Culture And Context
In this context, a number of writers—especially Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart—began to explore the political and theoretical significance of the concept of culture in relationship to the broader contexts of social life. Trained as literary critics, they argued that cultural texts provided insights into social reality unavailable through the traditional social sciences and enabled one to understand what it felt like to be alive at a particular time and place—to grasp what Williams called "the structure of feeling." They sought to describe culture's concrete effects on people's lives. Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (1957), for example, entered into the debate over Americanization, using close textual analyses to ask whether the new forms of popular culture were unsettling the established relations between working-class cultural practices and the patterns of everyday life of the working classes. Williams—in Culture and Society (1958) and The Long Revolution (1965), and in other works throughout his career—sought the theoretical and methodological tools that would allow for description of the concrete relations among cultural practices, social relations, and organizations of power.
In 1964 Richard Hoggart set up the CCCS to continue these efforts when he was hired as professor of English literature at the University of Birmingham. This was done with the permission of both his department and the university, but with only their minimal support. He funded the Centre himself from monies he received for testifying in defense of D. H. Lawrence at an obscenity trial, and he hired Stuart Hall, who had already published The Popular Arts (1964) with Paddy Whannel. Hall became director in 1969 when Hoggart left to become assistant director of UNESCO. When Hall took a position as professor of sociology at the Open University in 1980, he was replaced by Richard Johnson. In the following years, the Centre was transformed and combined in a number of administrative incarnations until 2002, when the University of Birmingham dismantled the Department of Sociology and Cultural Studies.
The Centre undertook, both individually and collectively, a wide range of sometimes evolving and sometimes discontinuous researches, both theoretical and empirical, into culture and society, and was characterized internally by a wide range of positions and practices. Externally, it came to represent a more limited body of work as it engaged over the years in a number of highly visible public debates with other groups interested in the politics of culture. The Centre is most widely known for having offered a number of models of cultural studies from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, including models of: ideological analysis; studies of working-class cultures and subcultures, and of media audiences (all of which, taken together, constituted a particular understanding of culture as a site of resistance); feminist cultural research; hegemonic struggles in state politics; and the place of race in social and cultural processes. The Centre was primarily associated, quite commonly, with the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.
The work of the Centre was not known widely outside of England, and only marginally known in the United States—primarily in departments of education and communication—until the mid-1980s. In the summer of 1983, a series of events organized around the theme "Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture" at the University of Illinois brought Hall and other key figures from the Centre to the United States. In the mid-1980s, the Australian Journal of Cultural Studies was founded, and when it followed its editor John Fiske (a student of Raymond Williams who had emigrated to Australia) to the United States, it became the first international journal explicitly devoted to the field.
In 1992 the University of Illinois hosted a second major conference, "Cultural Studies Now and in the Future." During and after this conference, the validity of assuming British cultural studies to be the origin of cultural studies on a larger scale was increasingly challenged. It became clear that the British tradition was less an origin than a term around which a set of similar projects from all over the world could gather and work. People from Latin America, Asia and the Pacific Rim, Europe, and Africa offered their own indigenous traditions of cultural studies, many of which had developed without any knowledge of the British work, and often had no agreed-upon common label. During the 1990s cultural studies became visible—as something both claimed and contested—in many of the major disciplines of the humanities and social sciences (especially literary studies and anthropology) in the United States and in other parts of the world. In 2002 the first international Association for Cultural Studies was launched.
The founding insight of the British tradition was that what had been traditionally approached as an external relationship between two objects of study—the relation of culture and society—was somehow inscribed in the very complexity of culture itself: culture as a set of privileged activities (inevitably raising questions of value); culture as the uniquely human, mediating activities of symbolic life (for example, textuality, sense-making, signification, and representation); and culture as a whole way of life (linking culture to the totality of social life, including conduct, relations, and institutions). Cultural studies is about the relationship of anthropological, hermeneutic, and aesthetic discourses and practices of culture. It treats culture, then, as more than either a text or a commodity. It looks at culture as the site of the production of (and struggle over) power.
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