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1. Culture (high, low, popular, and mass), Cultural Studies


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Title: 1. Culture (high, low, popular, and mass), Cultural Studies

Culture (high, low, popular, and mass), Cultural
Studies, race and ethnicity
  • September 25-27, 2006

This weeks lens Cultural Studies
  • Academic movement started in UK in 1960s
  • Spread quickly Europe, US, Australia
  • Combines aspects of
  • Media studies - Political science
  • Commn studies - Sociology
  • Linguistics - Gender studies
  • Anthropology - Literary criticism

Key concerns of Cultural Studies
  • Relations of culture and power
  • Particularly, power inequalities related to race,
    class, gender, colonialism
  • Role of symbols (language, visual images) in
    creating meaning
  • Particularly as related to power issues

Key concerns of CS (ctd.)
  • Representation
  • how forms of communication (spoken and written
    language music, TV, print media, etc.) present,
    represent, shape, and distort cultural meaning
  • Political economy of mediaand relationship to
    messages and meanings
  • How ownership of cultural production affects
    products and interpretations

Key concerns of CS (ctd.)
  • Texts and audiences
  • What possible meanings do we draw out of (media)
  • How do (media) audiences interpret texts
    differentlyand why?
  • Cultural (and personal) identity
  • How do we identify ourselves and others?
  • How do cultural/media products contribute to

Definitions of culture
  • Classical (British 19th and 20th century)
    literary definitions
  • Anthropological traditions definition
  • Newer, CS-oriented definitions
  • Rejected literary
  • Built on and expanded anthropological

Culture in the classical literary tradition
  • Culture was linked to cultivation
  • Agriculture
  • Growing (crops)
  • The cultivated mind (properly trained) and the
    cultured person

Matthew Arnolds influence
  • 19th-century UK poet and cultural critic
  • Arnolds definition of culture
  • The best that has been thought and said in the
  • Belief that reading, thinking, and observing
    (human cultivation) would bring about moral
  • A better, more civilized, social world

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), English poet and
cultural critic
Implications of Arnolds view
  • The world can be divided into the cultured and
    the uncultured
  • Or the civilized and the uncivilized
  • Culture and civilizationthe domains of the
    educated (and wealthy)are superior to the
    anarchy of the raw and uncultivated masses
  • Thus, culture is class-dependent
  • And only available to the upper classes

Expanding Arnold Leavisism
  • 1930s literary critics Frank Raymond Leavis
    (1895-1978) and Queenie Roth Leavis (1906-1981)
  • Among their famous writings Mass Civilization
    and Minority Culture
  • Culture is high point of civilization
  • Culture is the concern of the educated minority

Leavisisms claims
  • Elite classes have certain obligations
  • Defineand defendthe best of culture
    (literary, musical, artistic)
  • Criticizeand, arguably, eliminatethe worst of
    mass culture
  • Advertising, movies, popular fiction

Culture in the anthropological tradition
  • An entireand distinctiveway of life
  • In other words lived experience

Enter Cultural Studies (1960s?)
  • Direct reaction against views of Arnold and
    Leavises adaptation of anthropological
  • Raymond Williams (1921-1988), CS pioneer
  • Re-visioned culture as a whole way of life
  • Concerned especially with working classs
  • And how working class people actively construct
    their own cultures

Culture as redefined by CS
  • As a whole way of life,
  • It includes everyday practices AND learning,
    arts, and other expressive aspects
  • How we dress, our holidays, our daily rituals
  • Our everyday meanings and values
  • Our norms
  • How we express ourselves
  • In short, culture is ordinary (Williams)

Result of CSs re-definition
  • Studying or talking about a groups culture
    could include
  • Everyday practices
  • Arts, media, entertainment modes previously
    dismissed as low or mass were studied with
    respect and even sympathy
  • Newspapers, television, boxing matches, soap
    operas, NASCAR, romance novels, prom dresses

