About Culture Wars
Culture Wars is the online review of the Institute of Ideas in London. We cover books, films, theatre, art and talk events, with a view to understanding how political and other ideas filter through the culture, and how the arts in turn influence politics and society more generally. We also publish essays, interviews and other articles on the arts, culture and society.
Culture Wars has published work by established authors, students, academics, arts enthusiasts and political campaigners (see Contributors for an alphabetical listing). We are not able to pay for contributions, but we welcome proposals and submissions from anyone with something to say.
'Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it was a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secret of the universe.' Lex Luthor, Superman
In this spirit, Culture Wars welcomes unsolicited reviews of anything from books to exhibitions. Any reviews of chewing gum wrappers had better be good.
Culture Wars history
Culture Wars was first launched to complement the conference ‘Culture Wars: Dumbing Down, Wising Up?’, at the Riverside Studios in London in March 1999. The conference was organised by LM (formerly Living Marxism) magazine to explore what was behind debates that had originated in the US about the ‘dumbing down’ of Western culture and society. Some commentators argued that critiques of dumbing down were simply a conservative reaction against progressive developments in education, the arts and the media, but many speakers at the conference suggested that ‘dumbing down’ reflected a real crisis in cultural institutions, and one with important political roots and consequences. The conference and website were the beginning of a critical engagement in debates about the arts and culture, premised on the belief that public discussion could and should be of a higher intellectual quality.
LM co-publisher Claire Fox went on to establish the Institute of Ideas (IoI) in 2000, organising a series of conferences and debates with a view to encouraging and developing public engagement with emerging ideas in politics, the arts and science. Culture Wars became the IoI’s reviews website under current editor Dolan Cummings, carrying reviews mostly by people involved with the IoI’s other work. The site began to explore themes that were recurring in IoI conferences and other events, such as the question of elitism in the arts, the relationship between intellectuals and the public, the rise of ‘therapy culture’, and contemporary ambivalence about modernity.
Culture Wars was particularly active at the annual Edinburgh festivals, where the IoI ran Round Table Rumbles, a series of live review events organised with the Festival Fringe from 2001 to 2004 (as well as at the National Theatre in London in 2005). Panels of critics discussed a selection of theatre shows relating to a different theme each night, with writers, directors and performers, as well as ordinary fringe-goers, invited to join in. This combination of critical assessment with discussion of the political and other themes raised in artistic work became a feature of Culture Wars reviews.
The IoI launched the annual Battle of Ideas festival in October 2005, and Culture Wars began to expand its coverage of books as well as the arts, drawing on a wider pool of contributors, often involved in the Battle of Ideas as organisers, participants, or speakers. The relaunch of the site in the summer of 2008 reflects the expansion and development of Culture Wars in recent years, laying the foundations for an ongoing exploration of the relationships between ideas, culture and politics, with special focus on a number of key themes, beginning with ‘Intellectuals and the public’, ‘Radicalism, past, present and future’, ‘Arts: Politics and Identity’ and ‘Religion and humanism’.