DepositCultural Studies

This essay explains that cultural studies is, by design, too diverse and heterogeneous a project to be reduced to a single methodology. It goes on to offer a brief definition of project, and to describe four of its major characteristics: (1) its leftist politics, (2) its radical contextualism, (3) its radical interdisciplinarity, and (4) its focus on articulations. It concludes by suggesting that the best way to learn how to do cultural studies is to immerse oneself in two strands of literature: (1) the sizable meta-discourse about the general shape and state of cultural studies as a project and (2) the broad range of research books that are examples of cultural studies “in action.”

DepositCultural Studies and Critical Literacies

This article introduces a special issue on the topic of Cultural Studies and Critical Literacies. The collection of articles is drawn from the central theme of the inaugural Summer Institute of the Association for Cultural Studies: to explore the implications of studying literacy by combining perspectives from cultural studies and (critical) literacy studies. The issue also serves to map current trends in cultural studies by sharing and extending some of the discussions that took place at the Institute with the larger cultural studies community. In this introduction, we will revisit work undertaken at the intersection of literacy studies and cultural studies, including the phenomenon of multiliteracies, in order to set the scene for our collection of articles that focuses on different contemporary ‘uses’ of literacy.

DepositCultural Studies Is Ordinary

In “Culture Is Ordinary,” Raymond Williams challenged the then prevalent notion that “culture” is a phenomenon possessed only by social elites and educated highbrows, and attempted to replace it with a more expansive vision of culture as something commonly found at all levels of a social hierarchy. A truly democratic society, he insisted, could not be built around the elitist assumption that “the masses” possessed an inferior culture or, worse, that they possessed no culture at all. This democratic vision of culture lies at the core of Williams’ contributions to cultural studies. Though he continues to be recognized as one of cultural studies’ foundational figures, few contemporary versions of the project remain faithful to the democratic spirit of Williams’ work. The most common maps of the territory tend to assume that cultural studies is primarily an academic enterprise, and that its practitioners are professional scholars with postgraduate degrees. Culture, according to such maps, may still be ordinary, but cultural studies is anything but. In the spirit of Williams’ democratic vision of culture and politics, this essay argues that cultural studies is — or at least that it should become — far more “ordinary” than it’s generally understood to be. In particular, I argue that the nature of cultural studies’ definitional quandaries — the fact that it isn’t (and can’t be) represented by a single, stable school of thought, academic discipline, object of study, or theoretical/methodological commitment — derives from the fact that it is more a way of being (and intervening) in the world than anything else. This “way of being” isn’t necessarily dependent on the sort of formal disciplinary training that happens in doctoral programs or research centres, and, in fact, a broad range of “ordinary” varieties of cultural studies are already being practiced around the world: varieties of cultural studies that are rarely acknowledged as such.

DepositCultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages

The essays collected in this volume demonstrate that, when certain medieval and contemporary cultural texts are placed alongside each other — such as a fourteenth-century penitential handbook and the reality television show “Survivor,” or early fifteenth-century Lancastrian statecraft (Henry IV) and the stagecraft of George W. Bush’s presidential campaign — they reveal certain mentalities and social conditions that persist over long durations of time. Several of the essays address overtly political subjects, such as political torture and suicide terrorism, while other essays attend to the various ways in which certain “real-life” fictions and cultural entertainments have always overdetermined our understanding of history, our current moment, and ourselves.

DepositThrough a Glass, Darkly: Medieval Cultural Studies at the End of History

In a talk he gave in 1995 at a conference at Georgetown University, “Cultural Frictions: Medieval Cultural Studies in Post-Modern Contexts,” Paul Strohm asserted that “postmodernism is preoccupied with history, endlessly obsessed with history, and with the nature of the claims the past exerts upon us; it might almost be called a way of thinking about history and representation, provoked and endlessly refreshed by its refusal to allow final understanding.” Moreover, “Postmodern theory has always needed us—that is, needed the past—in the sense that it has never not had designs upon us.” Strohm further noted the way postmodernism fundamentally restores “the variegation, the fully contradictory variety of the historical surface”—which it does, however, by insisting on a “medieval organicism which secretly nourishes the illicit relation between most postmodern culture analysis and the idea of the social ‘totality or whole.'” Strohm urged medievalists to give back to the postmodernists “their honesty. . .by refusing to allow them to employ the Middle Ages as a kind of Jurassic Park where they stow an ideal of totality which they disavow for their own periods but still need, as an absent guarantor of the homologizing critical procedures they want to employ.” Because they know something about the complexities and messy heterogeneities of the Middle Ages, and because they possess certain anxious concerns about current affairs, the authors of this volume of essays have some hope for the formulation and practice of a medieval cultural studies where the Middle Ages can disturb and disrupt the present’s sense of itself as wholly modern, and where Fukuyama’s age of post-histoire will not become the site of the “perpetual caretaking of the [static] museum of human history,” but instead will be the place of history’s irruption as the still–to–come enclosed in the what–has–not–yet–been–thought about the past and the present.