Cultural studies

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Cultural studies is an academic field of critical theory and literary criticism initially introduced by British academics in 1964 and subsequently adopted by allied academics throughout the world. Characteristically interdisciplinary, cultural studies is an academic discipline aiding cultural researchers who theorize about the forces from which the whole of humankind construct their daily lives. Cultural Studies is not a unified theory, but a diverse field of study encompassing many different approaches, methods and academic perspectives. Distinct from the breadth, objective and methodology of cultural anthropology and ethnic studies, cultural studies is focused upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture and its historical foundations, conflicts and defining traits. Researchers concentrate on how a particular medium or message relates to ideology, social class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality and/or gender, rather than providing an encyclopedic identification, categorization or definition of a particular culture or area of the world.[1]

Cultural studies combines feminist theory, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand how meaning is generated, disseminated, and produced from the social, political and economic spheres within a given culture. The influential theories of cultural hegemony and agency have emerged from the cultural studies movement as well as the most recent communications theory, which attempts to explain the cultural forces behind globalization. Unique academic approaches to cultural studies have also emerged in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Italy.

During the 1980s rise of neoliberalism in Britain and neoconservatism in America, cultural studies was beset with criticism from both outside political and inside academic forces, due to the close alliance between many cultural studies scholars and Marxist theory, left-wing politics and perceived "triumphalism" by other established scholars. Opposition to cultural studies was most dramatically demonstrated with the 2002 closing of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, UK. CCCS was considered the founding academic program for cultural studies in the world, and was closed due to the result of the Research Assessment Exercise of 2001, a holdover initiative of the Margaret Thatcher-led UK Government of 1986, that determined research funding for university programs. While many of its opponents continue to describe the discipline as "irrelevant," the field has a world-wide presence consisting of numerous annual international conferences, academic programs, publications, students and practitioners, from Taiwan to Amsterdam and from Bangalore to Santa Cruz.


In his 1994 book, Introducing Cultural Studies, Ziauddin Sardar lists the following five main characteristics of cultural studies:[2]

  • The aim of cultural studies is to examine cultural practices and their relation to power. For example, a study of a subculture (such as white working class youth in London) would consider their social practices against those of the dominant culture (in this example, the middle and upper classes in London who control the political and financial sectors that create policies affecting the well-being of white working class youth in London).
  • The objective of cultural studies includes understanding culture in all its complex forms and analyzing the social and political context in which culture manifests itself.
  • Cultural studies is a site of both study/analysis and political criticism/action. (For example, not only would a cultural studies scholar study an object, but s/he would connect this study to a larger, progressive political project.)
  • Cultural studies explores the social and political ramifications of how divisions of knowledge are culturally constructed and naturalized.
  • Cultural studies has a commitment to an ethical evaluation of modern society and to a radical line of political action.


Dennis Dworkin notes that "a critical moment" in the history of the field of cultural studies came in 1964, when Richard Hoggart chose the term as the name for the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, or CCCS, the new research centre he was establishing at the University of Birmingham (UK).[3] CCCS thus became the world's first institutional home of cultural studies, and the intellectual base for what would become known as the "Birmingham School" of cultural studies.

Hoggart appointed Stuart Hall as his assistant, and Hall was effectively directing the Centre by 1968.[4] Hall took over formally as Director of CCCS in 1969, when Hoggart left to accept a position as Assistant Director-General of UNESCO. Thereafter, the field became closely associated with Hall's work.[5][6] In 1979, Hall left Birmingham to accept a prestigious chair in Sociology at the Open University in the UK, and Richard Johnson took over the directorship of the Centre.

In the late 1990s, "restructuring" at the University of Birmingham led to the elimination of CCCS and the creation of a new Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology (CSS) in 1999. Then, in 2002, the University of Birmingham's senior administration abruptly announced the disestablishment of CSS, which provoked a substantial international outcry. The official reason for disestablishment of the new department was that it had scored a slightly lower result than had been expected in the UK's Research Assessment Exercise of 2001, though a dean from the university attributed the decision to "inexperienced ‘macho management.’"[7] The RAE, a holdover initiative of the Margaret Thatcher-led UK government of 1986, determines research funding for university programs.[8]

Cultural studies in the late-1970s and beyond

Although much of the early work done at CCCS was focused on attempts to develop a non-reductive neo-Marxist approach to cultural analysis, by the late 1970s, Birmingham School scholars had also firmly placed questions of gender and race alongside those of class on the cultural studies agenda, and they have remained there ever since. Also by the late 1970s, cultural studies had begun to attract a great deal of international attention. It spread globally throughout the 1980s and 90s. As it did so, it both encountered new conditions of knowledge production, and engaged with other major international intellectual currents such as poststructuralism, postmodernism and postcolonialism.[9] The wide range of cultural studies journals now located throughout the world, as shown below, is one indication of the globalization of the field.

