Cultural Studies | Special Topics in Cultural Studies: The Social Matrix of Mass Culture
C701 | 11605 | Striphas
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 or “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
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.
Assessment likely will be based on: active and engaged seminar
participation; one in-class facilitation; and your choice of paper
options (two 10-12 pp. essays or a more traditional 20-25 pp. seminar
The reading list is likely to include most of the following: Mark
Andrejevic’s iSpy; Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks; Rachel
Bowlby, Carried Away; Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic; Stuart
Ewen, Captains of Consciousness; Christine Harold, OurSpace; Joseph
Heath & Andrew Potter, A Nation of Rebels; Henri Lefebvre, Everyday
Life in the Modern World; Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for
Christmas; and Joseph Turow, Niche Envy. We will also watch Adam
Curtis’ documentary, The Century of the Self.
Supplemental readings are likely to include essays by some or all of
the following: James Beniger; Walter Benjamin; Gilles Deleuze; Stuart
Hall; Robert L. Heilbroner; Lawrence Grossberg; Max Horkheimer and
Theodor Adorno; Henry Jenkins; Karl Marx; Tiziana Terranova; and