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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Introduction to Cultural Studies- Simon During

the following write up on An Introduction to Cultural Studies is by Dhanya Joy


The cultural studies deal with the study of culture from a sociological rather than an aesthetic viewpoint. The early cultural studies were an engaged form of analysis, because it studied about the social inequalities. The theory of cultural studies is different from the objective social sciences. It relied more on the literary criticism which considered more political.

The rapid development of Cultural Studies as a “new discipline” is closely related to the progress of postmodernism. It may even be considered the real product of the era. Postmodernism opens the paradigm of mini narratives instead of grand narratives, and cultural studies applies the paradigm that “culture” is not an abbreviation of “high culture”. Text, for cultural studies, is an object of discussion, and consequently it’s not merely written, because anything can be text. Cultural studies considers cultural text to be mode of representation, in which cultural studies sees its form and meaning make sense only when there is an examination of its intersections in all complexity. Text is the product of a complex interaction of production, response, and reception.

Simon During noted that cultural-studies appears as a field of study in Great Britain in the 1950s out of Leavisism. From this fact, should easily understand that this study is still closely related to the study of literature, and this consequently means that any methods one has used with literature may be applied to cultural studies as well. However, for one or more reasons, people are probably led into confusion as the object of discussion in cultural studies is not merely a piece of canonical literature. Even, in its development cultural studies tends to grasp or to pierce into any kinds of text, because for cultural studies anything can be text. This condition will surely remind us of the phenomenon of postmodernism which “completes” the era of modernism. Therefore, we may be certain that cultural studies stands as an extension of literary studies and develops in accordance with the progression of postmodernism’s philosophical thought.

According to During ‘culture’ was not an abbreviation of a ‘high culture’ assumed to have constant value across time and space. It is an extension of literary studies in which it struggles not to be trapped by the canon created by the modernists, and as a result this field of study has an extensive range in terms of objects of discussion and, consequently, theories. Since ‘culture’ is not the abbreviation of ‘high-culture’, the understanding of text is also developed. Simon During said that culture was broken down into discrete messages, ‘signifying practices’ or ‘discourses’ which were distributed by particular institutions and media. Since the understanding of text (in literary studies) is an object of discussion, cultural studies extend the paradigm of text to that which is not only written and canonical, because text is a mode of representation.

Cultural studies looks at various kinds of texts within the context of cultural practice, that is, the work, production, and material stuff of daily life, marked as it is by economics and class, by politics, gender, and race, by need and desire. The term cultural studies itself, of course, suggests that it is the study of culture, or, more particularly, the study of contemporary culture. Even assuming that we know precisely what ‘contemporary culture’ is, it can be analysed in many ways – sociologically, for instance, by ‘objectively’ describing its institutions and functions as if they belong to a large, regulated system; or economically, by describing the effects of investment and marketing on cultural production. This means cultural studies should be a cultural analysis of a text from some aspects. It examines the form and structure of cultural texts as they create meaning. Raymond William also noted that this study of culture is interdisciplinary and broad..

Simon During’s An Introduction to Cultural Studies is a wide-ranging and stimulating introduction to the history and theory of Cultural Studies from Leavisism, through the era of the CCCS, to the global nature of contemporary Cultural Studies. Each thematic section examines and explains a key topic within Cultural Studies. This includes time, space, media and the public sphere, identity, sexuality and gender and value.

The most basic and most radical assumption of cultural studies is that the basic unit of investigation is always relationships, and that anything can only truly be understood relationally; thus, studying culture means studying the relationships between configurations of cultural texts and practices on the one hand, and everything that is not in the first instance cultural, including economics, social relations and differences, national issues, social institutions, and so forth on the other. It involves mapping connections, to see how those connections are being made and where they can be remade. As a result, cultural studies always involves the study of contexts sets of relations located and circumscribed in time and space, and defined by questions. And cultural studies is always interdisciplinary because understanding culture requires looking at culture's relationship to everything that is not culture. Moreover, cultural studies is committed to a radical contextualism; it is a rigorous attempt to contextualize intellectual work. This contextualism shapes the project of cultural studies profoundly, and involves a commitment to complexity, contingency, and constructionism.

Cultural studies refuses to reduce the complex to the simple, the specific to the exemplary, and the singular to the typical. It refuses to see this complexity as an inconvenience to be acknowledged only after the analysis. It employs a conjunctive logic where one thing is true, another may also be true and thereby refuses the illusion of a total, all-encompassing answer. It avoids confusing projects with accomplishments; and it refuses to put off until later the resistances, the interruptions, and the fractures and contradictions of the context.

Cultural studies believes in contingency; it denies that the shape and structure of any context is inevitable. But cultural studies does not simply reject essentialism, for anti-essentialism is, in its own way, another version of a logic of necessity: in this case, the necessity that there are never any real relations. It is committed to what we might call an anti-anti-essentialism, to the view that there are relationships in history and reality, but they are not necessary. They did not have to be that way, but given that they are that way, they have real effects. Above all, there are no guarantees in history that things will form in some particular way, or work out in some particular way. Reality and history are, so to speak, up for grabs, never guaranteed. It operates in the space between, on the one hand, absolute containment, closure, complete and final understanding, total domination, and, on the other hand, absolute freedom and possibility, and openness.

