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Cultural Studies

Diversity In Cultural Studies

The diversity of cultural studies is as important as its unity; yet there is no obvious single best way to organize or describe that diversity. One could display the range of objects and discourses that cultural studies has explored—including art, popular culture, media culture, news, political discourses, economies, development practices, everyday practices, organizations, cultural institutions, and subcultures. One could display the different theoretical paradigms (including pragmatism, phenomenology, poststructuralism, Marxism, and so forth) or theoretical influences (Harold Innis, Michel de Certeau, Gramsci, and Michel Foucault, among others). One could display the different political agendas—feminist, Marxist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-postcolonial, anti-ageist—or the more positive political agendas of socialism, radical democracy, and global justice, that have driven the work. One could consider the different ways the major concepts of culture, power, articulation, and context have been used. One could describe the implications of disciplinary diversity—literary studies, anthropology, sociology, communication, history, education, and geography, among others—and methodological diversity—forms of textual analysis, ethnography, interviewing, archival research, statistical analysis, and so forth. Finally, one could speculate about the significance of geographical diversity, which has become increasingly visible and important. A more useful way might be to describe some exemplary instances of cultural studies.

A first model, found in the work of Raymond Williams, reads texts as ideologies in context. That is, it uses texts to try to locate and define the common structure (e.g., homology, structure of feeling) that unites the disparate elements of social formation into a unified social totality. But this common structure of unity is available only by thinking of ideology contextually—that is, by looking at the relations among texts, and between texts and other discursive and nondiscursive practices.

A second model, found in the work of communication scholar James Carey, looks at particular cultural practices as rituals that reenact the unity—shared meanings, structures, and identities—of a community.

A third model locates cultural texts and practices within a dialectic of domination and resistance and was closely associated with the CCCS in the 1970s, especially in the early work of David Morley, Dick Hebdige, and Angela McRobbie. The politics of culture are determined by the relations among a number of relatively autonomous moments—primarily of production and consumption—but later work added distribution, exchange, and regulation. It provided an alternative model of media communication (encoding-decoding) with an emphasis on the audience as an active interpreter of messages and of subcultures in which subcultural styles were seen to be expressions of, and symbolic responses to, lived contradictions—defined by class and generation—of the social experiences of the members of the subculture.

A fourth model explores cultural and social identities as complex sets of relations. It involves the production of differences (or structures of otherness such as race and gender) within a population, the effort to naturalize such identities as biological, the distribution of people into those categories, and the assignment of particular meanings to each identity. These differences provide the basis, along with the inequalities of power and resources, that are defined within a particular society. But they are not natural, inevitable, or fixed; instead, identities are the site of constant work and struggle over the practices by which people come to be represented and to represent themselves. This work studies the dialectical production of identity and difference, often in a kind of Hegelian dialectic of recognition. This is a logic in which the formation (identity) of one term (the self) can only be constructed through, or on top of, the assimilation and exclusion of the other. There are various tropes for this process circulating throughout the cultural studies literature (and beyond), including difference, border-crossing, hybridity, third space, and most recently, diaspora (although the last often attempts to escape the Hegelian negativity of difference). Obviously, such work in cultural studies overlaps here with many other bodies of related work, but its influence—through the work of people like Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Angela McRobbie, Gayatri Spivak, and Judith Butler—has been profound.

A fifth model is concerned with the relationship between culture and the state. Influenced in part by Gramsci, such work was best illustrated by the important work of Stuart Hall and John Clarke on hegemony as an alternative to notions of civil politics as ideological consensus. Hegemony, as a struggle for the gain and consolidation of state power, involves the attempt by a particular coalition of social factions to win popular consent to its leadership. Hegemony is not a battle to the death between two camps, but a constant attempt to negotiate with various factions to put together temporary agreements for the leadership of the ruling bloc at different sites. It therefore works on (and through) the popular languages and logics of the society, and reconfigures the national common sense in order to reconstitute "a balance in the field of forces."

A sixth model of "governmentality" emphasizes the variety of ways in which culture is used by state and other institutions to produce particular kinds of subjects and to regulate their conduct. This work focuses on the material effects of bureaucratic cultural apparatuses; it looks at how institutional discourses produce a particular structure of the subject itself as an historical effect of power. For example, Tony Bennett looks at cultural institutions such as museums in terms of the way they discipline people, organizing their behavior and teaching them, as it were, to behave properly in public as citizens. Similarly, Bennett has also argued that the pedagogy of cultural criticism functioned to render students always inadequate and incomplete, not only in terms of the classroom but as human beings in need of constant self-improvement. In his view, it is only the teacher who can recognize the politically problematic claims of any text, while the students are always guaranteed to fail. Another example involves the work of Nikolas Rose and his colleagues, who attempt to analyze the contemporary forms of neoliberal state power by looking at the micropractices of institutions and everyday life.

Finally, the seventh model looks at culture as formations or organizations of both cultural and noncultural practices, often related to, or even identified with, particular institutions. Such cultural apparatuses function in complicated ways to produce and organize social reality itself. That is to say, they are "technologies of power" that are connected on the one hand to the lived realities of everyday life (itself understood to be an organization of power) and, on the other hand to the larger structures of political and economic power. Cultural or discursive practices are integral pieces of the institutional formations of power that organize the very lived reality and structures of power in space and time. Examples of such work can be seen in the anthropological critiques of development offered by Akhil Gupta and Arturo Escobar, and in Meaghan Morris's studies of the place of history as a cultural formation in Australian social life.

This entry discusses only the last of these referents even though it is especially difficult to define this intellectual formation. Even the simple claim of British origin is, in the end, probably unacceptable. Still, it provides a reasonable starting point for this discussion. The English origins of cultural studies can be linked to at least four elements of the post–World War II context. First, one of the major issues organizing political debate was framed as the challenge of Americanization, which was perceived in largely cultural terms, both in the growing presence of U.S. popular culture and in the apparent disappearance of many aspects of traditional, working-class culture.


Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge, 1995.

——. Outside Literature. London: Routledge, 1990.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Carey, James W. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

Clarke, John. New Times and Old Enemies: Essays on Cultural Studies and America. London: Routledge, 1992.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Grossberg, Lawrence. Bringing It All Back Home: Essays on Cultural Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997.

Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler, eds. Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Hall, Stuart. The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. London: Verso, 1988.

Hall, Stuart, and Paddy Whannel. The Popular Arts. Boston: Beacon, 1964.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen, 1979.

Hoggart, Richard. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-class Life. London: Chatto and Windus, 1957.

McRobbie, Angela. Feminism and Youth Culture. London: Macmillan, 1991.

Morley, David. Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1992.

Morley, David, and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1996.

Morris, Meaghan. Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Nelson, Cary, and Lawrence Grossberg. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Rose, Nikolas. Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Spivak, Gayatri. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

——. Culture and Society, 1780–1950. New York: Harper & Row, 1958.

——. The Long Revolution. Middlesex: Penguin, 1965.

——. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. London: Fontana, 1974.

Lawrence Grossberg

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