JW:  Ironically, you can almost justify cultural studies by a 
return to the basics—history and such—although it¹s a bit 
different direction I would imagine than somebody like 
William Bennett would prefer.

PS:  Cultural studies seems all too willing to slide off into the 
study—by which most people seem to mean either the 
interpretation or the celebration, or both—of popular cultural 
forms.  So it becomes basically some kind of popular culture 
study, and I don¹t think most of us at CMU ever thought of it 
like that.

JW:  I have colleagues who show movies and tell me they do 
cultural studies . . . 

PS:  One way of addressing that would be to say precisely 
that it¹s not the object that counts; rather, it ought to be the 
methodologies and assumptions that are paramount.  And 
that includes the assumption I was referring to earlier—that 
there can be no autonomy for the particular object you 
choose.  But what those course descriptions or those course 
titles also indicate is that at CMU we always thought that 
cultural studies should be intimately involved with history, 
that it had historical work to do as well as contemporary . . .

JW:  So you could do eighteenth century as well as . . . 

PS:  Of course.  Cultural studies can be done in some way 
with any kind of object or any given time, so you could do 
good cultural studies about eighteenth century France as 
well as you could do good cultural studies about ancient 

JW:  Or about ancient Greece.  The difference between 
William Bennett would be that he wants us to dust those 
monuments rather than think about how they were 
produced and the circuits of power . . . 

PS:  Yeah, precisely.  Someone like William Bennett would 
object to the very questions that cultural studies would ask 
about all those monuments. 

JW:   You know, why are men and women represented a 
certain way  on the basis of sex . . . 

PS:  For us, gender issues are really crucial and have been 
throughout the whole program.  Most of our courses have 
some kind of feminist component.  At least, I¹ve learned 
from feminism.

JW:  Which is clear from your work, in Discerning the 
Subject and in the Men in Feminism  project.

PS:  One can always wish that one had learned more.  
Anyway, after those core classes, people took a variety of 
different kinds of courses, but they were all slightly 
untraditional in the sense that even if they were called 
³Nineteenth Century²—even if they were periodized, that is—
they were all types of literary and cultural studies.  The 
assumption was that the literary text should not be 
privileged.  That¹s not to say that it disappears, but it won¹t 
be the only thing.  The only other thing to say about the 
courses is that they all included theory.  They were 
theoretically informed, and indeed we did actually teach 
theory courses to undergraduates.  We had courses like 
Feminist Theory, which was quite popular, or we¹d have 
survey courses of marxist criticism and theory.

JW:  It¹s interesting to me to hear you talk about theory.  It 
seems to me that there¹s a certain move on the left, that 
there¹s a condemnation of postmodernism or 
poststructuralism, whereas what you do is imbricated in 
theory or it learns from the lessons of poststructuralism.

PS:  Yeah, I don¹t think much was ruled out—except that we 
didn¹t seem to have any deconstructionists in the program! I 
mean, there were various concepts, various schools of 
interests among the faculty, so they got represented in the 
curriculum obviously, but the cohesion was around the 
broad rubrics of the core courses.  One of the delights and 
frustrations of being in that program for so long—eight 
years—is that so many decisions about the curriculum were 
up for grabs.  That¹s not to say it was a volatile curriculum, 
but it was a changeable curriculum, and so many decisions 
made about it used to get made only after three or four 
hours of wrangling among the faculty, and in conversations 
which you could only call intellectual.   
But the kind of efforts that the university has exerted, 
especially over the last three or four years, has been to 
move us in one direction or another and sometimes both, in 
terms of those pulls on us that I mentioned.  At promotion 
and tenure time, we¹re held to the standards of the social 
sciences in terms of proof and evidence and documentation, 
that sort of thing, even though part of our job is, I think, to 
critique those things, to interrogate those kinds of 
evaluation and argumentation.  By and large most of the 
people around us have chronically made little effort to 
understand or be open-minded about cultural studies—
they¹ve preferred to say that we¹re incoherent and that we 
don¹t make the effort to make ourselves understood, even 
though some of our faculty have contributed a lot towards 
the understanding of cultural studies in the broader arena.  
And so that makes life very difficult pragmatically because 
we are literally a minority in the school.  The other pull is to 
turn us back into a literary department which would cover 
the English literary periods.  And, again, we¹ve obviously got 
our own kind of critique of that built into the program.  So, 
for instance, one of the things that students would be 
introduced to is the idea that there¹s something fishy about 
the fact that you learn English literature.  Now, why?  
Obviously, there¹s other kinds of literature, but 
fundamentally the tone and standard for literature 
departments is set as ³English.² So what does that mean?  
Those are the kinds of questions we¹d ask straight away on 
the undergraduate level, getting people to try to rethink 
assumptions about the system we¹re supposed to be in.  So 
it¹s a bit awkward when the administration comes in and 
says, Well, you¹ve got to start teaching more literature. 
Which isn¹t to deny that you can teach the literary against 
the grain, in some sort of radical way, but that wasn¹t what 
most of us were interested in doing in the first place, and 
some of our faculty aren¹t even trained to teach literature.  
We never thought of ourselves as taking literature as the 
privileged artifact.

