American Studies | Colloquium in American Studies / Topic: The Social Matrix of Mass Culture
G620 | 13109 | Ted Striphas


Thursday, 9:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
4 credit hours
Class meets with CMCL-C626 and CULS-C701

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 array 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 other
elements comprise the complex infrastructure of "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 making better sense of
mass culture. We will take a specific orientation to accomplish this
task: cultural studies. Cultural studies will push us to consider
not only specific mass cultural artifacts and trends, but perhaps
more important, to attend to, theorize, and historicize the broader
sets of relations--the social matrix--within which mass culture is
embedded.