British Cultural Studies as a Discipline

Cultural Studies: “while the term cultural studies may be used broadly to refer to all aspects of the studies of culture, and as such may be taken to encompass the diverse ways in which culture is understood and analyzed, for example, in sociology, history, ethnography, and literary criticism, and even sociobiology, it may also, more precisely, be taken to refer to a distinct field of academic inquiry. In this second use, its historical roots can be traced back to the work of Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and thus to the formation of the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964, originally under the directorship of Hoggart and then Stuart Hall. From this body of work there emerged a more multidisciplinary approach to culture, drawing not merely on the orthodox approaches derived from the social sciences but also own more radical approaches suggested by, for example, feminism, Marxism, and semiotics. The miscellany of approaches facilitated the asking of new questions, and thus to a reconceptualization of exactly what was entitled by the term “culture”. In particular, cultural studies can be seen to have set itself against the preconceptions about culture found in the traditional critical disciplines, such as literary criticism, aesthetics, and musicology. While such traditional disciplines predominately treated cultural products as objects or texts there could be legitimately or even exhaustively studied in isolation from the social and historical context of their production and consumption, the exponents of cultural studies sought to situate cultural products explicitly in relation to other social practices, and particularly in relation to political structures and social hierarchies, such as race, class, and gender.”

(Sedgwick, Peter & Andrew Edgar, Key Concepts in Cultural Theory, London/New York: Routledge, 2002)

“British cultural studies was founded as a fundamentally transdisciplinary enterprise and in its very conception attacked established academic institutional practices which neglected the popular in favour of elite culture. Moreover, its boundary-crossing of disciplines and attacks on the detrimental effects of abstracting culture from its socio-political context elicited hostility among those who are more disciplinary-oriented and who believe in the autonomy of culture and renounce sociological or political readings.

Against such academic formalism and separatism, cultural studies insists that culture must be investigated within the social relations and system which it is produced and consumed, and that analysis of culture is thus intimately bound up with the study of society, politics and economics.”

(Marjorie Ferguson & Peter Golding, Cultural Studies is Question, Chapter 7, Overcoming the Divide: Cultural Studies and Political Economy, London: Sage Publications, 1997, p. 103)

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