Cultural Studies key terms and thinkers

Active audiences
The capability of audiences to be dynamic creators and producers of meaning rather than passive receptors of those generated by texts.
Words are not held to have referents with essential or universal qualities; rather, meaning is generated through the relationship between signs. Consequently, being discursive constructions, categories change their meanings according to time, place and usage. For example, since words do not refer to essences, identity is not a fixed universal 'thing' but a description in language.
A temporary unity of discursive elements that do not have to 'go together'. An articulation is the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements under certain conditions. Articulation suggests expressing/representing and a joining together, so that, for example, questions of gender may connect with race but in context-specific and contingent ways.
Cultural materialism
Concerned to explore how and why meanings are inscribed at the moment of production. It involves the exploration of signification in the context of the means and conditions of its production. Cultural materialism is concerned with the connections between cultural practices and political economy.
The concept of culture does not represent an entity in an independent object world. It is best thought of as a mobile signifier that enables distinct ways of talking about human activity. The concept of culture is thus political and contingent. In so far as cultural studies has a distinguishing take on the concept of culture, it is one that stresses the intersection of power and meaning. Culture can also be understood as overlapping maps of criss-crossing discursive meaning which form zones of temporary coherence and shared but always contested significance in a social space. The production and exchange of meanings, or signifying practices, leading to that which is distinctive about a way of life.
Concerned with the numerous manifestations and relations of power at all levels of human interaction. Cultural studies has been particularly concerned with the 'politics of representation': the way that power is implicated in the construction, regulation and contestation of cultural classifications through the temporary stabilization of meaning.
Signs carry many potential meanings. They do not have transparent and authoritative meaning by dint of reference to an independent object world but depend on actual usage within a dialogic relationship between speaker and listener. The 'multi-accentuality' of signs is the site of attempts by social convention and social struggles to fix meaning.
Popular culture
Widespread and common public texts. The meanings and practices produced by popular audiences. As a political category, the popular is a site of power and the struggle over meaning. The popular transgresses the boundaries of cultural power and exposes the arbitrary character of cultural classification through challenging notions of a high/low culture.
Indicating that knowledge and 'voice' are always located in time, space and social power. The concept of positionality refers us to the who, where, when and why of speaking, judgement and comprehension.
Commonly thought of in terms of a force by which individuals or groups are able to achieve their aims or interests against the will of others. Power here is constraining (power over) and a zero-sum model (you have it or you do not) organized into binary power blocs. However, cultural studies has, after Foucault, stressed that power is also productive and enabling (power to) and that power circulates through all levels of society and all social relationships.
For Foucault, from whom cultural studies derives its usage of this term, discourse 'unites' both language and practice. The idea refers to the production of knowledge through language which gives bounded meanings to material objects and social practices. Material objects and social practices are given meaning or 'brought into view' by language and are thus discursively formed. Discourse constructs, defines and produces the objects of knowledge in a regulated and intelligible way while excluding other forms of reasoning as unintelligible.
Discursive formation
A pattern of discursive events that refer to, or bring into being, a common object across a number of sites.
A temporary closure of meaning supportive of the powerful. The process of making, maintaining and reproducing the governing sets of meanings of a given culture. For Gramsci, hegemony implies a situation where an 'historical bloc' of ruling-class factions exercises social authority and leadership over the subordinate classes through a combination of force and, more importantly, consent.
A temporary stabilization of meaning or description of ourselves with which we emotionally identify. Identity is a becoming rather than a fixed entity involving the suturing or stitching together of the discursive 'outside' with the 'internal' processes of subjectivity. Points of temporary attachment to the subject positions which discursive practices construct for us.
The concept of ideology is best understood as the 'binding and justifying ideas' of any social group. It is commonly used to designate the attempt to fix meanings and world views in support of the powerful. Here ideology is said to be constituted by maps of meaning that, while they purport to be universal truths, are historically specific understandings which obscure and maintain the power of social groups (e.g. class, gender, race).
Whereby the meaning of words is located in their usage in a complex network of relationships, rather than being derived from some essential characteristic or referent. Meaning is contextual and relational. It depends on the relationships between words that have 'family resemblances' and on specific utterances in the context of pragmatic narratives.
Political economy
A domain of knowledge concerned with power and the distribution of economic resources. Political economy explores the questions of who owns and controls the institutions of the economy, society and culture.
By which signifying practices appear to stand for or depict another object or practice in the 'real' world. Better described as a 'representational effect' since signs do not stand for or reflect objects in a direct 'mirroring' mode. Representations are constitutive of culture, meaning and knowledge.
Signifying practices (the) social
Meaning-producing activities. The production and exchange of signs generating significance; that is, meaning, sense and importance.
Social formation
The social is conceived of as a concrete, historically produced, complex assemblage composed of different practices (ideological, political, economic). A social formation is said to consist of levels of practice, each of which has its own specificity, that are articulated together in particular conjunctures where there is no necessary or automatic correspondence or relationship to each other.
The condition and processes of being a person or self. For cultural studies, subjectivity is often regarded, after Foucault, as an 'effect' of discourse because subjectivity is constituted by the subject positions which discourse obliges us to take up. The characteristics of agency and identity that discursive subject positions enable for a speaking subject.
The everyday usage of the term refers to writing in its various forms so that books and magazines are texts. However, it is an axiom of cultural studies that a text is anything that generates meaning through signifying practices. Hence, dress, television programmes, images, sporting events, pop stars, etc., can all be read as texts.
