I. Genealogy of American Studies

II. Myth and Symbol

III. Interpretive Social Science, Semiotics, and Material Culture

IV. Marxisms & Cultural Materialisms

V. Poststructuralist and Postmodern Theories

VI. Theorizing Difference(s): Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Sexuality and Dis/ability

VII. Historical Theories & Methods

VIII. Literary Theories & Methods

IX. (British) Cultural Studies

X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories

XI. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity (forthcoming)

Comments? Corrections? Suggestions?


IX. (British) Cultural Studies

British Cultural Studies, or the Birmingham School (named for its founding University of Birmingham (UK) Centre for Cultural Studies) is a broad-ranging interdisciplinary approach that has existed for several decades, running more or less parallel to AS, fulfilling some of its functions but differing in significant ways. The school has made major contributions to literary and historical theory, the ethnography of urban sub-cultures, popular culture and media studies, women's studies, and to ethnic studies, among other areas. In its current incarnation, it is perhaps best represented by Stuart Hall who combines theoretical models and insights drawn from marxism, post-structuralism, critical race theory and feminism with tools drawn from the disciplines of sociology, history, ethnography, and media studies. Hall also follows the school's tradition of aiming his scholarship as directly as possible into current arenas of political contestation. Through the work of people like Hall, Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, Angela McRobbie, and others, British Cultural Studies has long influenced individual AS scholars.

In the late 80s and early 90s the term "cultural studies" (indebted to but not synonomous with the British school) gained great prominence, emerging as an important, contested concept in American scholarship. "Cultural studies" is somepalatino portrayed as a "British invasion" akin to the arrival of the Beatles and the Stones in the 1960s. This is a useful idea only if one notes that, like the texts created by the original, musical "invasion", cultural studies is deeply rooted in already existing US texts. Thus I would argue that the label "cultural studies" (without the Brit prefix) as currently used exceeds and partly precedes the "British invasion" component. "Cultural studies" is a useful term to describe the coalescence of interdsciplines like ethnic studies, women's studies and les/bi/gay/queer studies with various post-poststructuralist currents in literary cum textual studies. I think it should describe a more politically grounded moment using, but arguing against the philosophical idealism of, much poststructuralist-influenced cultural analysis.In the US the term seems to represent a desire to combine the "textualist" turn of much recent theory with greater respect for sociological and ethnographic approaches to putatively extra-linguistic structures; it is also somepalatino used as an over-arching term to designate a new interdisciplinary alternative to traditional work in the humanities and social sciences, particularly one that draws on the strengths of emerging scholarship on and by previously marginalized social groups. The cultural studies tradition was first adapted, adopted and institutionalized in the US by sites like the History of Consciousness Program at UC Santa Cruz, Stanford's Program on Modern Thought, and the Center for the Study of 20th Century Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; in the early 1990s a number of new graduate and undergraduate programs in cultural studies emerged and a number of American Studies programs were revitalized by attempts to incorporate some of this new work.

Further Online Resources:


  • Johnson, Richard. "What is Cultural Studies Anyway?"Social Text 16 (1986/87): 38-80. A very useful, if not always terribly lucid, overview of the variety of kinds of cultural studies being practiced in the world today. Attempts to synthesize the best of a number strands of work.

  • Turner, Graeme. British Cultural Studies: An Introduction. London: Unwin-Hyman, 1990. Excellent, clear, concise history and summary of the theory and practice of the British tradition in cultural studies, from Hoggert to Hall, Hebdige to McRobbie, addressing questions of textual versus audience analysis, ideology, hegemony, and postmodernism.

  • Brantlinger, Patrick. Crusoe's Footprints. NY: Routledge, 1990. Intended less as an introduction than as an exploration of cultural studies, it is at points less well-organized and historically clear than the Turner book (above), but it is at other points more complex and provocative. It also has the virtue of comparing BCS with trends in American scholarship (though Brantlinger's reading of the AS tradition is somewhat reductive, isolating only its most ossified dimensions).

  • Pfister, Joel. "The Americanization of Cultural Studies," The Yale Journal of Criticism4 (1991): 199-229. Discusses both the nature of cultural studies in the US and the ways in which reception here has transformed the field generally. Offers a useful corrective to Brantlinger.

  • Giroux, Henry, et al., "The Need for Cultural Studies." This article argues that American studies and other interdisciplines have failed in their political task. It calls instead for an activist cultural studies that acts as a "counter-discipline" pointing out the ideological "fissures" of the dominant cultures and assisting in the production of emancipatory cultural objects.

  • Storey, John. An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, second edition, 1998. Introduces key schools of critical cultural studies (marxism, structualism/poststructuralism, feminism, postmodernism) while also examining various central topics of popular culture analysis.

