Cultural Studies 1CS3 Notes

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Cultural Studies and Critical Theory
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Mary O' Connor

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Culture: Cannot be reduced to single definition. Description of a whole way of social life, name for more ‘serious’ works of literature, music, etc, can refer to a range of symbolic/signifying activities/works/everyday practices/pop culture Cultural Studies: Practices of everyday life Practices: Capitalism: Economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and geared toward generation of profit. Everyday life: Talking, writing, social rituals such as eating, shopping, dancing, music, visual culture, sports, fashion, etc) shared among many members of a society including and especially those who aren’t particularly socially, economically, or politically powerful. 10 Mass Media: The establishment of media empires in the late nineteenth century anticipates the much more significant kinds of media convergence that are in evidence today, linking not only forms of media (say, print with television) but also form with content (for example, television networks and sports teams). Ideology: Process by which the set of values and beliefs that bind individuals together in a society becomes “naturalized”. Claim that capitalism is only rational form of economic organization is often ideological in this way Marxism: Emphasizes the exploitative foundations of capitalist systems of economics. The notion of ideology arises out of the Marxist tradition as a way to account for how the dominant economic class controls the production and distribution of ideas in society. Industrialism: Describes transition from agricultural/small-scale commercial society to one based on organized mechanical production. Workers in industrial society are detached from larger process of production; rather than having any direct economic stake in products of their labour, they receive only small hourly wage and their activity focused on one single fragment of final product. In preindustrial economy, workers had strong sense of connectedness to labour and products. Were involved in every stage of production (planting to harvest and crucially had at least some degree of ownership of process, including small holdings of land.) Mass Culture: A form of culture produced for profit by a vertically integrated factory system, for a large and diverse audience. Culture Industry: A term first introduced by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno to describe new conditions of cultural production in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Culture now mostly produced and distributed in industrial fashion and mass scale like any other COMMODITY. (Music, film, sports, television). Hegemony: Refers to ability of dominant groups in society to exercise control over weaker groups not by means of force or domination, but by gaining their consent, so that unequal distribution of power appears to be both legitimate and natural. Signification: Representation/signification involves social production of meaning through sign systems. Signs are fundamental units of communication. A sign can be a word, a gesture, a facial expression, an image, a musical note, even an item of clothing – anything that refers to something else, and is recognized as doing so by users of the sign system. Myth(ology): Coined by Roland Barthes to describe ways in which sign systems work ideologically to reproduce and legitimate particular social relations. Mode of signification that works to express and surreptitiously to justify dominant values of a given historical period. Plays into a whole chain of associated concepts (e.g., tree-nature-goodness). Discourse: Concept articulated by Michel Foucault to describe way in which speech and writing work together with specific structures/institutions to shape social reality. Discourse refers to distinct areas of social knowledge (law, science, medicine) and the linguistic practices associated with them, but also establishes rules about the context of this speech/writing, such as whose permitted and authorized to address these subjects. Knowledge, according to concept of discourse, IS power, since it comes into being through operations of power and also exercise power by determining what truths will be endorsed. Representation: Social production of meaning through sign systems (I.e, words, images, gestures, etc.). Involves making meaning by creating links between conceptual and linguistic or signifying levels of meaning, links established through codes shared by members of a culture. Gender: “Male” and “female” comes about not through nature but through culture. Race: A constructed category that is widely used to distinguish among various groups of human beings based on inherited biological or physical characteristics (such as skin colour or facial features). Has functioned historically as a way to draw spurious connections between specific physical characteristics and possession of certain behavioral traits assumed to be shared by ALL members of the race. Sign: The smallest unit (word, image, sound) of communication to which meaning is attached. Must meet THREE criteria; must possess physical form, must refer to something else, and it must do so in a way that is recognizable to others. Encoding: Meaning is created and altered at every step along the way, from the way in which producers construct a visual text, using signs and narrative forms supplied by the surrounding culture and their own position within that culture, to the way in which those encoded meanings are transmitted, via particular technologies, and then received and decoded by viewers-once again, based on the technologies of the medium as well as on their own individual and cultural storehouse of meanings. Decoding: Dominant-hegemonic, audience’s interpretation of the text is consistent with the ideological codes in which it is produced (in other words, they subscribe to the “preferred reading”), to a negotiated position, in which the audience accepts the legitimacy of the preferred reading on a general level but modifies it in light of personal interests or circumstances, and finally to an oppositional or counter-hegemonic reading position, in which audience understands but rejects texts code and reads it in light of an alternative code. Instrumental Rationality: Use of rationality or reason in an instrumental fashion suggests the use of the most efficient means to achieve the desired end. Rise of capitalism, for German sociologist Max Weber, introduces instrumental rationality into all spheres of life. Has caused issues, ex, the ‘efficient’ pursuit of profits and technological development has resulted in considerable damage to the environment. Frankfurt School: Is name given to a group of innovative social theorists whose ideas remain important decades after the School was formally dissolved. The school’s name is used to describe approaches that emphasize the production of popular culture and insist on its ideological constraints. Conspicuous consumption: A pattern of behavior, initially observed by Thorstein Veblen, that began in the nineteenth century as a result of increased incomes and leisure time along with the growth of marketing. “Wasted” consumption began to be used by members of different classes in a way that was obvious, noticeable, visible in order to signal or symbolize social distinction. Commodities: Objects and services produced for consumption or exchange by someone other than their producers. Commodity Fetishism: Marx employed term commodity fetishism to describe the almost magical value attributed to objects in a capitalist economy – value derived not from HOW they are used or the LABOUR that produced them, but from the PRICE they COMMAND on the market. Most damaging aspect of commodity culture from Marxist perspective is its tendency to attribute value to things and relations between them rather than to people and human relationships. Consumerism: Name for the complex set of dominant values and produced by and arising from a life in a consumer society: a historically unique form of society in which consumption plays an important, if not central role. Agency: Ability of individuals to act as self-conscious, willful social actors, and to exert their will through involvement in social practices, relationships and decision making Taste: Many of the objects we surround ourselves with meaning something. Connect us with others through the subtle forms of distinction they produce. What we “choose” to consume includes us in some groups and “excludes” us from others. Functioned as form of social distinction. Distinction: Condition of being set apart and considered different or special, usually through the achievement of a specific honour, and connected to value. Distinction often linked to consumption, with implicit idea of a capitalist system being that one can achieve distinction through one’s purchases. Authenticity: a positive quality of genuineness and originality attributed to objects, practices, or ideas, often in order to demonstrate the extent to which an initially authentic phenomenon has been compromised or drained of its value. The notion of authenticity has been critiqued for its ideological grounding in a nostalgic vision of a more “real” cultural past now sullied by rank commercialism. Identity: An individual’s unique personality or self. Concept of individual identity complicated by fact that, rather than inhabiting single identity, we all assume multiple identities that are defined by particular circumstances and relationships. The Subject: Unconscious: Sexuality: An object of knowledge that came about in nineteenth century and still is today. A part of identity. Binary Opposition: An analytical system that uses specific examples of symmetrically opposed pairs, or mirror opposites, which, although mutually exclusive, generate meaning through their difference and describe a complete, if extreme, system of understanding. For example, “us-them” in forming group identities. Position the binary as natural and any other form as deviant. Patriarchy: A social system in which men hold power in the family and in the social structure. Postmodernism: Impossible to offer any simple definition. Generally refers to a phase in Western history that coincides with the information revolution and new forms of economic, social, and cultural life. Postmodernism names a period – the current era – and points to the fundamentally differences of this era from even the recent past (i.e., modernism, ranging from roughly the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century). National/nationalism: Our usual, common-sense way of understanding the relationship is to see the nation – a people defined by collective belonging to an extensive community, usually defined in relation to a specific territory – as primary, with nationalism as a frequent though not inevitable by product. “Imagined community” Neoliberalism: Political movement that attempts to remove all government influence in economic matters through privatization of state functions, deregulation of trade, and reduction of welfare spending. Associated with economic liberalism, rather than social liberalism. Has come to be seen as dominant ideology of globalization. Imagined community: See nationalism. As a form of what Benedict Anderson terms, nation is both example and instigator of the process by which identities that are constructed or imagined come to assume the force of nature. Orientalism: Refers to way in which “the Orient” was and is constructed by the West as a means to claim authority and exercise control over Eastern cultures. Complex layers of knowledge and mythology that have been constructed around Western ideas about the non-West. Postcolonial: Refers to period after formal retraction of colonial rule in developing world.
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