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Presentation over Introduction to Cultural Studies
Cultural studies is a new way of engaging in the study of culture. In the past many academic subjects – including anthropology, history, literary studies, human geography and sociology – have brought their own disciplinary concerns to the study of culture. However, in recent decades there has been a renewed interest in the study of culture that has crossed disciplinary boundaries. The resulting activity, cultural studies, has emerged as an intriguing and exciting area of intellectual inquiry that has already shed important new light on the character of human cultures and which promises to continue so to do. While there is little doubt that cultural studies is coming to be widely recognised as an important and distinctive field of study, it does seem to encompass a potentially enormous area. This is because the term ‘culture’ has a complex history and range of usages, which have provided a legitimate focus of inquiry for several academic disciplines. In order to begin to delimit the field that this textbook considers, we have divided this chapter into four main sections:
1.1 A discussion of some principal definitions of culture.
1.2 An introduction to the core issues raised by the definitions and study of culture.
1.3 A review of some leading theoretical accounts that address these core issues.
1.4 An outline of our view of the developing field of cultural studies
In introducing our book in this way, we hope to show the complexity of the central notion of culture and thereby to define some important issues in the field of cultural studies.
What is culture?
The term ‘culture’ has a complex history and diverse range of meanings in contemporary discourse. Culture can refer to Shakespeare or Superman comics, opera or football, who does the washing-up at home or how the office of the President of the United States of America is organised. Culture is found in your local street, in your own city and country, as well as on the other side of the world. Small children, teenagers, adults and older people all have their own cultures; but they may also share a wider culture with others.
Given the evident breadth of the term, it is essential to begin by trying to define what culture is. Culture is a word that has grown over the centuries to reach its present broad meaning. One of the founders of cultural studies in Britain, Raymond Williams (p. 3), has traced the development of the concept and provided an influential ordering of its modern uses. Outside the natural sciences, the term ‘culture’ is chiefly used in three relatively distinct senses to refer to: the arts and artistic activity; the learned, primarily symbolic features of a particular way of life; and a process of development.
Culture with a big ‘C’
In everyday talk, culture is believed to consist of the ‘works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity’, thus culture is the word that describes ‘music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre and film’ (Williams, 1983b: 90). Culture in this sense is widely believed to concern ‘refined’ pursuits in which the ‘cultured’ person engages.
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