What’s the Matter With Cultural Studies?


Michael Bérubé in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In the spring, I was asked to participate in a plenary panel at the Cultural Studies Association (U.S.), and the opportunity led me to rethink the history of the field. The session’s title was “The University After Cultural Studies.” As is my wont on such occasions, I decided to take issue with the idea that the field has had such an impact on American higher education that we can talk about the university after cultural studies.

For what kind of impact has cultural studies had on the American university as an institution over the past 20 or 25 years? The field began in Britain in the late 1950s with a Marxist critique of culture by Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, as the British New Left broke with the Communist Party’s defense of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Williams’s ambitious and provocative book, Culture and Society (1958), reviewed the debate over the relationship of culture and society in Britain since the days of Edmund Burke. In the 1960s, Williams and E.P. Thompson redrew the map of British labor history, and in the 1970s, the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies issued a series of brilliant papers on mass media and popular culture that culminated in the prediction of the rise of Thatcherism—a year before Margaret Thatcher took office. Since its importation to the United States, however, cultural studies has basically turned into a branch of pop-culture criticism.

[H/t: Maeve Adams]