Cultural Studies: Definition, Theory & Methodologies

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  • 0:01 Cultural Studies Defined
  • 1:10 Theories
  • 2:49 Methodology
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn about the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies, gain insight into the theories and concepts on which it is based, and explore a brief introduction to the methodologies used to collect data.

Cultural Studies Defined

For many of us, there comes a point in our education when we're introduced to a theory or concept and everything suddenly comes into focus. If not a scholar or theorist, maybe you've come across a particular author or musician that helps you see things in an entirely new way, or gives you a new framework for expressing yourself and explaining the world around you.

Cultural studies is an interdisciplinary field of studies, which means that it draws from many different subject areas, including sociology, anthropology, political science, and history. Although it is sometimes misunderstood as being the study of popular culture, cultural studies is, in fact, the study of the ways in which culture is constructed and organized and the ways in which it evolves and changes over time.

The field of cultural studies emerged from the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the UK, which, beginning in 1968, was headed by Stuart Hall. While there were many scholars who contributed important work to the field during its infancy, Hall's pioneering work put cultural studies on the map, and he is generally accepted as the discipline's most important figure.

Theories

Because it is an academic field of study, cultural studies is built on certain theories and concepts that guide scholars in their work. Among these, the most significant is the concept of cultural construction, which is the theory that many influential social and cultural characteristics are not inherent but are constructed by people. For example, from the cultural studies perspective, things like race, gender, or disability don't really exist but are instead concepts or beliefs that people have created in order to organize their cultures or societies. This is not to suggest that there aren't biological differences between men and women, or that there aren't variations in skin pigmentation; rather, it simply means that outside of social systems, these things have no meaning.

Another important theory of cultural studies is hegemony, which is a term used to describe the dominance or authority that one group or culture has over others. For example, in the United States, the hegemonic culture is one that is controlled largely by white people and caters to, or represents, the majority rather than incorporating diversity that would more accurately represent the nation's population. In cultural studies, hegemony is an important theory in the exploration of how the dominant culture influences other groups, particularly in the construction of identity or conforming to social norms.

These two theories are critically important in the field, but there are many theories and concepts that guide cultural studies. In many cases, these theories overlap or incorporate concepts from other disciplines, but they are generally aimed at exploring how people construct culture and how that culture shapes people.

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