Marx, Karl (1818-1883) Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist and revolutionary of Jewish lineage whose work spawned Marxism as a stream of thought. The key influences on his work were German philosophy, notably that of Hegel, and English political economy, including the writings of Adam Smith. Marx is most closely associated with an analysis of capitalism as a class-based system of exploitation and the need to transcend it with an egalitarian socialist/communist society. Marx argued in favour of a philosophy of historical materialism that could grasp the historical specificity of human affairs in the context of the material conditions of existence. Thus human consciousness and culture were to be explained in the context of the primary influence of economic and class structures. • Associated concepts Alienation, base and superstructure, capitalism, class, commodification, cultural materialism, ideology, political economy. Page 113 dictionary
Derrida is an Algerian-born French-speaking philosopher whose work has been influential within cultural studies and who is associated with the themes of deconstruction and poststructuralism. The main influence that Derrida has had on cultural studies is his anti-essentialism, by which words do not refer to objects that possess essential qualities. Derrida undoes the structuralist trope of the stable binary structures of language, arguing that meaning slides down a chain of signifiers and is thus continually deferred and supplemented. Derrida seeks to deconstruct the epistemological base of Western philosophy, including the idea that there can be any self-present transparent meaning outside of 'representation'. He also deconstructs the hierarchical conceptual oppositions of philosophy such as speech/writing, reality/appearance, and argues for the 'undecidability' of binary oppositions. • Associated concepts Anti-essentialism, deconstruction, différance, logocentricism, under erasure, writing. • Tradition(s) Postmodernism, poststructuralism.
Foucault is a major figure in French philosophy whose work is associated with the ideas of poststructuralism and which has become a very significant influence within contemporary cultural studies. Influenced by Nietzsche, Foucault explored the varying discursive practices that exert power over human bodies but without any commitment to any underlying structural order or finally determinate power. Foucault attempts to identify the historical conditions and determining rules of the formation of discourses and the operation of power/knowledge in social practice that achieves the ordering of meaning. Much of Foucault's work is concerned with the historical investigation of power as a dispersed capillary woven into the fabric of the social order that is not simply repressive but is also productive (of, for example, subjectivity). • Associated concepts Archaeology, discourse, episteme, genealogy, governmentality, power/knowledge, subject position. • Tradition(s) Postmodernism, poststructuralism.
Freud gained notoriety in the first decade of the twentieth century as the originator of psychoanalysis, which he developed in Vienna before being forced to flee in the face of the Nazis' persecution of Jews. According to Freud, the self is constituted in terms of an ego, or conscious rational mind, a superego, or social conscience, and the unconscious, the source and repository of the symbolic workings of repressed desire that is generated through the resolution of the Oedipus complex. Freud's proposition that sexuality is the key to subjectivity and culture through the active operation of the unconscious in everyday life is his most significant legacy. His work remains controversial and while a number of cultural studies writers have embraced psychoanalysis in order to explore gendered subjectivity, others have rejected it as phallocentric and mythological. Associated concepts Identification, Oedipus complex, sex, subjectivity, unconscious. Tradition(s) Psychoanalysis.
An approach to the study of culture associated with Raymond Williams that stresses an anthropological and historically informed analysis. There is a stress on the 'ordinariness' of culture and the active, creative capacity of common people to construct shared meaningful practices.
A body of thought derived from the work of Karl Marx which stresses the determining role of the material conditions of existence and the historical specificity of human affairs. Marxism, which has focused on the development and dynamics of capitalism and class conflict, makes claims to be an emancipatory philosophy of equality.
Mass culture
Pejorative term used to suggest the inferiority of commodity-based capitalist culture as inauthentic, manipulative and unsatisfying. The concept draws its power from the contrast with high culture and/or an alleged authentic people's culture.
'After structuralism' involving both critique and absorption. Poststructuralism absorbs structuralism's stress on the relational character of language and the production of significance through difference. Poststructuralism rejects the idea of a stable structure of binary pairs; rather, meaning is always deferred, in process and intertextual. Poststructuralism rejects the search for origins, stable meaning, universal truth and the 'direction' of history.
A body of thought (derived from the study of language) that is concerned with the structures of signs that allow linguistic performance to be possible. A structuralist understanding of culture is concerned with the 'systems of relations' of an underlying structure that forms the grammar which makes meaning possible (rather than an actual performance in its infinite variations).
As Professor of English at Birmingham University (UK) in 1964, Richard Hoggart was instrumental in the formation of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) and became its first Director. His influential book The Uses of Literacy explores the character of English working class culture as it developed and changed from the 1930s through to the 1950s. In the first part of his book Hoggart gives a sympathetic, humanist and detailed account of the lived culture of the working class before going on to give a rather more acid account of the development of 'commercial culture'. Hoggart's central legacy to cultural studies is the legitimacy he accorded to the detailed study of working class culture, that is, to the meanings and practices of ordinary people as they seek to live their lives and make their own history. As such, he has often been associated with culturalism, and, though this may not be warranted, it does at least distinguish him from the Marxist and Left-leaning turn taken by cultural studies after he handed over the Directorship of CCCS to Stuart Hall. • Associated concepts Capitalism, class, commodification, mass culture, popular culture. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, culturalism.
Raymond Williams
Williams, Raymond (1921-1988) Raymond Williams' background in working class rural Wales before attending Cambridge University (UK) as both student and professor is significant, in that the lived experience of working class culture and a commitment to democracy and socialism are themes of his writing. Williams' work was extremely influential in the development of cultural studies through his understanding of culture as constituted by 'a whole way of life'. His anthropologically inspired grasp of culture as ordinary and lived, sometimes dubbed 'culturalism', helped to legitimize the study of popular culture. Williams' work engages with Marxism, most notably through the notions of ideology and hegemony, but he critiques a reductionist notion of base and superstructure. Williams argues for a form of cultural materialism that explores culture in terms of the relationships between the elements in an expressive totality. • Associated concepts Base and superstructure, capitalism, class, common culture, cultural materialism, culture, experience, hegemony, ideology. • Tradition(s) Culturalism, humanism, Marxism.
Althusser, Louis (1918-1990) Althusser was a Marxist philosopher and theorist of the French Communist Party who is associated with the attempt to produce a structuralist Marxism. In particular he rejected what he saw as the humanism inherent in the early work of Marx in favour of what he understood to be the scientific structuralism of the later Das Kapital. His central influence within cultural studies was the argument that a social formation was constituted by a complex overdetermined relationship between different autonomous levels of practice. In particular, he was a significant figure in cultural studies' break with economic determinism and the granting of autonomy within theory to the levels of culture and ideology. Once a thinker of considerable influence, especially during the late 1960s and 1970s, his star has now waned because of the complexity of his writing and the dogmatism, scientism and reductionism of his thinking. • Associated concepts Ideological state apparatus, ideology, post-humanism, social formation. • Tradition(s) Marxism, structuralism.
