Cultural studies

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For the journal, see Cultural Studies (journal).

Cultural studies is a scholarly field of theoretically, politically, and empirically engaged cultural analysis that was initially developed by British academics in the late 1950s, 60s and 70s, and has been subsequently taken up and transformed by scholars in many different fields around the world. Cultural studies is avowedly and even radically interdisciplinary and can sometimes be seen as antidisciplinary. Cultural studies practitioners examine the forces within and through which socially organized people conduct and construct their everyday lives. Cultural Studies does not have a singular theoretical approach; rather, it is a diverse field of study that encompasses a range of different theoretical and methodological perspectives and practices. Although it is distinct from the discipline of cultural anthropology and the field of ethnic studies, cultural studies has drawn upon and contributed to both of these areas of inquiry. Cultural Studies is focused upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture and its historical foundations, conflicts and defining traits. Researchers concentrate on how particular cultural practices relate to wider systems of power associated with or operating through social phenomena such as ideology, class structures, national formations, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, generation, and so forth, rather than merely describing cultures or cultural practices. Cultural studies views cultures not as fixed, bounded, stable and discrete entities, but rather as constantly interacting and changing sets of practices and processes.[1]

Cultural studies combines a variety of politically engaged critical approaches drawn from and including semiotics, Marxism, feminist theory, critical race theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies and historical periods. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand how meaning is generated, disseminated, contested, bound up with systems of power and control, and produced from the social, political and economic spheres within a particular social formation or conjuncture. Important theories of cultural hegemony and agency have both influenced and been developed by the cultural studies movement, as have many recent major communication theories and agendas, such as those which attempt to explain and analyze the cultural forces related to processes of globalization. Somewhat distinct approaches to cultural studies have emerged in different national and regional contexts such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Asia, South Africa and Italy.

During the rise of neo-liberalism in Britain and the US, cultural studies both became a global force/movement, and attracted the ire of many conservative opponents both within and beyond universities for a variety of reasons. Many left-wing critics associated particularly with Marxist forms of political economy also attacked cultural studies for allegedly overstating the importance of cultural phenomena. In 2002, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, UK, which was the world's first institutional home of cultural studies, was closed due to the result of the Research Assessment Exercise of 2001. The RAE, a holdover initiative of the Margaret Thatcher-led UK Government of 1986, determines research funding for university programs.[2] While cultural studies continues to have many detractors, the field has become a kind of world-wide movement that is to this day associated with a raft of scholarly associations and programs, annual international conferences, publications, students and practitioners, from Taiwan to Amsterdam and from Bangalore to Santa Cruz. [3][4]

History[edit]

As Dennis Dworkin writes,[5] "a critical moment" in the beginning of cultural studies as a field was when [Richard Hoggart]] used the term in 1964 in founding the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies or CCCS.[6]

Hoggart appointed Stuart Hall as his assistant, and Hall took over as acting director of the CCCS in 1969 when succeeded Hoggart retired. Thereafter, the discipline became closely associated with Hall's work.

Early years[edit]

From the 1960s onward, Stuart Hall's pioneering work, along with that of his colleagues and postgraduate students including Paul Willis, Dick Hebdige, David Morley, Charlotte Brunsdon, John Clarke, Richard Dyer, Judith Williamson, Richard Johnson, Iain Chambers, Dorothy Hobson, Chris Weedon, Tony Jefferson, Michael Green and Angela McRobbie, created an international intellectual movement. Many cultural studies scholars employed Marxist methods of analysis, exploring the relationships between cultural forms (the superstructure) and that of the political economy (the base). By the 1970s, the politically formidable British working classes were in decline. Britain's manufacturing industries were fading and union rolls were shrinking. Yet millions of working class Britons backed the rise of Margaret Thatcher. For Stuart Hall and other Marxist theorists, this shift in loyalty from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party was antithetical to the interests of the working class and had to be explained in terms of cultural politics.

Theory of hegemony[edit]

In order to understand the changing political circumstances of class, politics and culture in the United Kingdom, scholars at the CCCS turned to the work of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian thinker of the 1920s and 30s. Gramsci had been concerned with similar issues: why would Italian laborers and peasants vote for fascists? In other words, why would working people vote to give more control to corporations and see their own rights and freedoms abrogated? Gramsci modified classical Marxism in seeing culture as a key instrument of political and social control. In this view, capitalists used not only brute force (police, prisons, repression, military) to maintain control, but also penetrated the everyday culture of working people. Thus, the key rubric for Gramsci and for cultural studies is that of cultural hegemony.

