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Cultural Studies

Formations Of Cultural Studies

Cultural studies is concerned with describing (and intervening in) the ways cultural forms and practices are produced within, inserted into, and operate in and affect the everyday life of human beings and social formations, so as to reproduce, struggle against, and perhaps transform the existing structures of power. That is, if people make history—but within conditions not of their own devising—cultural studies explores the ways this process is enacted with and through cultural practices, and studies the place of such practices within specific historical formations. Cultural studies explores the historical possibilities of transforming people's lives by trying to understand the relationships of power within which individual realities are constructed. That is, it seeks to understand not only the organizations of power but also the possibilities of survival, struggle, resistance, and change. It takes contestation for granted, not as a reality in every instance, but as an assumption necessary for the existence of critical work, political opposition, and even historical change. Cultural studies is not simply about texts or ideologies, but about the relationships that are historically forged among cultural practices and the contexts in which they operate.

Any further attempt to define cultural studies poses rather unique problems. It cannot be equated with any particular political agenda or with any particular theoretical position. Thus, on the one hand, while British cultural studies is often thought to have investigated class politics, it includes many examples of both feminist cultural studies and cultural studies invested in the politics of race, ethnicity, or post-coloniality. Unlike post-1960s academic formations associated with a particular political agenda (and a pre-constituted constituency outside the academy), cultural studies has no such guaranteed agenda or constituency. On the other hand, cultural studies is not a school of thought that can be linked irrevocably with a particular theory. Again, the British school is assumed to be grounded in Marxism (and especially in the work of Gramsci), but this is only because the diversity of that tradition has been reduced to a single, small set of representatives and examples. In fact, in England as well as elsewhere, cultural studies has drawn upon, and embodied, an enormously wide range of theoretical positions, from humanism to poststructuralism, from Marx to Foucault, from pragmatism to psychoanalysis.

Raymond Williams's distinction between the common project of cultural studies, and its many different formations, recognizes that practicing cultural studies involves redefining it in response to its changing context (its geographical, historical, political and institutional conditions).

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