Cultural Studies: A Critical
Definition of Cultural Studies:
An academic field that analyses contemporary cultures in order to derive meaning
It is a field of open dialogue on many subjects that might not be acceptable
conversation topics in most social settings.
It politically and critically discusses and observes some of culture’s exclusions,
injustices, and prejudices.
It aims to enhance and celebrate cultural experiences: to enjoy culture by analyzing
it and its social meaning.
It helps us to understand ourselves and those around us by exploring a wide range
of institutions, media, concepts and formations such as television,
multiculturalism, and cultural heritage.
Cultural studies deals with culture as a part of everyday life.
Because of that it is an evolving field that changes and
develops with culture itself.
Going Global 1.1
Cultural studies as a discipline is becoming more and more global because after
all it is the study of culture.
Culture itself is global because everyone has it in one form or another.
Culture itself is being affected by globalization as people of the world are drawn to
each other's cultures as they trade goods and information.
Differences are accepted as variances between different cultures and those
dividers are studied.
A “Variety of topics and histories (are) brought into the discipline through
• Studying cultural studies might feel like being an “intellectual
tourist dropping into topics which may be enticing in their sheer
exoticness but towards which has little interest or responsibility.”
“Culture is not a thing or even a system: it’s a set of transactions, processes, mutations,
practices, technologies, institutions, out of which things and events (such as movies, poems
or world wrestling bouts) are produced, to be experienced, lived out and given meaning and
value to in different ways within the network of differences and mutations from which they
emerged to start with.”
“For cultural studies today, cultural objects are simultaneously events and experiences,
produced out of, and thrown back into, a social force field constituted unevenly by power
flows, status hierarchies and opportunities.”
“Cultures travel across geographical borders; they merge and separate; they cross and
disrupt political and social divisions, and also, sometimes, strengthen them. Capital and
fashions ebb and flow through different cultural forms. Some genres become specialized
‘extreme’, others sweep the world.”
“Because ‘culture’ no longer refers to a specific set of things and because cultural markets
are so pervasive, it can be just about anything.”
• “Cultural studies does not cover culture with equal attention to all its modes.
It has tended to neglect, for instance, religion; food; sport, especially that part
which is family-based and of most interest to the middle aged such as home
improvement and gardening. For different reasons it has neglected
high culture itself.”
How to study culture? Or the academic study of culture.
“What kind of concepts and practices should we bring to our conceptualizing? Political critique? Close
readings of ‘texts’ (which might include songs, TV shows as well as novels)?”
“It is difficult to say much more about cultural studies method except that, in a very general way, it is
both a theoretical and empirical (experimental) discipline.”
Method can be viewed as the heart of cultural studies and can be seen “as a ‘path of reasoning’ since it
provides the shared values or ‘common framework with which we can recognize that we are in
dialogue. It continually examines its own development and processes.”
Culture is better studied by “providing evidence and citations for arguments; referring to wellrecognized general concepts; implicitly placing one’s work within the disciplinary field; exposing one’s
writing to debate, and engaging in debate with others.”
Cultural studies deals mainly with terms such as ‘popular culture’, ‘racism’, ‘globalization’ – words
which have good equivalents in various languages.”
A “characteristic feature of cultural studies is that it has a commitment to celebrating or critiquing
cultural forms” and “producing accounts of culture that can be fed back into cultural production and/or
to producing new connections between various cultural forms and people.”
Another feature of cultural studies is that it is self-reflective. “It needs continually critically to examine
itself, and in particular its relations to the educational system and cultural institutions.”
“Is cultural studies is better regarded as a critical practice, (which) have helped to generate the
Cultural studies being a separate discipline within the academic institutions
has its own challenges.
The field does not conform to specific guidelines that make up many
academic disciplines but rather requires its own criteria.
“Disciplinarity (or being a discipline) restricts the variety of topics, interests,
contexts and methods that the field can accommodate.”
“Academic disciplines in the humanities and social sciences have never
been unitary formations: they integrate various methods, objects of inquiry
and professional interests.”
