Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice

Summary of Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice by Barker, 2011 edition, donated to WorldSupporter

Chapter 1 Introduction to cultural studies

The Book

In short, cultural studies is about language, power and the people. Cultural studies is a field involving multiple disciplines concerning diverse subjects. By examining social institutions, scholars of cultural studies are trying to capture the distinct movements, values and habits of people living together within a society.

Eight Key Concepts

Cultural studies is mainly concerned with eight key concepts namely: signifying practices, representation, materialism and non-reductionism, articulation, power, popular culture, texts and readers, subjectivity and identity. Writers are constantly in debate about how to deploy theses key concepts and which is the most significant one. The theories from which the concepts are drawn from will be discussed after briefly introducing each of the concepts.

  1. Culture and signifying practices are focusing on the production of meaning in order to make sense of the world. Here the importance of language becomes apparent as language is a way to produce signs and hence, meaning.

  2. Representation refers to the construction of meanings through several means such as images or sounds. However, meanings are connected to specific social contexts and are therefore understood differently according to distinct circumstances.

  3. Materialism and non-reductionism are two interrelated concepts in cultural studies. Materialism is tied to the production of cultural meanings. At this point several questions arise such as who controls the production, how is it distributed and how does that affect the cultural environment. Hence, as already mentioned before, cultural meanings are related to a specific context with its own particularities. Such meanings cannot be reduced what is described as non-reductionism.

  4. Articulation describes the relation of several elements in cultural studies. Hence, certain subjects are constructed through other subjects which are context dependent.

  5. Power stands central in cultural studies as it highly influences, generates and determines social relationships.

  6. Popular culture includes the concept of power generated through ideology and consent which results in hegemony. Ideology invisibly maintains power by presenting certain norms and values as universal truths. If a large group of people consents to a certain structure in society, hegemony is created which reproduces certain meanings and practices as forms of power over the subordinated group.

  7. Texts and readers are culturally constructed such as sounds, images or practices and can generate power through produced ideology and hegemony. Hence, as people consume such cultural texts, they create meanings which again depends on the environment and context the people are currently in.

  8. Subjectivity is related to identity as subjectivity refers to the person itself, whereas identity refers to how it feels to be such a person. Hence, we humans are not essential, existing subjects but are influenced by our surroundings and are constructed through it. This argument is also described as anti-essentialism.

Marxism and Capitalism

According to German philosopher, economist and socialist Marx social formations are based on the division of the production mode which is strongly related to power and conflict. The mode of production however changed over time from an ancient mode in the beginning to a feudal mode in the Middle Ages and a capitalist mode today. In the mid nineteenth century during the rise of industrialism, Marx analysed the theory of increasing capitalism and came to the conclusion that the means of production such as machines, factories and corporations are increasingly privately owned by the upper class, also known as bourgeoisie. On the contrary, the proletariat (working class) does not own property but rather needs to sell its labour to the bourgeoisie in order to survive. Hence, Marx argues that the bourgeoisie exploits the proletariat and turns the labour of the proletariat to its property from which it extracts value for production.

Here, it becomes apparent that capitalism according to the Marxist theory leads to class divisions. By the commodification of goods, which is the process by which goods or skills are turned into consumable objects, capitalism becomes a profit-driven system.

Critics of Marxism indicate that Marx does not take human agency into account but rather regards history as independent from human action. Cultural studies contested the economic determinism demonstrated by Marxism and emphasizes the importance of culture.


Culturalism as a philosophical concept was firstly introduced in the early twentieth century by Polish philosopher Znaniecki and is often referred to as new humanism. Culturalism relates to the creative production of cultural meanings by humans in a historical context. Hence, people are not passive but have agency with which they actively produce meanings. They interpret cultural texts in order to understand the meaning.


