Monday, January 26, 2009


New interview with me touching on some issues for this blog--you can find the html version at

Aurora, Issue 2008

Trends and Issues in Cultural Studies

Interview by Gloria Filax, Lorelei Hanson, Patricia Hughes-Fuller

Photo: Toby Miller (

Toby Miller is currently Professor in the Departments of English, Sociology, and Women’s Studies and Director of the University’s Program in Film and Visual Culture. His research includes studies of the media, sport, labour, gender, race, citizenship, politics, and cultural policy via political economy, textual analysis, archival research, and ethnography. After working in broadcasting, banking, and civil service, Toby Miller became an academic in the late 1980s, when cultural studies started to boom. Toby Miller was able to parlay a combination of work experience, theoretical interests, and political commitments into a new career. He has taught media and cultural studies across the humanities and social sciences at the following schools: University of New South Wales, Griffith University, Murdoch University, and NYU. Miller’s work at UCR across three departments and a program is with the intention of sustaining and developing a dynamic interdisciplinary research environment in media and culture. Please see links to Toby Miller’s journal affliations, website information and a partial list of publications at the end of this interview.

Aurora: First of all we would like to ask you to talk to us about your background and where you come from intellectually and geographically, workwise.

Toby Miller: Sure. I studied history and political science in college. I went to college in Australia, having grown up in Britain, India, and the US, and quite a bit in Australia, to the extent that it could be said I grew up. I then decided in the early 1980s that I would do a doctorate in political science looking at the political culture of Cameroon and Kenya. But I dropped out and everything went to hell in a hand basket. At this time I did lots of different things for many years. I worked in the media as a radio announcer, what in those days was called a JAFA, which is an acronym for just another fucking announcer. It didn't make any of us who were JAFAs feel particularly good about ourselves. In any event, the CBC probably had a similar designation, if perhaps more polite. Then I worked in politics. I worked as a speech-writer and I worked for the government in Australia in the mid to late 80s (through all of this I knew nothing of cultural studies and little about media studies. Neither area of study was around when I was studying at the Australian National University).

Aurora: How then did you enter into the intellectual world of cultural studies?

Toby Miller: I left the eastern seaboard of Australia and moved over to the west coast. This is where I really discovered cultural studies. Initially I went to the west coast because I thought I would do a Master’s degree in public policy. I dropped out of the public policy degree very quickly because I encountered cultural studies. Cultural studies gave me something I had been looking for throughout the previous ten years of my life. I had been looking for some sort of political and intellectual compass where I could reconcile various things that were strolling around in my mind, things that I found complex. One was the relationship of feminism to pleasure and the other was the relationship of Marxism to pleasure. I discovered that some people who consider themselves feminists and leftists enjoyed and derived pleasure from things I thought I shouldn't enjoy and derive pleasure from. And I found that the sense I had of terrains of struggle over the pleasures of the popular echoed in the intellectual terrain of others. This made a great deal of sense to me and I got very invested. At the same time, I retained an investment in questions of policy, because I had worked in government, and in political economy, because one of the jobs I had was working as an accountant at a merchant bank. From this work I had quite a lot of first-hand experience of the political/economic power of such institutions.

Aurora: You met a critical mass of scholars who were grappling with similar ideas?

Toby Miller: Yes, I met an extraordinary bunch of people who, although they were in Perth—often regarded as the most isolated capital city in the world—were very cosmopolitan, perhaps because of the physical isolation of the city. They had studied and worked all over the world. They spoke many languages. They were in three or four different universities, people in comparative literature, in communication studies, such as Lesley Stern, John Frow, Noel King, Tom O’Regan, Horst Ruthrof; a bunch of extremely inspirational people who taught me a great deal.

Aurora: At Perth you found an intellectual community and home?

Toby Miller: Basically yes, I decided that I really quite liked this academic world. I took a series of one-year jobs or two-year jobs around the country in Australia and other powerhouses of cultural studies and learned a lot. As well, by the time I was in my early 30s, people in the media told me that I was no longer young enough or good-looking enough to return to a job in that sector. I decided that I better do a PhD. So I finally got a PhD and a couple of years after that, for both personal and professional reasons, a chance came to move to New York, so I left Australia.

Aurora: Tell us about your work in New York.

Toby Miller: I went and worked originally in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University. I stayed there throughout my years at NYU. I also branched out and I joined the program in American studies and also the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. One of the things that happened while I was in New York was that I was greatly influenced by many of the ideas about cultural studies that were emerging in and around Latin America. I got to know a lot of the activists and scholars there. I was also influenced by a number of people in New York.

Aurora: After New York you moved to the west coast of the United States, to California.

Toby Miller: Yes, I moved out to California three and a half years ago and now I am chair of a new department called Media & Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

Aurora: Would you share with us some scholars residing in the USA who have been important influences?

