Welcome to Volume 9 Issue 1 of the IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies

Dear Readers,

Ever since the end of Covid, the hope of the world for a return to an allegedly stable pre-Covid-19 time has been thwarted. Most of the world continues to be mesmerized by the horrible wars continuing in the Ukraine, in Sudan, and in Gaza. As the carnage continues unabated, one might be tempted to dismiss any and all attempts at cultural interventions as misguided and useless. With many, an uneasy assessment of priorities has taken place, especially so in the face of Russian aggression, and has created an atmosphere where pacifism or non-engagement have become “bad” words. And if such long-held beliefs are being radically challenged, one might ask, what can lowly culture do to change things?

This is not a new question; it has existed ever since art has begun to flourish. The point has also been discussed by earlier cultural theorists and practitioners. For instance, Theodor Adorno believed, at least for a short while, that to write poetry after the Holocaust was barbaric. In the face of all this human-made suffering and death, can/should one really still believe in the power of cultural approaches?

While Adorno uttered this sentence at a time of deep depression, he would then go to qualify his earlier statement by producing his magnum opus, the Aesthetic Theory, published posthumously in 1970. Therein, he reiterated and qualified his belief in the power of the production, dissemination and reception of cultural artefacts as necessary building blocks for a meaningful life. He would stipulate that art is necessary, but not as a product subsumable by political ideologies, but, rather, as a broken promise, as the understanding that it always promises things without ever being able to deliver. But it is the gesture that counts and that makes life (after all, another broken promise in the end) bearable.

However, Adorno would not allow any old art into his toolkit for survival at the edge of the modernist/post-modernist world. Most famous is his statement about Jazz in this context, in which he rejected it, because it was neither good nor revolutionary enough. This point is easy to criticise, as it must be, if one only contextualises Jazz’s roots and its powerful (political) rejuvenation by such artists as Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Sun Ra, all active during the last decade of Adorno’s life. On the other hand, though, his rejection of l’art-pour-l’art thinking does come closer to a more enlightened kind of view on art, even if perhaps only in hindsight, as it incisively charts the dangers of such an approach which attempts to exclude and expunge any and all social context from the artwork. Thus, for Adorno, political commitment in art is of tantamount importance, a commitment that is found inherent in any art worthy of its name. In his 1962 essay "Commitment", he had already discussed the role of political commitment in art and literature, and engaged with Bertold Brecht and also Jean-Paul Sartre. There he contrasts Brecht's more didactic approach to art with his own thinking on the autonomy of art in which art furnishes the brackets for any political discussions and not the other way around. Commenting further on Jean-Paul Sartre’s insistence on (politically) committed literature in his 1948 Qu’est-ce que la littérature?, he privileges his negative dialectics in which the formal aspects of art as coagulated content are already seen as providing an artwork’s political message. Moreover, art in its autonomy is seen as the only consolation in the face of general disintegration. In his Minima Moralia (1944), surprisingly his most hopeful work, as it was written under the most dreadful global conditions, he would say the following: “Even the blossoming tree lies at that moment, in which its blossoming is seen without the shadow of deprivation. even the innocent How Beautiful becomes an excuse for the ignominy of an existence, which is different, and there is no beauty no consolation except in the gaze, that falls on the horror, withstands it and in the unmitigated awareness of the negativity continues to believe in the possibility of the better.” (“Noch der Baum, der blüht lügt in dem Augenblick, in welchem man sein Blühen ohne den Schatten des Entsetzens wahrnimmt; noch das unschuldige Wie schön wird zur Ausrede für die Schmach des Daseins, das anders ist, und es ist keine Schönheit und kein Trost mehr außer in dem Blick, der aufs Grauen geht, ihm standhält und im ungemilderten Bewusstsein der Negativität die Möglichkeit des Besseren festhält”) (Minima Moralia, 1969, p. 144).

Despite their differences, Brecht would see things very similarly. In his “To those who follow in our wake” (An die Nachgeborenen), written probably in 1939, again under difficult circumstances, Brecht would write: “Truly, I live in dark times! /…/ What times are these, in which / A talk about trees is all but a crime / For it implies we remain silent about so many other atrocities.” (Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten! / [...] / Was sind das für Zeiten, wo / Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist / Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!) Here Brecht acknowledges the difficult times and grapples with the impotence of art, even calling it criminal, as it takes our gaze away from more important things. However, he insists on talking about art, even inscribing it into/as a poem, thereby allowing it to continue.

Thus, we also dare to continue to speak about artistic and cultural themes here in the pages of the IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies. We are aware of the hard times facing many humans on our planet today, we think of them with empathy and acknowledge their plight. We do not know what good the following texts will do, but we know that they should be published, seen and thought about as they, among the many other cultural and artistic interventions made, represent, despite everything, an important way in which to change the world.

Volume 9 – Issue 1

The issue at hand is a decidedly Asian issue, with articles covering Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and China. While encompassing a huge landmass, with billions of people from different cultures, it is interesting to see how people in Asia are struggling with similar issues in their lives – post-colonisation, exclusion for mainstream society, issues of war and peace, and of globalisation. Their voices are voices from the subaltern, and it is high time that more of these can be heard.

Article 1

Naeema Arch’ad’s article “The Culture of Qalandar Pakhivas Community of Lahore: A Case of Marginalisation” discusses artistic production and cultural heritage conservation efforts among a minority in Pakistan, the Qalandar Pakhivas, a subgroup of a larger ethnic minority in Pakistan and India. They grapple with their own, oftentimes rigid understanding of their heritage and practice, at times at odds with the surrounding majority of Pakistanis, at times at odds with changing moral codes at large.


Article 2

A similar situation exists in Rajmoni Singha’s “Traditional productions and neo-liberal market challenges for cultural identities: A study of Manipuri Indigenous weavers in Bangladesh”. Once again, it is a minority, this time in Bangladesh, which is caught out by the intensifying industrialisation of weaving and cloth making, something that had been a Manipuri cultural mainstay and an important tool for differentiating themselves from others synchronically and diachronically. This difference is now being severely challenged, also leading up to communal self-doubt. Singha charts these movements and provides suggestions for keeping their cultural heritage alive by creating multiple perspectives for the survival of this minority.


Article 3

Staying in South Asia, Sayant Vijay and Anupama Nayar’s “Memorialisation and Identity in Mahé, India: Revealing French Colonial Legacies” looks at the spectres of French post-colonialism in Mahé, India. In interviews with French-Indians living in the part of India that had been a French colony until the early 1950s, they find a surprising amount of praise for the erstwhile colonisers. Many of the rituals belonging to French culture, such as the structuring of the calendar through religious festivals and a melange of cultural festivals, have continued to keep French culture alive. If much of this praise is associated with advantages gained from their French Connection – such as French citizenship – it is nevertheless astounding how in many citizens’ imagination and nostalgia, the more sinister facets of colonialism have been swept under the rug, so to speak.


Article 4

Moving on to Sri Lanka, T. Jenisha and P. Boopathi discuss the continuing fallout of the civil war having raged for several decades. Recently, the horrors of this war have already received an amazing voice in Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka’s furious tour-de-force The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (2022) which deservedly won the Booker Prize of the same year. Now, T. Jenisha and P. Boopathi discuss the war via the memoir In the Shadow of a Sword by Thamizhini, a female LTTE fighter. Their article, entitled “Gender, Identity and Conflict: Militant Women and Feminist Assertion in In the Shadow of a Sword: The Memoir of a Woman Leader in the LTTE by Thamizhini” discusses the war fallout experienced by one of its female fighters from the losing side. It makes it clear that far from being an egalitarian struggle, women were supressed by the LTTE and mostly marginalised. What is worse, this suppression continues today, after the war has ended, and it continues to haunt not only Sri Lankan society at large, but many individual women’s lives under the conditions of “peace”.


Article 5

Lastly, Yi Zhou’s ‘Product Placement in Films: A Comparative Study of American and Chinese Consumers’ Attitudes’ moves the discussion to China. In here text, she compares US and Chinese attitudes toward product placement in films. Using interviews, she is able to identify two very different ways of reacting to product placements: on the one hand, a North American laissez-faire one, and another that (still) rejects most of the attempts to manipulate consumer behaviour via entertainment film and TV shows. Given that Chinese TV history has been a much shorter than their US’s counterpart, one wonders whether this rejection of an enforced consumer culture is something that will disappear in the future or whether it is here to stay?


Do enjoy this issue!

Holger Briel
May 2024

This editorial/introduction is the view of the Editor-in-Chief and had not been subject to peer review. https://iafor.org/journal/iafor-journal-of-cultural-studies/publication-ethics/


Adorno, T. (1969). Minima Moralia. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Adorno, T. (1974). Commitment. New Left Review, I, 87–88 (September-December). Reprinted in Aesthetics and Politics, Theodor Adorno et al., London: Verso, 1977, pp. 177–195.
Brecht, B. (1967). An die Nachgeborenen. Gesammelte Werke Bd. 9. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, p. 722. https://www.lyrikline.org/de/gedichte/die-nachgeborenen-740

Read the Full Issue