In other words
  • Everyday cultureincluding the culture of
    non-elite classes within our own societieswas
    given legitimacy
  • Scholars (and cultural critics) began to value
    the shared traditions of ordinary people
  • Not only the elite classes

Williamss paradoxical claims
  • A groups (re-defined) culture is its complex of
  • Meanings generated by ordinary individuals
  • Lived experiences of its members
  • Texts and practices engaged in by people as they
    lead their lives

  • Culture does not float free of the material
    conditions of life
  • Meanings and practices are enacted on terrain
    not of our own making even as we struggle to
    creatively shape our livesWhat did Williams
    mean by this?

To address this paradox
  • We must detour into other key CS concepts
  • Then well circle back to issues of
  • high vs. low culture
  • mass, folk, and popular culture

Other key CS concepts relevant to ICC (including
mass comm)
  • Ideology
  • Hegemony
  • Race, racialization, and racisms
  • Ethnicity
  • The nation-state
  • The imagined community
  • Hybridity
  • Identity
  • Subject position
  • And how all of these relate to POWER

Ideology exercise
  • Divide into groups
  • Each group discusses (lists) ONE question
  • How does one class justify dominating another?
  • How does one race justify dominating another?
  • How does one sex justify dominating another?
  • How does one nation justify dominating another?
  • Provide examples from popular culture

  • What does this word mean to you?
  • What is an ideology?
  • The term ideology was coined (by a 19th-century
    French philosopher) to mean the science of
  • Since then, has taken on many other meanings
  • Here are some of the most common

1. Value-neutral conception
  • Systematic body of ideasa worldviewarticulated
    by a particular group of people
  • Pattern of ideas, belief systems, or
    interpretive schemes found in a society or among
    a specific social group (Hall).

What this implies
  • an individual doesnt have an ideology
  • but an individual may reflect the ideology of the
    group shes a member of

2. Karl Marxs definition
  • False consciousness a masking, distortion, or
  • The way some cultural texts and practices present
    distorted images of reality
  • Ideology works in interest of the powerful
  • and AGAINST interests of the powerless

Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Results of ideological distortion, in Marxs view
  • Conceals reality of domination from those in
  • dominant class do not see themselves as
  • Conceals reality of domination from the
  • they dont see themselves as exploited

3 focus on ideological forms
  • Texts (mediated) always present a particular
    picture of the world, always take sides, thus
    reflect producers ideology
  • All texts are ultimately political they offer
    one view or another (but not a multiplicity of
    views!) of how the world is
  • Differing ideological significations of reality
    compete with one another

4 ideology as material practice
  • French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser
    (1918-1990) said
  • Ideology isnt simply a body of ideas, but rather
    material practice
  • Ideology is encountered in practices of everyday

Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
Examples of material practice that reflects
  • Rituals and customs that bind us to the social
    order, a social order marked by enormous
    inequalities of wealth, status, and power
  • Examples taking summer vacations, giving gifts
    at Christmas

Yes, Althusser would say
  • These things give us pleasure, release tensions
  • But ultimately they return us to our places in
    the social order
  • Because they reproduce the social conditions
    necessary for capitalism to continue

What produces and maintains (dominant) ideology
in society?
  • Althusser talked about ideological state
    apparatuses (ISAs)
  • Family
  • Education system
  • Church
  • Mass media
  • These ISAs train us to follow and perpetuate
    the values and rules of the dominant classes

ISAs vs. RSA
  • Althusser because of the power (and willingness)
    of the ISAs to do the work of the powerful
  • The Repressive State Apparatus (government,
    military, courts) dont have to resort to force
  • The ISAs do their jobs
  • And make us into good, law-abiding students,
    family members, citizens, church members,
  • Who dont complain, dont try to overthrow the
    government, dont try to overthrow the
    corporation heads (and our bosses)

As a result
  • Ideology (worldview maintained and taught to us
    by the ISAs) comes to be seen as
  • natural (as opposed to constructed)
  • universal (as opposed to particular)
  • complete (as opposed to incomplete)
  • neutral (as opposed to partial/biased)
  • legitimate (as opposed to illegitimate)
  • common sense (as opposed to a particular,
    chosen, preferred sense)

5 ideology as myth
  • French social philosopher Roland Barthes
  • Called ideologies the myths of our
  • In this sense, myth isnt (necessarily) fictional
  • But its a story we tell ourselves about
  • What are some American myths (in Barthess sense)?

Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
In all of these definitions (except 1), ideology
  • Meaning in the service of power
  • not just a value-neutral set or system of ideas
  • Rather, a system that underlies, supports, and
    justifies a groups
  • Exercise of power
  • Maintenance of power
  • Struggles for power

Is this clear?
  • Maybe Antonio Gramsci can help

Antonio Gramsci (1930s) Hegemony
  • Kind of power that arises from ideological
    tendencies of mass media to support established
    power system
  • and exclude opposition and competing values
  • Not imposed via coercion
  • But constantly sought after, struggled over,
    negotiated, and re-negotiated

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)
Key insight of Gramscis hegemony theory
  • The ruling classes in capitalist society (unlike
    Hitlers Germany or Stalins USSR) dont HAVE to
    resort to physical force, violence, or martial
  • Direct coercion is unnecessary!
  • And, in fact, is LESS effective in the long term
    for maintaining social power

Hegemony (ctd.)
  • In hegemonic systems, dominance of ruling group
    is STRENGTHENED because people (non-dominant)
    consent to their own submission!
  • We come to accept existing (and unequal) power
    relationships as normal, natural, common sense,
    the only way

  • The ruling class doesnt directly force us to
    accept its will
  • Rather, the dominant present themselves (often
    through the media) as the group best equipped to
    meet our needs
  • and we come to agree (for a while)
  • e.g., we accept that corporations, government act
    in our best interests

Meaning that
  • the masses (common people) consent to their own
    domination, seeing it as completely normal (or
    failing to question it)!
  • the dominated will find their own reasonswhich
    DO actually make sense!to go along with their
  • For example

Hegemony in our daily lives
  • Grades
  • Christmas presents
  • Body image
  • Work

So what happens in hegemonic systems?
  • Dominant classes exercise social and cultural
  • We consent to, and perpetuate, a system that
    disadvantages us
  • In finding our own good reasons to go along with
    the system
  • We fail to challenge or question the system
  • Let alone call for its overthrow!

  • Hegemonic domination is a constant struggle
  • Consent must be continually won and re-won
  • Concessions are made so that the dominated will
    not overthrow the entire system
  • But instead will be given new reasons to accept
  • New things to consent to
  • The media are often the sites of this struggle

Hegemony is maintained
  • Because dominant have advantages
  • Easier access to media
  • More input into media representations of
  • And media themselves are huge corporate powers

Given all this
  • CS on culture
  • CS on ideology and power
  • We might not be surprised by CSs explanations of
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Nation
  • Identity

CS on race, racialization, and racisms
  • Stuart Hall races dont exist apart from
  • What does this mean?

To paraphrase
  • Race is a social (and communication) construct
    rather than a biological fact
  • Race is constructed by looking at observable
  • And then working backwards to create a race

The fluidity of race
  • New Mexico
  • The Irish in New York (mid 1800s)
  • The Jews in US (late 1800s)
  • black blood

CS on race and power
  • CS argument race is a construct (multi-faceted
    concept) developed in order to justify power
  • Labor market
  • Economy
  • Housing market
  • Education system
  • Media
  • Legal system
  • Immigration

Race and nationhood
  • If youre a member of a minority race in a nation
  • Are you truly a member of the nation?
  • Blacks in US
  • Blacks in UK
  • Blacks in South Africa during apartheid

CS on ethnicity
  • A cultural concept
  • An ethnic groups members share
  • Norms
  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Cultural symbols and practicesall of which
    developed under specific historical, social,
    political contexts

What ethnicity does
  • Encourages sense of belonging
  • Based (at least in part) on common mythological
    ancestry (why mythological?)
  • Shared (or believed to be shared) history,
    language, culture

Ethnicity as relational concept
  • Im a member of ethnic group X because Im not a
    member of Y or Z
  • We define our ethnicity by contrasting ourselves
    to out groups
  • Implies power relations
  • Some groups are at the center, while others are
    at periphery
  • Examples in US?