Toby Miller: Very quickly, in terms of some of the writing and some of the names one might use that inspire me - apart from the usual suspects of Cultural Studies, some people on the list who have been very important to me would be Néstor García Canclini, Jose Martín-Barbero, George Yúdice, and Seyla Benhabib. Of these people, I don't know Benhabib, and have only met Martín-Barbero briefly, but I know their work very well and have translated one of Martin Barbero’s essays. There is also Bruno Latour. As far as the standard sorts of writers that I reference, I think they have all been very important. Foucault and Marx have been significant tutors to me throughout my journey. Most of these people were names I had never heard of until many years after I had finished college.

Aurora: We would like you to discuss what you see as important, emerging trends and new directions in the general field of cultural studies.

Toby Miller: Great question. I think in the last decade, perhaps a little longer, queer theory ( has been an extremely important component of cultural studies and will continue to be for the foreseeable future alongside post-colonial theories ( that I think are quite crucial. There are a couple of others that I think ebb and flow, but will, I suspect, become more significant. One is the influence of the so-called ‘creative industries’ ( and how to theorize them, the way in which in many countries (the US is probably behind anywhere else that I know of in this regard) humanities faculties are becoming transformed by the logic of creative industries. The debate about what constitutes creativity, how the ‘creative industries’ relate to the culture industries, what government policy should be, I think will continue to be extremely important and eventually will even change the humanities in the US. I think environmental questions are of increasing importance. As well, there is obviously the crucial question of media coverage of the environment and the lived experience of the environment.

Aurora: Will you say a little more about cultural studies and environmental questions because we see the environment as an absolutely pressing condition or set of conditions?

Toby Miller: There is something that hasn't been discussed much which I think is terrifically important. I see a huge amount of young energy going into the media industries as polluters. The polluting influence of computers, of televisions, of cell phones and so on. Further, there is the issue of the exploitative gendered relations of both the manufacture and the post-consumption disposal of those items, whether it is 17 year-old young women who are putting together these widgets in southern China, or 6 to 8 year-old young girls who are pulling them apart.

Aurora: Are there any other trends you would add?

Toby Miller: I also think that one of the key factors for cultural studies is going to be what happens about the relationship to gender issues; obviously queer theory is very important here. The fact is that the last women's studies department has just closed in Britain; and these departments, where they still do exist, are under attack. The argument being made is that there are very few majors in woman's studies and instead, people are studying gender, which is now part of so many other disciplines. I think there will continue to be a core set of issues that come up in and around those key elements of subjectivity that include gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, age, and so on. I think the study of gender will continue because it is probably one of the core elements of the foundation of cultural studies or at least the popularization and success of cultural studies. I think we in women’s or gender studies, will always need special - I don't want to say protection, but I just did - care and conservation because of the kinds of continuing threats to the study of gendered relations.

Aurora: What do you consider to be critical issues, aside from ‘special care’ to women’s and gender studies, for practitioners, academics, and activists involved in the doing of cultural studies? Do you see changing roles, for example, or a more clear articulation of theory and practice?

Toby Miller: I think there needs to be (and to a certain extent, there always has been) some kind of pragmatic blend of cultural studies scholars and activists learning from the parent disciplines and other antecedents, learning from the past and doing that through the most obvious means available, which is scholarly materials. Also critical is drawing an agenda not only from the parthenogenesis of a discipline, but also drawing an agenda, ideas, and personnel from social movements. I think this blend of parent discipline with Cultural Studies along with scholars and activists will always be important.

Aurora: How do you see this blend within ‘creative industries’?

Toby Miller: In terms of the creative industries area, this is obviously where lots of people who have degrees in cultural or medial studies have gone on to work, whether it is advertising agencies, or what used to be arts-and-crafts local-government policy wonks, or people working for a Canada Council, whatever it may be. That is an area where there has always been a lot of intersection and I support that through all my concerns about the creative industry discourse. When it comes to environmental issues, I think there is a lot to be gained. I think it is terrifically important to be working with activists.

Aurora: What about the blend with the academic study of environmental studies with activists?

Toby Miller: Many cultural and non-cultural studies scholars are people who know a lot about, for example, the way the popular media figure in environmental problems, and have already brought the discussion to the academic table. I was very pleased at the annual convention of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association in Britain in January of this year.

I was on a panel with the noted environmental critic George Monbiot . The audience was spellbound by what he had to say about the importance of these topics. I think Monbiot found that media and cultural studies folks gave a lot back to him. This is quite unlike the so-called science wars of the 90's, when there was a great deal of antipathy, and certainly strained relations, between science and environmental types and cultural studies. Now I think there is, first, a renewed faith in rationality after the experience of the Bush years and their geopolitical disasters. Second, there is lots in science, particularly to do with the environment, that is tremendously important. Cultural studies can gain from science, and may be there are things that we can offer because of our commitment to a progressive politics articulated to grassroots experience.

Aurora: Thanks Toby. We have a second set of questions we are hoping you will elaborate on.

