What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?


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Advertisement Hide. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, — Google Scholar. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, Hall, Stuart and others, On Ideology.

Or one could explore in more detail and depth than is usually done in cultural studies the moral and philosophical dimensions of cultural texts, the ways that they carry out moral critiques of society and culture, or embody ethical concerns regarding good and evil, and moral and immoral behavior or phenomena. Yet ethical concerns permeated cultural studies from the beginning. Culture is, among other things, a major transmitter and generator of values and a cultural studies sensitive to the very nature and function of culture should be aware of the ethical dimension to culture.

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Thus, concern with ethics, with the moral aspects of cultural texts, should be a central and fundamental focus of cultural studies, as it was with non-formalist literary studies. While it is unlikely that the texts of media culture have the ethical depth and complexity of great literary texts, it is clear that ethical concerns are of fundamental importance to the sort of popular cultural artifacts that have been the domain of cultural studies. Finally, it should be noted that there are a great heterogeneity and diversity of types of cultural studies today ranging from a cultural populism that celebrates the pleasures of popular cultural artifacts or activities such as shopping or sports, to more critical feminist, race-theory based, or post-structuralist variants.

Some works in contemporary cultural studies combine concern with gender, race, class and ethical values and add new ethical and political substance to the earlier project of cultural studies see, for example, hooks , , and and Jefford and Yet on the whole ethical analysis has not been adequately thematized and developed within the tradition of cultural studies. In regard of the global wave of cultural studies in recent years that have greatly expanded the field, I would conclude that the time is now ripe to make ethical analysis and concern with values a fundmental part of a future cultural studies.

For readers which document the positions of British cultural studies, see the articles collected in Grossberg, Nelson, Triechler and During For the classic Frankfurt school model, see Horkheimer and Adorno []. On British cultural studies and the Frankfurt school, see Kellner The turn to the audience was already anticipated in Hall b; but the earlier Birmingham model balanced focus on text, context, and audience, while later cultural studies would focus primarily on audience appropriation and use of cultural artifacts.

London: Hutchinson. During, Simon ed. The Cultural Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge. Power Works. New York and London: Verso. Volume 1.

Task 1: Circuits of Culture

New York: Columbia University Press. New York: Routledge. Hoggart, Richard The Uses of Literacy. They combined random mass-produced objects — dog collars, safety pins, garbage bags — in a perverse mimicry of consumer culture. Their manipulation of signs was knowing, self-conscious, and parodic.

Clearly, it was no longer possible to draw a sharp line between the subversive experiments of the literary avant-garde and the mawkish tastes of the masses: intellectuals did not have a monopoly on formal sophistication and irony. Thus Hebdige wrote with the eye of an aesthetician as much as a sociologist, doing close readings of the multilayered meanings of subcultural styles. To confuse an interest in popular culture with a sociological stress on content is to mistake the essence of the cultural studies project.

It is precisely the curiosity about how things mean that lies at the heart of cultural studies.

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By training their eye on works once dismissed as aesthetically unworthy, cultural critics challenged the opposition between formally sophisti- cated high art and content-driven mass culture. It now seems obvious that many popular forms, from rap music to sitcoms, from science fiction novels to slasher movies, rely on a sophisticated manipulation of stylistic conventions. Of course, people in cultural studies also want to talk about politics, power, and ideology.

In this sense, its opponents are right.

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What Is Cultural Studies Anyway

Cultural critics do not believe that art is autonomous. They see it as embedded in the world rather than as transcending the world. They do not believe that aesthetic experience soars above the messy scrimmage of social relations. But this is a long way from saying that cultural studies has no interest in aesthetics.

There are, in fact, some interesting convergences between cultural studies and contemporary aesthetic theory. Even a cursory glance at the academic literature makes it clear that many philosophers of art no longer have much faith in an ideal of pure and contemplative detachment. It has certainly been a mistake for aestheticians to take this sense of beauty as the paradigmatic aesthetic concept — to act, that is, as if by giving an account of it one automatic- ally has given an account for all aesthetic properties. It forced me to look afresh at some of the assumptions that I had absorbed as an aspiring student of literature.

Often, my professors spoke as if they were the sole guardians of the aesthetic sensibility, as if outside the hallowed walls of the academy there was only hideousness and horror. The problem with literature departments, I would argue, is not that they study literature, but that they often see themselves as having a monopoly on what counts as aesthetic experience.

In fact, the professionalization of aesthetics is not necessarily a bad thing. But it leads to problems when critics start to equate their own specialized techniques of reading with aesthetics tout court.

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In the heyday of New Criticism, scholars of literature were trained as technicians of language. In spite of recent changes in the profession, things have not changed that much. Not surprisingly, literary critics still like works that reward their own professional prowess, that are satisfyingly indeterminate, that allow them to dig for obscure allusions to other literary works, that repay endless rereading.

Yet there are, one hardly needs to say, other aspects of art beside innovation, difficulty, and verbal pyrotechnics.


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For example, literature was once prized for its suspenseful plots and its powerful archetypal figures. But you will not get far as an English major nowadays by enthusing about an exciting story. If we look at the history of modern literature and professional criticism, we see a fastidious disdain for the well-made plot. Instead, storytelling continues to flourish in the popular fiction aisle, where it brings in stupendous royalties for Danielle Steele and Stephen King.

Again, while critics once enthused over novels that could freeze your blood, make your hair stand on end, or inspire copious tears, the professionalization of literary study has put an end to such talk. As an academic discipline, literary criticism teaches certain techniques of interpretation and ranks highly the works that reward such techniques. It teaches students to decode works according to accepted parameters and places a high premium on aesthetic difficulty.

It leaves little room for attending to emotion, excitement, escapism, and other aspects of aesthetic response that cannot be evaluated, graded, and ranked.

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In fact, critics have often argued that such responses do not qualify as aesthetic at all. Thanks to modern ideas about the primacy of form and the linking of art to other artworks rather than to life, art is often defined as the province of specialists. This, then, is the real challenge posed by cultural studies.

Not its denial of the aesthetic, but its case for multiple aesthetics. It insists that English professors and other cultural mediators do not have a monopoly on imagination, fantasy, playfulness, and delight in form. It struggles to unravel a longstanding distinction between the authentic art of the few and the mindless kitsch of the masses.

John Frow underscores this point when he talks about regimes of value. In other words, the very appeal to aesthetic value presuppose a framework that defines certain properties rather than others as aesthetically valuable. Cultural studies reminds us that there are other arguments, other values, other ways of appreciating and discriminating between works, than those that reign in the classroom. It is not cultural studies that has outlawed beauty, but modern criticism and theory. Beauty, as Alexander Nehemas points out, is one of the most discredited ideas in contemporary philosophy.


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The history of aesthetics is the story of the ascendancy of the sublime over the beautiful. Modern art has been prized for being bleak, difficult, anguished, demanding — but certainly not for being beautiful. Rather than agreeing that beauty is truth and truth beauty, critics have typically argued the opposite.

What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?
What Is Cultural Studies Anyway? What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?

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