“Increasingly disciplines flourish elsewhere that the university department or
program itself- and especially in journals and conferences. That’s where
academics and graduate students interact away from the classroom or
departmental common spaces, and that’s where cultural studies forms itself
as a discipline.”
The academic Setting
The globalization of cultural studies means that it is positioned
differently within academic institutions around the world.
In Latin America cultural studies takes relatively little interest in
‘multiculturalism’ and more interest in concepts such as ‘hybridity’.
In Asia, culture is studied largely in language or social science
Traditional topics of cultural studies are less apparent in “third world”
countries because questions and concerns about westernization,
modernization, and autonomous national identity and nation-building
are dominant in the field.
Enterprise Culture 1.2
“Enterprise culture is associated first with a rapid increase in the social presence of culture,
economically, governmentally and conceptually.”
Many Contemporary societies have become “culture –societies”. These societies have many of its
citizens working in culture based jobs and industries.
International trade in cultural goods has increased. Entertainment is the USA’s biggest export.
“What exactly is this new enterprise culture?”
“Its another term that points in two directions-first, to ‘enterprise culture’ and ‘entrepreneurialism’ as a
(model) covering a wide band of social and economic activities.”
“Second, the entrepreneurialisation of culture (thought of) as leisure activities.
“Enterprise culture emphasizes a set of specific personal and ethical qualities: self-sufficiency, appetite
for risk, individualism, creativity and sense of adventure as well as self-control, financial expertise and
“Cultural industries are routinely regarded as economic contributors, as employers, as attractors of
tourism and business, as agents in urban regeneration.”
This means that governments get more involved. Nations can themselves be branded
culturally. Hobbies can quickly turn into small businesses.
“Culture is regarded as a means through which governments can manage different
communal values and traditions in society.”
“Each individual is wholly shaped by the single culture that they inherit. It
is the very opposite of the mobile, fluid, market-directed, entrepreneurial,
globalized culture to which contemporary cultural studies belongs.
There have been many metaphorical wars within cultural studies that
concern tensions between certain concepts within the field.
Some of these culture wars include questions of morality and
censorship. Permissiveness or liberalism against decency and family
The risks to traditional heritage and cultural value posed by commercial
culture is another war.
Also, the threat to consensus and unified heritage implied by
multiculturalism and migration.
Genres and Genealogies 1.3
• “the term ‘cultural studies’ is used in a
variety of ways.”
• “Different nations have developed different
kinds of cultural studies.”
British Cultural Studies
Cultural Studies started in the UK
It emerged from a center that was popularizing quality literature (at the university of
Birmingham) and started as a form of literary criticism.
It emerged from the notion that language has residual meanings that were not being
used to discuss culture itself.
A key moment in the emergence of British cultural studies is the reconnecting of
culture in the sense of art and literature with the culture of the ordinary (everyday and
familiar). An expanded notion of culture as “a whole way of life.”
The term “Culturalism” came to light. The idea that “societies are interrelated wholes
insofar as all social practices are also cultural practices, that is, practices that make
“Hegemony” are the practices, expectations, and ordinary understanding of that nature
of man and his world. It relates to man’s passions and beliefs that make up his daily
life practices. It is also the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by
a dominant group over other groups. Requires consent of the majority to keep the
dominant group in power. Control is achieved through consensus not force. Ex. voting
Representation in cultural studies is “the way that particular social groups
were represented, especially in the media, and political gains.”
“Ethnography” is “the analysis of how culture is used and understood by
actual individuals and groups.” It takes two forms:
– “Quantitative, which involves large-scale surveys and statistical analysis.”
– “Qualitative, which involve interviews with small groups or individuals.”
“As the discipline has globalized, and as universalizing theories have
become increasingly difficult to sustain, British cultural studies has
tended to retreat into the culture of its own nation-state.”