The idea that individual consciousness is internally divided, that is self-estranged, has existed in one incarnation or another for a long time. We are referring to your book The Well-Tempered Self. Here we are thinking of Durkheimian anomie, Marxist alienation, existential angst, even R.D. Laing's "Divided Self". What, if any, commonality does your notion of a split subject share with these predecessors?

Toby Miller: Good question. I probably differ from the humanistic side to Marxism or the notions of a psychic subject, collective or otherwise, that might underpin Durkheim or R.D. Laing. I am probably going back to Hegel and the idea of a subject who is split in the separation of language from referentiality. You see the same thing in Schiller or in Goethe, as a consequence of the division of labor, in the case of Hegel, or as a consequence of the inevitable separation between language and reference, in the case of language theorists. There was an originary mythology in Hegel of an ethical incompleteness rent asunder by two forces. First, ethical completeness is rent by the force of the division of labor, and second, by the force of the separation of language from referentiality. I am interested in historicizing this split in the self, the subject, what I take up as ethical incompleteness, rather than assuming that it is an accurate description of a state of affairs. I am questioning the idea that labor divides the subject, or is it that loss of religion divides the subject as a consequence of industrialization, or that the brutality of modern living divides the subject. These are all ideas that you might ascribe to Marx, Durkheim, or Laing – all of these theorists assume there was this unified entity, a unified human subject.

Aurora: Thus you call into question the idea of a split human subject who is divided by the effects of a grand narrative.

Toby Miller: Yes, I would go down a Foucauldian path in terms of what I mean by split subject, and be interested in the idea that the human being is not the basic unit for the individual. The individual is the creation of a number of different combinations of language games, life experiences, forms of parenting, forms of schooling, and so forth. It is these things that on the one hand talk about and try to forge again and again a united subject, but on the other, divide that subject simultaneously in terms of all kinds of issues, whether it is knowledge about diet, knowledge about growth, knowledge about exercise, knowledge about knowledge itself, divisions of labor, the experience of gender, race and so on. All forms of knowledge go into creating the individual as a node and knowing entity, both divided and seeking to unify simultaneously.

Aurora: We are going to ask a question about a term that you use these days. We kind of thought we needed this question in the event the term did not come earlier in the conversation. We are very keen about knowing about the term ‘precariat’. It looks as if the word ‘precariat’ is a combination of precarious and proletariat. What is its genesis? Just quoting from your work the precariat is about "embodying a new identity formed from young female mobile international workers within the culture industry services and the knowledge sector who are struggling for security against the impact of neo-liberalism". The female's mobility sounds almost sexy and this is a personal, subjective response, but we are having difficulty relating it to, for example, call center workers who don't seem to us to be terribly mobile although they are quite often young and female. So, please just a bit of background on the precariat as we think this is something of interest to Aurora readers.

Toby Miller: This is a term that comes, again, from grassroots social movements. I didn't in any sense coin it. Precariat social movements are quite powerful in Western/Northern Europe and also Japan. From what I can tell, they haven't formed in the same way in Canada or the United States, for example. The notion is that supposedly good jobs have been generated by the shift to post-industrialism by the culturization of the work force. This is, you know, the end of manufacturing, the end of agriculture, superseded by opportunities to work in museums, call centers, television, movies, electronic games or whatever it might be. Many of these jobs that are celebrated because they are meant to be expressions of the ultimate re-trainability of the work force, the desire for fulfillment, for excitement, and for diversity, have actually led to a proliferation of part-time or sessional/contract work that isn't very pleasurable. When it is pleasurable, the job very quickly gets subjected to the discipline of Taylorism or scientific management. So these folks have started to protest their experience, hence this term the precariat that has equivalents in Japanese, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.

Aurora: The precariat sounds like an important and wide spread global workers’ movement.

Toby Miller: Yes and highly organized. The precariat celebrates the patron saint in Spanish, called San Precario, who is meant to look after the people and guide them. San Precario goes to work each May Day and this is taken up by the whole Euro May Day network of the precariat. There are some intellectual figures that stimulate this social movement, and probably the most important would be Antonio Negri. Negri's latest book is a long set of interviews, I think called "Goodbye, Mr. Socialism" (in all the languages where it appears, the title actually given in English). Negri talks a lot about the experience of what's becoming known as the precariat, as he understands it. The precariat social movement derives a lot of ideas from Michael Hardt and the Hardt and Negri collaborations.

Aurora: What is the future of the precariat?

Toby Miller: It is hard to know what future the precariat has as a movement, but its participants have made some very stimulating contributions. They tend to be talking, not so much about people who don't have a great deal of cultural capital who tend to be the ones, say in call centers, and more about people who come from fairly privileged middle class backgrounds. These are people whose parents perhaps went to college and who themselves have gone to college. But now they find themselves buying a bill of goods in terms of flexibility and so on that leaves them proletarianized by contrast with what their expectations were coming from their families of origin. A lot of these people are in service-sector jobs, which has been an area traditionally dominated numerically by women. Now there are more and more men coming into that sector. What has been called the emotional labor expectations of those areas, sometimes referred to as the smiling professions, is now being applied to expectations of men who are taking up these jobs. They tend to be positions where, assuming you don't have a public system, there is little provision for health care. There are no basic protections that come with unionism. There is this notion of an ultimately flexible post-Fordism that characterizes the live of these folks. I think that is what I was endeavoring to refer to when I use the word precariat. It is very much a live social movement that breeds its own intellectuals and generates its own language and debates. I am really just trying to report on it and encourage people to think about it – people who are in other places and have secure jobs.