On the contrary, structuralism which developed in Europe in the early 1900s, indicates that meanings are created within fixed structures and independently from any given person. Hence, human actions are regarded as a product of the societal structures and hence as passive objects rather than active subjects. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1875-1913) criticised the anti-humanist concept of structuralism by arguing that meaning can only be generated through reference which is the relation between signs. He states that language can be considered as a sign system consisting of signifiers which are the medium and the significations which ascribe meanings. Hence, culture can be compared to the structure of a language as it can be explained and read through signs.


The concept of poststructuralism was introduced in the mid twentieth century by French and continental philosophers and critical theorists. The theory indicates the dynamic of meanings which are continuously in process. Meanings are therefore a result of the combination of diverse texts which is also known as ‘intertextuality’.


French philosopher Derrida focused on the deconstruction of language and hence, its structure in the 1960s.. He argues unlike Saussure that meanings of signs are not fixed but signs can rather be interpreted in different ways and generate multiple meanings. Therefore, Derrida suggests the notion of différance which indicates that meanings can continuously be supplemented and change. In this manner, Derrida deconstructs fixed binary oppositions such as nature vs. culture or speech vs. writing. The world is full of texts and signs their meanings depends on how they are represented and put in practice.

Similarly, French postmodernist philosopher Foucault criticizes the structuralist view of language as an autonomous system. He rather focuses on the consequences of discourses which are influenced and determined by material and historical conditions. He argues that language produces knowledge which ascribes meaning to material objects and social practices. Moreover, he argues that ruling discourses in society generate power which is apparent in all social formations. Hence, individuals are the product of historical embedded discourses nobody can resist.


Poststructuralism contributed the most to cultural studies with the notion of anti-essentialism. Hence, poststructuralism implies that no such things as fixed universal truth exists. There are rather multiple truths which are flexible. Truths are elements of language with which people ascribe meanings dependent on their social convention in order to create their own truths. Similar to poststructuralism, postmodernism is an anti-essentialist concept too as it rejects the idea of a universal truth and suggests that binary distinctions become increasingly blurred and hence, more and more plural and diverse meanings are created.


Central to psychoanalysis stands the formation of subjectivity. Austrian psychoanalyst Freud elaborated on this concept by dividing the self into three different elements:

  1. The ego as rational mind.

  2. The superego as social moral sense.

  3. The unconscious with a distinct logic than rationality.

Oedipus complex

Freud argues that the fragmented self evolves out of social interactions throughout life and unifies over time. In order to demonstrate this process he introduced the ‘Oedipus complex’ ‘which is the formation of the gendered subjectivity. The psychic processes through which humans form their gender, are influenced by the role of the mother as carer and by the role of the father as a form of power. In the beginning, the child considers the mother as the first subject to love and identifies with the mother. In a later stage however, however the child gets separated from the mother by forming its own subjectivity. For boys this process happens by experiencing the father as a symbol of power and realizing that the desire to possess the mother leads to the punishment of castration. Hence, boys start to identify rather with their father which represents masculinity and strength. Girls however undergo a more complex development of the self as they usually identify with their mother to a certain degree. On the contrary, with the father they cannot identify as he differs from girls by having a Phallus (male sexual organ). Hence, girls can never become like their father and therefore reach out to get a child with a man which reminds them of their father. In that sense, psychoanalysis refers to the process of becoming a human throughout history and as subject formation depends on specific historical circumstances, changes of culture can lead to the change of the subject formation.

Play of Difference

Both structuralism and poststructuralism indicate that subjects are formed due to difference. One is what he is not.

Feminism is a field related to the issue of gender differences and inequality. As women are often subordinated by men in social relations, liberal feminists demand equality between women and men in order to eliminate the unequal power structures. Social feminists go a step further and connect gender to class by arguing that increasing capitalism reproduces gender inequalities for women. However, radical feminists emphasize and celebrate the difference between women and men in order to demonstrate the value of being a woman. Moreover, the superiority by men is also demonstrated with the concept of patriarchy which is often criticized as it treats women generally by claiming that women have something in common which is that they all contrast men. It is important to note however that gender is a discursive construct depending on the cultural and historical context which is therefore experienced differently by everybody.