JW:  I wanted to ask about about how you might set up a 
cultural studies course, to give some tips, as you do in the 
essay in the Berlin collection.  

PS:  Actually, that particular course was developed because 
of one of the negative things which has happened to the 
department.  The three core courses have been disbanded, 
and you know that really was like cutting a leg off the 
program.  And it was very deliberate, of course.  One of the 
attempts to reinstall what we were trying to do there was to 
offer a course called What Is Cultural Studies?, which would 
be not just for English majors but for other majors as well. 

JW:  In that essay, you mention that you use Barthes¹ 
Mythologies, which I use in composition courses and think is 
a wonderful text to use, particularly since it shows how to 
read signs, whether it be the face of an actress, whether it 
be steak and fries or wine, furniture . . . 

PS:  It¹s still necessary to take the notion of systems of 
meaning and discursivity very seriously, and Mythologies 
was there for me because I was wanting to offer some sense 
of how you might (even if Barthes failed in some ways) go 
out and try to describe a system of meaning which wasn¹t 
literature.  It needn¹t have been Mythologies; it could have 
been other things.

JW:  It gives some handy examples.

PS:  I agree.  Also, one way in which we might be considered 
old fashioned as a group is that the notion of ideology 
appeared a lot in what we did, and that¹s a big part of 

JW:  Actually, Barthes is interesting in ³Toys,² where he talks 
about how toys teach boys to act one way and girls to act 
another way. I mean, it¹s essentially an ideological analysis.  
So, what would be a quick sketch of a course that you might 
think of now?

PS:  Well, actually, that one.  One would always want to kind 
of sift through the actual syllabus each time.  But I do find it 
useful to have some Frankfurt School in almost any course 
that I do.  There¹s always some Marx.  It all depends, but 
increasingly over the last few years I¹ve been teaching a lot 
of the British cultural studies people.  

JW:  Like Hall, Hoggart . . .

PS:  Well, I was going to amend that to say the progenitors, 
so I teach Hoggart, Thompson, and Williams quite a lot.  
That¹s always kind of useful; it always produces some sense 
that what we¹re talking about is a complex whole. When 
we¹re looking at culture, we¹re looking at a complex whole 
which doesn¹t open itself immediately to the divided forms 
of knowledge that other disciplines represent. In some ways 
this may not be ambitious enough for anybody who might 
read this, but if I can produce the sense in a student that 
those disciplinary knowledges do not cover this object and 
give them some sense that it¹s precisely the totality, the 
contradictions, the overdeterminations that are important, 
then I think I¹ve done my job. 

JW:  Tell me about some of the other courses you teach.

PS:  One of the courses that I¹m finding myself increasingly 
drawn towards (for obvious reasons!)—I¹ve taught it a couple 
or three times now—is about post-war England.  And I mean 
England, not Britain.  It¹s an interrogation of the construction 
of Englishness, English identity and so on, and I focus on the 
immediate post-war moment, really the early fifties.  I try 
to talk about the necessary relationships between that big 
chunk of history, which is the war, and the reorganization of 
the world, at all kinds of levels—economic, political, civic—
immediately after the war, and the beginning of a certain 
kind of American cold war imperialism and how that shows 
itself in a British context.  I find Dick Hebdige¹s book, Hiding 
in the Light, quite useful for that, even though I don¹t quite 
agree with all of it, but he brings the objects out and helps 
give a sense of, again, the interconnectedness and their 
meaning within that particular frame.  

JW:  Give me an example of how you¹d deal with one of the 

PS:  Well, I mean some of the things that Hebdige talks 
about; he talks about waves of consumer items which come 
into the British context as a result of the massive over-
capacity of American industry after the war.  So, everything 
from washing machines to new cars, and what they mean.  
You can go at it in all kinds of different ways.  You can say, 
okay, If you have this particular historical formation, what 
does that mean in terms of economics?  What was the 
particular face of a country like Britain with a depleted 
economy after the Second World War?  What did America 
do to it?  Or you could go at it from the other end and say, 
Here¹s this object, like a washing machine or a television, so 
what and how does this signify?  Part of the effort is to get 
people to think about totalities and interconnections, but 
also actually going and looking into the library.  An old kind 
of pedagogical dream, to get them to look around there, at 
things which are readily available—newspapers, magazines, 
books of the period, as well as the objects . . .  

JW:  So it¹s a kind of deep historical immersion?

PS:  I hope so.  It¹s hard to talk about courses as such, I 
mean just off the cuff.  But one of the reasons I like that 
particular course is because the whole idea of ³Englishness² 
was put to the test in the public discourse at the time, under 
the influence of what people called the Americanization of 
Britain at the time.  So in certain conventional and 
traditional ways Englishness is juxtaposed with the 
Americanization of the culture.  But it was clear to everyone 
that Americanization was embodied in all kinds of different 
commodities, objects, and cultural practices. It¹s not just a 
question of American movies, which is an obvious 
importation.  It¹s also things like what people wear, what 
kind of cars they drive, and so on. So it¹s a particularly good 
moment to use to show how national identity is constructed 
through material practices, commodities, and culture. 

JW:  One other question about teaching.  One thing that I 
noticed in that particular essay is that the final projects 
were much different from the final projects that most of us 
usually give.  When I get back tomorrow, I have to grade a 
set of 18 papers from a course on modernism. What kind of 
things might you elicit?  

PS:  Students can make certain kinds of logs and journals 
that are analytical and descriptive, that might include 
pictures from magazines, articles from newspapers and stuff 
like that, which they can use to produce a description of the 
cultural milieu—as long as there¹s some kind of analysis of 
those things beyond the description of them. I often let 
people make their own videos, or they¹ll do various kinds 
of—what shall we call them—analytical artworks.  For 
instance, recently a student from the art studios got a 
collage of images from different kinds of magazines with a 
commentary, a verbal commentary, but framed in such a 
way that it looks sort of like a Barbara Kruger.  That kind of 
thing can happen.  I¹m not worried about how people 
display their learning, I¹m just concerned that it be there.  
I¹m almost indifferent to the form in which it comes. 

JW:  The last topic I want to talk about is your own 
intellectual formation.  It seems to me that part of the point 
of being an oppositional intellectual is trying to figure out 
how you were formed as a subject in the first place. 

PS:  Well, there are two main things that I would think of as 
provisional origins of where I am.  One is having a particular 
kind of quite highly disciplined, British post-war education, 
I¹d say fairly traditional and quite rigorous, and certainly 
very wide ranging . . . 

JW:  Where was this?

PS:  A grammar school in a town called Winchester. The kind 
of education that was available then is probably not 
available any longer in many kinds of schools—mostly 
because of the assault on the public education system that 
Mrs Thatcher carried out in her anti-statist zeal. But I 
happened to be there at the right moment.  And that rigor 
was carried through as an undergraduate at Cambridge and 
a Ph.D. student at Kent.  I finished my dissertation in the 
first years of the Thatcher era, and I do think in that sense, 
I am a representative of a peculiar generation, or a 
generation which won¹t get repeated.

JW:  An English diaspora?

PS:  No, I didn¹t mean that, even though there probably has 
been that sort of ³diaspora² (though my impression is that 
it¹s people slightly older than me who make up the biggest 
part of it). No, I just meant that the whole structure of 
education in Britain changed radically with Margaret 
Thatcher, and I think it¹s no longer available in the form 
that I got it.  That was the first component.  The second 
thing I ³got² was politics.

JW:  At Cambridge or as a teenager?

PS:  As a teenager.

JW:  Was your first interest in literature?