Scott Lash writes:

In the work of Hall, Hebdige and McRobbie, popular culture came to the fore... What Gramsci gave to this was the importance of consent and culture. If the fundamental Marxists saw power in terms of class-versus-class, then Gramsci gave to us a question of class alliance. The rise of cultural studies itself was based on the decline of the prominence of fundamental class-versus-class politics.[7]

Edgar and Sedgwick write:

The theory of hegemony was of central importance to the development of British cultural studies [particularly the CCCS]. It facilitated analysis of the ways in which subordinate groups actively resist and respond to political and economic domination. The subordinate groups needed not to be seen merely as the passive dupes of the dominant class and its ideology.[8]

Theory of agency[edit]

This line of thinking opened up fruitful work exploring agency, a theoretical outlook which reinserted the active, critical capacities of all people.[citation needed] Notions of agency have supplemented much scholarly emphasis on groups of people (e.g. the working class, primitives, colonized peoples, women) whose political consciousness and scope of action was generally limited to their position within certain economic and political structures.[citation needed][original research?] In other words, many economists, sociologists, political scientists and historians have traditionally failed to acknowledge that everyday people do indeed play a role in shaping their world or outlook. Although anthropologists since the 1960s have foregrounded the power of agents to contest structure, first in the work of transactionalists like Fredrik Barth and then in works inspired by resistance theory and post-colonial theory.[citation needed][original research?]

At times, cultural studies' romance with the notion of agency nearly excludes the possibility of oppression, overlooking the fact that the subaltern have their own politics, and romanticizes agency, exaggerating its potential and pervasiveness.[citation needed][original research?] Popular in the 1990s, many cultural studies scholars discovered in consumers ways of creatively using and subverting commodities and dominant ideologies.[citation needed] This orientation has come under fire for a variety of reasons.[citation needed]

Cultural studies concerns itself with the meaning and practices of everyday life. Cultural practices comprise the ways people do particular things, such as watching television or eating out, in a given culture. In any given practice, people use various objects (such as iPods or crucifixes). Hence, this field studies the meanings and uses peoples attribute to various objects and practices. Recently, as capitalism has spread throughout the world (a process associated with globalization), cultural studies has begun to analyse local and global forms of resistance to Western hegemony.[citation needed]

Globalization[edit]

The movement toward globalization in our world serves as an important reason to examine Cultural Studies. According to Richard Longworth, author of “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism,” it is just getting started. We are now in the stage of re-invention instead of industrialization. In the past 20 years, communication technology has made this possible and has moved very rapidly.[9] Because we are increasing communication worldwide, globalization has a major effect on how we look at Cultural Studies because we are constantly being exposed to the ideologies of mass media. In addition, human culture itself is becoming more unified as a result of globalization. For example, Stuart Hall has striven to combine many topic areas of study, such as interpersonal relationships and the influence of the media. He believes we should be studying the unifying atmosphere in which they all occur and from which they emanate—human culture.[10] This human culture is starting to become more and more unified itself because of globalization and therefore can be further examined through Cultural Studies.

Overview[edit]

In his 1994 book Introducing Cultural Studies, Ziauddin Sardar lists the following five main characteristics of cultural studies:[11]

  • The aim of Cultural Studies is to examine cultural practices and their relation to power. For example, a study of a subculture (such as white working class youth in London) would consider their social practices against those of the dominant culture (in this example, the middle and upper classes in London who control the political and financial sectors that create policies affecting the well-being of white working class youth in London).
  • The objective of Cultural Studies includes understanding culture in all its complex forms and of analyzing the social and political context in which culture manifests itself.
  • Cultural Studies is both the object of study and the location of political criticism and action. (For example, not only would a cultural studies scholar study an object, but s/he would connect this study to a larger, progressive political project.)
  • Cultural Studies attempt to expose and reconcile the division of knowledge, to overcome the split between tacit forms of knowledge (cultural) and objective forms of knowledge (universal).
  • Cultural Studies has a commitment to an ethical evaluation of modern society and to a radical line of political action.

Approaches[edit]

Within the UK and US[edit]

Scholars in the United Kingdom and the United States developed somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the field's inception in the late 1970s. The British version of cultural studies was developed in the 1950s and 1960s mainly under the influence of Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall and others at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. This included overtly political left-wing views and criticisms of popular culture as 'capitalist' mass culture. It absorbed some of the ideas of the Frankfurt School critique of the "culture industry" (i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings of early British Cultural Studies scholars and their influences, (see the work of, for example, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Willis, and Paul Gilroy).

