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What is Cultural Studies? What does it do? And does it Matter?

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What is Cultural Studies? What does it do? And does it Matter? The question 'what is cultural studies?' is a question to which there is huge possibility to a broad and extensive answer, covering a range of topics and possibly even coming to a varied choice of conclusions. When talking about cultural studies we ask ourselves many questions, is it a discipline? A series of related practises? Or a social or political commitment? Has it been a trend with in literary criticism and if so, what is its relationship to the rest of the discipline primarily in the humanities and social sciences which are perceived as kin in subject and method. While there are many questions and assumptions about how to proceed with the subject of cultural studies, it is important to note that this fuzzy status (as a broad territory of critical methodologies somewhat difficult to define), this confusion about what cultural studies is and what it is not can be as much a productive confusion as a matter for discussion and debate. While a precise definition will be forever in dispute, understood best through study of particular works, there are a few places we can start. To me, the most logical place to look for a definition of cultural studies is in a Sociology Dictionary, 'Cultural Studies is a developing area of academic interest, sometimes taught as a distinctive university or college qualification, which lies at the interface between the social sciences (sociology) ...read more.


In the field of linguistics the structuralist work of Ferdinand de Saussure, undertaken just prior to World War I, long served as model and inspiration for other structuralists. Saussure's linguistic inquiry was centred not on the underlying rules and conventions enabling language to operate, rather than speech itself. In analyzing the social or collective dimension of language rather than individual speech, he pioneered and promoted study of grammar rather than usage, rules rather than expressions, models rather than data, language rather than speech. Saussure was interested in the infrastructure of language that is common to all speakers and that functions on an unconscious level. In structuralist terminology, his work was synchronic rather than diachronic, which means it was existing 'now' rather than existing and changing over time. The work done in the post-World War II period by Claude Levi-Strauss introduced structuralist principles to a wider audience. Following the ideas of Saussure and of the Slavic linguists N. S. Trubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson, Levi-Strauss specified four procedures basic to structuralism. Levi-Strauss stated that the four basic procedures would be as follows: - A structural analysis is a means of examining unconscious development of cultural material. - All the contents of infrastructures are not regarded as independent but as relational. - It assists in a single understanding to a system. - and finally presents the general rules and organizing patterns of phenomena. ( Lane,1958,p56) He also states that, 'Linguistics occupies a special place among the social sciences, to whose ranks it unquestionably belongs. ...read more.


Culture is not only concerned with social interaction, but it integrates political issues and ideas which affect our every day lives, if we did not study culture then we would not question the 'superiors' of our society, nor would we revise any of the issues and ideas that crop up from day to day. Returning to the issues of Marxism in the relevance of cultural studies I would like to suggest that Marxism is a vital tool in questioning the powers of authority and the political rules which they impose on society. As the government continually face new pressures and the complexities of a changing world, the field of cultural studies has gained both importance and visibility. Cultural studies can be broadly defined by a number of commitments: it is both theoretical and contextual, its concern is always how to use theory as a resource to better understand and change specific historical contexts. It seeks to find better forms of knowledge and authority in the face of the challenge of contemporary political and epistemological relativism and its object of study is the relations between specific cultural practices or discourses, everyday life and structures of power. Cultural studies encourages the examination of those areas of cultural knowledge where disciplines overlap, intersect and collide, producing productive debate. It emphasizes the variety of cultural formations and practices both within British society and around the world, and insists upon the historical and geographical specification of both "culture" and specific cultural practices within cultural studies. It provides opportunities to engage in discussion, teaching and research across common interests in questions of culture and power. ...read more.

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