CS on the nation-state
  • The nation-state is an invention
  • Not a natural (naturally occurring) group
  • Rather, a contingent historical-cultural
  • Prime example? The US!

Nation-states and national identity
  • Nation-state a political concept
  • An administrative apparatus
  • Group of people with shared government, laws,
    leaders who have sovereignty over defined body of
  • National identity imaginative identification
    with the symbols and discourses of the

  • National cultural identities are not co-terminous
    with state borders
  • Consider Jewish, African, Indian, cultural

Nation as imagined community
  • Benedict Anderson (1983) argued that nations are
    imagined communities
  • What might this mean?
  • Not false
  • But simply, an ideasomething that exists in our
    heads if not in physical space
  • We dont know most of our fellow Americans
  • But we have shared ideasand we believe ourselves
    to be a unity

  • Basically, cultural mixing
  • Few cultures are homogeneous
  • Our culture reflects hybridity
  • Few individuals have ancestors from only one
  • We are hybrids as individuals
  • As a result of mixing, we create new identities
  • African-American, Italian-American,
    Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani-British

Multiple identities
  • No one of us has an identity that is pure or
  • We are each a hybrid
  • At any moment, we each can be described as
    belonging to one or more
  • Ethnicity
  • Nation
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Occupation
  • class

Hence, multiple subject positions
  • How are you, or can you be, addressed?
  • What roles do you play?
  • Mother, sister, daughter
  • Boss, employee
  • Student, teacher
  • Friend, co-worker
  • Fellow church member, club member, team member

Recap key CS concepts
  • Ideology
  • Hegemony
  • Race, racialization, and racisms
  • Ethnicity
  • The nation-state
  • The imagined community
  • Hybridity
  • Identity
  • Subject position

Link to our course?
  • Popular cultureparticularly as transmitted via
    the mass mediais arguably the most important
    site in our lives in which these issues are
    played out, spelled out, and contested
  • So lets get back to culture
  • High, low, popular, and other

Recap high culture, etc.
  • Arnold and the Leavises (19th-20th C. UK) define
    culture as the best
  • View that culture is the domain only of the
  • Educated, moneyed elite
  • What has come to be called high culture
  • By contrast, what the non-educated, non-moneyed
    everyday folk do is uncivilized, uncultured low

CS mid-1960s and beyond
  • New approach to culture
  • Culture as ordinary, everyday
  • Entire ways of life
  • Regardless of class/status

Moreover, CS argues
  • There is no legitimate grounds for drawing
    distinction between high and low culture
  • Artistic forms, whether Shakespeare or WWF
  • all expressive and creative
  • all are socially created
  • Who is to decide which is more worthy?

While many people still do distinguish high vs.
low . . .
  • High cultural activities of the wealthy or
    elite opera, ballet, symphony, great literature,
    fine art
  • Low all other
  • In other words, activities of the non-elite
    music videos, TV game shows, professional
    wrestling, NASCAR, graffiti art, Jackie Chan

CS (and many other scholars) prefer to speak of
  • popular culture
  • rather than demeaning non-elite culture as low

How might we define popular culture?
  • Systems or artifacts that most people share and
    that most people know about
  • Made popular by and for the people
  • Speaks toand resonates fromthe people
  • But NOT usually created BY the people!
  • Why not?

