Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction Part 1 The Discipline
Introduction Definition of Cultural Studies: An academic field that analyses contemporary cultures in order to derive meaning from them. It is a field of open dialogue on my 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.
1.1 Going Global • 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 differences between different cultures and those dividers are studied. • A “Variety of topics and histories (are) brought into the discipline through globalization.” • 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 Today • “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; middle-brow and ‘kitsch’ culture, 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.”
Method • 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 well-recognized 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 a specific discipline or does it exist across or outside established disciplines? Is it better regarded not as a discipline but as a critical practice? In cultural studies such questions have not been secondary, they have helped to generate the discipline itself.”
Disciplinarity • 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 departments. • 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.
1.2 Enterprise Culture • “Enterprise culture is associate first with a rapid increase in the social presence of culture, economically, governmentally and conceptually.” • 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 management skills.” • “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.”
Culture wars • “Each individual is wholly shaped by the single culture that they inherit. It is the very opposite of the mobile, fluid, market-directed, entrepreneurial, globalised culture that I have been invoking and to which contemporary cultural studies belongs. • There have been many metaphorical wars with in 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 values. • 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.
1.3 Genres and Genealogies • “Cultural studies exists in very different forms, and the term ‘cultural studies’ is used in a variety of ways.” • “Different nations have developed different kinds of cultural studies.” • “But there have also developed different cultural-political positions, different intellectual trajectories, different disciplinary alliances and different accounts of the cultural studies intellectual.”
British Cultural Studies • It was in the UK that cultural studies became defined as a way of life, a set of texts and an instrument of social division. • Cultural studies 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 collective meaning.” • “Hegemony” are the practices, expectations, and ordinary understanding of that nature of man and his world. “It is bound to beliefs and passions so deep as to form the very substance of a practice of life.”
Representation in cultural studies has two meanings: • “The way that particular social groups were represented, especially in the media, and political gains.” • “It refers to the way in which representative politics disempowered specific interests and identities and reduced political agency, especially that of minorities.” • “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.”
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 destroyed". • 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 "drift" 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. • Frank Raymond Leavis (14 July 1895 – 14 April 1978) was an influential British literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. He taught and studied for nearly his entire life at Downing College, Cambridge. • 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.
Matthew Arnold The impulses towards action, help, and beneficence, 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, and the main and pre-eminent part. It moves by the force, not merely or primarily 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," he captured the conceptual essence of high culture. - 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" has begun to serve for referring 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, writing themselves into the land. - 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.
Terminology • 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 & practice used in basic production of food & energy - Mode of reproduction: technology & practices used for increasing, limiting and maintaining the population- demography, etc.) - Political economy: maintenance and severance of relationships in a society among bands, states empires, or "domestic economy" -- that of the family and household, local units) - Behavioral superstructure: art, literature, etc. • Structuralism: an intellectual movement developed in France and appeared in academia in the second half of the 20th century and grew to become one of the most popular approaches in academic fields concerned with the analysis of language, culture, and society. • 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—modeled on language—that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and those of ideas or the imagination. • Four ideas are common to structuralism. • That a structure determines the position of each element of 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 meaning.
US Cultural Studies • Cultural Studies has come to mean something rather different in the USA than in Britain. • American cultural studies helped develop movements that became fundamental parts of American culture and history such as sixties black power movement. • Some writers in the field “treated popular culture (and especially the movies) much more sympathetically) and became mediators between journalism and the growing academic field of American Studies.” • “Today in the USA cultural studies is typically associated with ‘minority’ scholars, that is, with multiculturalism and the analysis of race and power.” • Cultural studies in the USA 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 USA 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 culture.” • 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.”
Local Studies • “National versions of cultural studies need to be differentiated from the disciplines defined by their focus on specific nations or communities.” • Cultural studies has emerged within local studies. For example, Cultural studies in Hong Kong “has been concerned mainly with analyzing the way that Hong Kong’s long history as a British colony, its fierce commitment to capitalism and the global export markets, and its role since 1997 as a mediating economy between the people’s Republic of China (PRC) and the rest of the world has placed it on the border of the West and Asia.” Cultural Populism • “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 mass culture.”
Everyday Life • 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 studies discipline. • “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. • “Under current globalization and deploying new technologies, basic productive human life is at last on the threshold of overcoming the restraints of national difference and class oppression worldwide.”
Marxism • 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. • Involves studies of so-called “Third World” countries • Concerns of power and class also intersect with race and gender issues, as we see in feminist anthropological approaches. • Cultural Marxism: A mixture of analysis and a level whereby anthropologist 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 rhetoric.” • “It is desirable to encourage the circulation of different voices and discourses, academic and non-academic, in the interests of social justice. It is especially desirable to encourage media commentary (whether by journalists or academics intellectuals) which attempts to connect social questions to cultural ones in ways that encourage a wide variety of expressive capabilities (which is one way of defining cultural studies).” • “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.” • “Too great an attention to that history smothers other traditions in other national 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.”
1.4 Problems • The many debates about method and interest have divided the field internationally. • The three most important debates are: • “The debate over the claim that culture (and hence cultural studies) has strong political force.” • “The debate over the determining power of economic structures on cultural formations.” 3. “The debate over that individual experience should play in cultural studies analysis.”
1- Cultural Studies and politics • “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 a candidate?” • cultural studies' political ambitions point to three quite distinct modes. 1. Cultural populism: treats popular culture as being counter “hegemonic”. (Hegemony is 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) 2. Identity politics: concerns groups formed around ethnic, or local identities. 3. Ideology critique: Assigns real political value to critical reading of those representations 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.” • “Cultural studies can be political: using the institution as a place where activists, academics and students can meet. Self-reflective dialogue among students and between students and teachers provides an example of a well-functioning public sphere.” • “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” discipline. • “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 liberalize-to 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 economic structures. But, to what degree?” • “How do economic structures determine cultural formations?” • Because economy effects the formations of new cultures, cultural studies needs to incorporated political economy more into cultural studies by doing the following : 1. “Placing cultural production rather than consumption or reception at the discipline’s center.” 2. “An acceptance of the class hierarchies embedded in capitalism as the ultimate horizon and 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.”
3- Individualism, Subject positions and disciplinarity • “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 an 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.” • It is concerned with questions like “what are the external frameworks which have formed me and through which I might understand myself? • “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. • Cultural studies has thought of individuality as a “subject position”. “Fixed positions available to assign an individual with an identity inside particular social formations.” It is when people within certain groups choose to “utter certain kinds of statements and take certain kinds of attitudes which come already prepared for them. Generally for cultural studies, inherited or imposed subject positions can be resisted, although one’s power to escape them may be limited.”