Communication and Culture | Media Institutions & the Production of Culture
C502 | 23809 | Ted Striphas

CMCL-C 552: Media Institutions & the Production of Culture
(Topic: The Social Matrix of Mass Culture)
Class Number: 23809

Tu 9:30A-12:00P, Mottier 112

Professor: Ted Striphas
Office: 200 Mottier Hall
Office Hours: TBA
Phone: 856-7868

Mass produced consumer goods or mass culture permeates everyday
life – and 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.  Contact with mass culture, in turn, depends on a complex
social apparatus consisting of money, consumer credit, shopping
centers, advertising, distribution systems, the law, and so forth,
which both facilitates and encourages the acquisition of ever more
of these goods.  Mass culture is, and indeed announces itself as,
profoundly and undeniably “here.”

Despite – or perhaps because of – mass culture’s ubiquity, studying
it is a fraught undertaking.  Methodologically, the critical study
of mass culture poses numerous challenges, beginning with the issue
of how best to define and delimit the very object of study. “Mass”
or “popular” culture? The instruments or institutions of
production?  The text?  The audience? Assessing the politics of mass
culture is an equally charged endeavor, given the delicate task of
respecting people’s practical, psychological, and affective
investments in mass culture while at the same time taking stock of
its broader effects and conditions of possibility.  Meanwhile,
behind all these issues lies the relationship of commodities,
everyday life, and the problem of reproducibility, which opens up
broad-ranging questions about the politics of permanence and change.

This seminar will focus on developing a set of theoretical,
methodological, and historical frameworks which, hopefully, will
help you to make better sense of mass culture.  We will take a
specific orientation to accomplish this task: cultural studies.  A
cultural studies perspective will push us to consider not only
specific mass cultural artifacts and trends, but perhaps more
importantly to attend to, theorize, and historicize the political,
economic, and epistemological contexts – the social matrix – within
which mass culture is embedded.

Required reading: Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction; Lendol Calder,
Financing the American Dream; Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic;
Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition; Michael Denning, Culture
in the Age of Three Worlds; Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness;
John Frow, Cultural Studies and Cultural Value; Jane Gaines,
Contested Culture; Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern
World; and Margaret Jane Radin, Contested Commodities.  Supplemental
articles from Michel De Certeau, Stuart Hall, Karl Marx, Thorstein
Veblen, Raymond Williams, and possibly others also will be assigned.

Assessment will be based on active and engaged seminar
participation, one in-class facilitation, a major research project,
and possibly a book review.