Hartley, John. A Short History of Cultural Studies.
John Hartley attempts and accomplishes a seemingly impossible task--to provide "a short history" of cultural studies. A new and ambitious area of academic investigation, cultural studies has roots in many different disciplines and approaches; at the same time, it has found fertile soil and congenial workers in the larger field of communication studies. That noted, things get more difficult:
[T]here is little agreement about what counts as cultural studies, either as a critical practice or as an institutional apparatus. On the contrary, the field is riven by fundamental disagreements about what cultural studies is for, in whose interests it is done, what theories, methods, and objects of study are proper to it, and where to set its limits. (p. 1)
In many ways Hartley's book serves as an extended definition as well as a history.
As an academic enterprise, cultural studies emerges from many areas, bound by a common interest in contemporary culture and a willingness to analyze itself as part of that culture. The critical (and self-critical) stance is an essential component. Hartley again:
Nevertheless, some continuities and patterns did emerge. Cultural studies was of necessity an interdisciplinary field of inquiry. It drew widely from the humanities and social sciences, from anthropology, textual theory, social and political theory and media studies, with some contributions from history, geography, the visual and performative arts.... Cultural studies was committed to self-reflexivity in its mode of intellectual production, denying innocence or transparency to its own practices. It specialized in margins and boundaries, both discursive and social, and that included its own intellectual and academic status, methods, and corpus. Self-reflexivity extended to a perennial reluctance to accept disciplinary authority of any kind. No orthodoxy was allowed uncontested. (p. 8)
Hartley describes cultural studies as a "philosophy of plenty," focusing interests in the study of "the expansion of difference"; assembling "intellectual concerns about power, meaning, identity, and subjectivity"; promoting "marginal, unworthy, or despised regions, identities, practices, and media"; fostering a "critical enterprise devoted to displacing, decentring, demystifying, and deconstructing the common sense of dominant discourses"; and committing itself to intellectual politics" (p. 10).
With this general background, Hartley presents six chapters or slices of cultural studies. Each more or less stands alone but together the chapters orient the reader to the lands explored by cultural studies. His method combines some historical comment (What texts got this started? Who were the people? What issues energized or exasperated?) with a reading of key texts--in other words, Hartley follows a cultural studies approach in his introduction to cultural studies. Chapter 1 covers literary criticism and introduces the reader not only to key texts, but also to the politics of the founders of this kind of criticism (Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw) and to the publishers (notably Allen Lane of Penguin Books) who made the larger enterprise possible.
Chapter 2 explores cultural studies, mass society, and popular culture. Here, too, a political agenda (the educational reform acts in Britain and other countries) set the stage. But not only were there "the masses" and the politics of reading (S. L. Bethel, Terence Hawkes); there was also television and the struggle to "read" it (Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Meaghan Morris). The relation of cultural studies to art history forms the basis for Chapter 3. Here we meet familiar figures like John Berger and debates like that of realism versus constructivism. The themes of democratization and capitalism find expression in the art world, as does the harnessing of art for political ends. All of this begins to prepare the reader for Chapter 4 and the introduction of cultural studies' relationship to political economy. Culture itself, Hartley reminds us, is a site of struggle (p. 91) and the Marxist critique of false consciousness plays a key role in the self-critical study of culture. Workers and citizens and texts and policies all appear here, when we meet Stuart Hall (again) and Michel Foucault and the hope of consciousness raising in the work of Richard Hoggart. By this time the Americans are interested: though there is little government policy towards culture, there is a lot of capitalist interest.
Chapter 5 traces the wider and more critical strands of cultural studies: feminism, anthropology, and sociology. Influenced by the study of everyday life by sociologists (Thorstein Veblen, Georg Simmel, Henri Lefebvre, Pierre Bourdieu) and anthopologists (Claude Levi-Strauss, Marshall Sahlins, Mary Douglas), cultural studies begins examining how we (not they) live. It also begins to attend to women's lives and women's concerns. Finally, in Chapter 6, Hartley turns the lens on teaching, since cultural studies is an academic phenomenon. Here we find academic politics, but also the unbridled capitalism of the academic book publishing industry, which recognizes and recognized a rich market when it sees one.
Hartley's book is refreshing, breathtaking, and quite a lot of fun. Given its relatively small (175 pages of exposition) size, the book can't do everything, but it does introduce the reader to this rich area of contemporary academic life. And there are occasional missteps. In his section on the critique of false consciousness, Hartley, in an attempt to show its long history, cites Thomas Paine's criticism of the doctrine of Christian redemption. Here, both Paine (perhaps understandably) and Hartley manifest a surprisingly naive reading of theology. Given his description of cultural studies' striving for reflexivity, a more self-critical critique would have been expected. But no one, no matter how accomplished, can master everything.
The book has a good reference list of key texts and an index.
--Paul A. Soukup, S.J.
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|Author:||Soukup, Paul A.|
|Publication:||Communication Research Trends|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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