Aurora: Toby, we are going to pick up on the idea of an emerging trend, a new direction in cultural studies, and think about environmental issues in relation to the academy. We have some specific things for example the heavy ecological footprint of academics right now. Questions arise about our use of technologies that are polluting – computers and computer software - and why we are still flying to conferences, many of which are far away? What does this mean in terms of the current environmental crisis?

Toby Miller: Yes, it is a very good point. One of the interesting things that George Monbiot said in his keynote at the conference was, having asked how many people had flown there, is that he won't fly anywhere under any circumstances because of these issues. Obviously, it is a very good idea for all of us to work out what our carbon footprint is. There are some good carbon footprint calculating bits of software out there that one can use in order to try to establish this. Clearly, there are real problems with getting around. That said, there are also important forms of cosmopolitanism that are enabled by travel and that are not going to stop. For instance, family networks of migration are sustained and developed in part, but not entirely, through jet travel, because where jet travel thirty years ago was the providence of the wealthy, it isn't anymore. So lots of very poor people use it. In order to get around, if you are somebody who has family defined very broadly, loved ones, intellectual connections, political articulations that exist elsewhere, then it is much harder to do this than if you live in Western Europe where you don't need to fly to get to lots of places reasonably quickly. If you live in a place like Canada or Australia or China, it is a little bit different. I think that there are some elements of scale here that one needs to consider.

Aurora: Will you elaborate?

Toby Miller: I have a daughter who lives in different parts of the world and I am quite committed to have an opportunity to see her. I have an aging parent who lives in another part of the world and I am quite committed to want to see him. At the level of conferences, I don't have a great many people who live where I live or work where I work who know what I do and are terribly interested in it. They are very polite and very nice, but they are not very engaged. For example, I have to say both times when I encountered you, Gloria, both when I think we first probably met maybe briefly in Edmonton and then again in Calgary and then when we went to Banff, I just had a sense of intellectual community on those occasions that I don't always have where I am. I think some of that can be both achieved and sustained through interaction without flying, but it is not super easy in many cases. I am ambivalent about it. I feel somewhat guilty about it. I also think that this is not just a matter of a bunch of cosmopolitan leftists pretending that they have an organic connection to workers while flying around the earth having fun. I can see the critiques of that, but it is also about people from all kinds of social classes and backgrounds who are part of diasporas, whether they are political or intellectual or familial. I have lived much of my life in places that have not been big migrant entities and have lived in others that have been. I was born in Leicester in the Midlands which, when I was a child, was an extremely white and Anglican city. It is now one of the most multicultural cities in Europe. It has a massive Islamic meeting place in the very street where I lived as a child. It has one of the biggest and most exclusive Islamic girls schools in Europe. It is 25% folks of colour. Its politics are run by South Asians. Leicester small businesses are run by South Asians. They want to travel and so do I. I think one has to be very careful about this and measure and include that carbon calculation in terms of one's impact.

Aurora: We think these are really tough issues and as distance-education academics we struggle with the whole business of ethical traveling. We try to not privilege face to face, but there is something very dynamic that happens face to face that doesn't necessarily happen across a teleconference phone call for example. Like you we are ambivalent about the present but as well a future in which we will not be able to travel as easily and the implications of this for academic work with others who we share common interest with. And the ease of travel has really liberated so many people in various ways.

Toby Miller: I work 100 km from where I live. I haven't owned a car for 15 years. Now I have a car. When I am not going to work, I barely, if ever, use the car. I ride my bicycle everywhere, and as I am sure you are all aware, Los Angeles is flat so you can ride; but it is a car haven. Public transportation is not great. I am hanging out for the day, which is not far off, when there will be a light rail line that will go from not too far from where I live into Union Station in the center of LA (where a lot of great Hollywood films have been shot) and then I will be able to get the train out to Riverside where I have my work. After my time in New York where I walked to work in 30 seconds literally, I can say to myself, "Well, I didn't own a car, I barely drove a car, for 15 years". As with a lot of things we talk about in cultural studies, many of us are engaged because of deeply personal commitments, so it can often begin with the personal and then it always comes back there, doesn't it? With the environmental stuff, I think that is especially true.

Aurora: It is also interesting to think about differing implications and impact on certain areas of the world. For example, Hawaii is really concerned about the rising price of gas because it will affect the costs for getting there. Hawaii has an entire economy that is so dependent upon the existence of cheap travel. What does it mean for a place like Hawaii?