Gramsci, Antonio (1981-1937) Gramsci was an Italian Marxist theorist and political activist whose main contribution to cultural studies has been courtesy of his application of Marxism to modern Western societies. In particular, he developed and deployed the concepts of ideology and hegemony in ways that gained considerable currency within cultural studies during its formative years in the 1970s. Gramsci was influential in developing a non-reductionist Marxism that explored meaning and ideas as developmental forces that were not explicable in economic terms alone, hence his significance to Western Marxists such as Stuart Hall who were interested in culture. • Associated concepts Base and superstructure, civil society, class, common sense, hegemony, ideology. • Tradition(s) Marxism.
A system of representation by which signs and their meanings are arranged by cultural convention to temporarily stabilize significances in particular ways. Traffic light signs are coded in a sequence: red (stop), amber (pause), green (go). Objects are commonly gender-coded: washing machine (female), drill (male), cooker (female), car (male).
Non-identical, dissimilar, distinction, division, otherness, variance. Difference is the mechanism for the generation of meaning. Difference is not an essence or attribute of an object but a position or perspective of signification.
The accumulation and generation of meaning across texts, where all meanings depend on other meanings. The self-conscious citation of one text within another as an expression of enlarged cultural self-consciousness.
A reflexive understanding of the contingency or lack of foundations of one's own values and culture that is said to be a feature of the postmodern condition. The self-knowledge that what is being said or done has been said and done before. The doubleness of a selfundermining statement by which the already known is spoken in inverted commas.
The processes of generating meaning through the organization of a system of signs (signifying system).
Symbolic (order)
Regulated and patterned forms of significance or meaning constituted by the relations of difference between signs; that is, the structuring of the signs and representations that constitute culture.
Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose posthumously published book Course in General Linguistics (reconstructed from his notes by students) laid the basis for what became structural linguistics or semiotics, the 'science' of signs. Saussure's influence on cultural studies comes indirectly through the work of other thinkers who were influenced by him. It was perhaps Roland Barthes' 1972 book Mythologies that most clearly demonstrated the relevance of semiotics to cultural studies and heralded the field's interest in language, signs and culture mediated through Saussure's thinking. The central tenet of Saussure's argument is that language is to be understood as a sign system constituted by interrelated terms without positive values (that is, meaning is relational). Langue, or the formal structure of signs, is said to be the proper subject of linguistics. • Associated concepts Language, meaning, signs, structure, text. • Tradition(s) Semiotics, structuralism.
The French writer, critic, teacher and theorist Roland Barthes exerted a very significant influence on the development of cultural studies, particularly in its movement from culturalism to structuralism during the 1970s. His work was instrumental in assisting cultural thinkers to break with the notion of the text as a carrier of transparent meaning. In particular, he brought the methods of semiotics to bear on a wide range of cultural phenomena to illuminate the argument that all texts are constructed with signs in social contexts. Central to Barthes's work is the role of signs in generating meaning and framing the way texts are read. Thus he explored the way that the naturalization of connotative meanings enables that which is cultural to appear as pre-given universal truths, which he called myths. He famously declared the 'death of the author' as a way of illustrating the argument that meaning does not reside with individual writers but rather with the interplay between the wider structures of cultural meaning and the interpretive acts of readers. • Associated concepts Author, meaning, myth, reading, signs, text. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, poststructuralism, semiotics, structuralism.
After Marxism, by which Marxism is no longer held to be the primary explanatory narrative of our time. The superseding of Marxism in cultural studies through the selective retention of that which is held to be valuable in it. A form of antiessentialist Marxism based on discourse theory.
Lacan was a French psychoanalyst whose work has been particularly influential within feminism and on a number of theories of subjectivity and identity. Through this body of work Lacan's writings have become the most prominent form of psychoanalysis within cultural studies. Lacan's value to cultural theory has been in his revision of Freudian principles using structuralism and poststructuralism in ways that give particular attention to the place of language in the structuring of the unconscious and of subjectivity. That is, for Lacan entry into the subject positions of the symbolic order is the very condition of subjectivity. Further, the unconscious is said to be structured 'like a language' and is thus a site of signification and meaningfulness. • Associated concepts Mirror phase, Oedipus complex, subject position, subjectivity, symbolic order, unconscious. • Tradition(s) Psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, structuralism.
The Austrian-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein did much of his work at Cambridge University (UK). He is one of the pillars of post-Enlightenment philosophy whose linguistic anti-essentialism and holism have been a significant 'behind-the-scenes' influence on constructionism in general and postmodernism, poststructuralism and pragmatism in particular. For Wittgenstein, 'language' is a context-specific tool used by human beings where the meaning of the word is forged in use. Wittgenstein argued that words do not derive meaning from the essential characteristics of an independent referent but rather meaning arises in the context of a language-game. While language-games are rulebound activities, those rules are not abstract components of language (as in structuralism) but rather they are constitutive rules. That is, rules which are such by dint of their enactment in social practice. • Associated concepts Anti-essentialism, holism, language, language-game, meaning, truth. • Tradition(s) Ordinary language philosopher who has been influential on constructionism, postmodernism, poststructuralism and pragmatism.
A Professor at Stanford University (USA), Rorty is the leading contemporary writer in the tradition of pragmatism. Rorty advocates antirepresentationalism by which language is unable to represent the world in ways that more or less correspond to an independent object world. This leads him to adopt an anti-foundationalism that suggests that we are unable to ground our actions or beliefs in any form of universal truth. For Rorty, language is best understood through the metaphor of the tool rather than that of a mirror, and politics justified from within the values of specific traditions rather than seeking universal foundations. Knowledge is not a matter of getting a true or objective picture of reality but of learning how best to cope with the world. For Rorty the contingency of language underpins irony, that is, holding to beliefs and attitudes which one knows are contingent and could be otherwise. Rorty advocates both a politics of 'new languages' or 're-description' and a reforming Left Liberalism based on hope in the struggle for social justice. • Associated concepts Epistemology, ethnocentrism, foundationalism (anti-), holism, irony, language-game, Liberalism, truth. • Tradition(s) Postmodernism, pragmatism.
