Reading into Cultural Studies


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In a Nutshell

The threatto, and final disappearance of, traditional British working-class life needs to beconsidered at a little length because it was crucial for the early development ofcultural studies. See Laing for a good account of this history. Before thewar, since the early s, the British economy had been dominated byunemployment — there were never fewer than a million people unemployed overthe period.

Bythe end of the s, however, Britain had a full employment economy, and by theend of the s further shifts in the British economy were well under way. Jobswere moving into the state sector in government expenditure had been Simultaneously, the differential between lower-paidwhite-collar and blue-collar workers was decreasing, and large-scale immigrationfrom the colonies during the s meant that many indigenous workers were nolonger called upon to take the least desirable jobs.

Finally the large state rehousing program, compulsorynational service in the army which ended in and, to a lesser extent,educational reform making higher education available to a fraction of the workingclass also helped to break up the culture that Hoggart described. Thisshift of focus could lead to a revision of older paradigms, as when Stuart Hall andPaddy Whannel in The Popular Arts gave the kind of status and attentionreserved by the Leavisites for canonical literature to new forms such as jazz andfilm while devaluing others especially television and rock music.

Much moreimportantly, however, the logic by which culture was set apart from politics,already examined by Raymond Williams, was overturned. The historian E. Thompson, in his seminal book The Making of the English Working Class and elsewhere, had pointed out that the identity of the working class as workingclass had always had a strongly political and conflictual component — that identitywas not just a matter of particular cultural interests and values. But thefragmentation of the old proletarian culture meant that a politics based on a strongworking-class identity was less and less significant: people decreasinglyidentified themselves as workers see Roberts et al.

For him, hegemonic forces constantly alter theircontent as social and cultural conditions change: they are improvised andnegotiable, so that counter-hegemonic strategies must also be constantlyrevised. At first such critique leant heavilyon forms of semiotic analysis represented in this collection in a sophisticated But inthe s, a hard form of structuralism did emerge, one that called upon the workof Louis Althusser, backed up by psychoanalytic notions developed by JacquesLacan.

They identify withideology because they see themselves pictured as independent and strong in it —as an adolescent boy or, indeed, adult might picture himself, in a fantasy, as theMarlboro Man. Dominant social values are internalized through this kind ofidentification. At this point, psychoanalysis was called upon to gird the theory.

So ideology providesa false resolution to private, familial tensions, a resolution that is, for Lacan if not It did not concede enoughspace to the capacity of the individual or community to act on the world on theirown terms, to generate their own meanings and effects. It was too theoretical inthe sense that it offered truths which took little or no account of local differences;indeed, its claims to be scientifically true lacked support from scientific method.

And it did not pay enough heed to the actual techniques and practices by whichindividuals form themselves and their lives. But another strand of semiotic thoughtwas able to enter the culturalist tradition with more vigor. This emphasized theconcept of polysemy. The notion of polysemy remains limited in that it still works at the level ofindividual signs as discrete signifying units. It did, however, lead to more dynamicand complex theoretical concepts which help us to describe how cultural productsmay be combined with new elements to produce different effects in differentsituations.

Culturalstudies has been, as we might expect, most interested in how groups with leastpower practically develop their own readings of, and uses for, cultural products —in fun, in resistance, or to articulate their own identity. The richness of the research promoted bythe CCCS during the s makes that research impossible adequately torepresent here.

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What isstriking about the study, though, is how important both sexism and racism remainto this segment of British working-class culture. Unfortunately, Willis does notaddress this head-on. For Morley the textualist approach began to seem limited because it could notfully deal with polysemy.

He had to go out into the field to discover what peopleactually thought about Nationwide. Though viewers neednot accept the preferred code, they must respond to it in some way.


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Morley dividesthe possibilities of decoding Nationwide into three categories: first, an acceptanceof the preferred reading, second, flat opposition to it mainly, as it turned out, bybeing extremely bored by it ; and third, negotiation with it. Though Morleymakes little of it, for these groups it was the market rather than the state throughthe state-funded BBC that provided them with what they wanted. In a paradoxthat helps us understand certain problems at work at the heart of the social-democratic power bloc, those who are most vulnerable to market forces respondmost positively to its cultural products.

The third, and earliest, book, Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subculturesin Postwar Britain, is a collection of essays, each by different authors, each ofwhich comes to grips with the fragmentation of traditional working-class culture ina different way. In general, the authors accepted that the working class was beingsplit: one section being drawn into skilled jobs that would enable them to live likecertain elements of the middle classes, another into deskilled, low-status andoften service jobs.

However, they argued that jobs of this latter kind wereespecially taken by disadvantaged youth, who, inheriting neither a strong senseof communal identity nor values transmitted across generations in families,develop subcultures. These subcultures negotiate with, and hybridize certainhegemonic cultural forms as modes of expression and opposition. Dick Hebdige in an earlier essay than the one included here , for instance, shows how the Modsfetishized style itself as an element of life, borrowing elements from fashions, oldand new, turning cultural consumption the crucial element in the life-practices of This more theoretical approach, characteristic of an earlier phase ofcultural studies, has its limits.

