SISBritishPopularCulture
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  • 1. BRITISH POPULAR CULTURETutor: Dr Edwina GriffithEmail:E.D.Griffith@sussex.ac.ukEdwinagr03@yahoo.co.ukThis course aims to contextualise the study of popular culture within a cultural studiesframework. We will explore the ways in which relationships between identity, age, class, race,gender and sexuality play out in the making and consuming of popular cultural forms. Thiscourse also addresses how the term ‘British’ is ‘read’, what it means to be or to be seen to be‘British’, and the significances and consequences of shaping national identity.What have been the most important and influential debates that have shaped the study ofpopular culture? How do we deal with the apparent contradiction between the difficulty oftheory and the ease of popular culture? Why is popular culture so despised within traditionalacademic circles? Is popular culture, as the product of capitalist industry, imbued withconservative ideologies, which through their dissemination serve to maintain the political andideological status quo? Is resistance to the controlling powers-that-be an inherent function ofpopular culture, which by its nature will subvert, critique and liberate? Or is the true nature ofpopular culture somewhere between the two?The aim is to develop knowledge of the main theoretical debates that have shaped the studyof popular culture. This will include the development of many critical skills necessary to applytheory to the analysis of a range of visual texts and cultural practices. While key courseissues will be illustrated through the screening of examples of contemporary film, soapoperas, sitcoms, adverts and so on, students will also learn to draw critically on their ownpersonal experiences as popular culture consumers.Field trips to engage with quintessential British popular cultural sites and traditions will featureduring the course, and there will also be a film night featuring two modern British ‘classic’films to provide a focus for your research.Core Texts for Course • (Ed.) J Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: a reader, (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, (2006) • Dominic Strinati, An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (Routledge 2004Week 1:Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (Sessions 1 and 2)Session 1: Introductions; Key Questions in the study of Popular CultureSession 2: Key terms defined; Discussion of Core Reading.Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (sessions 1 and 2)
  • 2. In the first two sessions, we will contextualise the study of popular culture within a culturalstudies framework. What have been the most important and influential debates that haveshaped the study of popular culture? How do we deal with the apparent contradiction betweenthe difficulty of theory and the ease of popular culture?Core Reading• Paul du Gay et al, extracts from Making Sense of the Walkman, from Doing Cultural Studies (Sage 1997)• Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. (Routledge: 1993)Gender, Identity and Popular Culture (Sessions 3 and 4)Session 3: Identity and Culture; Gender Representation in Visual Cultures.Session 4: Student-led seminar 1 Gender and Popular Culture (To take place in the firstseminar of week 2).How are masculinity and femininity represented within contemporary popular culture? Whatrecurring tropes or characteristics do we see appearing throughout different popular texts? Docertain cultural forms or genres give rise to certain representations of gender and not others?Is it more correct to think not of femininity and masculinity in the singular, but femininities andmasculinities in the plural? What are the differences between men’s popular culture andpopular culture produced for women? How is gender constructed, not only through theimages of men and women within these genres, but also through the construction of theirconsumers’ interests, tastes and preoccupations?These seminar sessions will focus largely on case studies drawn from women and men’smagazines, and soap operas, although students will be encouraged to draw upon other formsof popular culture, especially in their presentations.Core Reading:• Ros Ballaster, Margaret Beetham, Elizabeth Frazer and Sandra Hebron. Women’s Worlds: Ideology, Femininity and the Woman’s Magazine (Macmillan 1991)• Janice Winship, Inside Women’s Magazines (Pandora, 1987)• Peter Jackson, Nick Stevenson, Kate Brooks Making Sense of Men’s Magazines (Polity: 2001)Further Reading:• Frank Mort, ‘Boys Own?’, in (eds.) R Chapman and J Rutherford, Male Order: unwrapping masculinity, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988).• Steven Cohen and Ina Rae Hark Eds, Screening the Male (Routledge 1993).• Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner, Eds, Men’s Lives (Macmillan 1989).• Pat Kirkham and Janet Thumim, Eds, You Tarzan: Masculinity, Movies and Men (Lawrence and Wishart 1993).• S Nixon, ‘Distinguishing Looks: masculinities, the visual and men’s magazines’, in (eds.) V Harwood et al., Pleasure Principles: politics, sexuality and ethics, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1993).• Fred Pfeil, White Guys: Studies in Postmodern Domination and Difference (Verso 1995).• Mark Simpson, Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity (Cassell 1994)• Yvonne Tasker, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema (Routledge 1993).• Robert C. Allen, Speaking of Soap Operas (North Carolina University Press, 1985).
