English 216: notes for Chapter 3 and 4

Chapter 3: Culturalism

  • various breaks from previous Marxist & Leavisite ideas

Breaking from Classical Marxism

  • E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
    • the working class created itself as a reaction to its context
    • an example of culturalism: shift towards agency rather than determinism


Breaking from Leavisism (i.e., creating left-Leavisism)

  • Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy
    • working-class culture is realistic/active; mass culture is fanciful/passive
    • looks at history from working-class point of view, inverts class perspective\
  • Raymond Williams, “The Analysis of Culture”
    • pop culture works out problems in culture
      • i.e., “magical” solutions to real problems
    • structures of feeling: what it would be like to be in a time/place
      • doesn’t define people by just documents or just consumption patterns
    • selective tradition: representing a time/place via our preferred examples
  • Stuart Hall & Paddy Whannel, The Popular Arts
    • popular art: product of culture industry, but can still be enlightening
    • mass culture: industrial/degrading; high culture: individual/enlightening
    • youth culture & music:
      • must the study whole of cultural activity (not just the “text”)
      • audience appears to get something out of it (not just top-down)


Chapter 4: Marxisms

Classical Marxism

  • base: material surroundings and ability to work with them
    • creates the terrain for the superstructure to happen
  • superstructure: politics, economy, society that results from activity at the base
    • not determined by the base, contains lots of internal activity
  • class: a group’s social position relative to activity at the base
  • popular culture is a product of base and of interactions w/in superstructure


William Morris

  • expands Marxist idea of alienation:
    • i.e., if you only ever sell your labour for money,
    • you’ll never develop a relationship with that labour
  • creative labour: when labour and art are same thing (i.e., making something)
    • class distinctions would collapse into each other


The Frankfurt School

  • culture industry: for-profit entertainment (capitalist); i.e., popular culture
  • conforms to industry needs and also promotes conformity
  • mass culture: standardized content, pseudo-individualizes audience
    • claims we’re in the ideal world, thus negates need for rebellion
  • art: by definition, resists or critiques the culture industry (i.e., capitalism)
  • problem: the culture industry not this effective or monolithic
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
    • aura: the specific, contextualized meaning of a signifying object
    • mechanical reproduction obliterates the aura: new contexts, new meanings
    • so meaning is made in the act of consumption, not determined by production
  • Althusser
    • ideology: practiced; reality is what you do, ideology is how you represent it
      • these representations perpetuate class domination
      • dominant classes are also convinced; they see their domination as natural
    • ISA (ideological state apparatus): institutions that perpetuate ideology
    • RSA (repressive state apparatus): institutions that enforce ideology
    • problematic: when ideology tries to represent something outside of itself
    • symptomatic: looking for the traces that (futile) effort leaves behind
    • interpellation: when you subject yourself to ideology via discourse
      • problem: it’s presumed to always be successful & never conflict
  • Antonio Gramsci
    • hegemony: dominant group tries to naturalize its own ideology
    • compromise equilibrium: subordinated groups agree with hegemonic values (against their interests)
      • RSAs held in reserve in case of actual rebellion
    • organic intellectuals: represent hegemonic values; can be ISAs
    • bricolage: youths use hegemonic culture for resistance,
      • but resistance gets incorporated into the power structure


Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies

  • articulation: making meaning in the contextual connection of text & reader1
  • culture: is when groups of people tend to articulate in the same ways
    • culture defines what is “common sense” or “natural”
    • i.e., what the physical world is made to mean by ideology
  • mass culture: not always convincing, the people are not always duped

NB: these notes are compiled from John Storey’s Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 7th Edition. They are for studying purposes only.

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