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Cultural Studies and Theory

What is Cultural Studies, and how is it related to Critical Theory? Cultural Studies works centrally with many of the theories of interpretation and response that have developed in literary studies; but Cultural Studies and/or Theory will deploy these theories to understand non-literary modes of cultural production (for example, music, art, television, fashion, advertising, or visual culture), with special attention to any given cultural mode’s embeddedness in a particular social, historical, sexual, and/or economic context.

Which is to say two things right off the bat: Cultural Studies works with a much wider range of ‘non-canonical’ objects than is usually studied in English courses; and Cultural Studies approaches turn attention away from a critical apparatus that looks primarily for artistic production’s ‘enduring values’ or its thematic ‘meaning’ (approaches that tend to cut off cultural productions from their immediate socio-historical contexts).

And this is where Theory comes in: what may seem like the everyday ‘lightness’ of the objects within Cultural Studies inquiry is more than offset by the theoretical heavy lifting necessary to say something compelling about their place in a larger socio-economic system. You’d think that much less critical apparatus would be required to study YouTube videos than to study Moby-Dick, but that’s probably the first thing that Cultural Studies wants to challenge through its linkages to Theory: the objects themselves may be everyday, but that’s precisely why they require such a lot of theoretical inquiry to understand how they function. For Cultural Studies to work, it has to take the ‘detour of Theory’ precisely in order to tell us something valuable about our everyday lives.

Possible courses for the Cultural Studies and Theory cluster:

  • ENGL 225: Sexuality and Modern Visual Culture
  • ENGL 226: Latina and Latino Border Theories
  • ENGL 227: Introduction to Culture and Sexuality
  • ENGL 228: Introduction to Disability Studies in the Humanities
  • ENGL 233: Chemistry and Literature
  • ENGL 245: Introduction to Lesbian and Gay Studies
  • ENGL 311: The Canon and Its Critics
  • ENGL 312: Globality and Literature
  • ENGL 402: Literature and Society
  • ENGL 403: Literature and Culture
  • ENGL 404: Mapping Identity, Difference, and Place
  • ENGL 426: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Production: Literature, Film, Music
  • ENGL 429: New Media and Literature
  • ENGL 481: Literary Theory: Historical Perspectives
  • ENGL 482: Contemporary Literary Theory and Practice
  • ENGL 482W: Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory
  • ENGL 483: Problems in Critical Theory and Practice