What is Cultural Study?
Culture includes the organization of
production, the structure of the family,
the structure of institutions which
express or govern social relationships,
the characteristic forms through which
members of the society communicate .
Geertz (social scientist):
Culture is simply the ensemble of stories
we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Margaret Mead (anthropologist):
Culture is the learned behaviour of a
society or a subgroup.
the basis of those definitions,
culture seems to be (almost)
studies is the study of (almost)
The Subject of Cultural Study
does not have a clearly defined
It is used to describe and study a whole
range of practices.
It also lacks its own principles, theories
So, how does it function?
functions by borrowing freely from
social science disciplines and all
branches of humanities and the arts,
e.g. anthropology, sociology, linguistics,
literary criticism, philosophy, etc.
Characteristics of Cultural Study
aims to examine its subject matter in
terms of cultural practices and their
relation to power.
Its objective is to understand culture in
all its complex forms and to analyse the
social and political context within which
it manifest itself.
attempts to expose and reconcile the
division of knowledge, to overcome the
split between tacit (local) and objective
It aims to understand and change the
structures of dominance everywhere,
but in industrial capitalist societies in
How to Do Cultural Study?
major concept is sign. It has 3 basic
it has a concrete form
It refers to something other than itself
It can be recognized by most people as a
are organized as codes. A
signifying structure composed of sings
and codes is a text that can be read for
its sings and encoded meanings.
Please consult to any references on structuralism, poststructuralism, and semiotics.
The process, and the products, that
gives signs their particular meaning is
representation. Through representation,
abstract and ideological ideas are given
e.g. The idea or sign ‘Indian’ is given a
specific ideological shape in the way ‘Indians’
have been represented in colonial literature.
Those concepts are neatly packaged in
discourse. It often represents a
structure of knowledge and power.
Discursive analysis exposes these
structures and locates the discourse
within wider historical, cultural and
The Origin of Cultural Study
It derives from the CCCS (Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Study) at the Univ.
of Birmingham established in 1964.
The founding fathers are: Richard Hoggart,
Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, Stuart
They concern with the changing of English
Major Issues in Cultural Study
Identity and Difference
Spaces and Places
High Culture/Popular Culture
Subject, Bodies, Selves
Identity and Difference
Identity is the way we may choose to
represent ourselves and act out our
thoughts, beliefs and emotions in the
Identity may be bestowed by others as
well as chosen by ourselves.
Identity is a marker of difference.
Identities are relational and contingent
rather than permanently fixed.
Identity positions are neither neutral nor
There are 2 perspectives on identity:
Essentialist: there is a ‘true,’ authentic, fixed
set of characteristics that belong to certain
Non-essentialist: it questions whether it is
possible to speak of a ‘true’ identity that is
fixed for all time and in all places.
Identity may also reflect power
● The increasing of globalization
creates identity crisis.
3 possible senses to the word ‘represent’:
To stand in
To speak or act on behalf of
Meanings are represented via signifying practices.
In signifying practices signs are assembled according
to sets of codes in order to represent the mental
conceptualizations shared by a particular grouping of
Signifying practices come in material forms: speech,
written word, visual images, music, body language,
clothing, environments, etc.)
Meanings can only be achieved by those who shared
the similar systems of representation.
Systems of representations are constituted in:
The signs we use
The categorization and classification of signs
The codes that govern how we assemble the signs
The signifying practices
In system of representation signs are encoded and
Encoding is using signs in certain ways and in
particular relations to other signs in ways that signify
Readers with their own histories and understanding
decode/read the signs.
3 positions of reading encoded signs:
Discourse is when systems of representation
circulate a set of meanings about a certain topic
Discourse : the network of statements, images,
stories and practices by which certain beliefs or a set
of ideas about a particular topic are circulated and
sustained in order to naturalize these as self-evident
or common sense.
Discourse is power relation.
discourse is a social act which may promote or
oppose the dominant ideology.
High and Popular Culture
Several definitions of popular culture (Storey
Culture that is widely favoured or well liked by
Culture that is left over after we have decided
what is high culture. Popular culture is
considered as residual category that fail to meet
the required standards to qualify as high
culture. Popular culture as inferior.
Popular culture as “mass culture”.
Popular culture is the culture that originates
from ‘the people’.
Popular culture as a site of struggle between
the subordinate groups and the dominant
Popular culture is postmodern culture that no
longer recognize the distinction between high
and popular culture.
Those definitions have in common that
popular culture is culture that only
emerged following industrialization and
A crucial concept in the study of popular culture
is ideology. There are 5 (of many) ways of
understanding ideology (Storey):
Ideology can refer to systematic body of ideas
articulated by a particular group of people.
Ideology is a certain masking, distortion, or
concealment. It produces ‘false consciousness’.
Ideology is intended to draw attention to the
way in which texts always present a particular
image of the world.
Ideology operates mainly at the level of
connotations, the secondary, often
unconscious meanings that texts and
practices carry, or can be made to carry.
Ideology is the practices of every day life.