In contrast, Cultural Studies was grounded in a pragmatic, liberal-pluralist tradition in the United States (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002,p. 60).The American version of Cultural Studies initially concerned itself more with understanding the subjective and appropriative side of audience reactions to and uses of mass culture. For example, American Cultural Studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of fandom. The distinction between American and British strands has since faded, however.

Stuart Hall asserts that mainstream mass communication in the United States holds the illusion of democratic pluralism- “the pretense that society is held together by common norms, including equal opportunity, respect for diversity, one person-one vote, individual rights and rule of law”.[10] One of his goals in looking at Cultural Studies is to raise awareness and combat social power imbalances and dominant ideology. “The ultimate issue for cultural studies is not what information is presented but whose information it is”.[10] Also, he contends that the aim of theory and research is to delegate power to marginalized people and allow them to have a say in this world. One criticism of Hall offered suggestions of ways to change the problem he cites.

Outside the UK and US[edit]

In Canada, Cultural Studies has sometimes focused on issues of technology and society, continuing the emphasis in the work of Marshall McLuhan, George Grant, and others. In Australia, there has sometimes been a special emphasis on cultural policy. In South Africa, human rights and Third World issues are among the topics treated. There were a number of exchanges between Birmingham and Italy resulting in work on Italian leftism and theories of postmodernism.[citation needed] On the other hand, there is a debate in Latin America about the relevance of Cultural Studies with some researchers calling for more action-oriented research.[citation needed] Cultural Studies is relatively undeveloped in France, where there is a stronger tradition of semiotics, as in the writings of Roland Barthes. Also in Germany it is undeveloped, probably due to the continued influence of the Frankfurt School, which has developed a body of writing on such topics as mass culture, modern art and music.

Marxism, feminism and cultural artifacts[edit]

Some researchers, especially in early British cultural studies, apply a Marxist model to the field. This strain of thinking has some influence from the Frankfurt School, but especially from the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser and others. The main focus of an orthodox Marxist approach concentrates on the production of meaning. This model assumes a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with those producing cultural artifacts. In a Marxist view, those who control the means of production (the economic base) essentially control a culture.

Other approaches to Cultural Studies, such as feminist cultural studies and later American developments of the field, distance themselves from this view. They criticize the Marxist assumption of a single, dominant meaning, shared by all, for any cultural product. The non-Marxist approaches suggest that different ways of consuming cultural artifacts affect the meaning of the product. This view is best exemplified by the book Doing Cultural Studies: The Case of the Sony Walkman (by Paul du Gay et al.), which seeks to challenge the notion that those who produce commodities control the meanings that people attribute to them. Feminist cultural analyst, theorist and art historian Griselda Pollock contributed to cultural studies from viewpoints of art history and psychoanalysis. The writer Julia Kristeva was an influential voice in the turn of the century, contributing to Cultural Studies from the field of art and psychoanalytical French feminism.

Consumerism[edit]

Ultimately, this perspective[clarification needed] criticizes the traditional view, assuming a passive consumer, particularly by underlining the different ways people read, receive and interpret cultural texts. On this view, a consumer can appropriate, actively reject or challenge the meaning of a product. These different approaches have shifted the focus away from the production of items. Instead, they argue that consumption plays an equally important role, since the way consumers consume a product gives meaning to an item. Some closely link the act of consuming with cultural identity. Stuart Hall and John Fiske have become influential in these developments.

Why is consumerism considered part of culture? According to Jeremy Gilbert, “We now live in an era when, throughout the capitalist world, the overriding aim of government economic policy is to maintain consumer spending levels. This is an era when ‘consumer confidence’ is treated as the key indicator and cause of economic effectiveness.[12] Not only is it the government’s goal to keep the public buying and spending, but it’s also that of many businesses and corporations. This is a major problem when looking through an environmental lens, because this significant rate of consumption is leading our planet to a point where it can no longer be sustained, threatening the human race and all living things. However, if we are constantly being exposed to advertisements, consumerism doesn’t look like it’s heading to a halt. This is a major issue when looking at Cultural Studies, because of mass media’s influence on the ideology of consumerism.[12]

Further information: Consumerism

Text[edit]

In the context of Cultural Studies, the idea of a text, not only includes written language, but also films, photographs, fashion or hairstyles: the texts of Cultural Studies comprise all the meaningful artifacts of culture. Similarly, the discipline widens the concept of "culture". "Culture" for a cultural studies researcher, not only includes traditional high culture (the culture of ruling social groups)[13] and popular culture, but also everyday meanings and practices. The last two have become the main focus of Cultural Studies. A further and more recent approach is Comparative cultural studies, based on the discipline of comparative literature and Cultural Studies.