Popular culture as mass culture
  • Most popular culture formsmovies, TV shows,
    magazines, videos, CDsare produced by large
  • And are then sold to the people
  • Hence, the music, art, film, television (etc.)
    businesses were called the culture industries
    by Adorno and Horkheimer (1940s cultural critics)

The culture industries
  • Acknowledgment of mass-produced nature of popular
    culture products
  • CDs, DVDs, magazines, paperback novels, etc.
  • Acknowledgment of for-profit nature of the
    companies that make and market them
  • Sony, Disney, Time-Warner, etc., arent in it for

Production vs. consumption wheres your focus?
  • Frankfurt School (Critical Theory) of 1940s
    leveled criticism on the production end of the
    chain (critique of mass culture)
  • CS focuses on the consumption end (thus prefers
    the term popular culture), inquires into
  • How do we (consumers, ordinary people) use the
    products of the culture industries?
  • How do we interpret them?
  • What meanings/values do we give them?
  • Why are these things important to us?

Depending on your focus
  • If youre focused on the production end (the
    corporate, mass-produced, for-profit aspects),
    youre probably more likely to speak of mass
  • If youre focused on the consumption/
    interpretation end, youre probably more likely
    to speak of popular culture

Why popular culture is so important to ICC
  • Popular culture plays an enormous role in
    explaining relations around the globe
  • It is through popular culture that we try to
    understand the dynamics of other cultures and
    other nations
  • For many of us, the world exists through popular

Why popular culture is so important more generally
  • Its everywhere
  • Disseminated widely (in many cases, globally)
  • Its impossible to avoid
  • We all have easy access to it
  • It comes at us from all directions
  • It comes at us every moment of our lives
  • We wear it, buy it, think about it, listen to it,
    read it, watch it

And on the positive side
  • Popular culture serves important social functions
  • Windows onto the world
  • Shared experiences and (parasocial) relationships
  • Forum for public discussion (especially, but not
    only, the news)
  • Shaper of opinions
  • Shaper of identities
  • Shaper of meanings

But popular culture does not work monolithically!
  • What do I mean by this?
  • Hint recall Halls encoding/decoding model of


programme as meaningful discourse
frameworks of knowledge relations of production
technical infrastructure
frameworks of knowledge relations of production
technical infrastructure
Claims Hall makes
  • Producers of cultural texts (TV shows, ads,
    movies, books, videos) operate within specific
    cultural contexts
  • And produce out of their own frameworks of
  • But we consumers consume the texts within our own
  • We dont find the same meanings as the producers
  • Or each other!

However, Hall claimed
  • We dont necessarily have 6 billion reading
  • Hall identified 3 reading positions, depending
    upon a readers class (and identification with
  • Dominant
  • Negotiated
  • Oppositional

Popular culture, then
  • Is a site of struggle
  • We have competing, even conflicting,
    interpretations of what a cultural text means
  • And what values it represents
  • And whether we like (approve of) it or not
  • And if its offensive or agreeable
  • We offer different decodings and struggle over
  • We negotiate the meanings of cultural texts

How might we interpret
  • U. of North Dakota Fighting Sioux
  • Florida State U. Seminoles
  • Washington Redskins
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Insult/racial slur?
  • Compliment/honor?

Popular culture and problems of representation
  • The big question
  • Do popular culture texts (especially those
    depicting cultures other than our own) truly,
    fairly, accurately represent the cultures they
    claim to be showing?

For example
  • Is Jackass a representation of America,
    quintessential Americans and quintessential
    American values?
  • or only a selective portrait of a small group of
  • How might Jackass (if viewed outside the US)
    create or reinforce stereotypes about Americans?

How CS approaches criticism of popular culture
  • The important questions
  • Not whether a cultural text is good or bad
    (in terms of quality)
  • Rather,
  • What ideologies are conveyed, overtly or subtly?
  • How are individuals and cultures represented?
  • How might representations maintain power
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