Toby Miller: Absolutely, because when Hawaii became a state fifty years ago, it already had a strong military economy. The military economy had tourism buttressing it. The military economy took off over the next thirty years at the same time commercial air travel was getting cheaper. In the last fifteen years, the military economy of Hawaii has been undercut with the end of the Cold War. It may come back again, but it is not nearly as powerful as it was and so a lot of Cold War funding has been taken away. Tourism really is the major game. Agriculture suffers the same plight as the military. There are few plantations left, leaving the Hawaiian economy reliant on tourism.

Aurora: We are going to shift gears a little bit. We have a great deal of sympathy for your position that we need to break down the binary oppositions between structure versus agency and political economy approaches versus uses and gratifications, and pessimism versus optimism. Yet, the two sides of these artificial dichotomies are, to paraphrase Adorno, two halves of a single whole. How practically speaking might you see this happening and how would you assuage the doubts of those who question whether this would be desirable? This seems to be quite a polemicized debate.

Toby Miller: In terms of the difficulty of breaking these things down, some of this is about disciplinary formations and training. Some is to do with the strength of particular professional associations and how they function. In the case of the USA, there are these gigantic professional associations, safe houses that separate out forms of knowledge in very powerful ways. It has been interesting to see that the Society for Cinema Studies has changed its name to the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, whereas ten to fifteen years ago when there were attempts to incorporate television into what the Society of Cinema Studies did, the attempts were feverishly and fearsomely beaten back by film studies academics who wanted no part of this. Now, they see things very differently. When it comes to the idea that there is an absolute dichotomy between political-economic and active-audience work, I think if you go back and look at what people like Armand Mattelart and Michèle Mattelart were saying, these are people associated with the political-economy tradition back in the late 70s and early 80s, they knew that audiences made meanings. So did Adorno for that matter. It is really a bunch of somewhat inaccurate interpretations by some who have claimed that theorists like Adorno and others were opposed to this kind of work. I think there is a lot of hope at that level and I see much of the great cultural studies work done here in the US involving people who really do just break down those boundaries and in other countries, even more so, although I gathered from my time in Canada, that there are some ways in which political-economy people have been negative towards cultural studies. Certainly, that has been true in the past in the US, but I think it is really changing.

Aurora: What about elsewhere? For example, you work extensively with folks in Latin America.

Toby Miller: In Latin America, people have always really combined these modes of address, these modes of engagement. I just see people who do ethnographic work on audiences who also do work on ownership and control. The idea that they would simply do one or the other is unheard of. You only encounter these splits when you go to English-speaking countries.

Aurora: What about countries in, for example, Asia?

Toby Miller: Obviously, in some part of Asia where a lot of positivistic USA social science has been extremely influential, you do get some of this fetishization going on. But again there are people, say in the strongholds of cultural and communication studies in Hong Kong, who basically do all these things together. They are interested in how things are made and who makes them. They are interested in what these things say and they are interested in how they are received and understood. Certainly, when I was talking to the people at MECCSA in January, an association in Britain, they felt those battles were in the past. I talked to the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association annual meeting in July of last year. They felt as though these things are in the past. I think there is still a polemic to be made, but I think it is probably one that is with the times rather than against them—understanding, however, that there continue to be highly regimented and formed departments of communication studies that draw very strict lines of division. These departments will probably not change in the near future. There are people within departments of literature who feel comfortable with textual analysis but are not very comfortable with the suggestion that they go out and find out who owns the book companies they are writing about, and not very comfortable with being told that they should go out and ask readers what they think. At the same time, there will be people doing effect studies who will not be very comfortable with the idea that it might be important to know who owns the material and makes the material that is being consumed. Or that it might be important to know what the material itself actually says. Similarly, there will be people who simply say textual analysis is too subjective and draws on too small a sample; and there will be people who say content analysis is crude and it doesn't allow for questions of difference and all sorts of other dynamics. Those struggles will continue, but I really think that there is a shift underway whereby many scholars know that the debating positions of the 80s and 90s need to be transcended. I think the last place to work that out, so far, is USA communication studies.

Aurora: We would like to go back to the importance of queer theory. It seems that even though queer theory has a very important home and place within cultural studies and that sexuality is important to any study of social relations, nonetheless sexuality, especially queer sexuality, still causes alarm amongst people, including academics, who haven't really wanted to think about the implications.

Toby Miller: I think that is absolutely right. Sexuality is performed rather than being simply there. It is the object of struggle, not just at the moment of definition or in the process of maturation, but literally throughout life. If you take the further provocation, which I think derives really from those insights into the locked centric interdependence of apparent opposites, the idea that antonyms are also synonyms, or at least they are overlapping.

Aurora: Yet people still see sexuality as fixed across life and that hetero-sexuality and homo-sexuality are oppositional.

