this reveals little about the actual uptake of the material, it does provide a rough indication of the extent to which it may have traveled.


While there is almost no mention of the publications in first hand accounts of the early days of the centre, documents from the time show that even before the publication of Powell’s “Possibilities for Local Radio” it was apparent to Hoggart and his colleagues that the Occasional Papers would be a necessary but insufficient vehicle for promoting the Centre and its work.[20] Hence the claim, appearing in the second report (October 1965), that ‘there is an urgent need for a regular journal devoted to the study of contemporary cultural problems.’  The report says little beyond this, however, other than to note the indeterminacy of the audience and a prohibitive lack of finances.[21]  The subsequent report (November 1966) goes into greater detail about the proposed publication and the Centre’s plans for it:

We are now in need of a regular journal, devoted to cultural studies, in which research work can be published regularly, the critical books reviewed and new ideas put into the common pool.  We could carry such a publication ourselves, especially if we were able to draw on other people working in much the same field, who are anxious to be in closer discussion with us and for whom no publication outlet at present exists.  We have published one Working Paper [i.e., Occasional Paper], and two others are in preparation: but a journal would ease the pressure a good deal, and provide a stimulus to further research.  Without such a journal the field lacks definition, contributions tend to be haphazard and the flow of work spasmodic.[22]

This passage underscores just how important the centre’s members imagined this publication would be and, indeed, how different they considered it from the Occasional Papers.  Whereas the latter were conceived of as ‘either short studies of some cultural problem, or a contribution to a current matter under discussion in the cultural field,’[23] the former would be endowed with loftier goals.  It would define cultural studies; establish a more public bibliography for the field; raise awareness of new research and regularize its release; and involve scholars from outside of the Centre.


The final goal was arguably the most important.  It pointed to an impending shift in the sociality of cultural studies and its publications, or to what, in contemporary parlance, you might call a reimagining of the field’s ‘social graph.’  The Occasional Papers were primarily broadcast publications.  They emanated (appropriately enough) from the Centre and diffused into the world.   This is not to suggest the flow of communication was strictly one-way, although the nature of the series was such that its main purpose was to get the word out about the Centre, its people, and their research.  The proposed journal would have a significantly different orientation.  It would continue the job of getting the word out, to be sure, yet it would also be tasked with bringing the word in given its openness to the research of scholars unaffiliated with the Centre.  Thus it promised to transform Birmingham from a broadcast centre into a hub for cultural studies, at least where publication was concerned.  Moreover, the journal would in principle align better than the Occasional Papers with the traffic of people into and out of the Centre, which had already become a crossroads for visiting scholars including Daniel Boorstin, Dell Hymes, Fredric Jameson, Leo Lowenthal, David Riesman, Edward (E. P.) Thompson, and Raymond Williams, among numerous others.[24]


Despite the fact the journal was fairly well conceptualized by 1966, it would be another five years before it materialized in print.  Released in the summer of 1971, the first issue of Working Papers in Cultural Studies was a major achievement for the Centre.  It also posed something of a risk, according to the report dated December 1971: ‘The journal represents a considerable investment by the Centre both intellectually and financially so it is important this attempt to make more public the Centre’s work should succeed.’[25]  It marked a kind of homecoming, too – specifically, to the language of process Hoggart and his colleagues had embraced and then quickly abandoned with regard to the Occasional Papers.  Like the return of the repressed, ‘Working’ was back and more prevalent than ever, now as the lead term of the Centre’s flagship publication.


Writing in 2008, Hall observed that Working Papers in Cultural Studies ‘was launched in this period to raise the profile of the Centre’s work (the tentative character of whose title tells its own story).’[26]  But to what extent is it fair to say the journal’s title ‘tells its own story’?  Indeed, just as the meaning of ‘Working’ was hardly straightforward within the context of the Occasional Papers, so it was (and is) within the context of the journal.  If nothing else, it seemed to connote more than just, ‘tentative.’  Consider what the report dated December 1971 had to say about the Centre’s scholarly endeavors: ‘We…regard our editorial and publicity work on finished products, and our production of a journal, as integral to our attempt to establish a radical and disciplined approach to the study of social and cultural communication.’  The report then went on to indicate that Working Papers ‘is intended as an academic publication.’[27]  As such it would address a scholarly audience, primarily, and conform to many if not most of the conventions of scholarly writing.  The subsequent report, dated January 1974, added that the journal would ‘print work of a high quality.’[28]  ‘Disciplined.’  ‘Academic.’  ‘High quality.’  These are probably not the first adjectives that come to mind for a journal whose express purpose was to present works-in-progress (at least, not today) – and yet, there they are. 


