What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?

Investigación en Estudios Culturales I
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In his final maneuver in "What is Cultural Studies Anyway" Richard Johnson sums up the three prevailing approaches for Cultural Studies: production based-studies, text-based studies and studies of lived cultures. Each of these approaches isolate a different moment in the life cycle of a cultural object, thus missing out on the big picture.

Therefore Johnson sums up by saying that " It is not therefore an adequate strategy for the future just to add together the three sets of approaches, using each for its appropriate moment. This would not work without transformations of each approach" p. Johnson, Richard. Social Text Labels: article review , richard johnson. Unknown May 28, at AM. Newer Post Older Post Home. Subscribe to: Post Comments Atom. The term "cultural studies," however, has been most clearly associated in recent years with the Richard Johnson,. The Socrates aka conium. If the site you're looking for does not appear in.

Cultural studies is both an area and a mode of study — a new field of objects and a different way of doing things — and has existed long before it was given the. Herefter blev Richard Johnson centrets Richard. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University. Richard Johnson. Related: cultural studies - cultural theory. Google Scholar. Banks, Johnson, Richard. I am far from suggesting that American cultural studies has no right to define its own goals and methods, that it should doff its forelock in deference to the British founding fathers.

In fact, cultural studies has long since migrated from its Birmingham roots; Britain has no mon- opoly on an international field in constant flux. Much of the interesting work in cultural studies now comes from places like Australia, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, and indeed the United States, by scholars who are often deeply critical of the Birmingham tradition.

It is widely recognized that this tradition paid scant attention to the politics of race, gender, and sexuality and that its research agendas focused on British examples that do not always translate into other contexts. Those working in the field, after all, expended considerable time and effort into hashing out basic issues of methodology. To see some scholars claiming to do cultural studies with no apparent knowledge of these debates is disconcerting.

Both foes and fans of cultural studies often use the term in curiously careless and decontextualized ways. The field falls victim to a wide- spread amnesia, a studied indifference to its rich and contradictory history. Cultural studies sounds like a synonym for studying culture, a convenient handle for anyone with interdisciplinary interests. Yet cultural studies is, of course, only one way of analyzing culture; there are many others, including anthropology, communication studies, American studies, cul- tural history, new historicism, cultural sociology, and other fields.

The lines between these traditions are by no means hard and fast; indeed, some of them have cross-pollinated with cultural studies in fruitful ways.

And yet they also have different names and distinct histories. Scholars feel free to use the term without needing to learn anything about the field. Against popular misconceptions, then, I want to stress that cultural studies started off not as ideology critique, but rather as a critique of ideology critique. It took left-wing intellectuals to task for their knee-jerk dismissal of popular culture, their airy assumption that mass-media forms were always aesthetically dreary and politically pernicious.

From the standpoint of cultural studies, such attitudes revealed more about the professional blinkers of intellectuals than about the intrinsic qualities of popular culture.

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Cultural studies, then, did not seek to destroy aesthetics, but to broaden the definition of what counted as art by taking popular culture seriously. It was always as much about form as about content, as much about pleasure as about ideology. Cultural studies is as indebted to semiotics as it is to the work of Antonio Gramsci and the politics of new social movements.

In retrospect, its emergence at a time when our everyday environment was becoming saturated with ever more sophisticated media images seems inevitable. Cultural studies provided a vocabulary for talking about the formal complexity of contem- porary culture. It made a much wider variety of objects aesthetically interesting. The work of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, often seen as two of the founders of cultural studies, makes this commitment very clear. Neither of these scholars is particularly interested in arresting and strip-searching works of litera- ture.

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One of the first scholars to offer an eloquent defense of popular culture and ordinary life, Williams was also a scrupulous reader of literary works who argued strenuously against reducing such works to vehicles of ideology. Similarly, Richard Hoggart argued that the techniques of literary criticism would play a central part in the new field of cultural studies, allowing critics to attend to the specific formal qualities of popular culture.

In the s and s, there was an intellectual shift in center of gravity as scholars turned in ever greater numbers to structuralist and poststructuralist theories. One result was a growing formalism in cultural studies, a concentration on the signifier rather than the signified. Scholars drew on semiotic theory to describe and analyze the patterns and conventions through which meaning was produced. An organic and romantic vision of culture gave way to an avant-garde sensibility that highlighted moments of rupture, contradiction, and ambiguity in popular texts.