Toby Miller: There are palimpsest elements to things that appear to be opposed, straight/gay, male/female, and so on. Those things might seem almost banal and obvious to those of us who are in the group, but to others, they are absolutely horrifying because it is part of one's own subjectively, one's personality, that I am of this rather than of that. But lots of women will accept ideas about femininity as a quasi-masquerade or that it is learned. Not all women, but lots of people will talk about the need to, when growing, work out how to be a girl and what that means in multifarious ways. For example, putting on a face, in terms of makeup issues. I think men find the idea that any of this is a choice or is other than absolutely given and natural remains (I know this is a huge generalization on my part) incredibly troubling.

Aurora: And this does have academic implications.

Toby Miller: Yes, I also notice that, moving to the academic level, there is a tendency for a number of people in senior professional positions to say, well yes, we need a queer theory person, but that doesn't mean it should touch any of us. Queer studies is legitimate, but it is some way down the corridor, a bit like what was said of English departments: there was the theory man at the end of the hall back in the 50s and 60s, but it's not as if anybody else had to find out what he did. Emergent discourses, be they feminist or post-colonial, have the same issue, I think. Trying to get people to see that this is a fundamental epistemological critique or insight, whatever we might call it. While queer theory does not have implications for absolutely everything that everybody does, it has major implications beyond itself. I wonder if this is your experience.

Aurora: I think that at times we have found it was the post-structuralism or the queer theory or the sexuality stuff, but we’ve had the experience certainly of pushing some hot button issues in talking about how these theories illuminate aspects of social relations that are close to members of our audience.

Toby Miller: For me it is so obvious that it not a case of either/or, but both/and. There will be moments when these things (political economy, queer studies, cultural studies) are in harmony. There will be moments when one does not have a lot to offer from one of these perspectives. There will be moments when one will have a lot to offer. It is not clear to me that they really have to be understood as incommensurate. Sometimes people are blind to the fact that there can be material policy outcomes of queer analysis and there can be absolutely no valuable policy outcomes from political economy sometimes. Even though I am a strong supporter of political-economic analysis, I think it is of limited value when it is not articulated to the other theoretical trajectories that we have discussed. I completely reject any notion that these things are incommensurate.

Aurora: Does this include environmental cultural studies?

Toby Miller: I do work in environmental studies as well and it is a constant debate about what is that - what are you doing? One looks at the cultural studies of how people sexualize place or wilderness. And the critique is of what value is that? There are still those kind of huge debates going on at least in Canada about that stuff. I think that also relates to something that I wasn't really addressing before when I was giving my slightly Polyanna-ish answer. Namely that the general field of positivism within which political economy can sometimes be positioned, but not always, is very dubious about lots of cultural work. There is no doubt about that. In the US social sciences, many senior white men are very much reared on the warfare/welfare dynamic of US positivism. They have no epistemological humility, they make gigantic scientistic bravura and claims, and they both denounce and don't understand a lot of the things we are talking about. I absolutely agree that there can be huge problems of articulation when you are talking about something like environmental science. I was thinking much more in the way in which I hoped elements of the political economy of the media and culture and cultural studies work were getting, I thought, brought together usefully. I think in general terms when you are dealing with positivistic forces often they are so committed to a unitary understanding of truth that anything that challenges that smacks to them of political irrelevancy and relativism, even though it may come from extremely materially grounded struggles that people in social movements experience.

Aurora: There seems to be, at least in Canada, this whole debate amongst political economists regarding questions of identity. That we need to forget ‘identity’ and get back to the real stuff because what you guys are doing in terms of identity is simple not talking about the issues that are salient. I always find that a troubling debate. Certainly that sounded to me once what a colleague of mine was saying about his experience in South Africa and this totally threw me related to my cultural studies work. There seems to be an element of that going on amongst people who you think would be allies.

Toby Miller: This is really too bad. It is quite dispiriting. I do think that these things have to be gone through again and again. To give you some examples, in terms of people that I connect with, I am very good friends with Bob McChesney and I also know and like Graham Murdock. These are people who are definitely associated with the political-economic side of this kind of analysis. But Graham Murdock has a background in art history and is an incredibly supple and subtle textual analyst who really does think that how audiences make meaning and what there is to be made meaning from, both matter. Bob has sometimes adopted a polemical tone against cultural studies in ways that I think are unfortunate, but he actually knows and values lots of people who do very important work which is also quite different from straight-up political economy. I think he has worked out that the real enemy is actually the grotesque irrelevance of most US-based communication studies, in terms of its articulation to media policy issues. I think he has realized as well that there is not much value in alienating a natural ally.

Aurora: It seems the struggle over what counts as ‘important’ knowledge is endemic to intellectual work.

Toby Miller: I think that these battles continue to be relevant. I mean Vincent Mosco is somebody whose work I like and who is very supportive of what I do, but I know sometimes in Canada, Vinnie is understood as standing contra to various kinds of cultural studies and obviously the context matters. I think if you look at his work, you can see some changes over time that are quite significant and are coming together in more positive ways as far as trying to merge these things. I think somebody like Angela MacRobbie is an interesting case of this, too. She has become much more interested in psychoanalytic work. This is not my sphere, but one of the things that she is interested in maintaining commitments to is ethnographic and political-economic work as well. I think you see that very clearly in some of the work that Angie does. Seemingly oppositional research can come together in highly productive and new ways.

