cultural studies

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cultural studies

the distinctive range of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of culture and society, which in sociology has been especially associated with the work of the UK Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham. Established in 1964 under the directorship of Richard Hoggart, the Centre took its principal inspiration from his influential book The Uses ofLiteracy (1958). The aim was to support and encourage research in the area of contemporary culture and society: cultural forms, institutions and practices, and their relation to wider patterns of social change. Following the departure of Hoggart to UNESCO in 1968, a sociologist, Stuart HALL, became director, until his move to the Open University in 1979.

The concerns of both the Centre and the main sociological strand of cultural studies in the UK have been:

  1. the social conditioning of cultural production and symbolic forms;
  2. the ‘lived experience’ of culture and its shaping by class, age, gender and ethnic relations;
  3. the relationships between economic and political institutions and processes and cultural forms. These include the work of the socialist literary critic, Raymond Williams (especially Culture and Society, 1958, and The Long Revolution, 1960 – see also the entry on ‘Culture’ in Keywords, 1976). Influenced by Williams and Hall, cultural studies derived many of its concepts from Marxism, but it always avoided ‘reductionism’, emphasizing instead the idea that culture is a product of power struggles between different social groups, based on age, gender and ethnicity, as well as economic divisions (class). For example, in the 1970s a series of Working Papers in Cultural Studies, produced by researchers at the CCCS (see Hall and Jefferson, 1976), which focused on youth SUBCULTURES, attracted wide attention (see RESISTANCE THROUGH RITUAL). Later, influenced by the ideas of GRAMSCI and ALTHUSSERIAN MARXISM, members of the Birmingham school explored the cultural implications of THATCHERISM. See also MASS CULTURE, LITERARY AND CULTURAL THEORY.

More recently, especially with an increasing centrality of the ‘cultural industries’ within the economy, numerous further areas of focus on ‘cultural forms’ can also be noticed in addition to those central in the work of the CCCS – see CONSUMER CULTURE, POSTMODERNITY AND POSTMODERNISM, SOCIOLOGY OF ART.

A further trend within cultural studies, notable in the last decade, has been an increasing emphasis on the importance of acknowledgement, study and celebration of cultural difference and diversity (e.g. influenced by the work of such key theorists as FOUCAULT and SAID). A so-called ‘cultural turn in sociology – a shift not least within neo-Marxist theory – that emphasizes the ‘relative autonomy’ of culture and ideology from structural determination – see GRAMSCI, NEO-COLONIAL THEORY – has made ‘cultural studies’ often appear as a rival approach to 'S ociology’. See also MEDIA STUDIES, SOCIOLOGY OF MASS COMMUNICATIONS.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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