PS:  At first.  Politics was something separate, in a way, 
through school.  I was a member of a particular political 
organization for some years when I was a teenager, and the 
mixture of that and a certain traditional English education 
was important.  I¹m floundering because I don¹t know how 
to narrativize this exactly.  I was interested in languages—in 
French and Latin—and that¹s what I started off doing at 
Cambridge.  At Cambridge I came across all kinds of new 
ideas which could be characterized as structuralist or 
poststructuralist and that started the big struggle of my 
intellectual life, I suppose, for the next ten years.  After that, 
it was how to square the kinds of structuralist and 
poststructuralist stuff that I was getting with my self-taught 
marxism, as it were, and my politics.  And in a real sense 
that issue has been the crucial one for me; it was the germ 
of my intellectual development. And that¹s not uncommon 
probably, but now what¹s most important to me is the rigor 
and the knowledge of marxism—which, the older I get, the 
more valuable I find in relation to other kind of theoretical 

JW:  I take your point.  For me, it¹s strange teaching 
literature because my project now is trying to figure out 
why I was taken with this delusion called literature in the 
first place.  Anyway, how did the cultural studies come in?  
At Kent?  
PS:  The live intellectual issue while I was a graduate 
student was a version of what I just said.  That¹s to say it 
was the standoff between the Birmingham Cultural Studies 
Centre and the Screen group.  That produced the central 
texts for me.  It wasn¹t so much the Birmingham school of 
the time that became important, but their progenitors.  It 
was Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson, and associated 
people like Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill, that kind of 
British historical work.  And by the same token, on the other 
side, it wasn¹t so much in the end Derrida or Foucault who 
became important, but the people they were all in a sense 
working out of, basically the tradition of Euro-philosophy—
Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Marx and Freud.  So in some 
ways the progenitors to that struggle became mine as well.  
And maybe one way in which I¹ve managed to resolve the 
kinds of issues of structuralist/poststructuralist theory in 
relation to marxism of any kind is by recognizing that the 
progenitors in some way have as much to do with the 
politics of intellection, the politics of everyday struggle, as 
their offspring do. 

JW:  One more question.  What are you working on now, 
what project interests you?  And, as a corollary, are there 
any people working now or particular texts that have struck 
you or that you feel go in particularly fruitful directions?   

PS:  In terms of the first bit, I¹m now working on a book 
called Bearing North, which is in a sense about the New 
World Order.  It¹s about what I¹m calling the unification of 
capital in the North. I¹m focusing upon Britain, Germany, and 
the U.S. I¹m having to educate myself in political economy in 
order to think more about the relations and determinations 
between economic structures and cultural formations in 
those countries.

JW:  A departure from the Eastwood book, certainly.

PS:  It¹s closer to what I was trying to do in ³Visiting the 
Banana Republic.²  The big issue for me is the place and role 
and usefulness of political economy, within the frames of  
cultural studies.  That¹s my current concern.  In terms of the 
second question, I¹m finding myself increasingly drawn to 
the kind of work that¹s going on in Rethinking Marxism.  I 
don¹t agree with it all by any means, but it seems to me 
there¹s an effort there to do exactly what that sobriquet 
says, rethink marxism.  And at its best it can be very 
productive.  I also think there¹s a lot of good stuff going on 
in what you might call the dispersal, at this point, of what 
used to be feminism—its dispersal into various kinds of 
feminism, and into lesbigay studies. At the same time, 
there¹s a lot of posturing going on there too. In an abiding 
kind of way, I owe tons to the work of Jameson and Spivak.  
My view of Jameson¹s work used to be very sceptical, but 
it¹s been becoming a lot more positive than it used to be 
(though one has to regret the idiosyncratic ways he pays 
attention to the work of other and younger colleagues). 
Spivak¹s work is always provocative and stimulating—
wonderful stuff. But perhaps the most important arena for 
looking at new work for me is the Marxist Literary Group. 
Maybe it¹s just because I help run the organization, but I¹m 
continually amazed by how much high quality and 
interesting work is going on there. But I¹ve got to run.

JW:  Okay, thanks.
Relevant works:
Giroux, Henry, David Shumway, Paul Smith, and James Sosnoski. ³The Need for Cultural Studies.² In ³After Theory.² Ed. Paul Smith. Dalhousie Review 64.2 (1984): 472-86.
Jardine, Alice, and Paul Smith, eds. Men in Feminism. New York: Routledge, 1987.
Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.
–––. ³A Course in ‘Cultural Studies.¹² Cultural Studies in the English Classroom. Ed. James A. Berlin and Michael J. Vivion. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1992. 169-81.
–––. Discerning the Subject. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988.
–––. ³Visiting the Banana Republic.² Universal Abandon? The Politics of Postmodernism. Ed. Andrew Ross. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988. 128-48.