Aurora: We are going to deviate wildly from the script here and just ask a question because we are really curious about something that you raised earlier. We know very little about Latin American cultural studies and what goes on in the southern half of this hemisphere. What kinds of themes/what kinds of authors? We would like to request a very brief tutorial please.

Toby Miller: Well, I think I mentioned Canclini and two or three of his books are up in Minnesota and I think I mentioned Martín-Barbero and at least one of his books is out with Sage. Martín-Barbero and Canclini are elder statesmen of cultural studies in Latin America. They are very involved with extremely valuable work that is undertaken by more junior people, and have been very significant institutional supports for cultural studies work undertaken by others. If one thinks of Ana María Ochoa Gautier, from Colombia in South America and who is actually now at Columbia University, she has done fantastic work on cultural policy as part of peace-making efforts. She wrote a great essay in a book I edited and she has written two or three books on world music and the relationship of world music to Latin American subordinated groups. Rosalía Winocur, who was within the group that Néstor used to run on urban cultures in Mexico, is an exile, like him, from Argentina and one of those who had to leave for political reasons during the dictatorships. It is worth noting that a lot of these people have exile experience. She has a book about citizenship and the media that looks at the role in post-dictatorship Latin America that talk back radio has in redefining ideas to include the personal sphere in what counts as politics.

Aurora: What about indigenous issues in Latin America?

Toby Miller: Eduardo Nivón, who now runs the urban cultural studies group that Néstor used to head, writes about indigenous Latin Americans in part and their role in cultural issues. This is because, as you probably know, in Mexico especially but also in South American countries, it is rather ironic that the national symbol is the native person, particularly the native man. If you go to any town square in Mexico, there are workerist symbols in the zocalo or town- square plinth. And the workerist symbols are not of industrial workers, they are of peasants, not the Mestizo or interbred if you like, but campesinos commemorated for keeping their native heritage and language. Many of these peasants do not speak Spanish and this applies to much of Central America, too. These people are taken to be the symbol of the country at the same time as, of course, it is the lighter skinned, taller, Spanish-speaking, more educated people who are wealthier.

Aurora: This echoes the reality of many Aboriginal peoples in Canada as well. The use of Aboriginal or Indigenous symbols contradicted by abject poverty and disenfranchisement is part of a colonial legacy in the Americas.

Toby Miller: Yes, that contradiction is brought out very wonderfully in a lot of what Nivón does and there are a few other folk. Daniel Mato, another exile from Argentina, who lives in Venezuela, has been involved in a number of Rockefeller projects that have been funded at the school where he works in Caracas. These projects are about trying to get a more global cultural studies going. Daniel is very involved in the Association for Cultural Studies. He is quite active in both the journal Cultural Studies, which Larry Grossberg and Della Pollock edit, and the International Journal of Cultural Studies, which John Hartley edits. Hartley is also interested in what one might call south to south connections, global south to global south connections. He is involved with some of the inter-Asia cultural studies, for example folks like Khuan-Hsing Chen in Taiwan and also with some of the folks in south Asia like the people at SARAI which is a group I am quite involved with.

Aurora: This is fascinating for the international/global connections.

Toby Miller: It is a very outward looking, cosmopolitan cultural studies in my view that is profoundly influenced historically by Gramsci in part because Gramscian ideas were part of the notion of resistance. For example this was resistance to the church and also resistance to liberal reform. Resistance very often articulated to leftist ideas that came through the Catholic Church, through the worker priests and so on, and was as well very articulated to indigenous ideas that are now being picked up by people who have borrowed a studies framework from the Bengal historians in India. These folks are applying this Bengal framework to epistemological innovations and ideas of native intellectuals in the Andean area in Central America and in southern Mexico. It is a very lively and exciting sphere. Of course, when you look at Mexico and Brazil, you have two of the biggest economies in the world. Brazil is the eighth largest economy, larger even than Russia. You have in the cultural sphere massive power in Mexico as one of the biggest exporters of television. Mexican ways of speaking Spanish are cultural threats to many other Latin American countries. Brazil and Mexico along with Columbia and Venezuela are massive exporters of telenovelas. You can be watching, as you probably know, Brazilian or Mexican soap operas or telenovelas in Israel or in Ireland.

Aurora: There is a huge output of cultural products from Latin America. Are the debates similar to what we see in English-speaking cultural studies?

Toby Miller: Of course, some of the splits we have been talking about exist in these countries, too. However for me Latin American cultural studies has been an inspiration - as a consequence of some Latin American intellectuals that I have gotten to know since I moved to the Americas. This connection has transformed a lot of my thinking and revealed the way forward to a more integrated model for me. I guess I have been lucky as well in my trips to Canada, where I feel as though sometimes I have seen a more integrated model. I have not seen the problems in the depth and width that you guys do. And I have sometimes seen good moments in Britain or Australia.