Interactional sociolinguistics
Interactional sociolinguistics is a subdiscipline of linguistics that uses discourse analysis to study how language users create meaning via social interaction.[1] Interactional sociolinguistics was founded by linguistic anthropologist John J. Gumperz.[1][2] Topics of interest include cross-cultural miscommunication, politeness, and framing. In terms of research methods, interactional sociolinguists analyze audio or video recordings of conversations or other interactions. Analysis focuses not only on linguistic forms such as words and sentences but also on subtle cues such as prosody and register that signal contextual presupposition. These contextualization cues are culturally specific and usually unconscious. When participants in a conversation come from different cultural backgrounds they may not recognize these subtle cues in one another's speech, leading to misunderstanding
Ethnography of communication
The Ethnography of communication (EOC) is a method of discourse analysis in linguistics, which draws on the anthropological field of ethnography. Unlike ethnography proper, though, it takes both language and culture to be constitutive as well as constructive. EOC can be used as a means by which to study the interactions among members of a specific culture or, what Gerry Philipsen (1975) calls a "speech community." Speech communities create and establish their own speaking codes/norms. General aims of this qualitative research method include: being able to discern which communication acts and/or codes are important to different groups, what types of meanings groups apply to different communication events, and how group members learn these codes provides insight into particular communities. This additional insight may be used to enhance communication with group members, make sense of group members' decisions, and distinguish groups from one another, among other things.
Linguistic Ethnography
As a term designating a particular configuration of interests within the broader field of socio- and applied linguistics, 'linguistic ethnography' (LE) is a theoretical and methodological development orientating towards particular, established traditions but defining itself in the new intellectual climate of late modernity and post-structuralism. Linguistic ethnography generally holds that language and social life are mutually shaping, and that close analysis of situated language use can provide both fundamental and distinctive insights into the mechanisms and dynamics of social and cultural production in everyday activity. LE, therefore, has been particularly influenced by research on literacy, ethnicity and identity, ideology, classroom discourse and language teaching. It aims to use discourse analytic tools in creative ways to extend our understanding of the role language plays in social life. It combines a number of research literatures from conversational analysis (CA), post-structuralism, urban sociology and US linguistic anthropology
John J. Gumperz
Gumperz was, for most of his career, a professor at the University of California in Berkeley. His research on the languages of India, on code-switching in Norway, and on conversational interaction, has benefitted the study of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, linguistic anthropology, and urban anthropology. John Gumperz developed a new way of looking at sociolinguistics with Dell Hymes, also a scholar of sociolinguistics. Their contribution was a new method called the "ethnography of communication." Gumperz' own approach has been called Interactional sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics analyzes variation in discourse, within a particular speech community, and studies how that variation affects the unfolding of meaning in interaction and correlates with the social order of the community. Gumperz built on Hymes's work by looking at differential power between speech communities. In particular, Gumperz noted that the "standard" form of any given language (i.e., the form that is expected in formal situations, the form that one hears on the news) is the dialect of those who are already powerful. He called this the "prestige dialect," and noted that those who did not speak that dialect natively, but rather had a stigmatized or less powerful native dialect, were "diglossic" (fluent in their native dialects and able to use the prestige dialect, too), whereas those whose native dialect was the prestige dialect were rarely able to use other codes Gumperz defines the speech community as "any human aggregate characterized by regular and frequent interaction by means of a shared body of verbal signs and set off from similar aggregates by significant differences in language usage."
Dell Hymes
As one of the first sociolinguists, Hymes helped to pioneer the connection between speech and social relations placing linguistic anthropology at the center of the performative turn within anthropology and the social sciences more generally. Since appropriate language use is conventionally defined, and varies across different communities, much of Hymes early work frames a project for ethnographic investigation into contrasting patterns of language use across speech communities. Hymes termed this approach "the ethnography of speaking." The SPEAKING acronym, described below, was presented as a lighthearted heuristic to aid fieldworkers in their attempt to document and analyze instances of language in use, which he termed "speech events." Embedded in the acronym is an application and extension of Jakobson's arguments concerning the multifunctionality of language. He articulated other, more technical, often typologically oriented approaches to variation in patterns of language use across speech communities in a series of articles.[5][6] More recently, the ethnography of speaking has been renamed the "ethnography of communication" to reflect the broadening of focus from instances of language production to the ways in which communication (including oral, written, broadcast, acts of receiving/listening) is conventionalized in a given community of users. Hymes promoted what he and others call "ethnopoetics," an anthropological method of transcribing and analyzing folklore and oral narrative that pays attention to poetic structures within speech. Hymes clearly considers folklore and narrative a vital part of the fields of linguistics, anthropology and literature, and has bemoaned the fact that so few scholars in those fields are willing and able to adequately include folklore in its original language in their considerations
Language is central to social interaction in every society, regardless of location and time period. Language and social interaction have a reciprocal relationship: language shapes social interactions and social interactions shape language. Sociolinguistics is the study of the connection between language and society and the way people use language in different social situations. It asks the question, "How does language affect the social nature of human beings, and how does social interaction shape language?" It ranges greatly in depth and detail, from the study of dialects across a given region to the analysis of the way men and women speak to each other in certain situations. The basic premise of sociolinguistics is that language is variable and ever-changing. As a result, language is not uniform or constant. Rather, it is varied and inconsistent for both the individual user and within and among groups of speakers who use the same language.
Cultural Imperialism
Said to involve the domination of one culture by another, leading to the suppression and potential obliteration of the dominated culture. It is usually conceived of in terms of the ascendancy of specific nations and/or global consumer capitalism.
Disorganized Capitalism
A reorganization of capitalism on a world-wide scale involving the dispersal of capital through globalized production, financing and distribution. In the west this has been associated with deindustrialization, a sectoral shift towards the service sector, and a rise in flexible forms of work organization.
Increasing multi-directional economic, social, cultural and political global connections across the world and our awareness of them. Globalization is associated with the institutions of modernity and time-space compression or the shrinking world.