Important figures, and theories
of Cultural Studies
*Herbert Richard Hoggart (born 24 September 1918) is a British academic and
public figure, whose career has covered the fields of sociology, English literature
and cultural studies, with a special concern for British popular culture.
Massification of Culture
The idea that "we are moving towards the creation of a mass culture, that the
remnants of what was at least in part an urban culture 'of the people' are being
– The Uses of Literacy has been described as a key book in the history of
English and Media Studies and in the founding of Cultural Studies.
The break-up of the old, class culture; the loss of the close-knit communities and
their replacement by the emerging manufactured mass culture. Key features of
this are the tabloid newspapers, advertising, and the triumph of Hollywood. These
"alien" phenomena have colonized local communities and robbed them of their
distinctive features. Hoggart's attack is not on popular culture; rather it is on mass
culture. "Popular culture" being self-created has a fundamental integrity and
evolves according to its own laws and dictates, not as a result of the mass media.
Henri Lefebvre (16 June 1901 – 29 June 1991) was a French sociologist,
intellectual and philosopher. He first coined the phrase The “Right to the City” as
an idea and a slogan.
Stated that culture is important because it helps maintain political order in modern
society. The impulses towards action, help, the desire for removing human error,
clearing human confusion, and diminishing human misery, the noble aspiration to
leave the world better and happier than we found it, come in as part of the
grounds of culture. It moves by the force, not merely of the scientific passion for
pure knowledge, but also of the moral and social passion for doing good.
• High culture
- To have culture is to "know the best that has been said and thought in the world."
- As the term "culture" has come to have a broader meaning, more inclusive of
everything within a given culture rather than simply the most elite cultural
manifestations, the term "high culture" refers to those aspects of culture which are
most highly valued and esteemed by a given society's political, social, economic,
and intellectual elite.
- Opera, yachting are associated with high culture in the U.S. Generally, the most
powerful members of a society are the ones who have the most influence over
cultural meaning systems, and therefore the more powerful classes tend to enjoy
the privilege of defining “high culture.”
• Popular culture
- Popular culture (or "pop culture") refers to the cultural meaning systems and cultural
practices employed by the majority classes in a society.
- The movie with the biggest weekend gross box office total, the number one song on
the Billboard charts, the most widely read books and the highest ranking television
show in the ratings are important elements of U.S. popular culture.
• Raymond Williams
Moving from High Culture to Ordinary Culture
- Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every
human society has its own shape, its own purposes,
its own meanings. Every human society expresses
these, in institutions, and in arts and learning. The
making of a society is the finding of common
meanings and directions, and its growth is an active
debate and amendment under the pressures of
experience, contact, and discovery.
- We use the word culture in this sense: to mean a
whole way of life--the common meanings; to mean
the arts and learning--the special processes of
discovery and creative effort.
• Cultural Materialism
- A focus on the material side of life (technology, economics and physical environment) seeking to
explain social organizational and behavioral differences among human societies. Concerned
less with "culture" and more with society or social organization.
- The major focus is on
- Mode of production: technology & practices used in basic production of food & energy
- Mode of reproduction: tech.+practices used for increasing, limiting+maintaining a population
- Political economy: maintenance and severance of relationships in a society including that of
the family and household.
:Structuralisman intellectual movement developed in France and grew to become one of the
most popular approaches in academic fields concerned with the analysis of language, culture,
The structuralist mode of reasoning has been used in fields including anthropology, sociology,
psychology, literary criticism, and architecture.
It argues that a specific domain of culture may be understood by means of a structure that is
distinct both from the organizations of reality and those of ideas or the imagination. Such as
the grammatical rules that structure a language.
4 ideas are common to structuralism.
- That a structure determines the position of each element as a whole.
- That every system has a structure.
- Structural laws deal with co-existence rather than change.
- Structures are the "real things" that lie beneath the surface or the appearance of
US Cultural Studies
Cultural Studies has come to mean something rather different in the USA than in
American cultural studies helped develop movements that became fundamental parts
of American culture and history such as sixties black power movement.
