Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies

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The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was a research centre at the University of Birmingham, England. It was founded in 1964 by Richard Hoggart, its first director. Its object of study was the then new field of cultural studies.

History[edit]

The Centre was the focus for what became known as the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, or, more generally, British cultural studies. Birmingham School theorists such as Stuart Hall emphasized the reciprocity in how cultural texts, focusing on the idea of Encoding/Decoding even mass-produced products are used, questioning the valorized division between "producers" and "consumers" that was evident in cultural theory such as that of Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School.

Methodology[edit]

Some areas studied by the Birmingham Centre and those associated with it include subculture, popular culture, and media studies. The Centre, and the theorists associated with it, tend to take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of culture, incorporating diverse elements such as Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, and critical race theory, as well as more traditional methodologies such as sociology and ethnography. The Birmingham Centre studied representations of various groups in the mass media and evaluated the effects and interpretations of these representations on their audience.

Noted staff members[edit]

The Centre produced many key studies and developed the careers of prominent researchers and academics. Stuart Hall, who became the centre's director in 1968, developed his seminal Encoding/Decoding model here. Of special importance is the collective research that led to Policing the Crisis (1978), a study of law and order campaigns that focused on "mugging" (a code for street violence). This anticipated many of the law and order themes of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s. Other noted Centre books include 'Off-Centre: Feminism and Cultural Studies'; 'Resistance through Rituals'; 'The Empire Strikes Back'; 'Border Patrols: Policing the Boundaries of Heterosexuality'.

Richard Johnson was later director and encouraged research in social and cultural history. The centre staff included Maureen McNeil, noted theorist of culture and science, Michael Green who focused on media, cultural policy and regional cultures in the midlands, and Ann Gray, culture and media.

Graduates and associates of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and the Department of Cultural Studies include: Paul Gilroy (King's College London) theorist of culture and race, Angela McRobbie (Goldsmiths) theorist of consumption, femininity and popular culture, Celia Lury (Goldsmiths) feminist theory and consumption, Jackie Stacey (University of Manchester), film, cancer culture and science in culture, Sarah Franklin (LSE) science as culture, Debbie Epstein (University of Cardiff), education, childhood and youth studies, sexuality and popular culture, Peter Redman (The Open University) masculinities, psychoanalytic theory, Mary Jane Kehily (The Open University) childhood and youth studies, Joyce Canaan (City University, Birmingham) cultures of higher education, Anoop Nayak (Newcastle University) geographies of race, Deborah Lynn Steinberg (Warwick University) science cultures, sexuality and popular culture, Hilary Pilkington (Warwick University) Russia and youth subcultures, Sue Wright (Danish Pedagogic University) cultures of higher education, Hazel Carby (Yale) race and literature, David Parker (Nottingham University), Mica Nava (University of East London) media studies, Graham Dawson (University of Brighton) historical cultural studies, Chris Griffin (Bath University) girls and youth cultures, and Adrian Kear (Aberystwith University) performance studies and psychoanalysis, Kevin J. Brehony (Roehampton University) historical studies of educational ideologies.

Empirical researchers included David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon, who produced The Nationwide Project at the Centre. Dorothy Hobson's research about the reception of Crossroads was based on her MA dissertation. Another important empirical researcher is Paul Willis, who received his PhD from the CCCS in 1972 and stayed as a researcher there until 1981.

In later years, on the dissolution of the Centre and formation of the Department of Cultural Studies, Sadie Plant, noted cybertheorist and feminist (author of Zeroes + Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture), taught there, as did Jorge Larrain, the well-known Chilean sociologist and cultural historian, author of Identity and Modernity in Latin America and John Gabriel, sociologist of race. Frank Webster, a Sociologist with interests in Information Society issues and sympathy for the 'cultural turn', joined the newly formed Centre for Cultural Studies and Sociology in 1999, but left for City University London when the Centre was closed in 2002.

Closure in 2002[edit]

The Department was dramatically closed in 2002, a move the university's senior management described as 'restructuring'. Four of its fourteen members of staff were to be “retained” and its hundreds of students (nearly 250 undergraduates and postgraduates at that time, many from abroad) to be transferred to other departments. In the ensuing dispute most department staff left. There were protests against the decision to close Cultural Studies and Sociology from round the world and the University received much adverse criticism.

It all started in April 2002, when, according to student testimonies, rumors began to circulate that the Department was going to be closed down because it had received a “very bad” 3a mark in a recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). Despite assurances as to the contrary, on June 21, 2002, right after the end of term, staff members received emails informing them of a decision that had already been taken to close down the Department. The decision was to be ratified on June 26.

Students and staff began a campaign to save the school, which gained considerable attention in the national press (see links below) and sparked numerous letters of support from former alumni all over the world. The main argument of the campaigners was that the Department was being closed down because of economic pressures relating to the public funding of British universities in accordance with RAE marks. Ironically, the Department of Cultural Studies was a top money-making unit inside the School of Social Sciences.

Additionally, concerns were expressed that the Department was being “belatedly punished” for its political radicalism, as one journalist put it. Indeed, the unreservedly leftwing Department’s long history of conflict with the University’s administration was well known to all who had studied at the University of Birmingham between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Of the four staff members who were “retained”, one was attached to the Department of Social Policy, one to the Department of English, and one to the Institute of European Studies. The remaining ten staff members were invited to retire voluntarily in return for a severance package (one year’s pay).

Professor David Marsh, a political sociologist from the Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS), was drafted in as temporary head of a new Department of Sociology, with Cultural Studies dropped from the title. Further posts were created in Sociology during 2003.

The Department had been top of the Guardian league table for Sociology before its closure and it continues to excel in this poll. The Department was recently ranked fourth in Guardian league tables for Sociology.

50th anniversary[edit]

The 50th anniversary of the establishment of CCCS came in 2014. To mark this occasion, academics at the University of Birmingham– in collaboration with former members of staff at the Centre, including Richard Johnson and, before their respective deaths, Stuart Hall and Michael Green – have created an archive of CCCS-related material at the Cadbury Research Library at Birmingham. There will also be a conference at the University in summer 2014, as well as an exhibition on the significance of the Centre’s work held at the mac.

External links[edit]

Alec Gordon, The Genesis of Radical Cultural Studies: Contribution to a Reconstruction of Cultural Studies as Counter-Intellectual Critique [The Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, England, 1963-1975] Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Leeds, June 1988.

On the Department's closure[edit]