The mixing together of different cultural elements to create new meanings and identities. Hybrids destabilize and blur established cultural boundaries in a process of fusion or creolization. Hybrid identities include British-Asians and Chinese-Australians.
Concerned with reflexivity, self-actualization, choice and lifestyle in the pursuit of qualitatively better ways to live. Life-politics revolves around the creation of justifiable forms of life involving less emphasis on economic accumulation and more on the need to re-moralize social life and adopt new lifestyles.
A post-traditional, post-medieval historical period marked by the rise of industrialism, capitalism, the nation-state and forms of surveillance.
New Social Movement
Provisional symbolic and political collectives that stress democratic participation and ethics-based action located outside of the workplace and distinct from class. Encompass the feminist movement, ecology politics, peace movements, youth movements and the politics of cultural identities.
This term marks the movement away from an economy based on the mass production of standardized goods for an aggregated market (Fordism) towards one in which the leading edge of the economy is marked by small-scale customized production for niche markets. Post-Fordism is founded on the flexibility of labour and the individualization of consumption patterns. From a production- to a consumption-oriented society.
Post-industrial society
A concept suggesting that industrialized societies are witnessing a shift of locus from industrial manufacturing to service industries centred on information technology. Information production and exchange along with the displacement of significance from production to consumption are said to be markers of the post-industrial society.
(a) A cultural style marked by intertextuality, irony, pastiche, genre blurring and bricolage; (b) a philosophical movement which rejects 'grand narratives' (i.e. universal explanations of human history and activity) in favour of irony and local knowledges.
Anthony Giddens
Formerly Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge (UK), the British-born thinker Anthony Giddens was until recently the Director of the London School of Economics. Giddens has sought to legitimate the project of sociology and has sometimes been critical of the impulses of cultural studies; nevertheless, his work has exerted considerable influence amongst writers in the field. Giddens' expertise in classical sociology formed the bedrock of his structuration theory, which endeavours to overcome the dualism of agency and structure. His more contemporary work has coalesced around the themes of modernity, identity and globalization. For Giddens, globalization is a consequence of the dynamism of modernity, while that which others have labelled postmodern is for him better understood as late-modern, that is, the radicalization of the detraditionalizing forces of modernity. In this context the self is a reflexive project freed from traditional constraints and in a state of continual re-invention. • Associated concepts Agency, globalization, identity project, life-politics, modernity, reflexivity, structure, time-space geography. • Tradition(s) Hermeneutics, Marxism, structuralism, structuration theory.
Critical Discourse Analysis
Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse that views language as a form of social practice and focuses on the ways social and political domination are reproduced in text and talk. The approach draws from several disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, such as critical linguistics.[4] Fairclough developed a three-dimensional framework for studying discourse, where the aim is to map three separate forms of analysis onto one another: analysis of (spoken or written) language texts, analysis of discourse practice (processes of text production, distribution and consumption) and analysis of discursive events as instances of sociocultural practice. In addition to linguistic theory, the approach draws from social theory — and contributions from Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu — in order to examine ideologies and power relations involved in discourse. Language connects with the social through being the primary domain of ideology, and through being both a site of, and a stake in, struggles for power
Critical Language Awareness in Action
In linguistics, critical language awareness, often referred to as CLA, is a notion that relates to a learner's development of practical language capabilities and their ability to recognize what constitutes "appropriate" in language. A person's CLA may be heightened by being marginalized by their race, ethnicity, religion, social status, etc. It is "a prerequisite for effective democratic citizenship, and should therefore be seen as an entitlement for citizens, especially children developing towards citizenship in the educational system
Resistance to Powerful Language
James Scott's work focuses on the ways that subaltern people resist dominance. His original interest was in peasants in the Kedah state of Malaysia. In Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985) Scott expanded his theories to peasants in other parts of the world, and in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: The Hidden Transcript of Subordinate Groups (1990) he argued that all subordinate groups resist in ways similar to peasants. These three books have been summarized humorously with the descriptions "Peasants in Malaysia, peasants everywhere, everyone everywhere." Scott's theories are often contrasted with Gramscian ideas about hegemony. Against Gramsci, Scott argues that the everyday resistance of subalterns shows that they have not consented to dominance
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu (French: [buʁdjø]; 1 August 1930 - 23 January 2002) was a French sociologist, anthropologist,[2] and philosopher. Bourdieu takes language to be not merely a method of communication, but also a mechanism of power. The language one uses is designated by one's relational position in a field or social space. Different uses of language tend to reiterate the respective positions of each participant. Linguistic interactions are manifestations of the participants' respective positions in social space and categories of understanding, and thus tend to reproduce the objective structures of the social field. This determines who has a "right" to be listened to, to interrupt, to ask questions, and to lecture, and to what degree. The representation of identity in forms of language can be subdivided into language, dialect, and accent. For example, the use of different dialects in an area can represent a varied social status for individuals. A good example of this would be in the case of French. Until the French Revolution, the difference of dialects usage directly reflected ones social status. Peasants and lower class members spoke local dialects, while only nobles and higher class members were fluent with the official French language. Accents can reflect an area's inner conflict with classifications and authority within a population. The reason language acts as a mechanism of power is through forms of mental representations it is acknowledged and noticed as objective representations: as a sign and/or symbol. These signs and symbols therefore transform language into an agency of power.
Cultural Scripts
Cultural scripts define what is "sexual" and what is good or bad about it. This also means that they define sexual "normality" i.e. the standard for the proper gender role and erotic and reproductive behaviors. However, these definitions vary from one culture and historical period to another.
Culture jamming
The practice of subverting the semiotics of the media by turning commercial rhetoric against itself. Culture jamming is an act of cultural resistance that modifies logos and advertisements in order to convey a meaning that is different from the one intended. It transforms media messages into their opposite in order to raise political concerns.
A stance in eighteenth-century European philosophy that sought after universal truths in search of the improvement of the human condition that it called progress. The powers of Reason - especially science - to demystify the world were at the centre of the project. The moral-political agenda of the enlightenment was one of equality, liberty and fraternity.
