English | Special Topics in Literary Study & Theory
L680 | 7272 | Vogel

L680/C601  7272/6429 VOGEL (#6)
Special Topics in Literary Study & Theory

1:00p – 2:15p TR


This introduction to the interdisciplinary field, methods, and
debates of cultural studies will be focused by an investigation into
the quotidian and unrarefied domain of everyday life. Cultural
critic Raymond Williams notes three different senses of the
word “culture” in contemporary use: (1) a general process of
intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; (2) a particular
way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in
general; and (3) the works and practices on intellectual and
especially artistic activity. In this course we will explore the
ways in which these three senses of “culture” are braided together,
following first one, than another of these threads as we pursue the
relationship between material cultural production and symbolic
systems of meaning. Specifically, we will move between a specialized
notion of late-capitalist popular culture, on the one hand, and an
anthropological notion of a whole way of life, on the other. Indeed,
some of the questions that will concern us are whether or not these
two domains have more in common than is usually assumed, and even if
the distinction can be maintained at all in a world shaped by
transnational and global capital.

Our exploration into these questions will be focused by the notion
of the everyday. Examining the terms and principles by
which “culture” has been constituted as a realm of academic study
and critique, we will ask what humanistic and social scientific
academic study can—and cannot—tell us about the material and psychic
domain of the everyday. The everyday is that largely taken-for-
granted world where culture is lived, a sphere where agency and
subjection exist in dialectical tension, where transnational flows
of capital, commodities, and signs shape the ways in which people
come to know and express themselves and their worlds. As the realm
where culture is consumed, the everyday is where official knowledge
confronts practical and unofficial knowledge, putting various
theories to the test. By focusing our inquiry at the interface
of “culture” and the “everyday” we will investigate the myriad ways
that the everyday is constituted, managed, and administered, and
subsequently how it is reimagined, remapped, and reinhabited.

The course will ground itself with some of the institutional and
disciplinary histories of cultural studies and then consider a
number of more recent studies that suggests new directions for the
field. As such, readings will likely include books by Seyla
Benhabib, Lauren Berlant, Veena Das, Michel De Certeau, Michel
Foucault, Robin D. G. Kelley, James Scott, Kathleen Stewart, Anna
Lowenhaupt Tsing, and Raymond Williams, and additional readings by
Simon During, Judith Halberstam, Michael Berube, Rita Felski, Karl
Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Theodor Adorno, Richard Leppert, Walter
Benjamin, Stuart Hall, Kobena Mercer, Paul Gilroy, Laura Kipnis,
James Clifford, Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, and Manthia Diawara.

Reading in this course will be heavy (about a book a week, sometimes
more) and often dense; however, no prior knowledge of critical
theory or expertise is required or expected. Writing assignments
will be somewhat lighter, combing informal response papers with a
longer final paper. Class will be a combination of discussion,
lecture, and student presentations. This course is joint-listed
between English and Cultural Studies and meets the core requirement
for the Ph.D. minor in Cultural Studies. It is open to all
interested students.