It is possible to make sense of this tension by stressing the bureaucratic function of the documents in which these accounts of the working papers appears.  In the Centre reports, convincing the Birmingham administration of the integrity of the journal, and of the unit more broadly, must have been on the minds of Hoggart and his colleagues.  During its first five years the Centre had been self-sustaining, propped up financially by grants from Penguin Books, Chatto & Windus, the Observer Trust, and a small, one-time gift from an undisclosed ‘well-wisher.’[29]  When the Centre finally started receiving direct financial support from the University, in 1969, the change surely would have heightened its sense of accountability to the institution.


While there is probably merit to this story, it risks explaining away the tension at the heart of Working Papers more than actually explaining it.  Between its status as evidence of the centre’s work and a momentary snapshot of the working being undertaken by its members, it may also be that the journal managed to strike a unique balance between rigour and provisionality.  If so, it was a balance that proved highly productive for the Centre and its interlocutors.  Paul Buhle suggested as much in 1978, in a review of Working Papers published in the American journal Radical History Review: ‘Sometimes the essays in the journal appear to have been snatched out of that atmosphere too nimbly, without the gun-and-camera guide that readers (particularly non-Britishers) could use to understand the entire intellectual and political context of the study.’  Buhle quickly reversed course, however, observing that the journal’s contributors were working through ‘matters of great importance’ and achieving promising results. Theoretically, they had opened up the problem of base and superstructure so as to avoid romanticizing the working class on the one hand, and engaging in economic reductionism on the other.  Empirically, they had produced ‘hard-minded analys[e]s’ shot through with complex views of class composition and social antagonism.[30]  The material, wrote Buhle, ‘is head and shoulders above what American historians, sociologists and journalists have given us on similar subjects.’[31]


From around the same period, a similar presentation of the provisional nature of the Working Papers can be seen in the response written by members of the working group on Youth Culture to an article published in Screen by Rosalind Coward. The bulk of the response is taken up with a repudiation of Coward’s claim that WPCS 7/8, ‘Resistance Through Rituals’, as well as the essay “The Unity of the TV News” published in WPCS 9, presents a reductive understanding of the relationship between ideology, representation and social class. However, the critique of Coward’s reading of “a single, monolithic ‘Centre line’” begins by both challenging the notion that there is a clear coherence between the two essays and that, rather than fixing and identifying the positions outlined in the essays with a particular school, they should be treated as “ongoing work” and “a provisional sketch.” While some of this positioning is quite certainly rhetorical, it is worth recognizing the extent to which the provisional nature of the journal was foregrounded in relation the nature of debate and exchange such a publication might engender. 


It seems, then, that in freeing contributors from some of the strictures of conclusiveness, Working Papers gave them latitude to explore questions, answers, and approaches that might not have emerged within a more conventional publishing situation. However, this was not exclusively about producing a space in which particular kinds of research might take shape. As the exchange between Screen and WPCS suggests, this was also about recognizing the ways in which a particular relationship to publication might also produce particular kinds of social relations. Hall has recently reiterates the double nature of the Working Papers, commenting that

We did not think of these as necessarily finished products. We wanted to publicize the work we were doing to any other intellectual communities that might have been interested (without knowing who they were necessarily) and to a wider public.  And we wanted to know who was interested, and to converse with them.


Provisionality was not a liability, but a way to start a conversation.  If anything provisionality was made to work for the journal and its readers – and it showed.  At its height Working Papers had an impressive initial print run of 2500 copies per issue, with a proposed frequency of two issues per year.[32]  And according to the Centre report for the years 1975-1976, the eight issues of the journal thus far produced had all sold out ‘despite occasional reprintings.’[33]  Working Papers may have eschewed closure, but one thing was for sure: the journal had ‘undoubtedly made the Centre far better known than it previously was.’[34]


At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the journal remained grounded within a particular community of readers (in spite of claims on the part of participant to have little sense of the readership.) The exchange published in Screen was the product of a much longer relationship between the circle of researchers associated with the two journals that dated back to the early 1970s. Similarly, Radical History Review had been receiving copies of Working Papers as early as 1972 (as had other Marxist history journals like the History Workshop.) Thus, even though the members of the centre had very little clear sense of the audience for the journal, they likely had some understanding of paths along which some of these publications travelled. However, these publications were not always judged to be successful when it came to speaking to a broader public in its early years. For example, an article examining the relationship between educational reform and working class culture published in 1974 laments that, in spite of the relevance of the work being done at Birmingham to the diverse community engaged with these issues that its impact has been limited as “much of this work is conducted and reported within the very closed world of research papers, small-run poorly distributed pamphlets and inaccessible academic publications.”


However, while Working Papers in Cultural Studies gained visibility as the decade progressed, it also underwent a major transformation in its structure and status.  The covenant from Penguin Press, which had underwritten the Centre financially since its inception, finally lapsed in 1976.  That translated into a loss of £2400 per year, or about £16,000 in today’s terms.  While that might not seem like a lot, the impact must have been felt given the complaint about ‘slender financial resources’ appearing in the report dated January 1978.[35]  Indeed it was becoming less tenable, economically, for the Centre to continue producing Working Papers without outside assistance.  In 1977 the Centre struck a deal with PDC to start distributing the journal, which seems to have reduced the pressure somewhat.  The daily grind of managing, editing, typesetting and promoting a successful journal were also taking a toll, though, consuming precious time that faculty and students might otherwise devote to research.[36]


Working Papers helped to raise the Centre’s profile, in other words, but along the way it became something of an albatross.  Hall, Director since Hoggart’s resignation in 1973, and his colleagues thus decided to reduce the frequency of the journal to a single issue per year, starting in 1976.[37]  When that failed to make Working Papers more manageable, they decided on a more radical plan.  Issue ten (spring 1977) would be the final one appearing under the Centre’s imprimatur.  Hutchinson, which had produced the reprint of the acclaimed issue ‘Resistance Through Rituals’ (number seven/eight, autumn 1975), picked up the publication thereafter.  It would henceforth be published annually as series of Centre books, beginning with what would have been issue eleven of Working Papers: ‘Women Take Issue: Aspects of Women’s Subordination.’  The latter, according to the report dated December 1978, represented a definitive shift ‘from artisan-journal to modern production methods’ and perhaps, then, a sense in which the series had become even less ‘Working’ than it had been previously.[38]


Reporting, Copying, Publishing


The history of the Working Papers presented so far can be seen to develop in two, seemingly contradictory directions. First, there was a growing trend towards the formalization of publication; the gradual move from occasional papers to the “Occasional Papers” and onto the the appearance of Working Papers in Cultural Studies. Second, there is an ongoing commitment to acknowledging the provisionality, partiality and dialogic nature of the project of cultural studies as captured in these publications. Ultimately, the concept of ‘Working‘ is still more complicated than simply suggesting that the work would continue to develop since it was operationalized within a context including publications other than just Working Papers in Cultural Studies.  


As already noted, the journal’s launch coincided with the cancellation of the existing series of Occasional Papers.  Its structured publication schedule meant that new research in cultural studies would henceforth be appearing more predictably.  It also meant that the Centre was less equipped than it had been to respond to current events, for its scholarly output was now subject to the dictates of an artificially imposed time-frame.  Out of this was born a new series of Stencilled Occasional Papers, launched in 1974.  The Centre report for 1975-1976 describes them as ‘a means of rapid communication of Centre work to interested people and groups.’  In contrast to the previous series of Occasional Papers, which had been professionally printed and bound in slick, glossy covers, the Stencilled Occasional Papers were ‘produced as cheaply as possible, stapled without binding or card covers.’[39]  They were copied in-house on a Gestetner mimeograph machine and sold for between fifteen and fifty-five pence, postpaid (except for overseas orders).[40]  They were also passed along informally among faculty, students and friends of the Centre.[41]