Grand narrative
An overarching story or met narrative that claims universal validity as a foundational scheme that justifies the rational, scientific, technological and political projects of the modern world. Examples would be Marxism, Christianity and science.
A reality effect by which the real is produced according to a model so that representations become more real than the real. The distinction between the real and a representation collapses or implodes. A simulation or artificial production of real life that executes its own world to constitute reality.
(a) The cultural experience of modernity marked by change, ambiguity, doubt, risk, uncertainty and fragmentation; (b) an artistic style marked by aesthetic selfconsciousness, montage and the rejection of realism; (c) a philosophical position by which certain knowledge is sought after, even though it is recognized as subject to continual and chronic revision.
(a) An historical period after modernity marked by the centrality of consumption in a post-industrial context; (b) a cultural sensibility which rejects 'grand narratives' in favour of local truths within specific language-games.
A process of continuous self-monitoring. The use of knowledge about social life as a constitutive element of it. Discourse about the experience and revision of social activity in the light of new knowledge.
Jean Baudrillard
The early influences upon French theorist Jean Baudrillard, namely structuralism and Marxism, are also the prime targets of his core works where he critiques their assumptions and develops his own theories of postmodernism. Amongst Baudrillard's key themes is the idea that the Marxist distinction between use-value and exchange-value has collapsed in favour of the exchange of signs. Thus, a commodity is not simply an object with use-value for exchange but a commodity-sign. For Baudrillard, postmodern culture is constituted through a continual flow of images that establishes no connotational hierarchy but is one-dimensional and 'superficial'. Baudrillard argues that a series of modern distinctions, including the real and the unreal, the public and the private, Art and reality, have broken down (or been sucked into a 'black hole' as he calls it) leading to a culture of simulacrum and hyperreality. Associated concepts Commodification, hyperreality, irony, signs, simulacrum, symbolic. • Tradition(s) Marxism, postmodernism, semiotics, structuralism.
The socially determined capability to act and make a difference. This idea is not to be confused with a self-originating transcendental subject.
A generic name given to anti-essentialist theories that stress the culturally and historically specific social creation of meaningful categories and phenomena. This is in contrast to theories that appeal to universal and biological explanations for phenomena.
Essentialism assumes that words have stable referents so that social categories reflect an essential underlying identity. By this token there would be stable truths to be found and an essence of, for example, femininity. Here words refer to fixed essences and thus identities are regarded as stable entities.
The process of forming contingent and temporary points of attachment or emotional investment, which, through fantasy, partially suture or stitch together discourses and psychic/emotional forces.
Identity project
The ongoing creation of narratives of self-identity relating to our perceptions of the past, present and hoped-for future.
Subject position
Empty spaces or functions in discourse from which the world makes sense. The speaking subject is dependent on the prior existence of discursive positions since discourse constitutes the 'I' through the processes of signification.
Stuart Hall
If there can be any single person most identified with the development of cultural studies as a distinct domain of study it would be Stuart Hall. A West Indian-born British thinker initially associated with the 'New Left' of the late 1960s, Hall was the Director of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies from 1968 to 1979 and it was during this time that an identifiable and particular field called cultural studies began to emerge. Though identified with Marxism, Hall has also been critical of its reductionist tendencies and set out to study popular culture in its own right. Hall has made considerable use of the work of Gramsci and the concepts of ideology and hegemony, for example in his exploration and critique of Thatcherism in Britain. However, he also played a significant part in deploying the poststructuralism of Derrida and Foucault to develop a form of post-Marxism concerned with discourse, representation and the new post-1960s configuration of capitalism, identities and politics that emerged in Western cultures. • Associated concepts Articulation, circuit of culture, cultural politics, encoding- decoding, ethnicity, hegemony, identity, ideology, New Times, popular culture. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, Marxism, post-Marxism, poststructuralism.
Ernesto Laclau
Laclau was born in Argentina and educated at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Essex (UK) where he has also worked as a Professor of Political Philosophy. His anti-foundationalist philosophy of radical contingency is aimed at the dissolution of concepts and the weakening of the project of modernity. In particular he argues that there are no necessary links between discursive concepts, and that those links that are forged are temporary articulations bound together by hegemonic practice. With Chantal Mouffe, he has developed a form of post-Marxism that has been very influential within cultural studies, especially through the work of Stuart Hall. For Laclau and Mouffe, radical politics cannot be premised on any particular political project (for example, the proletariat of Marxism) but must instead be constructed in terms of the recognition of difference and the identification and development of points of common interest. The central purpose is to further the project of radical democracy. • Associated concepts Anti-essentialism, articulation, différance, foundationalism (anti-), hegemony. • Tradition(s) Marxism, post-Marxism, poststructuralism.
Cultural identity
A snapshot of unfolding meanings relating to self-nomination or ascription by others. Thus, cultural self-identity can be understood as a description of ourselves with which we identify. Social identity would refer to the descriptions others have of us. Cultural identity relates to the nodal points of cultural meaning, most notably class, gender, race, ethnicity, nation and age.
Dispersed networks of ethnically and culturally related peoples. The concept is concerned with ideas of travel, migration, scattering, displacement, homes and borders. It commonly, but not always, connotes aliens, displaced persons, wanderers, forced and reluctant flight.
A cultural term for boundary formation between groups of people who have been discursively constructed as sharing values, norms, practices, symbols and artefacts and are seen as such by themselves and others. Closely connected to the concept of race.
National identity
A form of imaginative identification with the nation-state as expressed through symbols and discourses. Thus, nations are not only political formations but also systems of cultural representation, so that national identity is continually reproduced through discursive action.
That set of western discourses which constructed an Orient in ways that depend on and reproduce the positional superiority and hegemony of the west. A system of representations impregnated with European superiority, racism and imperialism that brought the idea of 'The Orient' into western learning.
Critical theory that explores the discursive condition of postcoloniality, that is, colonial relations and their aftermath. Postcolonial theory explores postcolonial discourses and their subject positions in relation to themes of race, nation, subjectivity, power, subalterns, hybridity and creolization.
