Meaghan Morris is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, and former Chair Professor of Cultural Studies in Lingnan University, Hong Kong (2000-2012). She is a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her books include The Pirate's Fiancée: feminism, reading, postmodernism (1988), Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture (1998), Identity Anecdotes: Translation and Media Culture (2006), and Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies co-edited with Mette Hjort (2012). In 2016 she received the Inaugural Stuart Hall Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Studies.
Institutional Kung Fu: On the Arts of Making Things Happen
During my life I have had the good fortune to participate in institution-building projects that "realistic" people warned me were unlikely to succeed: for example, the Feral Publications group in 1970s Sydney, with whom I wrote social movement-driven translations and essays instead of a PhD; the University of Paris-VIII Vincennes that admitted migrant workers along with high school graduates; the multi-lingual translation journals of Traces, linking Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean intellectual agendas; and, most durably, the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies movement and Lingnan University's Department of Cultural Studies—the first in the Chinese world. I have learned many things about making experiments work and then dealing with loss as contexts change. One such lesson is never to be discouraged by pessimistic, do-nothing realists.
However, these projects involved taking the risk of openness to cultural strangers and thus to unforeseeable events. Today's conditions of precarious labour, performance imperatives and a brutal erosion of unoccupied time make it hard for academic workers to take any "outside" risks that are not already inherent in their jobs. What skills may help us nourish that openness to the outside of our own immediate historical situations, without which Cultural Studies becomes an incoherent cluster of disciplinary fragments? To think about this I will revisit some early debates in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies by drawing on an essay by the Chinese novelist, green activist and cultural critic Chan Koonchung that compares the Cantonese kungfu ("skills") with ancient Greek techne ("craft" or "art"); and on an account of pedagogy by Anne Freadman, an Australian teacher of French, that asks us to think seriously about story-telling as a mode of apprehending things that are "not yet" part of our culture.