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I Cultural Studies sono un particolare indirizzo di studi sociali che hanno origine in Gran Bretagna come ampliamento del settore della critica letteraria verso i materiali della cultura popolare di massa. La loro data di nascita viene fissata all’uscita dei lavori di Raymond Williams e Richard Hoggart.
The Uses of Literacy di Hoggart del 1957 e Culture and society del 1958 di Raymond Williams sono considerati i due testi fondativi di quest'indirizzo di studi.
I “Cultural Studies” si consolidano successivamente come corrente definita nell’area culturale britannica intorno al Centre Contemporary Culture Studies (CCCS) dell’Università di Birmingham, fondato dallo stesso Hoggart nel 1968. Lo scopo primario del centro era lo studio dei cambiamenti nella cultura della classe operaia inglese dal dopoguerra in poi e in particolare dei mutamenti nell'orientamento della gioventù della working-class. Sia Hoggart che Williams provenivano dall'insegnamento scolastico per adulti.
L’attività del centro di Birminghan si estende negli anni successivi fino a comprendere le tematiche del razzismo, del femminismo e dell’etnicità. Sul piano metodologico i Cultural Studies si distinguono per un approccio quasi etnografico ai contesti indagati, attenti alle pratiche concrete degli attori sociali. Sul piano teoretico è da segnalare una programmatica tendenza a non rinchiudersi in confini ideologici definiti. Nei lavori prodotti dal gruppo è possibile rintracciare un costruttivo e incessante dialogo con le più importanti correnti del pensiero europeo continentale : Lukàcs, Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, Althusser, per citare qualche nome. Questo atteggiamento rende questa corrente di studi particolarmente viva e attuale e degna di grande attenzione.
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Cultural studies combines sociology, social theory, literary theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in industrial societies. Cultural studies researchers often concentrate on how a particular phenomenon relates to matters of ideology, race, social class, and/or gender.
Cultural studies concerns itself with the meaning and practices of everyday life. Cultural practices comprise the ways people do particular things (such as watching television, or eating out) in a given culture. Particular meanings attach to the ways people in particular cultures do things.
In a loosely related but separate usage, the phrase cultural studies sometimes
serves as a rough synonym for area studies, as a general term referring to the
academic study of particular cultures in departments and programs such as Islamic
studies, Asian studies, African American studies, African studies, German studies,
In his book Introducing Cultural Studies, Ziauddin Sardar lists the following five main characteristics of cultural studies:
* Cultural studies aims to examine its subject matter in terms of cultural
practices and their relation to power.
* It has the objective of understanding culture in all its complex forms and of analysing the social and political context in which culture manifests itself.
* It is both the object of study and the location of political criticism and action.
* It attempts to expose and reconcile the division of knowledge, to overcome the split between tacit (cultural knowledge) and objective (universal) forms of knowledge.
* It has a commitment to an ethical evaluation of modern society and to a radical line of political action.
Scholars in the United Kingdom and the United States developed somewhat different versions of cultural studies after the field's inception in the late 1970s. The British version of cultural studies was developed in the 1960s mainly under the influence of Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. This included overtly political, left-wing views, and criticisms of popular culture as 'capitalist' mass culture; it absorbed some of the ideas of the Frankfurt School critique of the "culture industry" (i.e. mass culture). This emerges in the writings of early British cultural-studies scholars and their influences: see the work of (for example) Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Willis and Paul Gilroy.
In contrast, the American version of cultural studies initially concerned itself more with understanding the subjective and appropriative side of audience reactions to, and uses of, mass culture; American cultural-studies advocates wrote about the liberatory aspects of fandom. See the writings of critics such as John Guillory. The distinction between American and British strands, however, has faded.
Some scholars, especially in early British cultural studies, apply a Marxist model to the field. The main focus of an orthodox Marxist approach concentrates on the production of meaning. This model assumes a mass production of culture and identifies power as residing with those producing cultural artifacts. In a Marxist view, those who control the means of production (the economic base) essentially control a culture.
Other approaches to cultural studies, such as feminist cultural studies and later American developments of the field, distance themselves from this view. They criticise the Marxist assumption of a single, dominant meaning, shared by all, for any cultural product. The non-Marxist approaches suggest that different ways of consuming cultural artifacts affect the meaning of the product.
Another major point of criticism involved the traditional view assuming a passive consumer. Other views challenge this, particularly by underlining the different ways people read, receive, and interpret cultural texts. On this view, a consumer can appropriate, actively reject, or challenge the meaning of a product. These different approaches have shifted the focus away from the production of items. Instead, they argue that consumption plays an equally important role, since the way consumers consume a product gives meaning to an item. Some closely link the act of consuming with cultural identity. Stuart Hall has become influential in these developments. Some commentators have described the shift towards meaning as the cultural turn.
In the context of cultural studies, the idea of a text not only includes written
language, but also films, photographs, fashion or hairstyles: the texts of cultural
studies comprise all the meaningful artifacts of culture. Similarly, the discipline
widens the concept of "culture". "Culture" for a cultural
studies researcher not only includes traditional high culture and popular culture,
but also everyday meanings and practices. The last two, in fact, have become
the main focus of cultural studies. A further and recent approach is comparative
cultural studies, based on the discipline of comparative literature and cultural
Cultural studies is not a unified theory but a diverse field of study encompassing many different approaches, methods, and academic perspectives; as in any academic discipline, cultural studies academics frequently debate among themselves. However, some academics from other fields have criticised the discipline as a whole. It has been popular to dismiss cultural studies as an academic fad. Yale literature professor Harold Bloom has been an outspoken critic of the cultural studies model of literary studies. Critics such as Bloom see cultural studies as it applies to literary scholarship as a vehicle of careerism by academics, as opposed to promoting the public interest by studying what makes beautiful literary works beautiful.
Bloom stated his position during the 3 September 2000 episode of C-SPAN's "Booknotes":
"[...T]here are two enemies of reading now in the world, not just in the English-speaking world. One [...is...] the lunatic destruction of literary studies [...] and its replacement by what is called cultural studies in all of the universities and colleges in the English-speaking world, and everyone knows what that phenomenon is.
I mean, the [...] now-weary phrase 'political correctness' remains a perfectly good descriptive phrase for what has gone on and is, alas, still going on almost everywhere and which dominates, I would say, rather more than three-fifths of the tenured faculties in the English-speaking world, who really do represent a treason of the intellectuals, I think, a 'betrayal of the clerks'."
Literary critic Terry Eagleton is not wholly opposed to cultural studies theory like Bloom, but has criticised certain aspects of it, highlighting what he sees as its strengths and weaknesses in books such as After Theory (2003). For Eagleton, literary and cultural theory have the potential to say important things about the "fundamental questions" in life, but theorists have rarely realized this potential.
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