  • 3. • Robert C. Allen, To be Continued (Routledge, 1995)• Ien Ang, Watching Dallas (Methuen 1985).• David Buckingham, Public Secrets: EastEnders and its Audience (BFI 1987).• Richard Dyer, Coronation Street (BFI 1991).• Christine Geraghty, Women and Soap Opera (Polity 1991).• Christine Geraghty, ‘British Soaps in the 1980s’, in D.Strinati and S. Wagg, Eds Come on Down? Popular Culture in Post-War Britain (Routledge 1992).• Richard Kilborn, Television Soaps (Batsford 1992).Week 2:Session 4: Student-led seminar 1 Gender and Popular Culture (from week 1).Class and Taste (sessions 5 and 6)Session 5: Discussion of Class and TasteSession 6: Student-led seminar 2: Class and British ComedyThese sessions will consider the politics of taste. How do we decide what is good and bad,and what implications do these decisions have? How much genuine choice do we have aboutour cultural activities? How strongly are our tastes shaped by the industries that produceobjects and activities for our consumption? To what extent do our social backgrounds, ourfamilies and friends, determine what we consider quality culture, and what we dismiss asrubbish?Although debates over working class culture were central in the foundation of cultural studies,in recent years, class has received far less attention from academics than gender andethnicity; what lies behind this shift? How would you characterise the relationship betweenpopular culture and working-class culture? What happens when working class lives are putunder the microscope of middle-class scrutiny?Core Reading:• Pierre Bourdieu ‘Distinction and the Aristocracy of Culture’ in J Storey (Ed) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: a reader, (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994).• Stephanie Lawler. Disgusted Subjects: The making of middle-class identities in The Sociological Review. 53 (3) 429-446. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005)• Stephen Wagg, At Ease Corporal: Social Class and the Situation Comedy in British Television from the 1950s to the 1990s, Because I tell a Joke or Two, Ed. Wagg (Routledge 1998).Further Reading:• Derek Paget, ‘Speaking Out: The Transformation of Trainspotting’ in Deborah Cartmell & Imelda Whelehan (eds) Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text (Routledge, 1999)• Stephen Bayley, Taste (Faber 1991)• Stuart Ewen, All-Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (Basic Books 1998)• Mary McIntosh, Class, in Andy Medhurst and Sally R. Munt, Eds, Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction (Cassell 1997).• Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (Chatto 1957).• Stuart Laing, Representations of Working-Class Life 1957-64 (MacMillan 1986).• Pat Mahony and Christine Zmroczek, Eds, Class Matters: Working Class Women’s Perspectives on Social Class (Taylor and Francis 1997).
