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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cultural Studies

My off-the-cuff critique of cultural studies would be:

Cultural studies wants to be given credit for being anti-elitist. Elitism is foul, but a cheap anti-elitism can be even worse, especially when hegemonic political forces no longer have much use for high culture. Cultural studies often has an uneasy relation to its objects of study. It doesn't really value them, all that much, in many cases. Its arguments for them are that they aren't elite, that they are popular (in two senses: appealing to a lot of people and in some sense belonging to the "people"), and that they do political work of a useful kind. The hermeneutic model for interpreting popular or mass culture is often very weak, based on unexamined ideas about "anxiety." Its politics focus too much on whatever immediate problem is besetting the culture, and so much of the work gets out of date rather quickly. Finally, it is literary in a way that it doesn't always recognize, relying on romantic narratives.

That's how it seems to me. There are a couple of caveats though. My critique of a lot of literary studies would be equally harsh. Any given article in cultural studies is as likely to be brilliant as in any other field, and it is unfair to hold different standards for different fields. 90% of everything might be crap, after all.

2 comments:

profacero said...

Well -- you can study things like the cultural role of museums; I am not sure the elite/not binary really applies any more; defenders of studies of "pop culture" (ugh) did say they were anti elitist at one time; what I note is that you have to be really, really sophisticated to do something interesting in cultural studies.

From teaching what I have figured out about good literature is that it is easier. Easier to translate good literature than somebody's bad website or the business page of the paper. Easier to teach because there is always something in it simple, yet interesting enough for the beginning student. So it is *more* democratic not less. (Of course I could qualify this and so on.)

Andrew Shields said...

The "high culture" objects are supposed to be more difficult, but it's much easier to say something interesting about them, and it's much easier to learn how to say things about cultural objects if you start with them.

*

I've been thinking a lot about the "anxiety" problem in "cultural studies." An observation that goes right to the heart of the field.