Introduction to Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice

Cultural Studies 09/AU-SS-330-02
Autumn 2009: North Hall 112 Tuesday 9:30-12:20
Instructor: Sacha Frey
Department: Social Science & Cultural Studies
Prerequisite: None / 3 credits
Office: ICS 212
Office Hours: Tues 12:30-2:30 by appt

Once the images broadcast by television and the time spent in front of the TV set have been analyzed, it remains to be asked what the consumer makes of these images and during these hours. The thousands of people who buy a health magazine, the customers in a supermarket, the practitioners of urban space, the consumers of newspaper stories and legends—what do they make of what they “absorb,” receive, and pay for? What do they do with it?
— Michel de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life, 31

Required Material.
• Course Packet /Books TBA
• Access to a computer and the internet/ A Pratt email account you check daily

Course Description/ Goals

This course provides an introduction to cultural studies, a field of study that is arguably not a field at all but a set of multi-disciplinary strategies focused on analyzing contemporary cultural practices and objects. Culture—itself a vague and highly mutable word—consists of the myriad of objects and discourses that construct our everyday life: from “Lost” to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon to “Grand Theft Auto,” Warhol to Walmart, the weather report to the Weather Underground. In this class, we will attempt to contextualize the evolution of “cultural studies” around a number of theoretical discourses that seek to problematize knowledge and to revalue our sense of culture. In particular, we will ask, How has cultural studies arrived at a particular understanding of the way that culture is ideologically organized? What modes of resistance do culture in general and cultural studies specifically offer with which to critique ideology?

In this class, we will use critical essays, various forms of popular culture, and visual and conceptual art as a context for “doing” cultural studies. Specifically, we will examine how the practices of everyday life are fraught with numerous anxieties, regulative forces and resistances concerning issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class. We will examine how different cultural forms—such as film, television, print and digital culture, architecture, and urban space—work to constitute the meanings, values, and social intelligibility of particular cultural practices. Our analysis of cultural practices and representation will therefore entail critical readings of the conventions, historical conditions, and strategies of power involved. As students and scholars, you are expected to be active participants in the project of doing cultural studies, with the ultimate goal of creating your own interventions into culture.

Course Description (Pratt Bulletin Copy)
This course explores the relations of cultural artifacts in the contemporary world in their various social contexts. Culture is understood as the material expressions and images that people create and the social environment that shapes the way diverse groups of people experience the world and interact with one another. The course focuses on the critical analysis of these various forms of media, design, mass communication, arts, and popular culture.

Grading and Assignments
• Class Participation (25%)
• Show and Tell (5%)
• Discussion Leading (10%)
• Midterm Essay 3-4 pages (25%)
• Final Essay/Project (35%)
You must complete all course requirements to pass this class.

The Writing Center, located in North Hall 101, is an excellent resource for help revising and editing your own work. (Note: Tutors will not correct or edit your work for you.) Writing Center tutors can work with you on a one-time basis, or they can meet with you regularly throughout the term. Occasionally, students may be referred and/or required to meet with tutors at the writing center by the course instructor. Services are free, but you should check in with them or call ahead to make an appointment (718-636-3459).

Course Policies

Office Hours: If you need clarification on the readings, want help with the assignments, or wish to discuss anything else related to the course, please schedule an appointment to meet with me.

Participation You should be prepared to discuss the course readings in class each week. It should go without saying, but you are expected to answer questions if called upon in class. Remember that participation is worth 25% of your final course grade.

You are allowed 2 absences, no questions asked. After that, each absence may reduce your final course grade by as much as 1 letter grade. Accruing more than 3 absences risks failure in the class. Arriving late or leaving class early counts as 1/2 of an absence. I don’t differentiate between excused and unexcused absences, so it’s a good idea to save your absences for illnesses, out-of-town events, or family emergencies.

Assignments Due dates are final, and all assignments are due before class begins. If you are absent the day a written assignment is due, you will receive a 10% deduction in assignment grade for each day that the assignment is not turned in.

Policy on Academic Dishonesty (Plagiarism)
Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Do not: 1) purchase papers on the Internet or from any other source; 2) use someone else’s words as your own or without proper attribution; 3) submit a paper that another student or your friend wrote. Academic dishonesty can result in failure of the assignment, failure of the course, and/or referral to the Academic Integrity Board. Such a referral will result in a hearing before the Board, at which time appropriate sanctions will be determined, possibly resulting in expulsion from the Institute.

If you are having difficulties in this course, speak with me instead of plagiarizing. If you have any doubts about whether a specific use of material constitutes plagiarism, please don’t hesitate to talk to me about it.