Five Problems in Cultural Studies

A first problem which appears in cultural studies is the one of language and material. Whereas Marxism considers culture to be related to the material mode of production and hence argues that the material determines culture, structuralism regards culture as signification and part of an autonomous language system .

A second problem is the textual character of culture. Culture can be read as texts which produce meanings. However, textual determinism can lead to the distinction between texts and the acting subject which are in fact intertwined.

A third problem poses the location of culture. Culture is located as it is limited by nationality, ethnicity or space. With the rise of globalisation however, the locality of culture got challenged. Increasing movement and communication facilities together with translocal processes allowed distinct cultures to mix and hence, culture became less locally bounded and rather a hybrid form in the global space.

A fourth issue is the limit of rationality. Cultural studies uses rationality in order to explain culture. However, rational thinking is likely to control and dominate emotions and affection which play within culture as well and make culture a matter of perspective and non-universal.

A fifth problem is the issue of truth. Cultural studies increasingly rejected the notion of one universal truth. Truth is rather subjective and determined by independent interpretations. However, truth evolves through discourses which are constrained to specific cultures.


Cultural studies is a multidisciplinary field in which culture represents and produces different meanings within a context of social practices and power. Hence, cultural studies researches how meanings are produced within our continuously developing society.

Chapter 2 Culture and Ideology

Culture as a Way of Life

As culture involves meanings based on norms and values, some scholars argue that its construction is ideological. Hence, whether high aesthetic culture or ordinary culture, both create and impose an ideology. It is therefore important to remain critical and judge the relativity of cultural values.

However, according to Welsh critic Raymond Williams culture is an outcome of an interplay between humans and the context they live in. As meaning is generated and lived jointly by humans engaging with texts and practices in everyday life, culture becomes a lived experience. People become active and creative consumers by selecting commodities and signs to produce meanings. However, culture is bound to a certain socially constructed context and hence, becomes as Williams describes it: a whole way of life. In the mid-nineteenth century, British cultural critic Arnold claimed that culture represents a form of human civilization as it contributes to moral perfection and the social good. He introduced the term of high culture referring to the aesthetics of culture.

High Culture

Culture is also considered to represent human civilization as a contrast to the uncultivated mass. The term of high culture as introduced by Arnold and shared by British literary critic Leavis, opposes low culture and refers to the aesthetics in culture which is at the top of human civilization mainly known by an educated minority. However, according to Leavis the authentic common culture of the people has been increasingly threatened by ordinary mass culture which arose through the period of industrialization. Therefore, Leavisism tries to defend the best of culture produced by good work and criticize the worst of mass culture which is produces through popular media such as film or advertising.

Popular Culture

Williams introduced a new understanding of culture, namely ordinary culture which is lived in daily life. Hence, culture is influenced by the tradition of common meanings and creativity generated by individuals. With the values and norms of everyday life, culture gets continuously reproduced and changed. The anthropological approach to focus on values, norms and symbolic goods in everyday life, legitimized popular culture as a way to make sense of the world. This understanding of culture which is also known as culturalism is mainly related to the British academic Hoggart, American bishop Thompson and Williams. All three scholars stress that culture is ordinary and hence people actively construct meanings. However, the Hoggart, Thompson and Williams differ from each other.

Hoggart focuses on the lived culture of the working class using memories from his childhood. Hence, he considers working-class culture as a form of nostalgia and introduced the culture lived by ordinary people as an important aspect of cultural studies. Thompson alike Hoggart studies the culture of the working-class and alike Williams perceives culture as lived and ordinary. However, he is more concerned with the socio-economic aspect of culture such as class. According to Thompson class is the outcome of social relations and experience and hence produced by people. Hence, the working-class consists of people which bring themselves into existence by being active and creative. Williams as already mentioned above, contributed with the most long enduring legacy to cultural studies. He argues that the theory of culture refers to the study of relations between elements of a whole way of life. Moreover, he distinguishes between three levels of culture, namely:

  1. The lived culture which is determined by time and place and accessible to the ones living in time and place.

  2. The recorded culture which is the culture of the period including most everyday facts.

  3. The culture of selective tradition which connects the first two levels of culture.

William suggests this cultural analysis in order to demonstrate the shared values and outlooks of a culture. Additionally, he emphasizes once more that culture must be understood through representations and practices of the ordinary daily life. such representations and practices exist in context of material conditions which Williams also calls cultural materialism. Hence, culture is understood in terms of institutions and their cultural products; modes of production; forms of culture and their generated meanings; reproduction of meanings in time and space; and the organization of meanings. Overall, Williams regards culture as the outcome of generated meanings by ordinary people; a lived experience; and a process in which all people are engaged in texts and practices.

High culture and low culture

As Leavis and Arnold distinguish between high and low culture the question of aesthetic quality arises. An example is the soap opera which is considered by many as an complex and authentic artistic object and hence an element of high culture. However, at the same time the soap opera is considered as an expression of mass culture and hence an element of low culture. This demonstrates that beauty and quality of cultural texts is culturally relative. Hence, no such universal criteria for aesthetic judgements exists and it is more important to focus on the ideological construction of culture and its consequences. Regarding the soap opera one could consider it as a morality play which shows the TV ideal and how we should live which results in supporting the patriarchal system and asking to discuss social problems within the family and find solutions to them.

Mass culture

The standardization of culture into mass culture opened a new chapter for cultural studies, namely popular culture. Mass culture is also described to be part of capitalism as it is commodified in order to be consumed which makes it manipulative. Moreover, it is considered inauthentic as it is no longer produced by people and unsatisfying as it is simple to consume.

In order to describe mass culture, the two German philosophers, sociologists and critical theorists Adorno and Horkheimer introduced the notion of culture as an industry which produces cultural product in the mid twentieth century. They argue that there is no more diversity in cultural products but they are standardized and represent an illusion. Similarly, the Frankfurt School has a negative perspective of popular culture and describes it as inferior. The School emphasizes the importance of criticism of the people consuming cultural products as the meanings are always generated by the ones producing culture. This is what Jamaican cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall describes as the political argument of popular culture. It is not only a struggle over meaning but also a struggle over power structures.

Popular culture is in many cases regarded as unauthentic mass culture in contrast to authentic folk culture. However, in a capitalist society no such authentic culture exists anymore. This makes popular culture as legitimate as authentic culture in the modern world.

Social Formation

Referring back to Marxism, culture is based on the combination of means of production and social relations. It can be imagined like a pyramid with the means and relations of production forming the economic mode of production as the base at the bottom. Art, culture and politics form the superstructure at the top which is determined by the base. Hence, culture evolves out of historical contexts and specific modes of production. Culture is therefore political as it involves power relations, creates a natural social order and obscures the level of exploitation by the bourgeoisie. Here it becomes once more apparent that culture is ideological as it imposes a universal truth of class division in order to maintain power relations.

By Marxism influenced philosopher and theorist Althusser argues, that social formation is a unity created out of different levels and practices. This social formation is what we know as society. Another description of society is proposed by Hall et al. by introducing the notion of the ‘circuit of culture’. It refers to the interlinked levels of culture: production, representation, identity, consumption and regulation. However, despite being interlinked the meaning created at one level can be negotiated and influenced at another level and hence create new meaning.

Ideology in Question

According to Marx, meanings are produced in a specific material and historical context. Hence, ideology is generated by capitalism in which the bourgeoisie is part of the higher social class and therefore strongly determines ideology. Althusser elaborates on the thought of Marx by stating that ideology reproduces social relations and their power structure. Ideology becomes therefore a lived experience as it represents diverse ideas and practices which can shape the material world. However, Althusser emphasizes that ideology is tied to structuralism due to its anti-humanist argument of individuals being subjects and outcomes of structures rather than having agency within the given ideology. Thus, on the one hand ideology forms the conditions in which people live in and make sense of the world and on the other hand, ideology creates an illusion in which people are trapped in. This becomes apparent in social institutions such as the family or the education system. Althusser also refers to such systems as: ‘ideological state apparatuses’ through which power relations and values are reproduced and maintained usually by the dominant group in society.


