Cultural Studies | Introduction to Cultural Studies
C601 | 29186 | Bose

C601/L680 Introduction to Cultural Theory
Purnima Bose, Fall 2010

Cross-listed in the English Department and the Cultural Studies
Program, this course meets the core requirement for the Cultural
Studies Ph.D. minor, but it is also open to any interested students.
This version of the course will trace the historical trajectory of
Cultural Studies from its founding in 1963 by Richard Hoggart, the
first director of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, to its
contemporary manifestations. Hoggart initially conceptualized Cultural
Studies as a response to the conservatism of British literary studies.
Cultural Studies was to be an interdisciplinary venture, combining
sociology, anthropology, history, and, crucially, literary analysis.
Over the course of the next several decades, the discipline became
more theoretical and overtly political, concerned with the role of the
state in policing communities, the relationship between hegemony and
mass media, and on aspects of working class and other resistant
As an interdisciplinary venture, Cultural Studies necessarily has
many associations. For some, it immediately conjures the Birmingham
School, which revitalized British Marxism through its pioneering
studies of everyday life, cultural criticism, and post-industrial
Britain. For anthropologists, Cultural Studies is associated with
ethnographies, fieldwork, and the study of collective life. For those
in Fine Arts, Cultural Studies has articulated visual culture with
postmodern and historicist readings. In History, Cultural Studies has
shaped the ways in which scholars study ideological changes in race,
gender, and ethnicity over time. For media critics and sociologists,
Cultural Studies has resulted in sustained attention to mass culture.
These intellectual developments suggest that an account of the field
should consider Cultural Studies, in the words of Stuart Hall, as “a
set of unstable formations” and methodologies rather than as a unified
theoretical approach.

Taking Hall’s formulation as a guide, we will explore what the term
“culture” has meant for scholars, asking what it means to say that we
study a particular text or object (a work of literature, a political
speech, a visual icon, a legal code, etc.) as an artifact of culture
and as a key to understanding a social formation. Our course readings
will be eclectic, drawing upon cultural criticism, literary history,
Marxist theory, studies of popular culture and political insurgency,
and even contemporary journalism. All of these works broach issues
common to contemporary cultural studies in their concern with the
forces behind the production and circulation of cultural artifacts
(films, television programs, romance novels, advertising) and their
meanings; the creation or maintenance of cultural hierarchy; the
cultural construction of race, ethnicity, and gender; the visual and
spatial dimensions of everyday experience; and the relationship
between private and public spheres.

I haven’t finalized our readings, but in the first half of the
semester they will probably include selections from the “classical”
cultural studies canon, including Marx, the Frankfurt School and the
Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, Louis Althusser, and Raymond
Williams. The second half of the semester will explore Cultural
Studies scholarship outside the United States. In the last three weeks
of class, we will turn our attention to readings that address the
specific research interests of students who are enrolled in the class;
to this end, students should email me a brief description of their
research interests after June 15, 2010.

Course requirements will include electronic journal submissions, a
12-15 page paper, attendance at a Cultural Studies-sponsored lecture,
and possibly an oral presentation or shorter paper assignment.