“Today in the US cultural studies is typically associated with ‘minority’ scholars, that is,
with multiculturalism and the analysis of race and power.”
Cultural studies in the US can mean “the study of popular culture, the ‘postcolonial’
critique of western representations of non-western cultures, the powerless and
dominated, an analysis of how gender, race, culture otherness and class combine,
‘minority discourse’ and the embrace of ‘hybridity’.”
“In the US cultural studies is less obsessed with America itself than British cultural
studies is obsessed with Britain. Perhaps because the USA is a global power and
attracts more staff and students internationally.”
Australian Cultural Studies
“Australian cultural studies emerges out of British rather than US cultural
studies. It was imported by a system of young British academics who
went to Australia looking for jobs in the late seventies and eighties.”
“Cultural studies went on to be more successful in the Australian
academic system than in any other.”
Australian cultural studies was characterized by its capacity to view
‘imaginary social unities’ as dangerous and ‘to think of cultures as
processes which divide as much as they bring together’.”
“Migrant/settled and colonizer/colonized divisions that are at the core of
the local discipline’s concerns, pushing aside interests in, say, popular
It deals with “work on migrant culture being produced and a new
generation of indigenous intellectuals, who are articulating new
understandings of contemporary aboriginal culture.”
“It supposes that popular culture is not merely the opposite of high culture but also of
dominant culture, which means that championing the popular has political value.”
“Popular culture always acts against ‘elitist domination’. It inverts the various traditional
‘minority’ accounts of high culture, which regard high culture as (an obstacle) against a trivial
Cultural Studies values the everyday life because of “the realization that something of
value could be wrested from the familiar and the routine.”
“A fear that everyday life itself was under threat from modernity helped motivate an
amazing, large-scale organization in Britain: the Mass observation movement of the
1940s which called upon the community itself to record the routines of ordinary life
across the nation.” This in turn paved the way towards the beginning of the cultural
“Modern everyday life emerges in the emptiness of a rootless social order designed
primarily to produce economically.” As opposed to the traditions and rituals that life
used to focus on and revolve around.
Modernity can be seen as a way for the state and the government to intervene in the
lives of its citizens by using economics and the promise of a better life as an excuse.
The economic and political theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
that hold that human actions and institutions are economically determined
and that class struggle is needed to create historical change and that
capitalism always prevails.
- Issues addressed may include how to classify and culturally define
notions like the study of classes, the question of class conflict,
economics and dependency, general issues of power,
underdevelopment, peasantry and social change.
- Concerns of power and class also intersect with race + gender issues
- Cultural Marxism: A mixture of analysis where anthropologists attempt
to understand how Marxist issues are imbedded in culture and the
lives of people being studied.
- Neo-Marxism: interpretations and reinterpretations of Marxist thought.
Political theory and post Marxism
“Over the last decade or so, among the most important borrowings (from other
fields) has been ‘post Marxism’.”
Traditional Marxism emphasize class struggle and insists on the determining
power of economic relations.
Post Marxism suggests that the personal or subjective and the political could not
be pulled apart. It states that our ideas and actions are affected by politics and
that who we are is formed by it.
“Images, social stereotypes, media stories and vernacular forms of discourse such
as jokes communicate political values, politics is not confined to the institutions in
which politicians work. Politics is everywhere.”
“Post Marxism feeds so deeply into cultural studies because it allows for an
account of the relation between social structures, political power and subjectivity.”
Cultural studies in the public sphere
“How can cultural studies claim to be an engaged and worldly practice if it
remains stuck in the fasts of the academy? Academics need to lift their public
profile, popularize themselves and make themselves available to the media.”
“It may seem that journalists, being closer to the day-by-day shifts in cultural
production and being required to write for mainly non-academic readerships,
are better placed to evaluate culture than academics, who necessarily remain
committed to academic abstraction and analysis.