Italian Marxist theoretician and politician Gramsci however, was able to apply a more practical approach towards ideology. In order to describe the maintenance and reproduction of dominant meanings, he introduced the notion of ‘hegemony’ in the early twentieth century. Class division is thus an outcome of historically imbedded power relations which are reached by force and consent of the subordinated group. Ideology becomes a lived experience in which common sense of the people forms the foundation. As common sense and hence hegemony is continuously reproduced and renegotiated, discourses and practices within society are changing and can therefore be challenged by counter-hegemonic forces of subordinate groups. This is likely to lead to an ideological struggle within civil society.

Critics about Gramsci’s concept of hegemony argue that in the contemporary world it becomes difficult to talk about a common culture. Rather culture becomes increasingly fragmented due to developments such as migration, gender politics or diverse lifestyles. Hence, the hegemonic authority becomes increasingly challenged and one should rather talk about hegemony in the sense of diverse and discursively constructed subjects which shape hegemonic and counter-hegemonic blocs. Similar to hegemony, ideology should no longer be determined by the issue of class division but rather by gender, ethnicity or race. In this regards, all groups within society have their own ideology with which they can legitimize their actions and make sense of the world.


Cultural studies regard culture to be autonomous with own meanings and practices which produce own logic. The concept of ideology must therefore be understood as a multiple set of ideas and practices which are determined by discourses influencing power relations and creating multiple truths.

Chapter 3 Culture as a Language

Language plays a major role in cultural studies as it communicates cultural meaning and ascribes it objects which creates knowledge and understanding.


The study of signs was developed by Swiss linguist and semiotician Saussure in the beginning of the twentieth century and explains culture through meanings produced by language. He refers thus to the importance of structure rather than performance which reflects the idea of structuralism. As already mentioned in the introduction of the book, Saussure argues that a sign system consists of the signifier and the signified. The signifier refers to the medium and the signified ascribe meanings to the medium. The relation between the two is not fixed but rather arbitrary and creates meaning along the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axis. The former is the combination of signs in order to form a sentence, whereas the latter adds the meaningful significance. As the making of meanings through the signifier and signified along these axes is unfixed, meanings are depending on the cultural and historical context they are created in. The use of context dependent meanings is also known as ‘cultural code’. The codes are organized in sequences which generate meaning according to the cultural convention the codes are embedded in.

Semiotics in Popular Culture

French semiotician Roland Barthes elaborated on the theory of Saussure and introduced the notion of denotation and connotation in the mid twentieth century. Denotation is the literal meaning of a sign which is understood by the whole culture. Connotation refers to connecting signifiers to signified and therefore generates multiple meanings according to cultural codes. If connotations become natural they become myths claiming a universal truth which is related to the concept of ideology. Hence, according to Barthes the signifier and the signified do not only create denotations but also connotations through which they produce mythological meanings and ideologies.

An example of denotation and connotation can be demonstrated by the cover of a French magazine called ‘Paris Match’ which shows a black French soldier saluting to the French flag. On a denotative level, the image would merely what one sees. On a connotative level, the image however can be read through cultural codes and ideologies which leads to the interpretation of French African colonies still serving the great empire of France. This example demonstrates that myths and ideologies naturalize interpretations and world views and make them seen to be universal truths. Moreover, the example supports the idea of Saussure and Barthes that signs create cultural texts which can be read literally or interpretively.

Other scholars such as Russian linguist Voloshinov argue however that signs generate multiple, negotiable meanings which depend on the cultural and historical background of the reader. In his later work also Barthes supports this idea and expresses it with signs to be polysemic. This refers to the above mentioned concept of poststructuralism which contests meanings generated within a certain structure and stating that meaning is rather continuously changing and negotiated.