  • 4. • Jon May, ‘A Little Taste for Something More Exotic,’ in Geography, Vol.81, no.1 (1996).• Sally R.Munt, Ed, Cultural Studies and the Working Class (Cassell (2000).• Alan Tomlinson, ed. Consumption, Identity, and Style (Routledge 1990).Week 3:Brighton Culture (session 7)Local sites of popular and tourist leisure will be considered as cultural texts that can bedeconstructed in the same way as films, novels or television programmes.We will consider what it means if, for example, the seaside comes to be thought of as vulgaror excessive, and the ways in which a certain class sensibility is inscribed into Brighton Pier.In what way does this contrast with more traditional ‘heritage’ tourist sites, such as museums,stately homes and galleries, in terms of class, taste and cultural value?How do shopping centres similarly construct their patrons? Are there apparent means bywhich these spaces attempt to control the ways in which they are consumed, and areavenues by which consumers evade or defy these attempts to control their activities?In an attempt to answer these questions, students will visit a significant Brighton site, forexample, a shopping centre, seaside attraction or historical building, and perform an analysisof its construction, meaning and usage.Core Reading:• John Fiske, ‘Reading the Beach’ in Reading the Popular (Unwin 1989)Further Reading:• Michael Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World (MIT Press, (1984).• Rob Shields, Places on the Margin (Routledge, (1992)• Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Methuen, 1986).• John Urry, The Tourist Gaze (Sage, (2002).This session will take the form of a field trip on Monday of week 3. Instead of a classroom-based seminar, students will explore the ideas and questions posed above, in conjunctionwith the key readings and their own experiences since arriving in Sussex, in visiting Brighton.We will then discuss our thoughts on these complex issues around the table whilst taking‘High Tea’ in a top Brighton Hotel.This ‘tea’ will give students an unique opportunity to engage in a traditional national pastime,a symbolical cultural practice imbedded with class and ‘taste’, in a quintessentially Englishseaside town.Constructions of Englishness (Sessions 8 and 9)Session 8. Discussion of Englishness and ideologies of ‘national’ cultures.Session 9: Student-led-seminar 3: Constructions of EnglishnessIn these sessions, we will consider what is at stake in the constructions of Englishness inpopular culture. National stereotypes will be considered, both of English and non-Englishorigin, in relation to the construction of an identity based on exclusions. How do popular
  • 5. cultural texts contribute to the construction of national identity? How should we conceptuallydistinguish between race, ethnicity and national identity?Is it possible to identify a mobilisation of Englishness in the popular culture produced andconsumed in this country? What, how or why would we make a distinction between Englishand British? Is the question of a clear English national identity untenable in an era ofglobalised postmodernity, given the significant popularity of American culture within Britaintoday?Core Reading:• Anthony Easthope, Englishness and National Culture, London: Routledge, 1999, chapter 1• David Morley and Kevin Robins, ‘Introduction: The National Culture in its New Global Context’ and Krishnan Kumar ‘”Englishness” and English National Identity in David Morley and Kevin Robins, eds. (2001) British Cultural Studies: Geography, Nationality, and Identity, Oxford University PressFurther Reading: • Jeremy Paxman, The English :a portrait of a people. London: Michael Joseph, 1998• Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1991.• Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism, Sage: 1995.• Robert Collis and Philip Dodds, Eds, Englishness: Politics and Culture 1880-1920, Croom Helm, 1986.• C.Fusco, ‘About Locating Ourselves and our representations,’ Framework, no.36 (in Res/Fac under Chakravarty)• John Gabriel, Whitewash: Racialised Politics and the Media. London, Routledge: 1998.• Judy Giles and Tim Middleton (eds.) Writing Englishness 1900-1950. London: Routledge, 1995.• Sander Gilman ‘The Deep Structure of Stereotypes,’ in Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall. Open University Press, 1997. pp 284-285.• Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack. Unwin, (2002.• Stuart Hall, ‘Stereotyping as Signifying Practice’ in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Open University Press, 1997. pp257-268.• Stuart Hall, ‘The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power,’ in B. Glieben and S.Hall (eds.), Formations of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp275-331.• Alison Light, Forever England. London: Routledge, 1991.• T. E Perkins, ‘Rethinking Stereotypes,’ in M.Barrett et al (eds.), Ideology and Cultural Production. Croom Helm, 1988.• Raphael Samuel Introduction, Patriotism: Vol. 3: National Fictions. Routledge, 1988.• Chris Waters, "Dark Strangers" in our midst: Discourses of Race and Nation in Britain, Journal of British Studies, April 1997, Vol 36 no 2, p207-238Assessment• Group Presentation: using visual aids and various examples of popular culture, your group will lead the discussion (20%)• Course Report on your contribution to seminars and field trip (20%)• Essay 2,000 words. (60%)……………………………………………………..