Literary and Cultural Studies – Carleton College

It alsounderestimates the impact of the education system which streamed children aftereleven and kept them at school until they were fifteen sixteen after ,generating intense inter-generational bondings unknown before the war. Neitherare the Mods, Teds, Hippies and so on seen as trying to have fun or to constructa mode of life for themselves; they are primarily viewed as being engaged insymbolic struggle with the larger social system. In the late s things changed. Cultural studies came increasingly under the influence of forms of thoughtassociated with French theorists, in particular Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeauand Michel Foucault.

Each field takes aparticular material form, most having a characteristic space and time attached tothem the private home for family life and most media reception, weekdays forwork etc. The relation of space to social fields is the theme of the essays byFoucault and Edward Soja collected here. Family life, for instance, depends uponimages of the perfect family mum, dad and a newborn baby, say and membersmay feel pleasure when they reproduce that image, even if only for a moment.

Because of these limits too, fields are suffused by power relationsand tend to be structured hierarchically. After all, not everyone can have equalexperience, knowledge, money or authority. Very hierarchical fields like schools Further,each field has characteristic signifying practices more or less tightly attached toit: the same person may well talk, walk and dress differently at school or work tothe way they do in the family, and differently again when socializing with theirpeers.

These signifying practices are structured through scarcity as well. DickHebdige has pointed out that punks worked on their body rather thanconsumption as a means of expression because it was one of the few materialsthat they could afford. Each field also contains a variety of styles of belonging: one can be this kindof student or that kind, for instance, a casual filmgoer or a film buff. Especially in societies where hierarchies in many fields are rigid, these forms oftransgression may themselves become institutionalized — as in Brazil today withits carnival samba schools, or early capitalist Europe with its pantomimes.

What about subjectivity in this schema? There are several reasons for this:in theory at least individuals can always make choices which take into account,and thus avoid, the forces they know to be positioning them. Third,language itself intervenes between the individual and the socio-cultural fields thatconstruct his or her positions. Our sense of uniqueness is grounded on our sense As deconstructive theorists have pointed out, this is true because of,rather than despite, the fact that private discourse always comes fromsomewhere else and its meanings cannot be wholly mastered by those who useit.

The French model breaks from earlier forms of cultural studies. To begin with, itdowngrades the way that economic scarcities operate systematically acrossmany fields. In this, it is remote fromtraditional social-democratic politics. Why did cultural studies accept relatively depoliticized analyses of thiskind? As long agoas Richard Hoggart had noted how, with increased spending power, theworking class were increasingly evaluating the world in economic, rather than In these terms, Thatcherism is the political reflex of an affluent butthreatened first-world society in a postcolonial world order.

At this level at least, Thatcherism does not draw on the values oftraditional high culture; instead it appeals to the social imaginary produced by themarket-orientated media.

Cultural Reader

Thatcherism contains an internal contradiction — between its economicrationalism and its consensual cultural nationalism. The more the market is freedfrom state intervention and trade and finance cross national boundaries, the morethe nation will be exposed to foreign influences and the greater the gap betweenrich and poor. Thatcherite appeals to popular values can be seen as an attemptto overcome this tension. In particular, the new right gives the family extraordinaryvalue and aura just because a society organized by market forces is one in whicheconomic life expectations are particularly insecure as well as one in which, forsome, rewards are large and life exciting.

In the same way, a homogeneousimage of national culture is celebrated and enforced to counter the dangers posedby the increasingly global nature of economic exchanges and widening national,economic divisions. This last book latches on to themechanisms by which law-and-order issues and racism were gaining ground inthe last days of the social-democratic power bloc, convincingly demonstratingthat law-and-order panics in Britain in the s were produced by tacit alliancesbetween the media and the police — being, in that sense, organized.

But, when cultural studies gave up its Marxian and classistapproach, it began to approach, if in a different spirit and register, certainThatcherite themes.

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After all, both movements were strongly anti-statist; bothaffirmed, within limits, a decentered view of social organization. What were theanalogies between Thatcherism and cultural studies, politically so opposed toone another? See the essayby Lyotard below for a description of postmodernism.

The new mode of cultural studies no longer concentrated on reading cultureas primarily directed against the state. Thismoment in cultural studies pictured society as much more decentered than eitherthe CCCS had in its earliest work or than the French theorists had, as they focusedon discipline, rationalization, and institutional fields.

Mod-01 Lec-01 Understanding Cultural Studies Part 1

However, an immediateproblem confronted this new model as it broke society down into fractions unitedby sexuality, gender, or ethnicity: how to conceive of relations between thesedispersed communities? Unlike social-democratic thought, the new cultural studies no longeraimed at a radical transfiguration of the whole system of social fields. World of Books sells quality used products at competitive prices to over 2 million customers worldwide each year. We want your experience with World of Books to be enjoyable and problem free. Over the past 8 years World of Books has seen the inventory grow from to over 1 Million books in stock.

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Reading into Cultural Studies Reading into Cultural Studies
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