The look of the Stencilled Occasional Papers both embodied and conveyed the speed of their production.  And in this respect they shed additional light on how the concept of ‘Working’ was to be understood with respect to the journal.  The material form of these essays seemed to suggest they were even more provisional than the articles appearing in Working Papers in Cultural Studies, which, though rough around the edges itself, exuded relatively higher production values.  That is to say, the Stencilled Occasional Papers were evidently more ‘Working’ than even the Working Papers.  The Centre report for 1975-1976 underscores this.  The Stencilled Occasional Papers ‘commonly consist of worked-up versions of papers given by Centre members at conferences or to internal seminars.  Some are specially commissioned by the Centre; others are the product of theses, projects or collective work in sub-groups.’[42]  Or as John Clarke, who as a graduate student was attached to the Centre from 1972-1980, put it: ‘they were things we wrote about two-thirds of the way through thinking about things.’[43] 


The Centre produced fifty-four Stenciled Occasional Papers by the end of 1978 and added a few more titles to the list in subsequent years.  At least some appear to have enjoyed significant uptake beyond the Centre, particularly within the realm of tertiary education.[44]  Their circulation flowed from their timeliness and strength of intellectual contribution, no doubt, yet it also seems reasonable to surmise it had something to do with the minimalism of their matériel and hence the ease with which they could be shared.  In any case, it was around this time – the late-1970s – that the Centre’s whole publishing apparatus experienced a major metamorphosis.


In 1976 the Centre embarked on what it called a ‘new’ series of pamphlets, whose look and feel resembled the first series of Occasional Papers.  In contrast to the Occasional Papers the pamphlets would be ‘written in a less academic style with a wider audience in mind, and with a topic focus.’[45]  An element of professionalism complemented the ethos of public engagement.  Orders for the pamphlets would be fulfilled not by the Centre, as had been the custom for most of its other serials, but by the London-based Publications Distribution Cooperative, or PDC.  But to call the pamphlet series ‘new’ was not entirely accurate.  The Centre had been producing pamphlets throughout the 1970s, sporadically.  In fact Policing the Crisis had begun life as a pamphlet called Twenty Years, released in 1973.[46]  Thus the ‘new’ series seems to have represented an attempt to formalize what, up until that point, had been a more or less informal type of publication.  It proved to be the Centre’s least successful publishing venture.  Despite the tone of optimism surrounding the pamphlets in the Centre reports from the late-1970s, only two were produced: one, by Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester, on The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster (price: 60p); and the other, by the Women in Fascism Study Group, entitled Breeders for Race and Nation – Women and Fascism in Britain Today (price: 50p).[47]


There is a final type of publication, one rarely acknowledged yet deeply important, by which Birmingham also became known to the world: the Centre reports.  The first five, issued between 1964 and 1968, read as if they were first and foremost bureaucratic instruments intended for University administrators.  They consisted largely of internal accounting – of courses, students, visitors, projects, publications, finances, facilities, and goals – framed more often than not by remarks about the Centre’s efforts to define cultural studies.  The tone of these documents shifted with the sixth report, dated December 1971.  It opened with the most thoroughgoing description of the development of cultural studies, and of the Centre, to date.  Maybe even more significant, though, was the first appearance of pricing information for its publications, specifically for the newly-launched Working Papers in Cultural Studies.[48]  The subsequent report, dated January 1974, ended with a full-page ad for the journal, including pricing information for individuals, libraries, and bookshops.[49]  The eighth report, covering the years 1975-1976, contained a price list for the Stencilled Occasional Papers.[50]  The ninth report, dated January 1978, included a similar list plus an order form.[51]


Together the advertisements, order forms and price lists suggest a shift in the mode of address of the Centre reports.  They continued to speak to University administrators, to be sure, but throughout the 1970s they also came to address audiences beyond Birmingham.  If nothing else, the reports were positioned as marketing vehicles for the Centre’s other – more scholarly – publications.  But even this statement merits qualification, because the reports had their own scholarly dimension, too.  Most are strewn with citations, block quotes, and other aspects of academic apparatus, especially in the opening discussions of the field of cultural studies and in the extended reflections on the intellectual ambitions of the Centre’s graduate seminars.  In the interval between the ‘big four’ and the appearance of Working Papers in Cultural Studies, the Centre reports filled a major void in terms of defining the field publicly, and indeed regularly.  Their reach was impressive, moreover, at least in the years leading up to Hall’s resignation from the Centre in 1979.  The report dated January 1978 puts its circulation at around 3000 copies, distributed to ‘all manner and shade of inquirers.’[52]  The unusual qualifier at the end suggests the mailing list exceeded the Centre’s aforementioned institutional connections and its network of former students and faculty affiliates.  To accept the status of the ‘reports’ at face value is thus to do them a disservice.  They are, arguably, the unsung (publication) heroes of British cultural studies.