“How might one balance, on the other side, the various limits and pressures
under which journalists operate as employees of media conglomerates whose
product-the story- is required to help their managers meet returns on capital
targets by delivering audiences to advertisers, against, on the other side, the
pressures and limits that produce self-perpetuating, academic, critical
“Cultural studies’ primary commitment must be to the educational system
rather than to its big competitor, the media.”
Cultural studies’ pasts
“The global dispersion of cultural studies both in a disciplinary sense and
in a geographical sense means that that history has been radically
dispersed. There can now be no single history of cultural studies.”
“Thinkers of the eighteenth century elaborated the notion that different
societies possess different cultures (determined by local conditions and
environments), through which they make sense of themselves and the
world they inhabit, and through which they articulate their humanity.”
“Culture is supposed to carry out the work of reform that, in truth, only
politics can perform. Culture’s energy requires a distance from politics:
the ‘discrepancy’ between them is what allows culture to possess
whatever social power it does.”
The many debates about method and interest have divided the field
The three most important debates are:
“The debate over the claim that culture (and hence cultural studies) has strong
“The debate over the determining power of economic structures on cultural
“The debate over what individual experience should play in cultural studies
Cultural Studies and politics- 1
“Culture is Politics”-“Cultural studies claims to be not so much an
academic discipline but a ‘critical practice’ with political force. Obviously
this claim invites skepticism: how can sitting in a classroom chatting
about television compare as a political activity with leafleting on behalf of
cultural studies' political ambitions point to three quite distinct modes.
1. Cultural populism: treats popular culture as being the opposite of an element that is
consented to by the majority with in a society and not forced or Hegemony.
2. Identity politics: concerns groups formed around ethnic, or local identities.
3. Ideology critique: Assigns real political value to critical readings which convince
audiences into accepting dominant norms.
Cultural studies has caused politics to change. “Mass politics has been
diminished. Party politics (for example) has ceased to matter as much to
people as it once did. Political parties increasingly communicate to and
with the public through public relations, the media and polling.”
“Politics is increasingly informed by culture that cultural studies can claim
to be political.”
“Traditionally, cultural studies aimed to ‘democratize’ culture. (To make it
a) ‘participatory democracy’ in which all individuals, as inherently creative
and engaged, would play significant roles.”
Thus, cultural studies can be seen as a fundamentally “democratic”
“Democracy is first and foremost a political concept.” this also means that
the two are affecting each other and are influencing each other.
“The aim of cultural studies is not so much to democratize as to liberalizeto articulate an understanding of culture in the interests of the liberty of
individuals and groups, their overcoming restrictions imposed by
repressive prejudices, social hierarchies and economic inequities.”
2- Cultural Studies and Political Economy
• “Culture is shaped, indirectly and directly, by
• economy can effect the formation of new cultures
1. “Placing cultural production rather than consumption or reception at the
2. “An acceptance of the class hierarchies embedded in capitalism as the
ultimate target of cultural analysis.”
3. “Social and economic ‘structures of domination’ are veiled by popular culture,
it being the task of cultural studies intellectuals to lift the veil and to
disseminate the hidden truth.”
4. “Marginalizing other, more or less emergent, social identities – feminist, ethnic
– on the grounds that they are insufficiently (made-up) in relation to the main
game: class and capitalism.”
Individualism, Subject positions and disciplinarity- 3
• “All interpretive disciplines tend to invoke personal and individualized
understandings of their objects. Cultural studies refuses to accept
cultural identities (the American, the worker, the white) which override
internal differences within the communities defined by these
identities.” It refuses to make conclusions about entire cultural
identities based on a few generalizations.
• “It is interested in experience and life-practices, cultural studies is
driven to find a basis in personal responses to cultural formations. So,
increasingly, academics in the field find themselves writing essays in
which they share their personal involvement with, and passion for,
some or other cultural form.”
• “Individuals have possessed unconsciousness or sub-consciousness,
in which feelings and memories are ‘repressed’ and are likely to be
expressed in displaced and unexpected acts or thoughts.” for
instance, specific practices of child-rearing and therapy, which can be
seen as products of complex social and institutional settings.