A signifier indicating categories of people based on alleged biological characteristics, including skin pigmentation. A 'racialized group' would be one identified and subordinated on the grounds of race as a discursive construct.
Vivid but simple representations which reduce persons to a set of exaggerated, usually negative, character traits. A stereotype is a form of representation that essentializes (i.e. suggests that categories have inherent and universal characteristics) others through the operation of power.
Paul Gilroy
Gilroy, who was born in Bethnal Green, London, was amongst those who studied at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). He is currently a Professor at Yale University (USA). Gilroy was critical of the 'culturalism' at CCCS for its implicit British nationalism and was a significant figure in bringing the categories of race and racialization to the fore in cultural studies, via for example his study of race in the UK - There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack. Gilroy has challenged essentialist notions of race or ethnicity and has written extensively about the 'changing same ' of diaspora cultural identities understood in terms of routes more than roots. Gilroy argues that black selfidentities and cultural expressions utilize a plurality of histories and that we should think of identities as being in motion rather than existing as absolutes of nature or culture. He has argued against the very idea of classifying people into 'races'. • Associated concepts Black Atlantic, diaspora, ethnicity, hegemony, identity, ideology, race. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, Marxism, postcolonial theory.
hooks, bell - aka Gloria Watkins
hooks is an African American feminist writer whose thinking is centrally concerned with the intersections of class, gender and race in culture and politics. Political engagement and a certain polemically oriented non-academic style of writing that has pedagogic and interventionist objectives mark her work. She is critical of 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy', a phrase that echoes a concern with the abuses of male power in the context of both race and class in the contemporary United States. Thus she has been critical of both white middle class feminism and black men's oppression of black women. She is a prolific and eclectic writer whose recent work has explored rap music, film, black 'folk' culture, African American politics and the character of teaching and learning. • Associated concepts Capitalism, class, gender, patriarchy, popular culture, race. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, feminism, Marxism.
A discursive-performative construction that describes and disciplines the cultural characteristics associated with what it means to be a woman; that is, culturally regulated behaviour regarded as socially appropriate to women.
(a) Diverse body of theoretical work; (b) a social and political movement. Feminism aims to examine the position of women in society and to further their interests.
The cultural assumptions and practices that govern the social construction of men, women and their social relations. Gender is a matter of how men and women are represented and performed.
A discursive-performative construction that describes and disciplines the cultural characteristics associated with what it means to be a man; that is, culturally regulated behaviour regarded as socially appropriate to men.
The recurrent and systematic domination of men over subordinated women across a range of social institutions and practices. The concept carries connotations of the male-headed family, mastery and superiority.
Discursive practice that enacts or produces that which it names through a citation and reiteration of the norms or conventions of the 'law'. Thus, the discursive production of identities through a repetition and recitation of regulated ways of speaking about identity categories (e.g. masculinity).
Luce Irigaray
Irigaray was born and educated in Belgium though she has spent a considerable period of her working life in France. She engages in philosophy, linguistics and psychoanalysis to explore the operations of patriarchy and the exclusions of women. For Irigaray, woman is outside the specular (visual) economy of the Oedipal moment and thus outside of representation (that is, of the symbolic order) so that 'woman' is not an essence per se but rather that which is excluded. Irigaray proceeds by way of deconstructing Western philosophy which she critiques for its exclusions while 'miming' the discourse of philosophy; that is, she talks its language but in ways that question the capacity of philosophy to ground its own claims. Her style varies from the lyrical and poetic to the political and didactic. • Associated concepts Différance, écriture feminine, Oedipus complex, Other, patriarchy, phallocentric, sex, subjectivity. • Tradition(s) Feminism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis.
Active audience
The capability of audiences to be dynamic creators and producers of meaning rather than passive receptors of those generated by texts.
The process associated with capitalism by which objects, qualities and signs are turned into commodities, where a commodity is something whose prime purpose is to be sold in the marketplace.
This concept refers to the breaking down of barriers between technologies and industrial sectors. The most common usage within cultural studies relates to the communications industries and thus to the information superhighway. The mobile phone is increasingly a site for the convergence of previously separate functions such as phone calls, photography, playing music and connecting to the Internet.
Refers in a communications context to the relaxation of state prescriptions governing the ownership and content of the media. It involves the replacement of such regulations with others that are less stringent in their restrictions. Thus deregulation is better described as re-regulation.
A regulated narrative process producing coherence and credibility through patterns of similarity and difference.
A term used to express the global production of the local and the localization of the global; that is, the way in which the global is already in the local and the production of the local is generated by a global discourse.
The bringing together of previously separate activities or moments in the processes of production and exchange to produce higher profits. Manifested in the formation of multinational multimedia corporations.
The everyday usage of the term refers to writing in its various forms so that books and magazines are texts. However, it is an axiom of cultural studies that a text is anything that generates meaning through signifying practices. Hence, dress, television programmes, images, sporting events, pop stars, etc., can all be read as texts.
Ien Ang
Ang's pioneering study of the way an audience reads television, Watching Dallas, became one of the cornerstones of the 'active audience' stream within cultural studies. Her central argument is that Dallas viewers are actively involved in the production of a range of responses that are not reducible to the structure of the text. Subsequent to this study, Ang has continued to write widely on the themes of media, culture, migration and globalization. She has continued to maintain a substantial empirical emphasis in her work that includes an interest in ethnicity and migrant cultures in Australia. She is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney. • Associated concepts Active audience, consumption, ethnicity, gender, globalization, reading. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, feminism, hermeneutics, postmodernism.
David Morley
Currently a Professor at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and a former member of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Morley was a key figure in the development of the 'active audience' paradigm within cultural studies. His early work on television audiences during the 1980s combined a theoretical justification of ethnographic methods with empirical studies of audience readings within the broad parameters of an encoding-decoding model. Within this context he also developed work relating to the gendered character of television viewing and the linkages between globalizing media and cultural identity. In addition, Morley's writing contains a long-running concern with the absorption of technology into everyday cultural life. • Associated concepts Active audience, consumption, encoding-decoding, gender, ideology, television. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, ethnography, hermeneutics, Marxism.