On the Virtues of Grey Literature


By tracing the historical context in which the Working Papers in Cultural Studies took shape over time and in relation to other modes of publication, our purpose is not simply to outline the development of a seminal publication in the field. Rather, the purpose of this journey through the archives is to highlight the variety of modes of textual production that characterized cultural studies in these years. There are a few general aspects of this history that that are worth drawing out in greater detail. As we have seen in this section, it is important to recognize that a publication in cultural studies at Birmingham took shape in relation to several different genres of writing, that involved a variety of different temporalities, scales and institutional contexts. The transition between these different genres of writing was not always clear, for example the relationship between the “administrative” writing of the Centre reports, the more ephemeral nature of the Occasional papers and the increasingly professionalized structures of Working Papers as academic journal. The work at Birmingham, however, was not unique in this regard and it is important to remember to degree to which the development of cultural studies in other location were similarly mixed.[53]


With an eye to the present moment, this is worth keeping in mind as the kinds of writing recognized as valid by the administrative logics of the contemporary university.

[Note the preponderance of what Zuckerman & Merton call “fugitive” publications; note, too, that in the time period they discuss the boundary between authoritative and gray literature was blurrier than it may be today, re: “let the author take responsibility for it.”]


Alongside the diversity of textual genres that characterized writing at the BCCCS, it is worth recognizing that the degree to which these patterns of working, writing and publishing had to be invented. In this way, it is worth thinking about the various ways in which the practice of research and writing was imbricated in the complex of other practices and commitments that characterized the centre during these years. These texts, as all texts do (with varying levels of disavowal), emerged from the social relations that characterized the Centre during these years. With regard to the social context in which these texts emerged, there are two points in particular that are worth specifying in detail. First, the various forms of publication must be seen as part of an ongoing struggle to develop a mode of writing that extended the exchanges and encounters of everyday life at the centre. It is along these lines that Hall and Hoggart characterize the general purpose of Shuttleworth’s first “working papers.” And, as we have seen, this is a theme that returned to the fore as Working Papers became an increasingly formal space of publication and the Stencilled Occasional papers started to appear. While the extent to which the various publication were, or were not, successful in this goal  remains open to debate and further historical examination, nonetheless it is worth recognizing that the text was consistently seen as a social, rather than solitary, object.[54]


Recognizing the social nature of texts at the Centre points directly to the second key aspect when understanding the innovative nature of writing and publishing at the centre: its commitment to the ethics of circulation. In some ways, this commitment is telegraphed boldly in every bibliography of the centre, after all “Stencilled Papers” is a clear reminder of the extent to which work at the Centre relied upon the existence of cheap and accessible reproduction technologies. But, beyond this, it is worth drawing attention to the degree to which publication as a mode of circulating multiple copies of text in production was seen as central to the “work” of cultural studies. While the visibility brought by the Working Papers can be read as part of a project of institutional justification, it must also be seen as part of a project in which circulation of research in progress was seen as an important part of intellectual practice. Indeed, this is a commitment that extended beyond the publications that we have been concentrating on here. As Lawrence Grossberg recalls, shortly after his arrival at the center he received a paper outlining the Centres Protocols, “one of the bold things it says is: there is one rule in the Centre. Your greatest research tool is not the library, but carbon paper. Everything should be written typed on carbon paper because there were no xerox machines.”


Notice how history becomes a touchstone by which to make sense of, and gain perspective on, the present.  The point of this history is to gain perspective on our present, on what we’ve gained and lost as far as the boiler room goes.







“Thus do purely marketing decisions homogenize research and university teaching in accordance with fashions coming from America, sometimes managing to fabricate outright ‘disciplines’ like cultural studies, this mongrel domain born in England in the Seventies, which owes its international dissemination – if not the whole of its existence – to a successful publishing strategy” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1999: 74). » make this your ending!


An important and largely overlooked element of the “grassroots” of this story—the story of the formalization of cultural studies’ publications.  It was not, in the first instance, a top-down undertaking and indeed probably wasn’t until the 1980s, and even then never wholly.