Aurora: This has been a fascinating hour.

Toby Miller: In closing, I would just like to say that this has been an exciting hour for me too. I have had a chance to ramble on, and you know how we men like to talk and gossip. But also I have learned a lot from the things you have both asked me and told me. It has been a great opportunity for me to express myself in forms that I do not normally have, but also it has been a great chance to learn some things and I would love it if you could connect me up by email so that I can learn a bit more about the work each of you do.

Aurora: We will and thank you very much.
Related Links

Contact via email: Toby Miller (

'Where is Riverside?'--Robert Graysmith (Zodiac, 2007)

Toby Miller on Facebook:

My Space - Toby Miller:

Green Citizen:

Editor of Television & New Media, Sage Journals Online:

Co-Editor of Social Identities:

New Book Cultural Citizenship:

Toby on YouTube:

2007 Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitanism, Consumerism, and Television in a Neoliberal Age. Philadelphia: Temple UP. 237 pp. + ix. 2 figures.

2006 Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). Taipei: Tartu Chu Liu Book Company (Complex Chinese translation). 416 pp. + v. 6 figures.

2005 El Nuevo Hollywood: Del Imperialismo Cultural a las Leyes del Marketing (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Trans. Núria Pujol i Vals. Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Mexico City: Ediciones Paidós Ibéricas. 344 pp. 21 figures.

2005 Global Hollywood 2 (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. 442 pp. + vi. 61 figures.

2004 Política Cultural (with George Yúdice). Trans. Gabriela Ventureira. Barcelona: Editorial Gedisa. 332 pp. 6 figures.

2003 Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Trans. Fun Cheng-Sun. Taipei: Chu Liu Book Company. 446 pp. + xiii. 6 figures.

2003 SpyScreen: Espionage on Film and TV from the 1930s to the 1960s. Oxford, Auckland, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, and Toronto: Oxford UP. 219 pp. + x. 16 illustrations.

2002 Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 246 pp. + vi. 6 figures.

2001 Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. Reprinted in 2003. 279 pp. + vi. 21 figures.

2001 SportSex. Philadelphia: Temple UP. Reprinted in 2003. 180 pp. + viii.

2001 Globalization and Sport: Playing the World (with Geoffrey Lawrence, Jim McKay, and David Rowe). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 160 pp. + vii.

1998 Popular Culture and Everyday Life (with Alec McHoul). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 224 pp. + xii.

1998 Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. 304 pp. + viii. 15 illustrations.

1997 The Avengers. London: British Film Institute; Bloomington: Indiana UP. Reprinted twice in 1998. 192 pp. + viii. 84 illustrations.

1994 Contemporary Australian Television (with Stuart Cunningham and David Rowe). Sydney: U of New South Wales P. 184 pp. + viii. 11 illustrations.

1993 The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP. 290 pp. + xxviii.

In Press

Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention. Columbus: Ohio State UP.

Global Hollywood 2 (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang). Beijing: China Radio & Television Publishing House (Simplified Chinese translation).

Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Beijing: Hua Xia (Simplified Chinese translation).

Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). Nanjing: Nanjing UP (Simplified Chinese translation).

Books as Editor

2006 A Companion to Cultural Studies, rev. ed. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 580 pp. + xxiv.

2005 International Cultural Studies: An Anthology. (Section Ed. “Media Production and Consumption.” Ed. Ackbar Abbas and John Nguyet Erni). Malden, Oxford, and Carlton: Blackwell. 685 pp. + xxxii.

2003 Television: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. 5 vols. New York and London: Routledge. 1954 pp. + lxx.

2003 Critical Cultural Policy Studies: A Reader (with Justin Lewis). Malden, Oxford, Melbourne, and Berlin: Blackwell. 357 pp. + xi.

2002 Television Studies (Assoc. Ed. Andrew Lockett). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. 160 pp. + xi.

2001 A Companion to Cultural Studies. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 580 pp. + xv.

2001 The Television Genre Book (Assoc. Ed. with John Tulloch. Ed. Glen Creeber). London: British Film Institute; Bloomington: Indiana UP. 163 pp. + xi. 40 illustrations.

2000 Film and Theory: An Anthology (with Robert Stam). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 862 pp. + xviii.

1999 A Companion to Film Theory (with Robert Stam). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 428 pp. + vi. 19 illustrations.

1999 SportCult (with Randy Martin). Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. 294 pp. + vii. 1 illustration.

In Press

A Companion to Cultural Studies. Nanjing: Nanjing UP (Simplified Chinese translation).

Film and Theory: An Anthology (with Robert Stam). Beijing: China Radio & Television Publishing House (Simplified Chinese translation).

Interview conducted March 31, 2008

Drs Filax and Hughes-Fuller work in the Centre for Integrated Studies and Dr. Hanson works in the Centre for Global and Social Analysis at Athabasca University.

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