What Was Cultural Studies?

Spring 2016-2017


David Gutherz

Browse through the “Cultural Studies” section of your local bookstore and you are bound to find works on a dizzying array of topics: close readings of vampire films, postcolonial theory, studies of advertising aesthetics, and historical treatises on the cubicle. What do these books have in common? How did this become what we call culture and its study? This course examines the origins, development and institutionalization of cultural studies in Britain, between 1956-1978. The problems that compelled British socialists in this period to develop new methodologies for the study of culture were not so different from those that plague our own time; they too were concerned with changes in the ‘traditional working-class’, with the promises and menaces inherent in new communications technologies and the rise authoritarian populism. Analyzing these phenomena led them to reconsider: What does it mean to call culture a superstructure? Who or what constructs identity? Can symbolic revolts create real change? Some key works we will study include The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class and Policing the Crisis, collectively authored by Stuart Hall and his colleagues at the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies. By the end of the course we may hope to gain both a deeper understanding not only of what cultural studies meant in Britain before Thatcher but also what it might become now, in American under Trump. Course intended as an introduction. No prior study of British history or cultural studies required. (H)