Cultural studies essay

Cultural studies is an interdisciplinary area of research of culture of late capitalism era, the emergence of which is closely linked to the British intellectual tradition, and more specifically with the creation of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies in 1964, the first director of which was Richard Hogarth1. In its methodology, this stream is known for its eclectic nature and political overtones2. Cultural studies are both an academic project and socio-political movement; it is an intellectual and political ideology in the best traditions of Marxism. Not in the old sense when an intellectual Marxist should also be a practitioner in the struggle for the liberation of the working class and other oppressed groups (i.e., be a member of the party, go on demonstrations, participate in other political activities), but in another post-structuralist sense: writing, text is also a form of political practice3.

Cultural studies are based on the idea that the modern world is a total multiplicity ”“ of classes, races, ethnics, cultures (the principle of “multiculturalism”). This direction of research has involved into its orbit many previously unstudied, marginal objects and phenomena, or those which did not receive academic recognition – for example, television news, ethnic minorities, pop music, different types of sexual behavior and identity, the semiotics of modern shopping centers (malls), Superman comic books, horror movies, advertising, Disneyland urban utopia, “Barbie phenomenon”, etc. In addition, a variety of


1 See Turner 34-38 and 62-64, The British Tradition: a short history, in British Cultural Studies: An Introduction (Routledge, 1990).


2 Marked by many theorists, including Turner 196; Hardt 20-22.


3 Idea developed from Turner 66-67.


“minorities” or those who classify themselves as such have received an academic platform to express their views (hence sometimes “cultural studies” branch is called “minority discourse”).

In recent decades, theorists of this area have started studying various aspects of popular culture, as well as have made attempts to correct the dichotomy of high/low in culture and the arts. The issue of power and cultural dominance, as well as possibility of self-expression for previously “invisible” cultural groups lies in the center of all the constructions of “cultural criticism”, making them more or less attuned to post-colonial project 4.

The undoubted achievement of British historians and cultural specialists in their approach to the study of culture history was the development of methods for the reconstruction of consciousness stereotypes, understanding of the deep program of human activity rooted in cultural traditions and expressed in both written sources and objects of material culture. Gradually, purely sociological and historical research methods have given way to other methods of working with cultural texts – ethnographic (qualitative methods), semiotic, etc. This was to certain extent associated with the fact that in addition to the neo-Marxism, French structuralism has also played its role in the paradigm of cultural studies4. Application of methods of structural linguistics to the study of ideology made it possible to not simply identify the content side of a certain ideological program, but show how it works, how it is structured and how it structures the cultural practices.

Thus, Stuart Hall outlined four “gaps” or four significant differences in the studying and understanding of the media, which were practiced in the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies: 1) rejection of the directive influence of the media on the audience: 2) change in the


4 Turner 189-193 and Hardt 45-50 on postmodernism and cultural studies.


understanding of media content as a transparent and neutral bearer ( essentially, a medium in the literal sense) in favor of rigid undefined “message”, when much depends on interpretation; 3) refusal to understand the audience as a passive participant in the process of communication, and 4) understanding of media as an important component in the circulation of the dominant ideological clichés and representations 5.

These differences were not formulated in advance, but were the result of numerous research projects. When studying when and which media the audience “consumed” researchers overlook the question of what the audience saw and/or heard, how it interpreted the information – all this is left beyond the scope of research. In other words, the difference in the interpretation of the texts of media is not considered, while the meaning is designed and recorded by means of a code that organizes the interaction of the concepts map and language system, which is necessary for the thinking process. However, according to Eco exploring different ways of segmenting the content gives rise to the new direction of semiotics called semiotics of culture 6. Moreover, for the study of mass media as a socio-cultural phenomenon significant is not only what has been represented, but also what has been left behind. Perhaps, the latter is even more important. Therefore, media semiotics can only be successful as an interdisciplinary project 7.

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