  • 6. 1. Group PresentationFor this assessment you will be asked to lead the discussion in one seminar. You will do thisin small groups. The way you structure the seminar is entirely up to you; a good approach isto use a combination of presentation, group discussion and tasks for your fellow students.Some points to consider: • Make sure your group exchanges contact details early on. Meet up as many times as possible - the best group-led seminars hang together well because of good preparation and organisation. • Delegate tasks. Make sure each person knows exactly what he or she are supposed to be doing, and make sure that each group member is doing roughly the same amount of work. • Carry out adequate research. Start with the core reading, then look at the further reading list, library searches etc. Most students find the Internet a valuable resource also. • However, DON’T be too ambitious about what can be accomplished in the time. Two hours sounds a lot but it is soon taken up by e.g. four people presenting, TV clips, discussion time, games, time for the other students to read handouts, formulate answers to questions etc. • Make use of visual aids: video clips (use the library), handouts, whiteboard and so on. These make the seminar interesting. Again though, don’t be too ambitious and overdo it. If you are showing a long video clip, it will warrant a long discussion, otherwise it will just look like laziness. • Always keep your fellow students in mind. Present to the group, not just the tutor. If you ask them questions, allow time for them to respond. If setting a task, make your instructions clear. • Although you are demonstrating that you have engaged with and understood the academic material, try and make your seminar as interesting and entertaining as possible. • The student-led seminar counts for 20% of your overall mark. Assessment criteria: Content: Topic and the appropriateness of the selected angle, focus, argument. Appropriateness, range and depth of research. Engagement with, and understanding of academic literature. Mobilization of that literature in analysis, interpretation and argument. Quality of media analysis, if appropriate. Presentation: Organisation of material, development of argument, use of A/V material and handouts. Mode of delivery - clear, reasonable speed. Engagement with audience and attempts to interest them. Attempts to open up the topic for discussion. Responsiveness to class (i.e. answering questions effectively). Group: evidence of collaborative effort, rather than individual contributions simply thrown together, time management.2. EssayUsing one of the titles listed below you will be asked to write a 2,000 word essay to behanded in to the International and Study Abroad office on the Thursday of week 4. This essayneeds to be typed, fully referenced and include evidence of wider academic research. Youmay use articles from the course reader in your discussion but you should also source otherarticles and readings to be incorporated in your argument.Choose one question from the following: 1. “The meaning of a cultural form and its place or position in the cultural field is not inscribed inside its form. Nor is its position fixed once and forever. This year’s radical symbol or slogan will be neutralised into next year’s fashion; the year after, it will be the object of profound cultural nostalgia. Today’s rebel folksinger ends up, tomorrow,
  • 7. on the cover of The Observer colour magazine” (Stuart Hall). Explore the shifting social and political meanings circulating a particular cultural form or practice. 2. How would you convince a sceptical friend that popular culture is a valid topic for academic study? 3. “For what are…interesting ideological reasons, we associate …entertainment with superficiality” (Terry Eagleton). What do you think these reasons might be, and how and in whose interests do they operate? 4. Explore the representation and construction of national identity in at least two films. At least one of the films must be British. 5. “The beach…is a text of mundane pleasure, not sacred bliss. It is laden with signifiers, it controls the desire for freedom and threat of nature by transposing it into the natural” (John Fiske). Examine the structuring of nature and culture in relation to Brighton sea front. 6. “The social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived” (Mary Douglas) Consider how normative notions of femininity / masculinity are either reinforced or challenged in one or two different cultural texts (e.g. magazines, soap operas). 7. “Women’s magazines serve no other purpose than to reinforce the economic and ideological status quo”. Discuss. 8. Do men’s magazines reveal a crisis in masculinity? 9. Consider the representation of class in at least two British films / television shows of your choice. 10. Is taste purely a matter of personal choice? 11. Explore the representation of national identity in at least two films/TV shows. At least one text must be British. 12. “It’s the little differences, I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just, just, there it’s a little different.’ Discuss the relationship between culture and national identity in light of your experience of living in Brighton.3. Course Report on class participationAlongside your presentation and your essay, your final mark will take into account a coursereport written by your tutor. This will be based on the following criteria: 1. Critical engagement with reading and discussion 2. Participation in class discussion 3. Willingness to listen to others and respond to their arguments 4. Ability to complete tasks set in the allotted time 5. Attendance and attentiveness 6. Perceived overall understanding of the course content. 7. Evidence of self-reflexivity and cultural awareness.