Cultural studies is a field of theoretically, politically, and empirically engaged cultural analysis that was initially developed by British academics in the late 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and has been subsequently taken up and transformed by scholars from many different disciplines around the world. Cultural studies is avowedly and even radically interdisciplinary and can sometimes be seen as antidisciplinary. Although most practitioners of cultural studies are professional academics, Gilbert Rodman has argued in his 2015 book, Why Cultural Studies?, that the field must be understood to include some non-academic cultural analysts and practitioners as well as academic ones. A key concern for cultural studies practitioners is the examination of the forces within and through which socially organized people conduct and construct their everyday lives. Rather than having a singular theoretical approach, Cultural Studies is a diverse field that encompasses a range of different theoretical and methodological perspectives and practices. Although it is distinct from the discipline of cultural anthropology and the field of ethnic studies, cultural studies has drawn upon and contributed to both of these areas of inquiry. Cultural Studies is focused on the political dynamics of contemporary culture and its historical foundations, conflicts and defining traits. Researchers concentrate on how particular cultural practices relate to wider systems of power associated with or operating through social phenomena such as ideology, class structures, national formations, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, generation, and so forth, rather than merely describing cultures or cultural practices. Cultural studies views cultures not as fixed, bounded, stable and discrete entities, but rather as constantly interacting and changing sets of practices and processes. Cultural studies combines a variety of politically engaged critical approaches drawn from and including semiotics, Marxism, feminist theory, critical race theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies and historical periods. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand how meaning is generated, disseminated, contested, bound up with systems of power and control, and produced from the social, political and economic spheres within a particular social formation or conjuncture. Important theories of cultural hegemony and agency have both influenced and been developed by the cultural studies movement, as have many recent major communication theories and agendas, such as those which attempt to explain and analyze the cultural forces related to processes of globalization. Somewhat distinct approaches to cultural studies have emerged in different national and regional contexts such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Asia, South Africa and Italy. During the rise of neo-liberalism in Britain and the US, cultural studies both became a global force/movement, and attracted the ire of many conservative opponents both within and beyond universities for a variety of reasons. Many left-wing critics associated particularly with Marxist forms of political economy also attacked cultural studies for allegedly overstating the importance of cultural phenomena. In 2002, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham, UK, which was the world’s first institutional home of cultural studies, was closed due to the result of the Research Assessment Exercise of 2001. The RAE, a holdover initiative of the Margaret Thatcher-led UK government of 1986, determines research funding for university programs. While cultural studies continues to have many detractors, the field has become a kind of world-wide movement that is to this day associated with a raft of scholarly associations and programs, annual international conferences, publications, students and practitioners, from Taiwan to Amsterdam and from Bangalore to Santa Cruz.
About the Author: Matt Artz
Matt Artz is a business and design anthropologist, consultant, author, speaker, and creator. He writes, speaks, and consults in user experience, product management, and business strategy. He creates products, podcasts, music, and visual art. Matt is the Head of Product and Experience for Cloudshadow Consulting and Artmatcher. He is also the Founder of Anthro to UX, Azimuth Labs, and Biomega Technologies. He earned a Masters of Science in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas in 2018, an MBA in Finance and Management Information Systems from Marywood University in 2008, a BS in Biotechnology from Marywood University in 2008, and a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Marywood University in 2006. As an anthropologist and consultant, he is known for his research interests and work in business anthropology, design anthropology, consumer genetics, user experience, product management, big data, sensemaking, and algorithmic bias. Matt is also the creator of the Anthropology in Business podcast and Anthro to UX podcast where he discusses the application of anthropology to business and UX. He has been featured by TEDx, SXSW, Anthropology News, MedPage Today, Kevin MD Technically, UX Planet, Towards Data Science, Product Coalition, and the University of North Texas. You can follow Matt on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and Google Scholar.