Developments Outside the UK

In the US, prior to the emergence of British Cultural Studies, several versions of cultural analysis had emerged largely from pragmatic and liberal-pluralist philosophical traditions.[10] However, when British Cultural Studies began to spread internationally in the late 1970s, and to engage with feminism, poststructuralism, postmodernism and race in the late 70s and 1980s, critical cultural studies (i.e., Marxist, feminist, poststructuralist, etc.) expanded tremendously in US universities in fields such as communication studies, education, sociology and literature.[11][12][13] Cultural Studies, the flagship journal of the field, has been based in the US since its founding editor, John Fiske, brought it there from Australia in 1987.

A thriving cultural studies scene has existed in Australia since the late 1970s, when several key CS practitioners emigrated there from the UK, taking British Cultural Studies with them, after Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of the UK in 1979. A school of cultural studies known as "cultural policy studies" is one of the distinctive Australian contributions to the field, though it is not the only one. Australia also gave birth to the world's first professional cultural studies association (now known as the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia) in 1990.[14][15]

In Canada, cultural studies has sometimes focused on issues of technology and society, continuing the emphasis in the work of Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, and others.

In Africa, human rights and Third World issues are among the central topics treated. Cultural Studies journals based in Africa include the Journal of African Cultural Studies.

In Latin America, cultural studies has drawn on thinkers such as José Martí, Ángel Rama and other Latin American figures, in addition to the Western theoretical sources associated with cultural studies in other parts of the world. Leading Latin American cultural studies scholars include Néstor García Canclini, Jésus Martín-Barbero, and Beatriz Sarlo.[16][17] Among the key issues addressed by Latin American cultural studies scholars are decoloniality, urban cultures, and postdevelopment theory.

Even though cultural studies developed much more rapidly in the UK than in continental Europe, there is a significant cultural studies presence in countries such as France, Spain and Portugal. The field is relatively undeveloped in Germany, probably due to the continued influence of the Frankfurt School.[18] Cultural studies journals based in continental Europe include the European Journal of Cultural Studies, and French Cultural Studies.

Throughout Asia, cultural studies has boomed and thrived since at least the beginning of the 1990s.[19] Cultural studies journals based in Asia include Inter-Asia Cultural Studies.

Academic reception

Cultural studies has evolved around the world through the confluence of various disciplines—anthropology, media and communication studies, literary studies, education, geography, philosophy, sociology, politics and others. At its core, though, cultural studies continues to provide significant conceptual and methodological frameworks for cultural, social and economic critique. This critique is designed to "deconstruct" the meanings and assumptions that are inscribed in the institutions, texts and practices that work with and through, and produce and re-present, culture.[20] Thus, while some scholars and disciplines like to dismiss cultural studies for its methodological openness and rejection of disciplinarity, its core strategies of critique and analysis have had a profound influence throughout the more progressive and critical areas of the social sciences and humanities. Cultural studies work on forms of social differentiation, control and inequality, identity, community-building, media, and knowledge production, for example, have had a substantial impact. Moreover, the influence of cultural studies has become increasingly evident in areas as diverse as translation studies, health studies, international relations, development studies, computer studies, economics, archaeology, and neurobiology, as well as across the range of disciplines that initially shaped the emergence of cultural studies, including literature, sociology, communication studies, and anthropology.

Cultural studies has also diversified its own interests and methodologies, incorporating a range of studies on media policy, democracy, design, leisure, tourism, warfare and development. While certain key concepts such as ideology or discourse, class, hegemony, identity and gender remain significant, cultural studies has long engaged with and integrated new concepts and approaches such as deconstruction and postmodernism. The field thus continues to pursue political critique through its engagements with the forces of culture and politics.[21]

The Blackwell Companion to Cultural Studies, edited by leading cultural studies scholar Toby Miller, contains essays that analyze the development of cultural studies approaches within each of a wide range of disciplines across the contemporary social sciences and humanities.[22]

Literary scholars

Many cultural studies practitioners work in departments of English or Comparative Literature. Nevertheless, some traditional literary scholars such as Yale professor Harold Bloom have been outspoken critics of cultural studies. These critics dislike cultural studies for a wide range of reasons, including cultural studies' rejection of essentialism and its critiques of traditional Western theories of aesthetics.