Seemed to recognize from the beginning how important publications would be to the success of the Centre.


Want to spend some time reconstructing the publication history of the Birmingham Centre.


--Occasional Papers; special occasion pamphlets

(2nd OP called “Two Working Papers in CS”)

-- WPCS (1971 – replacement for OP)

(Also producing pamphlets)

--Stenciled Occasional Papers Launched 1974-75

--Reboot(???) or formalization of CCCS Pamphlets (1976-77)


II.        Gray Literature

  1. III.       WPCS, reloaded
    1. A.         In terms of this stuff, talk about CC publications, but not many process models. The rise, but also peculiar sociality of theory blogs.

IV.       Conclusion




[2] Such an approach would trace the development of the centre in relation to the transitions from the “founding” texts like The Uses of Literacy through to early “occassional” papers like “Encoding/Decoding” on to the major texts of the mid-to-late 1970s such as Learning to Labour, Policing the Crisis (Macmillan, date); Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Methuen, date); Women Take Issue (Hutchinson, date); The Empire Strikes Back (Hutchinson, date); and a host of other landmark texts to which the label ‘Birmingham School’ is often retroactively – and indeed problematically – applied.

[3] The issues of gender and race are perhaps the most visible of the thematic transformations in the centre’s agenda while questions around concepts like the popular, ideology and youth culture speak to its theoretical development. Finally, methodologically, this would involve the transition from text-centered approach to contemporary culture favoured by Hoggart on to the adoption a more complicated mix of methods ranging from the ethnographic to the historical.

[4] Grossberg quoting John Clarke: “the diversity that won.”  Should also probably note the many “rows” various Birmingham figures mention in their personal reflections, as if to acknowledge the lack of unity of position.

[5] CITE Hall, “Emergence of CS/Crisis of Humanities,” p. 11?; Brunsdon.

[6] CITE Brunsdon, “Thief in the Night,” pp. 278, 280.

[7] CITE Hall, Preface to WPCS 2 volume anthology, p. xi.

[8] ‘All good book history,’ notes Cathy Davidson, ‘begins with sound bibliography.’  CITE Reading in America p. 7

[9] See especially Centre report from 1965-1966.

[10] CITE BCCCS Report 1966, p. 26; need to also note Williams on CS’ hidden transcript, re: how work in CS being done for years but never was published.

[11] Note the difficulty in substantiating this claim, or even judging the criteria by which this claim gets made.  But note, too, the essay’s inclusion in the Screen list of 1970, as well as the more recent commentary by John Mowitt, Radio: Essays in Bad Reception.  Also, need to find Williams piece, purportedly published in Tribune 18 Feb. 1966 (p. 8) where he sings Powell’s praises.

[12] Cite Centre 1966, p. 20.

[13] Cite first annual report, Sept. 1964, p. 10.

[14] CITE RW, “Future of CS,” pp. 170.

[15] Cite Mowitt, op cit., 17.  Note, too, that he refers to the work as an ‘Occasional Paper.’

[16] CITE 1965 Report, p. 18.

[17] CITE CCCS Report, 1966-67, p. 38.

[18] CITE CCCS Fifth Report, 1968-1969, p. 22.

[19] Ibid., 23-2.

[20] In his memoirs, Hoggart dedicates several pages to the founding of the centre, outlining funding arrangements, the good fortune of hiring Stuart Hall as well as early research practice. However, he makes no mention at all of how research was conducted or circulated in this period.

[21] Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies Second Report, October 1965, p 21.

[22] CITE BCCCS Third Report 1965-1966, p. 33.

[23] CITE BCCCS Second Report (October 1965) p. 18.

[24] Note how the journal initially had a more intrinsic orientation than its initial conceptualization, although by issue 5 this begins to shift (see 1972-74 report, p. 13 bottom).

[25] CITE Report 1969-1971, p. 17.

[26] CITE Hall, Preface to WPCS anthology, ix.

[27] Op cit., 16, 17.

[28] Cite 1972-74 report, p. 13.  Note this this is in reference to contributions by people outside the Centre, although the implication seems to be that the same would hold true for Centre contributions as well.

[29] CITE 1st Centre report, p. 13.  Also cite “Banality, Book Publishing” for more on the origins of the Penguin covenant.

[30] CITE Buhle, RHR p. 162.

[31] Ibid., 163.

