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Cultural Studies Program

Courses :: CULS C601 Topic: Introduction to Cultural Studies

Topic: The Social Matrix of Mass Culture 

Meets with CMCL-C 552 
Open to Graduates Only! 

Instructor: Ted Striphas 
Office: C2 213 
Phone: 856-7868 

Mass produced consumer goods or "mass culture" pervades everyday life - and, arguably, the politics of everyday life - in modern societies.  From macaroni and cheese to cars, carpeting, and khakis, chances are a preponderance of these goods surrounds you at almost any moment of the day.  Their existence depends on an army of individuals, industries, and technologies working more or less in concert.  Advertising and P.R. firms, distribution systems, retail establishments, financial institutions, communication networks, legal codes, public rituals, labor practices - these and myriad other elements comprise the complex infrastructure, or "social matrix," out of which mass culture emerges. 

Despite (or perhaps because of) mass culture's ubiquity, studying it can be a fraught undertaking.  Indeed, the critical study of mass culture poses numerous challenges, beginning with the issue of how best to define the object of study: "mass" or "popular" culture?  Delimiting the object domain can be no less confounding.  Should we focus on production, distribution, exchange, or consumption?  Texts, audiences, or apparatuses?  Some combination thereof?  If so, in what proportions?  Assessing the politics of mass culture is a delicate endeavor as well.  How do we respect people's investments in mass produced consumer goods while at the same time taking stock of mass culture, critically? 

This seminar will focus on developing a set of theoretical, methodological, and historical frameworks for addressing these and a host of related questions.  Assessment likely will be based on: active and engaged seminar participation; one in-class facilitation; and your choice of paper options (two 10-12 pp. essays or a more traditional 20-25 pp. seminar paper). 

The reading list is likely to include most of the following: Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks; Rachel Bowlby, Carried Away; Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumers' Republic; Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness; Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter, A Nation of Rebels; Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World; Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas; Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble; and Joseph Turow, Niche Envy.  We will also watch Adam Curtis' documentary, The Century of the Self. 

Supplemental readings are likely to include essays by some or all of the following: James Beniger; Isaiah Berlin; Walter Benjamin; Gilles Deleuze; Stuart Hall; Christine Harold; Robert L. Heilbroner; Lawrence Grossberg; Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno; Lawrence Lessig; Karl Marx; Tiziana Terranova; and Thorstein Veblen.