If you have a physical or learning disability that requires special accommodations, please speak to me at the beginning of the semester so we can make proper arrangements. If you require special accommodations, please contact Mai McDonald, Disability Services Coordinator, in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs: Main Building, Lower Level, (718) 636-3711.

An “Incomplete” will only be granted “if the student has been in regular attendance, has satisfied all but the final requirements of the course, and has furnished satisfactory proof that the work was not completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond control.” If you do not finish the coursework and do not have an approved incomplete you will fail the course.

Course Schedule (subject to change)

Weeks 1 & 2 – What is Cultural Studies?

September 1 Introduction to the Course
Handout syllabus, Reading for next week

September 8 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms” (available on course website
ashall two paradigms
“Intro to Cultural Studies” comic (pick up in my mailbox)

Recommended Michael Berube “Pop Goes the Academy: Cult Studies Fights the Power”
“Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies,” from Stuart Hall

Week 3– The British Tradition and its Translations

September 15 Raymond Williams, “Culture is Ordinary”
Excerpts from Doing Cultural Studies – du Gay, Hall, Jane, Mackay, &
Negus (1997)
“The Americanization of Cultural Studies” – Pfister (1991)
“On the Impossibility of a Global Cultural Studies,” from Stuart Hall

Week 4 – Culture / Discourse / Power

September 22 Excerpts from Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
Bourdieu (1987)
“Two Lectures” – Foucault (1976) [pdf in folder]
“Method” [from The History of Sexuality] – Foucault (1978)

Recommended Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” “Panopticon” from Discipline and Punish

Week 5 – Marxism and the Study of Culture

September 29 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas”
Marx & Engels, “Base and Superstructure”
Althusser “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
Gramsci “Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State” – Gramsci

Recommended Tony Benett, “Popular Culture and the ‘Turn to Gramsci’” (ditto)
Adorno “On Popular Music”
“German Ideology,” “Critique of Political Economy,” & “Capital” Marx
& Engels
“The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees,” from
Stuart Hall (pgs. 25-46)

Week 6– The Production of Culture

October 6 “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” – Benjamin
“The Political Economy of Popular Music” – Storey (1996)
Excerpts from Manufacturing Consent – Herman & Chomsky
“The Business and Politics of Gay Marketing” – Sender (2004)

Week 7– The Reception of Culture

October 13 “Encoding/Decoding” – Hall (1980)
“Television Audience Research: A Critical History” – Morley
“The Act of Reading the Romance” – Radway (1984)

Recommended “Banality in Cultural Studies” – Morris (1990)

Week 8 – Gender and Sexuality

October 20 “Introduction: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body” – Bordo
“Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body” – Bordo (1999)
“Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of
Sexuality” – Rubin (1989)

Recommended “What Is Reproductive Politics?” – Sollinger (2005)
“Stories of Feminism in the 1970s at the CCCS,” in Stuart Hall


Week 9-Midterm Break/ No Class Oct 27

Week 10–The Rhetoric of Family Values

November 3 “The Way We Were: Defining the Family Crisis” – Coontz (1992)
“The Rhetoric of ‘Family Values’” – Cloud (1998)
“’Forever is a Long Time’: Romancing the Real in Gay Kinship ideologies” –
Weston (1998)
Introduction to Motherhood in Black and White – Feldstein (2000)

Week 11 – Race, Class & Popular Culture

November 10 “New Ethnicities,” from Stuart Hall (pgs. 441-449)
“The Face of America and the State of Emergency” – Berlant
“Money and Morality” – Hays (2003)
Excerpts from Enlightened Racism – Jhally & Lewis (1992)

Week 12– Contesting Culture / Consuming Culture

November 17 Intro to Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working
Class Jobs – Willis (1977)
“From Culture to Hegemony” [from Subculture: The Meaning of
Style] – Hebdige (1979)
“Is Consumption Good for Thinking?” – Canclini (2001)
Introduction to Nation of Rebels – Heath & Potter (2004)

Week 13 – Techno-Culture and Digital Space

November 24 “A Cyborg Manifesto” – Haraway (1991)
“Daily Life in Cyberspace” – Rheingold (2000)
“The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, &
Coolness” – Levy (2006)
“Virtuality and its Discontents” – Turkle (1995)
“A Rape in Cyberspace” – Dibbell (1993)

Week 14 & 15– Cultural Space, Urban Place
December 1 DeCerteau “Walking in the City”
Lefebvre “The Production of Space”
Further texts to be decided

December 7 Style Wars, City of Glass

Week 16-Project Presentations/ Critiques


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