Finally, cultural studies assumes that relationships are produced or constructed, and not simply always the result of chance. The relations that make up a context are real through the various activities of different agents and agencies, including people and institutions. Insofar as we are talking about the human world—and even when we are describing the physical world, we are within the human world as well—cultural practices and forms matter because they constitute a key dimension of the ongoing transformation or construction of reality. However, the effects of cultural practices are always limited by the existence of a material or nondiscursive reality. Cultural studies, then, does not make everything into culture, nor does it deny the existence of material reality. It does not assume that culture, by itself, constructs reality. To say that culture is constitutive—that it produces the world, along with other kinds of practices does not mean that real material practices are not being enacted, or that real material conditions do not both enable and constrain the ways in which reality functions and can be interpreted. Cultural studies is, in the first instance, concerned with cultural practices. To put it simply, the culture we live in, the cultural practices we use, and the cultural forms we place upon and insert into reality, have consequences for the way reality is organized and lived.

The commitment to a radical contextualism affects every dimension of cultural studies, including its theory and politics, its questions and answers, and its analytic vocabulary—which includes concepts of culture (text, technology, media), power, and social identity. Cultural studies derives its questions, not from a theoretical tradition or a disciplinary paradigm but from a recognition that the context is always already structured, not only by relations of force and power, but also by voices of political anger, despair, and hope. Cultural studies attempts to engage the existing articulations of hope and disappointment in everyday life and to bring the messy and painful reality of power as it operates both outside and inside the academy into the practice of scholarship.

There are two features that characterized cultural studies, when it first appeared in Great Britain in the 1950s. It concentrated on ‘subjectivity’ which means that it studied culture in relation to individual lives, breaking with social scientific positivism or ‘objectivism’.

Cultural studies insist that one cannot just ignore or accept the division and struggle in the society. It was developed out of Leavisism through Hoggart and Williams, who came from working-class families. They wrote in the interests of the society and their own individual experiences. According to the Leavisites, culture was not simply a leisure activity. Because it is all about forming mature individuals with concrete and balanced sense of life.

Culture could also be seen as a form of ‘governmentality’, that is, a means to produce conforming or ‘docile’ citizens, most of all through the education system. The most sophisticated concept that emerged in cultural studies was that of articulation. It emphasizes how hegemony mutates in terms of its elements and contents. It is a process of making alliances and connections, releasing energies rather than of presenting a static set of values and knowledge’s.

The notion of polysemy remains limited in that it still works at the level of individual signs as discrete signifying units. Cultural studies has been interested in how groups with least power practically develop their own readings of, and uses for, cultural products – in fun, in resisitance, or to articualate their own identity. Theorists have pointed out the fact that private discourse always comes from somewhere else and its meanings cannot be wholly mastered by those who use it. The problem confronted this new model of cultural studies as, it broke society down into fractions united by sexuality, gender, or ethnicity.

Cultural studies see theory as a resource to be used to respond strategically to a particular project, to specific questions and specific contexts. The measure of a theory's truth is its ability to enable a better understanding of a particular context through experiences. Thus, cultural studies cannot be identified with any single theoretical paradigm or tradition. It continues to wrestle with various modern and postmodern philosophies, including Marxism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, pragmatism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism.

Cultural studies do not begin with a general theory of culture but rather views cultural practices as the intersection of many possible effects. It does not start by defining culture or its effects, or by assembling, in advance, a set of relevant dimensions within which to describe particular practices. Instead, cultural practices are places where different things can and do happen. The common assumption that cultural studies is a theory of ideology and representation, or of identity and subjectivity, or of the circulation of communication, or of hegemony, is mistaken. Cultural studies often address such issues, but that is the result of analytic work on the context rather than an assumption that overwhelms the context.

Cultural studies has taken the force of arguments against ‘meta-discourses’ and does not want the voice of the academic theorist to drown out other less often heard voices. Like the other studies, cultural studies are politically driven. It is committed to understanding power—or more accurately, the relationships of culture, power, and context—and to producing knowledge that might help people understand what is going on in the world and the possibilities that exist for changing it.

The study of cultural studies, then, is a way of politicizing theory and theorizing politics. Cultural studies is always interested in how power infiltrates, contaminates, limits, and empowers the possibilities that people possess to live their lives in dignified and secure ways. Cultural studies also approaches power and politics as complex, contingent, and contextual phenomena and refuses to reduce power to a single dimension or axis, or to assume in advance what the relevant sites, goals, and forms of power and struggle might be. Consequently, it advocates a flexible, somewhat pragmatic or strategic, and often modest approach to political programs and possibilities. For cultural studies, knowledge based on statistical techniques belongs to the processes which ‘normalize’ society and stand in opposition to cultural studies’ respect for the marginal subject. The study of Cultural theories carries the notion of ‘popular’ and the everyday life of the individuals. Now we need to think of cultural studies not as a traditional field or discipline, nor as a mode of interdisciplinarity, but a field within multidisciplinarity, which thinks of engaged cultural studies less as an academic specialism than as a critical moment within a larger, dispersed, not wholly politicized field, is, then, a way of shoring up differences and counter-hegemony inside the humanities in an epoch of global managerialism.

Works cited


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