One of the central agendas of Cultural Studies is to close the gap between a prescriptive notion of culture (i.e. what you should
watching/consuming according to contested and contestable ideas of value, significance, and relevance) and a descriptive idea of culture (i.e. the cultural artifacts you are actually
consuming). While you might be told that, for example, you should
be reading Moby-Dick
, you might actually prefer to watch Reality TV or the most recent Euphoria
Whereas the dominant discourse of a culture tends to define itself by its Goethes, Shakespeares, and Austens, the daily experience of culture as something material, consumable, entertaining, escapist, and, let’s face it, fun, rarely includes the “big names.” Just compare the amount of time that you habitually spend on reading the alleged “classics” of American and British literature to the amount of time you spend browsing aimlessly through your Netflix and YouTube thumbnails… So, what does “culture” mean to you?
Since the 1960s the academic discipline of Cultural Studies has synthesized a variety of approaches from sociology, political science, anthropology, literary studies, linguistics, and history in order to examine culture not
as a cannon of artists and of “great works” whose greatness is often decided on by a small and elitist group of gatekeepers, but as something that people actually “use” in order to find meaning, identity, affiliation, and connection in their lives.
At the same time, Cultural Studies also examines how these more quotidian cultural artifacts ranging from popular music to blockbuster movies, from fashion to sitcoms, from advertisement to social media, from consumer goods to video games, from genre fiction to memes are also deeply entrenched in various ideological, economic, and political positions. Because popular culture seems to be more accessible and egalitarian than, for example, attending an avant-garde theater performance, it is habitually mistaken for “mere” entertainment, superficial, and not worthy of serious academic investigations. But popular culture also carries and transmits extremely formative ideas about categories such as race, class, and gender that have a direct impact on society. The recent and ongoing debates about who should be cast in a Star Wars
show or a Marvel
movie (and the undeniably racist backlash engendered by some casting choices), or the question about cultural appropriations and the absence of diverse representations in mainstream media indicate that popular culture is a primary arena for negotiating, consolidating, and subverting dominant notions of identity, powers, and belonging.
In this seminar we will read some founding texts of Cultural Studies ranging from Adorno, Foucault, Butler, and Derrida to more recent writings on topics such as intersectionality, toxic masculinity, LGBTQ+ matters, Critical Race Theory, and neo-liberal capitalism, and apply these theories to contemporary cultural artifacts in order to explore how the culture we surround ourselves with is indeed hypercomplex, political, and full of contradictions, ambiguity, and tensions.
Please note that the most of texts covered in this seminar are theoretical in nature and require the patience and willingness to engage with their ideas and sometimes obscure language. While we will apply these ideas to pop cultural artifacts (many of which you can select yourself), the theoretical discussions will be intensive and exhaustive.
Attendance will be kept (in accordance with the prevailing COVID regulations) and students cannot miss more than two sessions. Instead of oral presentations, the “Studienleistung” in the seminar will consist of short writing assignments and reading checks
Depending on the module in which you are taking the seminar and the credit points you will be receiving, either an oral exam of 20 minutes or a term paper of ca. 12 pages.
A course reader with the relevant texts will be made available at the beginning of the semester.
- Chris Barker, “An Introduction to Cultural Studies”
14.09.2022: The Linguistic Turn
- Chris Barker, “Culture, Meaning, Knowledge: The Linguistic Turn in Cultural Studies”
21.09.2022: Postmodernism, Post-Structuralism, and Deconstruction
- J. Powell, excerpt from Postmodernism for Beginners
- Jacques Derrida, excerpt from “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”
28.09.2022: Culture, Power, and Ideology I
- Chris Barker, “Questions of Culture and Ideology”
05.10.2022: Culture, Power, and Ideology II
- Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, excerpt from “The Culture Industry”
- Michel Foucault, excerpt from “The Subject and Power”
12.10.2022: Media: Reading Film and TV
- John Fiske, excerpt from Television Culture
19.10.2022: Backlog Session/
26.10.2022: Subjectivity and Identity
- Chris Barker, “Issues of Subjectivity and Identity”
02.11.2022: Gender Studies I
- Judith Butler, excerpt from Gender Trouble
09.11.2022: Gender Studies II
- Todd W. Reeser, excerpt from Masculinities in Theory
- R.W. Connell, excerpt from Masculinities
16.11.2022: Ethnicity, Race, Nation
- Chris Barker, “Ethnicity, Race, and Nation”
- Greta Olson and Mirjam Horn-Schott, “Beyond Gender: Towards a Decolonized Queer Feminist Future”
30.11.2022: Consumer Culture and Hyperreality
- Jean Baudrillard, excerpt from “The Precession of Simulacra”