Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Communications, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Professor John Hartley

Second Supervisor

Professor Alan Mckee

Third Supervisor

Professor Brian Shoesmith


The thesis examines the use or the concept of power in cultural studies, offering a revisionist perspective on the history or this use. The dominant approach to questions or power in the field, it is argued, is a 'rationalist' one: the various phenomena comprehended under the concept are conceived ultimately as instances or the one phenomenon. This approach implies that positions in relation to power share a common referent allowing them to be assessed according to general criteria of 'correctness' or theoretical adequacy. It also allows developments in debates around power to be represented in terms or a narrative or enlightenment in which the 'truth' or power is progressively revealed. As an alternative to this, the thesis develops an 'empiricist' perspective on questions or power. From this perspective, the various phenomena comprehended under the concept are, in fact, distinct. Generalised uses or the singular 'power' do not share a common referent but are imaginative constructions gaining their sense from the particular contexts in which they are used. They cannot be assessed according to general criteria of theoretical adequacy, but only in terms of qualities of response to historical circumstances. The perspective is used to throw sceptical light on progressivist accounts of cultural studies as having discovered a phenomenon (power) which had not previously been recognised. It is demonstrated that the field has a history which precedes the introduction of generalised references to power. It is further argued that generalised references, when they were introduced, did not identify unrecognised phenomena but merely addressed them in a different way. The conditions for this intellectual shirt are traced to the historical circumstances of the Cold War, particularly 10 a rapid and massive expansion of tertiary education, government programs and media forms. A major sub-theme of the thesis is developed around the 'englishness' of cultural studies, where 'englishness' is used in an abstract sense to refer to a certain political response (exemplified by England as an actual polity) to the possibilities of modernity. This response is defined by a tendency to maintain a ‘pre-modern’ sense of powers as particular and a corresponding resistance to generalised references to power in the singular. It is pointed out that the tension between the tendency and European theoretical imports was very sharply articulated in the early formation of cultural studies. It is further argued that it has never entirely disappeared and has continues, at some level, to define the field. The significance of this is that cultural studies offers an intellectual resource for thinking about questions of power which is distinct from the European theoretical positions which it nonetheless cites. In the final chapters of the thesis, attention is given to the possibility of making this resource more visible in its own terms as a way of broadening options for the field in responding to changed conditions for intellectual work post-Cold War.