Introduction to Cultural Studies (Undergraduate)

How, where, and through what means do power and politics work in daily life?  This class is an attempt to answer this question—or to begin to answer it, anyway—by looking at the range of ways culture relates to processes of control, resistance, persistence, and change in contemporary societies.  In other words, this class will be an introduction to cultural studies.

“Culture,” Raymond Williams once wrote, “is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.”  In making this claim, Williams, one of cultural studies’ most important early figures, drew attention to the fact that culture refers to more than just the way of life of a specific group of people.  Culture also refers to a range of artifacts, value systems, and processes by which people make distinctions between and judgments about one another on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and more.  Yet, culture also gathers and releases our individual and collective desires; it can be profoundly pleasurable, sometimes even empowering, by opening new pathways of thought, conduct, and expression.  In short, culture is an increasingly important arena in which we live our lives and through which we try to make sense of ourselves and one another.  This introduction to cultural studies is attempt to figure out how that happens . . . or might happen differently.

Our primary objectives are these: first, to introduce you to the history—or, better yet, histories—of cultural studies, and more specifically to explore how particular events, circumstances, and locales have helped shape and reshape the field; second, to read and discuss some examples of cultural studies, or to consider what doing cultural studies entails; and finally, to engage in meaningfully politicized cultural studies scholarship, which will involve your developing concrete research skills and implementing critical frameworks by which to unpack the significance of a range of cultural artifacts.