A Syllabus for Cultural

People attend a climate change demonstration in London, Britain, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson - RC1564F43FC0

My favorite course to teach is our department’s flagship course in cultural studies, Practices in Cultural Studies. It is an introduction to the intellectual and political project of Cultural Studies. In it, students learn Cultural Studies is NOT the “study of cultures” in the way one might imagine; rather, it is an effort to understand the context of any given moment in space and time and to grasp the political possibilities that exist within it. It it concerned with how people’s everyday lives are structured and organized in contradictory ways by social, economic, political, and cultural forces, as well as the historical possibilities of changing those lived realities—the ways we imagine(d) life could be otherwise.

Over the course of the semester, our goal is to explore what it means for Cultural Studies practitioners to take a conjunctural rather than disciplinary approach to academic work. This means that rather than analyzing the formal properties of an object (be it a cultural or technological form, political movement, or economic tendency), we attempt to collectively map the wider social totality within which that object exists and is made meaningful. The goal of mapping specific conjunctures is to reveal the practices that animate them, the lines of force and forms of care that hold them together, and the social contradictions that tear them apart.

We also consider the history of Cultural Studies as an interdisciplinary tradition that grew primarily out of the British New Left from the 1950s and spread globally, as well as other intellectual formations that may or may not have been called “Cultural Studies” but which developed similarly contextually-specific forms of conjunctural analysis both before and after the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies codified the project. We examine several “central problematics” (themes, problems, crises, debates) for Cultural Studies, and read examples of Cultural Studies analyses, theoretical texts, and some readings about “doing” cultural studies work. In addition, we examine other resources added to the agenda on the basis of students’ working group research questions. This is a course designed to confront many of the assumptions its takers may have about the world as well as the ways that different disciplines in the University teach us to think. It demands participants to think more complexly, work more collaboratively, and produce work that matters politically.

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