  • Schulman, Norma. "Conditions of their Own Making: An Intellectual History of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham." On-line article from Canadian Journal of Communication. Offers a useful, straightforward survey of CCC history.

Representative Texts:

  • Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature.London: New Left Books, 1977. Both a strong argument for viewing literature as a material form of "cultural production," and an excellent reference text for examining the meaning of some keywords in cultural studies (i.e. "culture" "literature" "hegemony").

  • ---. The Sociology of Culture.New York: Schocken, 1982. A useful overview of Williams' attempt to synthesize the best elements of the sociological and humanist/culturalist traditions.

  • Prendergast, Christopher, ed., Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. A fine, wide-ranging collection of essays evaluating Williams' career and the concept of "cultural materialism" and his contributions to cultural studies generally.

  • Bennett, Tony, et al., eds., Culture and Social Process: A Reader.London: Open Univ. Press, 1981.

  • Hall, Stuart, et al., eds., Culture, Media, Language. London: Hutchison, 1980. This essay collection and the Bennett collection above illustrate various strands of British cultural studies theory and method with regard to media studies, ethnography of contemporary subcultures, and general problems in ideology and language.

  • Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms," Media, Culture, and Society 2 (1980): 57-72. Includes a brief history of the emergence of the cultural studies movement (compare/contrast it to the AS movement), followed by an examination of what he calls the "culturalist" vs. the "structuralist" strands of culture studies.

  • Morley, David, and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds., Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Contains not only many of Hall's key theoretical reflections but also examples of the work by various other practitioners of cultural studies grappling with questions of cultural studies history and theory.

  • Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen, 1979. Fascinating ethnographic/semiotic study of Rastafarians, punks, and other British youth subcultures.

  • McRobbie, Angela, and Mica Nava, eds., Gender and Generation. London: Macmillan, 1984. Some of the best feminist scholarship from the BCS school; particularly rich on the experience of female adolescence as reflected in fashion, fads, and magazines.

  • * Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature.Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, [1984]; 1991. The new introduction to Radway's already "classic" American Studies text on the popular romance novel explicitly parallels her work to British cultural studies, a body of work she says she was unaware of when she was writing her study, but now sees as very much like what she was trying to accomplish.
  • * Carby, Hazel. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. Oxford and New York: Oxford, 1987. A theoretically innovative re-writing of the genealogy of African-American intellectuals and writers, beginning with slave narratives and ending with the 1920s, that places women in a more central role and complicates the dialectic of rural and urban black experience.

  • * Denning, Michael. Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working Class Culture in America. London: Verso, 1987. Both Denning and Carby (above), both of whom spent time at Birmingham, draw upon British cultural studies and American studies traditions, among others, to produce significant reinterpretations of 19th century American culture: for Carby the culture of African-American feminist intellectuals, and for Denning the culture of the working class as complexly represented via their struggle to resist hegemonic meanings of the mass-produced "dime novel."

  • * Haraway, Donna. Primate Visions.London and New York: Routledge, 1989. America's most brilliant historian of science offers a stunning cultural study of how questions of race, class, and gender have shaped and been shaped by the field of primatology

  • * Reed, T.V. Fifteen Jugglers, Five Believers: Literary Politics and the Poetics of American Social Movements. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1992. Argues for a cultural studies approach that includes forging an alliance between literary theory and radical social movements in the United States.

  • * Dent, Gina & Michele Wallace, eds., Black Popular Culture.Seattle: Bay Press, 1992. A brilliant collection of essays by many of the most important practitioners of African American cultural studies. Topics include: "theory and criticism," "gender, sexuality and Black images in popular culture," "the urban context," "the production of Black popular culture," and "postnationalism and essentialism."

  • * Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America.Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994. Brings a rich cultural studies approach to the production and consumption of hip-hop culture in historical and political context.

  • * Kellner, Douglas. Media Matters: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern.London and New York: Routledge, 1995. Argues for an approach to cultural studies in an American context that is "multicultural" and attends equally to questions of cultural production, textual meaning, and audience reception. Illustrates this approach through analysis of various recent U.S. popular culture texts.

  • * Gilroy, Paul. `Their Ain't No Black in the Union Jack.' Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990. Though dealing with British rather than US race relations, this brilliant exploration of racial discourses in various kinds of cultural texts has resonance with conditions and practices in the US.

  • * Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler, eds. Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1991. A wide-ranging collection based on the first major cultural studies conference held in the U.S, the text attempts to survey the state of cultural studies at the turn of the 1990s. Includes British, American, Canadian, Australian, French and other practitioners, and represents a variety of approaches in and/or critical of the BCS tradition. A topic guide assists in grouping the essays in ways that address specific reader interests and problems.

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