Bloom stated his position during the September 2000 episode of C-SPAN's Booknotes:

[T]here are two enemies of reading now in the world, not just in the English-speaking world. One [is] the lunatic destruction of literary studies...and its replacement by what is called cultural studies in all of the universities and colleges in the English-speaking world, and everyone knows what that phenomenon is. I mean, phrase 'political correctness' remains a perfectly good descriptive phrase for what has gone on and is, alas, still going on almost everywhere and which dominates, I would say, rather more than three-fifths of the tenured faculties in the English-speaking world, who really do represent a treason of the intellectuals, I think, a 'betrayal of the clerks'."[23]

Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton is not wholly opposed to cultural studies, but has criticised aspects of it and highlighted what he sees as its strengths and weaknesses in books such as After Theory (2003). For Eagleton, literary and cultural theory have the potential to say important things about the "fundamental questions" in life, but theorists have rarely realized this potential.[citation needed]


One sociologist whose work has had a major influence upon cultural studies is Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu's work makes innovative use of statistics and in-depth interviews.[24][25] However, although Bourdieu's work has been highly influential within cultural studies, and although Bourdieu regarded his work as a form of science, cultural studies has never embraced the idea that it should aspire toward "scientificity," and has marshalled a wide range of theoretical and methodological arguments against the fetishization of "scientificity" as a basis for cultural studies.

Two sociologists who have been critical of cultural studies, Chris Rojek and Bryan S. Turner, argue in their article, "Decorative sociology: towards a critique of the cultural turn", that cultural studies, particularly the flavor championed by Stuart Hall, lacks a stable research agenda, and privileges the contemporary reading of texts, thus producing an ahistorical theoretical focus. Furthermore, they assert the claim that "there is both a rejection of cross-cultural and historical relevance and a sense of moral superiority about the correctness of the political views articulated" in cultural studies[26]

Physicist Alan Sokal

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal expressed his opposition to cultural studies by submitting a hoax article to a cultural studies journal, Social Text. The article, which was crafted as a parody of what Sokal referred to as the "fashionable nonsense" of postmodernism, was accepted by the editors of the journal, which did not at the time practice peer review. When the paper appeared in print, Sokal published a second article in a self-described "academic gossip" magazine, Lingua Franca, revealing his hoax on Social Text. Sokal stated that his motivation stemmed from his rejection of contemporary critiques of scientific rationalism:

"Politically, I'm angered because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the self-proclaimed Left. We're witnessing here a profound historical volte-face. For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful -- not to mention being desirable human ends in their own right. The recent turn of many "progressive" or "leftist" academic humanists and social scientists toward one or another form of epistemic relativism betrays this worthy heritage and undermines the already fragile prospects for progressive social critique. Theorizing about "the social construction of reality" won't help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity."[27]

Founding works

Stuart Hall and others have identified key core originating texts, or the original "curriculum", of the field of cultural studies:

