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Cultural Studies


There are at least five distinct uses of cultural studies, making it difficult to know exactly what people are attacking or defending. It has been used to describe, alone or in various combinations:

  1. Any progressive cultural criticism and theory (replacing "critical theory," which served as the umbrella term of the 1980s);
  2. The study of popular culture, especially in conjunction with the political problematic of identity and difference;
  3. So-called "postmodern" theories that advocate a cultural or discursive constructionism (and, thus, supposedly embrace relativism);
  4. Research on the politics of textuality applied broadly to include social life, especially based in poststructuralist theories of ideology, discourse, and subjectivity;
  5. A particular intellectual formation that is directly or indirectly linked to the project of British cultural studies, as embodied in the work of Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS).

Second, the New Left emerged as a small but influential discussion group, and included many immigrants from the "colonies." It was sympathetic to (but not aligned with) the growing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The New Left had a specific and ambivalent relation to Marxism, engaging Marxist theory and politics even as it criticized it for its failure (and inability?) to account for and respond to the challenges posed by the importance of ideology, colonialism and imperialism, race, and the failures of existing socialism. This work was enabled by the translation and publication of the early writings of Marx and a wide range of European Marxist thinkers.

Third, the British university system was, to put it mildly, elitist and classist, in terms of its student population and in its isolation, aestheticization, and limitation of culture to the field of the arts. Many of the influential early figures in cultural studies were working-class or immigrant students attending university on scholarship, who were driven to look for other accounts of culture that both expanded its referent and took it more seriously.

Finally, many of these figures were deeply influenced by their experience as teachers in various institutions of adult education outside the university. If nothing else, this experience played a role in convincing them, first, of the importance of culture (and intellectual work on culture) to both political struggle and people's everyday lives, and second, of the fact that the important questions do not usually respect the disciplinary boundaries of academic competence and expertise.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cosine to Cyano groupCultural Studies - Definitions, Culture And Context, Formations Of Cultural Studies, The Project Of Cultural Studies, Cultural Studies, Theory, And Power