Lawrence Grossberg: Under the Cover of Chaos

We treated Reagan, we treated Bush, and we treat Trump too often as if they’re idiots. I have no idea whether they are or not, but I don’t think that it’s a good strategy to assume your opponent is an idiot.
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Lawrence Grossberg discusses his book Under the Cover of Chaos: Trump and the Battle for the American Right with Chris Richardson. Grossberg is the Morris Davis Distinguished Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (since 1994), and he has held additional appointments in American Studies, Anthropology and Geography. He studied at the University of Rochester (with Hayden White and Richard Taylor), the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (Birmingham, England, with Stuart Hall and Richard Hoggart) and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois (with James W. Carey) in 1976. 

He was the editor of the journal Cultural Studies from 1990 through 2018. He has published ten books and edited another eleven, as well as over 250 essays and dozens of interviews, in English. His work has been translated into twenty languages and additionally, he has published numerous original books and essays in other languages, and lectures all over the world. He has advised over fifty doctoral students, and been honored for his scholarship, teaching and mentorship by the International Communication Association, the (U.S.) National Communication Association, the Association for Cultural Studies, and the University of North Carolina. 

His work has addressed a wide range of questions especially the specificity of cultural studies, developments in contemporary theory, the affective nature of the popular, and the changing political culture of the U.S. He has approached these in writings on: U.S. popular music, youth culture and politics; the construction of kids as a political field; value theory: struggles over modernities; the state of progressive oppositions and countercultures; and post-war reconfigurations of the conservative and reactionary rights.

In 2019, Under the Cover of Chaos won the National Communication Association’s Diamond Anniversary Book Award. His other recent books include Cultural Studies In the Future Tense, We All Want to Change the World (available free online), Under the Cover of Chaos, and (co-edited) Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies 1983.


Actually, I find this task more difficult than I had expected. Many of the previous podcasters have recommended books that address the topic of their podcast, providing necessary background or additional perspectives. My book—the occasion for the podcast—displaces arguments about Trump toward discussions about the rise and complexity of the postwar conservative and reactionary rights, and the failures of progressive oppositions. There are so many books about our current political moment, about the history of the right, about the roles of capitalism and social media in politics, about the politics of culture and affect…one could go on. Some are better than others, none  of them (my own included) put the pieces together to tell a story robust enough to give us a new handle on what’s going on and how we get out of this place. Perhaps we need to find ways to enable and encourage (agonistic) conversations rather than continuing to contribute to the fetish of productivity and the chaos of knowledge claims.

The conversation preserved here—and my book—are also about cultural studies as a way of thinking contextually about contexts. It sees intellectual work as an ongoing conversation that constantly challenges the things we assume we know and the boundaries we take for granted. Assuming that we already understand the politics, or that we already know the proper theory, can become ways of letting ourselves off the hook of going on thinking together. 

So I want to recommend all the works—although I will somewhat arbitrarily select one—of some of my interlocutors who are continuously teaching me how to do cultural studies, the people I think with because they are the voices inside my head. There are others of course—including Angela McRobbie, David Morley, Dick Hebdige, Henry Giroux, Jeremy Gilbert, and Doreen Massey (a great loss), many of my ex-students, and many colleagues around the world doing cultural studies in their own contexts. But those offered here are the ones whose voices echo through all my work all the time.

Stuart was one of the most influential intellectuals of the late 20th and early 21st century, an essayist who understood intellectual work as interventions into contested contexts. He was the leading figure globally in cultural studies, an unmatched cultural theorist and critic, an astute political analyst and advocate, and a leading force in the effort to rethink questions of race and ethnicity. But just as importantly, he embodied a spirit of generosity and humility and a commitment to the conversation of ideas that made him a teacher and mentor to anyone who needed it, near or far, and a builder of spaces in which others could do critical work. Cultural Studies 1983 presents a series of lectures on the intellectual foundations of cultural studies. Duke University Press is in the process of publishing his essays, as well as his (auto-) biography. Read them all.


John has devoted his entire career to bringing cultural studies to questions of social/ policy. His explorations of these terms—both as concepts and concrete realities, his collaborative work across geographic boundaries, and his spirit of openness and humility make him one of the most powerful spokespersons for thinking with cultural studies. His works on social policy are full of rich insights. Critical Dialogues is his newest book, an extraordinary project in which he presents us with the conversations within which he has quite literally thought with others. A truly exhilarating read.


Meaghan is a powerful feminist critic, cultural theorist, and rhetorical analyst, and one of the very best essayists in the academy. Her essays critically engage with fluid and contradictory contexts through sophisticated articulations of discursive, theoretical and political problematics. Her readings of popular texts are unlike those of any others, and they have often opened up new paths of thinking for me. Her essays are beautifully crafted, providing many levels of pleasure. Identity Anecdotes provides some marvelous examples, but I urge you to read as many of her essays as you can.


Paul is an original and courageous intellectual, a scrupulously careful and erudite scholar whose researches span an extraordinary breath of themes, sites and histories. One of the most important intellectuals on race, nation, and culture, his writings move from the depths of Western barbarity to critical engagements with anti-racist struggles and utopian reflections on diasporic imaginations of a planetary humanism. (On the latter, see his marvelous Tanner lectures, available online.) His work often forces me to question long-held certainties. Between Camps is the book I return to again and again, and the first one I give my students.

Policing the Crisis Mugging, the State and Law and Order
By Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, Brian Roberts

Unlike my previous recommendations, this is not a singular voice; rather, it is a project that haunts my work. It is the first and most oft-cited example of the “conjunctural analysis” of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. It demonstrates the power of collaborative, interdisciplinary work to open up a context to insights that might otherwise not be available. And besides, its analyses of the rise of a reconfigured conservatism in the 1970s and 80s still speaks to contemporary problematics.