A spatial metaphor for the 'nowhere' place in which the electronic activities of computers, cable systems and other digital communications technologies occur. The concept refers to the virtual space of electronic culture. A computer-generated collective hallucination.
An entity that is part organism and part machine, and as such blurs the boundaries between them. Cyborgs appear regularly in science fiction such as The Terminator series of films. Human beings are cyborgs as they use technology to support them; for example, contact lenses, heart pacemakers and prosthetic limbs.
Digital divide
The communications revolution is driven by digital technology such as computers, cameras, music players and mobile phones. However, class, gender, race and nationality restrict access to this technology. The gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not is called the digital divide.
The organization of signs within computer software which form a network of information pathways. It is made up of a series of interlinked textual blocs where one text refers you to another, for example multiple menu options or worldwide web links.
Information economy
Information economy is an economy with an increased emphasis on informational activities and information industry.
Public sphere
A space for democratic public debate and argument that mediates between civil society and the state, in which the public organizes itself, and in which 'public opinion' is formed.
Virtual reality
Virtual reality is a representation of a world within digital media. The term implies that the virtual is 'near to' or an 'approximation of ' reality. However, in an epistemological sense it is no different from other representations. In social practice, virtual reality refers to both a textual universe in cyberspace and computer-generated images of greater depth and complexity.
Jurgen Habermas
professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt (Germany), Habermas stands in the tradition of the Frankfurt School, yet, he also differs from them in important respects. Thus, rather than dismissing Enlightenment reason per se, as Adorno was inclined to do, Habermas distinguishes between instrumental reason and critical reason. The former, epitomized by scientific rationality, involves the subordination of the social-existential questions of the 'lifeworld' to the 'system imperatives' of money and administrative power. However, the Enlightenment also has a critical side that for Habermas is the basis of the emancipatory project of modernity, which remains unfinished. A critic of postmodernism, Habermas has sought universal grounds for the validation of claims to human emancipation through the exploration of communicative processes that include the 'ideal speech situation' and the 'public sphere'. • Associated concepts Commodification, Enlightenment, ideal speech situation, modernity, public sphere. • Tradition(s) Critical theory, Marxism.
Donna Haraway
American feminist Donna Haraway trained as a scientist and her cultural writings reflect her continued concern with the epistemological and social issues raised by science. She rejects the claims of science, and some branches of feminism, to hold the God-like neutral knowledge of a disembodied gaze. Instead she advocates 'partial perspectives' that recognize their inherent limitations and remind us that no single perspective is complete. In her 'Cyborg manifesto' Haraway suggests that the boundaries between animal, human and machine are breaking down. She also rejects the distinction between sex and gender on the grounds that biology is a partial perspective that privileges sexuality. Consequently she describes herself in terms of multiple identities that include the cyborg, a position that she argues has advantages for women. Associated concepts Constructionism, epistemology, foundationalism (anti-), multiple identities, post-feminism, post-humanism. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, Marxism, postmodernism, poststructuralism.
A claim that a category is genuine, natural, true and pure. For example, that the culture of a place is authentic because it is uncontaminated by tourism or that a youth culture is pure and uncorrupted by consumer capitalism. Closely related to the notion of essentialism in that authenticity implies immaculate origins.
The rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected signifying objects to produce new meanings in fresh contexts. A process of re-signification by which cultural signs with established meanings are reorganized into new codes of meaning.
Someone who constructs a bricolage (above). Within cultural studies the term has most commonly been applied to those who stylize themselves using the clothing and artefacts of popular culture.
A concept associated with Bourdieu. Here distinctions of cultural taste are understood to be classifications based on lines of power. Distinctions are never simply statements of equal difference but entail claims to authority and authenticity.
Synchronic relationship by which social structures, social values and cultural symbols are said to 'fit' together; that is, the way in which the structure and meanings of symbols and artefacts parallel and reflect the concerns of a social group.
Moral panic
A social process by which the media latch on to a culturally identified group and label their behaviour as troublesome and likely to recur. The public response is a moral panic that seeks to track down and punish the deviant culture.
A category of normative judgement about acts. Resistance issues from relationships of power and subordination in the form of challenges to and negotiations of the ascendant order. Resistance is relational and conjunctural.
A signifying practice involving the organization of objects in conjunction with activities and attitudes through active bricolage to signify difference and identity. Associated with youth subcultures and the display of codes of meaning through the transformation of commodities as cultural signs.
Groups of persons so labelled who share distinct values and norms which are held to be at variance with dominant or mainstream society. Subcultures offer maps of meaning which make the world intelligible to its members.
Paul Willis
Paul Willis was one of the first postgraduate students at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies during the 1970s and has been associated with the emergence of cultural studies as a discipline. In particular, he has been one of cultural studies' foremost proponents of ethnographic research into culture as sensual lived experience. On a theoretical level, Willis has been influenced by both Marxism and the work of Raymond Williams and as such has been connected to the ideas of 'culturalism'. In his most famous work, Learning to Labour, Willis explored, via an ethnographic study of 'The Lads', the way that a group of working class boys reproduce their subordinate class position. Some of his later writing examines the creative symbolic practices of young people at the moment of consumption in the context of the creation of a common culture. • Associated concepts Common culture, consumption, experience, homology, popular culture, subculture, youth culture. • Tradition(s) Culturalism, cultural studies, ethnography, Marxism.
Angela McRobbie
A former postgraduate student at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), Angela McRobbie is currently Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths' College, University of London. Her early research work on the relationship between teenage girls and magazines in the 1970s involved textual analysis and a fairly straightforward model of how ideology is absorbed by readers. She later produced sophisticated readings of magazines for women and girls that put a greater stress on their active meaning-making and consuming practices. In that sense her work has epitomized the broader trajectory of cultural studies as it has moved from a central concern with ideology in the tradition of Gramsci, to an engagement with consuming practices and postmodernism. More recently she explored many other areas of contemporary culture including fashion, modern art and pop music. • Associated concepts Bricolage, consumption, gender, hegemony, ideology, youth culture. • Tradition(s) Cultural studies, feminism, post-feminism, post-Marxism, postmodernism.