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.[1] From 1964 to 2002, the Centre played a major role in developing the field of cultural studies.


The Centre was the focus for what became known as the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, or, more generally, 'British cultural studies'. After its first director, Richard Hoggart departed in 1968, the Centre was led by Stuart Hall (1969-1979). He was succeeded by Richard Johnson (1980-1987). The Birmingham CCCS approach to culture and politics evolved from a complex moment within British post-war history: the rise of the anti-Stalinist New Left; the promotion of adult education in Britain after World War II; the "Americanization" of British popular culture and the growth of mass communication in the decades after 1945; the growing multiculturalism of British society; and, the eventual influence within British academia of new critical methods like semiotics and structuralism.[2][3] Drawing on a variety of influences (feminism, structuralism, Marxism - - especially the work of Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci, sociology, critical race theory, and post-structuralism), over the course of several decades the Centre pioneered a variety of approaches to the study of culture, including: ideological analysis; studies of working-class cultures and subcultures; the role of media audiences; feminist cultural research; hegemonic struggles in state politics; and the place of race in social and cultural processes.[4] The history of this development can be found in the series of stencilled occasional papers the Centre published between 1973 and 1988.[5]

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 and Sociology (CSS), 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 Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology in 1999, but left for City University London when the department was abruptly closed in 2002.

Closure in 2002[edit]

The new Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology was unexpectedly and abruptly closed in 2002, a move the university's senior management described as 'restructuring'. The immediate reason given for disestablishment of the new department was an unexpectedly low result in the UK's Research Assessment Exercise of 2001, though a dean from the university described the decision as a consequence of "inexperienced 'macho management.'"[6] Four of the department's 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 around the world and the University received much adverse criticism.

In April 2002, 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. 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[dubious ] who had studied at the University of Birmingham between the 1960s and the 1980s.[citation needed]

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, Stuart Hall and Michael Green, created an archive of CCCS-related material at the Cadbury Research Library at Birmingham.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Turner, Graeme (2002). British cultural studies : an introduction (3rd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 9780415252287.
  2. ^ Hall, Stuart (March 1992). "Race, Culture, and Communications: Looking Backward and Forward at Cultural Studies". Rethinking Marxism. 5 (1): 10–18. doi:10.1080/08935699208657998.
  3. ^ Dworkin, Dennis (1997). Cultural Marxism in postwar Britain : history, the new left, and the origins of cultural studies. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822319144.
  4. ^ Shulman, Norma (1993). ""Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham"". Canadian Journal of Communication. 18 (1).
  5. ^ "Stencilled Occasional Papers of the Birmingham CCCS - University of Birmingham". www.birmingham.ac.uk.
  6. ^ Webster, Frank (2004). "Cultural Studies and Sociology at, and After, the Closure of the Birmingham School". Cultural Studies. 18 (6): 848.

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]