See also

Fields and theories

Academic programs





  1. Rodman, Gilbert B. (2015). Why Cultural Studies?. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Sardar, Ziauddin and Van Loon, Borin (1994). Introducing Cultural Studies. New York: Totem Books
  3. Dworkin, Dennis. Cultural Marxism in Post-War Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 116. Also see Corner, John (1991), "Postscript: Studying Culture—Reflections and Assessment: An Interview with Richard Hoggart." Media, Culture and Society, Vol. 13, No. 2, April. Additionally, there have been many published accounts of the history of British Culture Studies in both book and article length.
  4. Ioan Davies, "British Cultural Marxism," International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 4(3) (1991): 323-344, p. 328.
  5. Morley & Chen (eds.) (1996). Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London: Routledge.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Gilroy, Grossberg and McRobbie (eds.) (2000). Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall. London: Verso.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Webster, Frank (2004). "Cultural Studies and Sociology at, and After, the Closure of the Birmingham School". Cultural Studies. 18 (6): 848.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Curtis, Polly (2002), "Birmingham's cultural studies department given the chop", The Guardian.
  9. Abbas & Erni (eds.) (2005). Internationalizing Cultural Studies: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 60.
  11. Grossberg, Nelson & Treichler 1992
  12. Warren & Vavrus (eds.) (2002). American Cultural Studies. Urbana Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Hartley & Pearson (eds.) (2000). American Cultural Studies: A Reader. Oxford University Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Frow & Morris (eds.) (1993). Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader. Urbana Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Turner (ed.), Graeme (1993). Nation, Culture, Text: Australian Cultural and Media Studies. London: Routledge.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Sarto, Ríos & Trigo (eds.) (2004). The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Irwin & Szurmuck (eds.) (2012). Dictionary of Latin American Cultural Studies. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. The Frankfurt School developed an alternative neo-Marxist approach to the analysis of 20th Century culture and is now often said to be in its "third generation," which includes notable figures such as Axel Honneth.
  19. Chen & Huat (eds.) (2007). The Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Lewis 2008
  21. During 2007
  22. Miller 2006, p. index
  24. Richard Harker, Cheleen Mahar, Chris Wilkes (eds), An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Theory of Practice. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1990, pp. 68-71.
  25. Bourdieu, Pierre (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Rojek, Chris, and Bryan Turner, "Decorative sociology: towards a critique of the cultural turn." The Sociological Review 48.4 (2000): 629-648.
  27. "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies", Alan Sokal, English translation of article from Lingua Franca, 1996.


  • Doris Bachmann-Medick. 2016. Cultural Turns: New Orientations in the Study of Culture. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Du Gay, Paul, et al. Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman. Culture, Media and Identities. London ; Thousand Oaks Calif.: Sage in association with The Open University, 1997.
  • During, Simon (2007). The Cultural Studies Reader (3rd ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-37412-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Edgar, Andrew and Peter Sedgwick. 2005. Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts. 2nd edition. NY: Routledge.
  • Engel, Manfred: "Cultural and Literary Studies". Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 31 (2008): 460-467.
  • Grossberg, Lawrence; Nelson, Cary; Treichler, Paula A., eds. (1992). Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-90351-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hall, Stuart, ed. (1980). Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-1979. London: Routledge in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham. ISBN 0-09-142070-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms." Media, Culture, and Society 2 (1980).
  • Hall, Stuart. "Race, Culture, and Communications: Looking Backward and Forward at Cultural Studies." Rethinking Marxism 5.1 (1992): 10-18.
  • Hoggart, Richard. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life (Chatto and Windus, 1957). ISBN 0-7011-0763-4
  • Johnson, Richard. "What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?" Social Text 16 (1986–87): 38-80.
  • Johnson, Richard. "Multiplying Methods: From Pluralism to Combination." Practice of Cultural Studies. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004. 26-43.
  • Johnson, Richard. "Post-Hegemony? I Don't Think So" Theory, Culture and Society. 24(3): 95-110.
  • Lash, Scott (May 2007). "Power After Hegemony: Cultural Studies in Mutation?". Theory, Culture & Society. 24 (3): 55–78. doi:10.1177/0263276407075956.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lewis, Jeff (2008). Cultural Studies: The Basics (2nd ed.). London: Sage. ISBN 1-4129-2229-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Longhurst,Brian, Smith,Greg, Bagnall, Gaynor, Crawford, Garry and Michael Ogborn, Introducing Cultural Studies, Second Edition, Pearson, London, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4058-5843-4
  • Miller, Toby, ed. (2006). A Companion to Cultural Studies. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 978-0-631-21788-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pollock, Griselda (ed.), Generations and Geographies: Critical Theories and Critical Practices in Feminism and the Visual Arts. Routledge, 1996.
  • Pollock, Griselda. Psychoanalysis and the Image. Boston and Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.
  • Smith, Paul. Questioning Cultural Studies: An Interview with Paul Smith. 1994. MLG Institute for Culture and Society at Trinity College., 31 August 2005.
  • Smith, Paul. "A Course In "Cultural Studies"." The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 24.1, Cultural Studies and New Historicism (1991): 39-49.
  • Smith, Paul (2006). "Chapter 19. Looking Backwards and Forwards at Cultural Studies". In Miller, Toby (ed.). A Companion to Cultural Studies. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers. pp. 331–40. ISBN 978-0-631-21788-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society, 1780-1950. New York,: Harper & Row, 1966.

External links

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