[32] It is, however, worth noting that the proposed schedule of the WPCS and its actual timetable often diverged considerably with issues sometime taking several months longer than expected to appear.

[33] Cite Centre report 1975-76, p. 7.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Cite report 1977-1978, p. 22.

[36] CITE: This is intimated in the report dated January 1978: ‘[O]utsde support will release our own previously extensive labours in journal production for other work, and other publications.’  (p. 3)

[37] Cite supplement to eighth report, Jan 1976-Jan 1977, p. 9.

[38] CITE 1978-1979 report, p. 4.

[39] CITE 1975-1976 report, p. 35.

[40] Ibid., 35-36.  We are grateful to Lawrence Grossberg (personal communication) for the information about the mimeograph machine.

[41] John Clarke, personal communication, February 28, 2012.

[42] Cite 1975-1976 report, p. 35.

[43] Op cit.

[44] CITE Centre report dated January 1978, pp. 2, 25.

[45] Ibid., p. 24.

[46] CITE 1972-1974 report, pp. 15-16.

[47] CITE 1979-80 report, p. 26.

[48] Pricing was as follows: 70p/issue, or $2.25/issue USA (£7.75/$12.00 in today’s terms); a one-year, two issue subscription cost £1.20, or $4.00 USA (£13.50/$21.25 in today’s terms).  CITE BCCCS report 1969-1971, p. 18.

[49] CITE 1972-1974 report, p. 23.

[50] Cite 75-76 report, p. 35b.

[51] Cite 1977-78 report, p. 35.

[52] CITE 1977-78 report, p. 5.  Note here how previous reports had been read by a journalist from the Times Higher Education Supplement.

[53] For example, Australia. Talk about working papers here too.

[54] In this way it is worth considering the relationship between the work in Birmingham and the work that emerged from another collective, Social Text, based in  and later New York City.


Just a point of curiosity: how did you acquire the Birmingham Centre annual reports? Are they publicly accessible somewhere? I cannot seem to find them published anywhere.

Thanks for your question, anon. One of our mentors happened to have all of the BCCCS annual reports, and by his good graces we were able to acquire copies.  Otherwise, as far as I know, they're not publicly available at present.  Someone clearly needs to work on developing an archive, as these are too valuable a resource to remain locked away in someone's file cabinet.

Hi Ted - thanks for the fascinating article.  Your call for a CCCS archive has been heeded.  I have just begun work here in Birmingham on a project to mark the 50th anniversary of CCCS, which includes an archive, an exhibition and a conference.   The archive already has some deposits from Richard Johnson, Michael Green and others connected to the Centre, and Stuart Hall has promised that his papers are on the way.  In the mean time, we are seeking further deposits so if anyone reading this has archival material connected to CCCS, I'd be grateful if they could contact me at

Best wishes,

Kieran Connell

Thank you for your comment, Kieran, and for letting me know about the burgeoning BCCCS archive.  This is fantastic news indeed, as the archive is long overdue (though timing its launch to coincide with the Centre's 50th anniversary is perfectly apt).  I'll be sure to put the word out; Larry Grossberg and John Clarke, whose personal archives helped Mark Hayward and me a lot with this project, would be good people to whom to reach out.

We just had Michael Denning come out to PSU with his Yale Working Group and I was talking with him about this very moment at Birmingham. He had great stories about how when he arrived, each student was issued a cuby-hole and was taught to use the mimeograph. Each day someone was filling them with something they were working on (translation of Foucault from French, a manifesto they were working on, a theory being given a fledgling flight, etc)...fascinating stuff. It points to the importance of framing academic work as an ongoing collective process, not just missives from lone scholars who need single author pubs. Nice job with the essay.

Matt Jordan

Thanks very much for posting this comment, Matt.  It's really interesting to hear about Denning's experience, and also good, for Mark and my purposes, that it's in keeping with the general arguments of our paper. I especially love the little tidbit you included, about how there was formal instruction on how to use the mimeograph machine.

In reviewing the BCCCS annual reports from the 1960s and 70s, I was amazed to see how many people who are now luminaries came through Birmingham, either as visiting scholars or students.  It really was a who's-who back in the day.  More to the point, it's remarkable to learn about how these individuals worked together in such a concerted fashion, even if not always with a sense of common purpose.  Fascinating.