Deconstruction of Meaning

As mentioned above under the title poststructuralism, Derrida had a great influence with his argument of signs generating meaning through difference. Hence, signs are everywhere and never determined by the structure but autonomous and dynamic. Moreover, Derrida criticizes the idea of logocentrism which refers to universal logical meanings and phonocentrism which determines meaning through sounds and speech rather than through writing. The latter would imply that truth and meaning can be created without representation. However, Derrida argues that truth and meaning only exists through representation and phonocentrism is therefore misleading. The importance of writing becomes apparent by the importance of texts in culture in order to create meaning. Moreover, speech is a part of writing to which otherwise on meaning can be ascribed.


The instability of meanings Derrida describes as the notion of différance which indicates that meaning is constantly in process and deferred. Through this approach, Derrida deconstructs meaning in order to demonstrate the diverse assumptions of texts. With the method of ‘under erasure’ he crosses words out of a sentence to show that the word is inaccurate in the context of the sentence but still matters as it is not totally removed from the sentence. In this manner, Derrida criticizes the fixed and familiar meaning generated by texts which is usually mistaken truth.

Truth, Knowledge and Power

Alike Derrida, Foucault is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers regarding poststructuralism. He emphasizes the material and historical context in which language produces meaning. However, Foucault rather focuses on temporary meanings generated by discourses which produce knowledge through language in a particular context. The process of discourses producing knowledge and exclude other forms of reasoning is also called ‘discursive formation’. Foucault argues that the considered and known truth is created by the ones holding knowledge and hence, power. But not only truth, also persons he refers to as subjects, are constituted through discourses. Although Foucault argues that people are constructed and surrounded by discourses, he emphasizes that individuals actively constitute themselves within such discourses. Foucault connects power to discipline which is organized through institutions such as schools, hospitals or prisons. He uses the Panopticon prison as a metaphor of disciplinary power. This prison has a courtyard and a tower in the centre from which one can overlook the surrounding buildings and cells. From the cells one cannot see the tower, nor the other cells next to them. Hence, prisoners become isolated individuals which are constantly visible by the guard in the tower. The Panopticon serves thus as a metaphor in order to demonstrate the constant surveillance and power held by social organizations in our society. Such institutions imposing discipline produce what Foucault calls docile bodies, turning individuals into passive subjects which can be used, transformed and improved.


The introduced theory of post-Marxism is based on Marxist writings and developed during the 1960s. Political theorists such as Laclau and Mouffe criticize the reductionist attitude of Marxism which explains class divisions by economic terms. They argue that class differences in society are rather the outcome of historically specific discourses and multiple subject positions. Hence, the social is created out of the aggregation of differences. This so called articulation can connect diverse discourses under certain historical circumstances and create unity. In this sense, unities in social life such as identities or nations become discursive and temporary constructions as their development depends on the specific context they are generated in.

Formation of the self

As already mentioned before, Freud focused on the structure of the self which can be divided in three levels: the ego, the superego and the unconscious. Individuals are able to unify these three elements of the self over time through engaging in language and culture. This process French psychoanalyst Lacan describes as the ‘mirror phase’. It is the moment, in which an individual can identify with another person, such as the mother in Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. Lacan argues that the Oedipus complex indicates that women only acquire meaning by recognizing their difference in contrast to men having a Phallus. Hence, alike Derrida, Freud argues that meanings are generated through differences.

Regarding language, Lacan argues that it is a form of symbolic power by being able to articulate one’s desires and create a symbolic order of social meanings. The unconscious mentioned by Freud can also be related to language as it involves both condensation and displacement. Condensation describes the process in which an idea is representative for associated meanings. It is similar to a metaphor which can create out of a conscious idea, many unconscious meanings. Displacement refers to change of energy due to the influence of an object onto another. Here, the process of metonymy is apparent which tries to temporarily fix meanings in order to overcome the symbolic.

