English | Special Topics in Literary Study and Theory
L680 | 18200 | Bose


L680/C601 18200/29186  BOSE (#6)
Special Topics in Literary Study and Theory

4:00p – 5:15p TR

TOPIC:  INTRODUCTION TO CULTURAL THEORY

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 subcultures.

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 July 8, 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.