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Border, Music and Politics in Cultural Studies: MIA as Provocateur

GCSC Keynote Lecture, John Hutnyk BA PhD (Goldsmiths, University of London), Do, 21.11.2013


21.11.2013 von 18:00 bis 20:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC100)


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A 'cultural project' runs alongside the war on terror and impacts upon a diverse range of practices, from the militarisation of public policy, through to entertainment, cinema and the music industry (Bhattacharyya 1998:293, 299; 2008, 92). Thus, there might be reason to revisit Walter Benjamin's essay on the now near impossible role of the storyteller as the site of critique and an alternative to 'Total War'. The storytelling I have in mind involves a mainstream pop music video that uses humour, gimmicky effects and provocations that stress or otherwise reveal our anxieties. The performer-curator and musician Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A, features as main focus: herself conceived as a prankster character, aiming to undo the unexamined comforts of power, in ways which need to be analysed.
I will examine M.I.A.'s collaboration with Romain Gavras on Born Free (2010) to investigate the way stereotypes that are knocked down seem to threaten to just get right back up again. I take the controversy over M.I.A.'s work as exemplary for a survey of the absurd and often worrying scrapes British South Asian musicians have gotten themselves into under the new civil (un)liberties environment in the contemporary multicultural city and argue that if we can agree that the co-constitution of the war 'over here' and 'over there' should be recognised differently, then our responses may also need to be different.


Professor John Hutnyk BA PhD

John Hutnyk is Professor and Academic Director at the Centre for Cultural Studies at the Goldsmiths University of London.

Main Research:

  • Urban Studies
  • (transnational/diasporic) music and politics
  • the politics of tourism and urbanism
  • contemporary policing, the politics of Islamophobia and geopolitical intrigue
  • politics of migration
  • revolutionary movements, especially South Asia
  • intersections of politics, cultural studies and philosophy
  • the history of ideas, trinkets, archives and collections
  • history of work and technology
  • the politics of prisons and confinement



  • Diaspora and Hybridity (co-authored with Virinder Kalra and Raminder Kaur, London 2005.
  • Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies, London 2004.
  • Critique of Exotica: Music; Politics and the Culture Industry, London. 2000.
  • The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London, 1996.