Contemporary cultural studies[edit]

Sociologist Scott Lash has recently put forth the idea that Cultural Studies is entering a new phase. Arguing that the political and economic milieu has fundamentally altered from that of the 1970s. He writes, "I want to suggest that power now... is largely post-hegemonic... Hegemony was the concept that de facto crystallized Cultural Studies as a discipline. Hegemony usually refers to the “preponderant influence or domination of one nation over another."[10] It has meant domination through ideology or discourse...[14] He writes that the flow of power is becoming more internalized, that there has been "a shift in power from the hegemonic mode of 'power over' to an intensive notion of power from within (including domination from within) and power as a generative force."[15] Resistance to power, in other words, becomes complicated when power and domination are increasingly (re)produced within oneself, within subaltern groups and within exploited people.

On the same subject, American feminist theorist and author of Gender Trouble Judith Butler wrote in the scholarly journal Diacritics an essay entitled "Further Reflections on the Conversions of Our Time", in which she described the shift in these terms:

"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure. It has marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."

Institutionally, the discipline has undergone major shifts. The Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, which was descended from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, closed in 2002. Although by this time the intellectual centre of gravity of the discipline had long since shifted to other universities throughout the world. Strong Cultural Studies programs can be found in the United Kingdom, North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and there are a host of journals and conferences where Cultural Studies research is published and presented.

Academic reception[edit]

Cultural Studies has evolved through the confluence of various disciplines—anthropology, media and communication studies, literary studies, geography, philosophy, sociology, politics and others. While some areas of Cultural Studies have meandered into political relativism and 'postmodern' conceptions of the subject and emancipation, at its core Cultural Studies provides a significant c conceptual and methodological framework for cultural, social and economic critique. This critique is designed to 'deconstruct' the meanings and assumptions that are inscribed in the institutions, texts and practices that work with and through, and produce and re-present, culture (Lewis, 2008). Thus, while some scholars and disciplines like to dismiss Cultural Studies for its methodological openness and rejection of disciplinarity, its core strategies of critique and analysis have had a profound influence throughout the more progressive and critical areas of the social sciences and humanities. Cultural studies work on forms of social differentiation, control and inequality, identity, community-building, media, and knowledge production, for example, have had a substantial impact. Moreover, the influence of cultural studies has become increasingly evident in areas as diverse as health studies, international relations, development studies, computer studies, economics, archaeology, and neurobiology, as well as across the range of disciplines that initially initially shaped the emergence of Cultural Studies, including literature, sociology, communication studies, and anthropology.

Cultural Studies has also diversified its own interests and methodologies, incorporating a range of studies on media policy, democracy, design, leisure, tourism, warfare and development. While certain key concepts such as ideology or discourse, class, hegemony, identity and gender remain significant, cultural studies has long engaged with and integrated new concepts and approaches such as deconstruction and postmodernism. The field thus continues to pursue political critique through its engagements with the forces of culture and politics.[citation needed]

Literary scholars[edit]

Some traditional literary scholars such as Yale professor Harold Bloom have been outspoken critics of Cultural Studies. These critics dislike cultural studies for a wide range of reasons, including cultural studies' rejection of essentialism and its critiques of traditional Western theories of aesthetics.

Bloom stated his position during the September of 2000 episode of C-SPAN's Booknotes:

[T]here are two enemies of reading now in the world, not just in the English-speaking world. One [is] the lunatic destruction of literary studies...and its replacement by what is called cultural studies in all of the universities and colleges in the English-speaking world, and everyone knows what that phenomenon is. I mean, the...now-weary phrase 'political correctness' remains a perfectly good descriptive phrase for what has gone on and is, alas, still going on almost everywhere and which dominates, I would say, rather more than three-fifths of the tenured faculties in the English-speaking world, who really do represent a treason of the intellectuals, I think, a 'betrayal of the clerks'."[16]

Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton is not wholly opposed to Cultural Studies, but has criticised aspects of it and highlighted what he sees as its strengths and weaknesses in books such as After Theory (2003). For Eagleton, literary and cultural theory have the potential to say important things about the "fundamental questions" in life, but theorists have rarely realized this potential.

