Thursday, December 2, 2010

An introduction to Cultural Studies

So what is Cultural Studies anyway? The fact that university faculties and degrees bear this name might suggest that Cultural Studies is an academic discipline, but this suggestion is only partly true. It is possible to offer the observation that Cultural Studies is a unified field in approach, but not in methodology or field and objects of investigation. As suggested by its name Cultural Studies engage with culture, and especially contemporary culture. But while culture is alternately viewed and studied from various perspectives such as sociology, economics etc., the praxis of Cultural Studies is not easily discernable and definable as those academic fields are.

Cultural Studies first appeared in England in the 50's, with its antecedents being the Frankfurt school and successors in the Birmingham school or the Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS). What first singled out this new approach was the rejection of objective positivism in humanities and the focus on subjective, "lived" experiences of culture. Another characteristic of Cultural Studies in its inception was the somewhat holistic to the cultural experience, one that does not enable the isolation of "literature", "cinema", "economy" etc., but sees them as interrelated.

Cultural Studies were, at least at the beginning, openly associated with what is known as the Marxist "New Left". This meant that a special sensitivity to social injustice and inequality led Cultural Studies to view traditional social studies not as an answer to social problems, but rather as part of the problem itself. Another key characteristic of the field is the dismantlement of the high/low culture dichotomy, which first led to an interest in common pop culture and secondly rejected individual originality for social conditioning of production of cultural products.  

In the later chapters of our introduction to Cultural Studies we will briefly discuss the history of the field with the occasional mentioning of a few key figures. We will then try to outline the main paradigm of the field by illustrating some of its main problems and engagements. As was mentioned above, Cultural Studies are very tricky to define for its interdisciplinary tendencies in methodology and "all over the place" subjects of inquiry. This introduction might could serve as the first step in getting a notion of what Cultural Studies are, but more than anything, Cultural Studies are a way of thinking and approaching phenomena, a way a thinking that cannot be acquired in traditional training methods but mainly by just diving into this exciting world, and this is what this site is all about!

This introduction was prepared with the aide of Simon During's introduction to "The Cultural Studies Reader"(1993), Simon During's "Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction" (2005) and Chris barker's "Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice".