• Gil Rodman deposited Cultural Studies Is Ordinary on Humanities Commons 4 years, 6 months ago

    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.