Sociologists[edit]

While sociology was founded upon various historic works purposefully distinguishing the subject from philosophy or psychology, Cultural Studies has explicitly interrogated and criticized traditional understandings and practices of disciplinarity. Most CS practitioners think it is best that cultural studies neither emulate disciplines nor aspire to disciplinarity for cultural studies. Rather, they promote a kind of radical interdisciplinarity as the basis for cultural studies.

One sociologist whose work has had a major influence upon cultural studies is Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu's work makes innovative use of statistics and in-depth interviews.[17] However, although Bourdieu's work has been highly influential within cultural studies, and although Bourdieu regarded his work as a form of science, cultural studies has never embraced the idea that it should aspire toward "scientificity," and has marshalled a wide range of theoretical and methodological arguments against the fetishization of "scientificity" as a basis for cultural studies.

Sociologists Chris Rojek and Bryan S. Turner argue, in the article "Decorative sociology: towards a critique of the cultural turn", that Cultural Studies, particularly the flavor championed by Stuart Hall, lacks a stable research agenda, and privileges the contemporary reading of texts, thus producing an ahistorical theoretical focus. Furthermore, "there is both a rejection of cross-cultural and historical relevance and a sense of moral superiority about the correctness of the political views articulated."[18]

Physicists[edit]

Main article: Sokal affair

One of the most prominent critiques of Cultural Studies came from physicist Alan Sokal, who submitted an article to a Cultural Studies journal, Social Text. This article was a parody of what Sokal described as the "fashionable nonsense" of postmodernists working in Cultural Studies. As the paper was coming out, Sokal published an article in a self-described "academic gossip" magazine Lingua Franca, revealing the hoax. His explanation for doing this was:

"Politically, I'm angered because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the self-proclaimed Left. We're witnessing here a profound historical volte-face. For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful -- not to mention being desirable human ends in their own right. The recent turn of many "progressive" or "leftist" academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage and undermines the already fragile prospects for progressive social critique. Theorizing about "the social construction of reality" won't help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity."[19]

Founding works[edit]

Hall identifies some originating texts, or the original 'curriculum', of the field of cultural studies:

See also[edit]

Related disciplines and theories[edit]

Related academic programs[edit]

Related authors[edit]

Associations[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ Some people may sometimes use the phrase cultural studies as a synonym for area studies (that is, as a general term referring to the academic study of particular cultures in departments and programs such as Islamic studies, Asian studies, African American studies, et al.). However, although cultural studies has contributed a great deal to contemporary area studies, it is not a synonym for "area studies."
  2. ^ Curtis, Polly. (2002). The Guardian. "Birmingham's cultural studies department given the chop"
  3. ^ Bérubé, Michael. (2009). The Chronicle of Higher Education "What's the Matter with Cultural Studies?",
  4. ^ "Cultural Studies Associations, Networks and Programs", extensive, but incomplete, list of associations, networks and programs as found on the website for the Association of Cultural Studies, Tampere, Finland
  5. ^ Dworkin, Dennis. Cultural Marxism in Post-War Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 116)
  6. ^ see also Corner, John. (1991). "Postscript: Studying Culture—Reflections and Assessment: An Interview with Richard Hoggart." Media, Culture and Society. Vol. 13, No. 2, April.
  7. ^ Lash, pp 68-9
  8. ^ Edgar & Sedgewick, 165.
  9. ^ R. Longworth, personal communication, 26 March 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d Griffin, E. (2012). A First Look at Communication Theory (8th ed.). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  11. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin and Van Loon, Borin. (1994). Introducing Cultural Studies. New York: Totem Books
  12. ^ a b Gilbert, J. (2008). "Against the Commodification of Everything." Cultural Studies. 22(5), 551-566. Gilbert, Jeremy (2008), "Against the Commodification of Everything", Cultural Studies 22 (5): 551, doi:10.1080/09502380802245811 
  13. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, TX: UT Press, p.4
  14. ^ Lash, p. 55
  15. ^ Lash, p. 56
  16. ^ Booknotes.org
  17. ^ An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Theory of Practice. (Eds) Richard Harker, Cheleen Mahar, Chris Wilkes. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1990. pg68-71
  18. ^ Rojek, Chris, and Bryan Turner. "Decorative sociology: towards a critique of the cultural turn." The Sociological Review 48.4 (2000): 629-648.
  19. ^ Physics.nyu.edu, "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies," Alan Sokal, English translation of article from Lingua Franca. 1996.
  20. ^ Google Books, Culture, media, language: working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79. Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe and Paul Willis, London: Hutchinson. 1980
Bibliography
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External links[edit]