The aesthetic theories of the Russian formalists, the art of the European avant-garde, and the ideas of Bertolt Brecht all fed into the cultural studies project. Hebdige made a persuasive case for the parallels between the aesthetics of the European avant-garde and s British subcultural style. Punks, for example, drew heavily upon experimental techniques of collage, bricolage, and surreal juxtaposition.

Investigating the Matrix of Cultural Production

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. 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.

What Is Cultural Studies Anyway

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.

Cultural critics do not believe that art is autonomous. They see it as embedded in the world rather than as transcending the world.

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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. 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. 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.

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. 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. Only the bleak, the ugly, the discordant, could do justice to the grim realities of modern life. Meanwhile our hunger for beauty, for harmonious, well-proportioned forms that are pleasing to the eye, is sated in popular culture, where we can feast our eyes on endless images of well-muscled Adonises and spectacular sunsets.

But this is not a kind of beauty to which scholars of art have paid much attention. In her recent book On Beauty, Elaine Scarry also averts her eyes from such questions.

Ideology in the Past

As many commentators have pointed out, one of the most perplexing aspects of Althusser's formulations on ideology is the absence of an elaborated stance regarding the possibilities for the realization of a resistant or counter-hegemonic politic at the level of the text-subject encounter. Should such an audience be reading a kind of writing that seemed only to excite the emotions needlessly and not to instruct? Marxism and the interpretation of culture. He suggested the need to view intellectuals politically--and the need for what he called "radical organic" intellectuals. Built on the Thematic Theme Framework. Thus, one could argue for a cultural studies that more explicitly stresses the importance of ethical analysis, scrutinizing cultural texts for the specific ethical norms portrayed and evaluating the work accordingly. By operating in "reverse" or "on and against itself," ideology as the process of interpellation threatens to "rearrange" or "overthrow" both the complex of ideological formations and the overlapping discursive formations , p.

The challenge, surely, is to think what beauty might mean in the light of this history rather than to push it out of sight. Is beauty simply in the eye of the beholder? Or are the 10 million consumers of Kinkade products being duped by the pseudo-harmony of kitsch, as some scholars would argue?

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Do perceptions of what is beautiful unite us or divide us? These seem like crucial questions, but Scarry never even attempts to answer them. By contrast, cultural critic Simon Frith offers a more substantial engagement with questions of beauty and pleasure. His book Performing Rites is a wide-ranging exploration of popular music, its diverse styles and genres, its various audiences, and the complex and often inexpressible emotions that it arouses.

As Frith points out, the appreciation of popular music is full of talk about aesthetic value. Transcendence, Frith concludes, is a crucial aspect of musical experience, even if it is less about independence of social forces than an alternative experience of them. While paying scrupulous attention to how musical response is framed by different expectations and contexts of reception, Frith adamantly refuses to see aesthetic experience as a mere mirror of social identity.

Instead, he stresses the imaginative, emotional, and sensual power of music, its power to transport us, to create new registers of perception and feeling, to make us see the world differently. Thus when Rorty argues that cultural studies means an end to aesthetic pleasure and romantic enthusiasm, he is dead wrong. Because he equates cultural studies with unmasking and debunking, he remains oblivious to its intense emotional commitments, its often buoyant mood, and its longstanding interest in desire and pleasure.

Opposing romantic utopianism to the dryness of cultural studies, he seems unaware of the rich vein of utopian thought and romantic insurgency in writing on popular culture. Indeed, when scholars complain that cultural studies is rote sociology or one more dry social science, they are simply revealing their ignorance of sociology.

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cultural studies. To put the question most sharply: should cultural studies aspire to .. flag anyway, and continue to use the word where im seek other terms. question most sharply: sliould cultural studies aspire to be an academic discipline? In the second half of the paper I'll look at some strategies of definition short of.

Many sociologists hate cultural studies even more than English professors do, complaining about its lack of rigor, its retreat from politics, and its excessive reliance on aesthetic and textual forms of evidence. What, then, is the home of cultural studies? Where does it belong? I want to conclude with these questions because much of the controversy inspired by cultural studies has less to do with its intellectual content than with fights over turf. When I first voiced some of the arguments of this chapter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, English professor William Dowling wrote in to make precisely this point.

Felski wants to see studied — rap music, TV sitcoms, slasher movies — in the appropriate academic departments.