Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies

Research

At the centre's away-day in Summer 2008, we decided to focus our research strategy in terms of our existing expertise in Cultural Studies, at Sussex University, and also in terms of what best reflected the direction we wanted to focus upon in the future. Research in SCCS is thus organised around the theme of 'Sense and Sensibilities', with 3 sub-themes coming out of that core interest:

  1. Fear/Safety
  2. Exuberance/Tolerance
  3. Interiority/Exteriority

Our Core Theme: Sense and Sensibilities

By naming our general research orientation 'Sense and Sensibilities' we want to signal a commitment to a form of cultural studies dedicated to analysing what Raymond Williams called 'structures of feeling'. With more than a nod towards Jane Austen we recognise that much of what takes place in culture occurs at the level of emotion, mood, decorum and affective power, and that our responses to culture are dependant on our resilience, our fragility, and our social and cultural positioning. But while the lure of emotion is in danger of focusing primarily on the 'expressive individual', we insist that our senses, our sensibilities, our sensuality is social and historical through and through. It was Marx in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 who wrote that 'seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving' are the 'manifestation of human reality', and that 'the forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present'. In this, intimate experience is not pitted against 'objective social knowledge' but is simply revealed as the concrete real world - our starting place.

Today the intimate world is a place of anxiety and exuberance, of timidity and excess, of fear and fantasy. Are people more anxious today than they were yesterday, is the world anymore 'melting into air' than it was in Marx's day? Perhaps. What we are interested in is the particular configuration of cultural feelings, of their history and future possibilities. To this end we have established three themes for pursuing the analysis of sense and sensibilities: Fear and Safety, Exuberance and Tolerance, Interiority and Exteriority.