However, Lacan’s theories based on the psychoanalysis of Freud is criticised especially by feminists claiming that Lacan explains the formation of subjectivity from a rather male-dominated and universal perspective.

Language in Practice

Austrian-British philosopher Wittgenstein argues that language serves as a tool with which humans can co-ordinate their actions within the context of social circumstances. He emphasizes that meanings have a temporal stability depending on the social convention and practice they are generated in. Hence, meanings are created through its use. Meanings are relational and dependent on their relation to other objects or subjects. Individuals create meanings and makes sense of the world by using the objects before they attach meanings to them. Language is thus no structural system but rather a way to adapt to one’s surrounding with particular rules which cannot be understood by others.

Knowledge and language

French literary theorist Lyotard focuses on the role of knowledge in language. He argues that language and culture are not universal but rather need to be understood as diverse, locality dependent knowledge regimes which is also understood as ‘incommensurability’. However, the American philosopher Rorty contests the argument of language to be locally bounded by stating that the skills of language can be attained in order to engage in cross-cultural communication. Here, Wittgenstein’s focus on the use of language is supported as Rorty argues that language is a practice which is determined by its utilization. As language and its creation of meaning is a human creation, humans cannot exist without language. He states that truth is not referring to the relation between language and reality but rather to the shared agreement by people believing something to be true. Hence, if we agree on something being true, it can be true.

Through acculturation, individuals become loyal to a certain culture and share its believe in a certain truth. However, Rorty argues that it is important to be open towards different descriptions of the world in order prevent the creation of one universal truth. To be open means to have more space to adapt to the environment, to take others into account and learn from them and having the ability to grow due to the acquisition of other cultures.

Moreover, Rorty introduces the notion of conversation in order to describe the intertwined elements of language and culture. Through conversation individuals are able to understand the creation of meaning as a joint process along with social relationships. Moreover, it allows the cross-cultural communication by attaining more language skills and generate diverse meanings.


Despite arguing that the world is determined by discourses, it is important to remember the role of materiality. Discourses are able to create and attach meanings and help to make material objects understandable. Hence, language is embedded in discourses and generates meanings which are constantly negotiated and instable. However, language and its created meanings can be temporarily stabilized in order to serve a specific use which is often determined by relations of power.

Chapter 4 Culture and Biology

The longstanding issue of human biology and human culture refers to the question whether people apply a certain behaviour due to their biology or due to their social environment and discourses they are embedded in, hence due to their culture.


Reductionism regards different philosophical positions as connected theories. The binary distinction of nature and culture needs to be deconstructed and one needs to acknowledge that the two are intertwined. Culture is a way in which humans learn about their natural environment and nature has been socialized as it became truly affected by the developing human knowledge and institutions.

A form of biological reductionism would be to say that a certain behaviour can be explained by being a woman or a man, hence it depends on the human biology. However, one should not forget that the environment has an immense impact on human behaviour as well. For this reason, Dennett introduced the notion of greedy reductionism which explains human behaviour on behalf of genes, and good reductionism which explains human behaviour or phenomena on behalf of causal chains.

Biologists explain the body and behaviour of human beings to be an outcome of the interaction between genetics and the environment. As culture forms the environment we are living in, it can influence the biological development as well. The evolutionary adaptations however are a process over decades. Regarding this, the binaries between nature – nurture, culture – biology, and genes – the environment need to be reconsidered as human culture and biology evolved side by side creating human beings. This is also known as holism which indicates the inseparability of structure and behaviour.


Science and its conceptual tools enabled us to predict specific outcome. Hence, it added knowledge to the material world. In order to be successful, science need to work for specific purposes. However, the results of the tests depend on the circumstances they are tested in. Science is thus predicting and controlling our natural environment whereas culture focuses more on the social behaviour of human beings within their environment.

Language produces knowledge and serves to achieve purposes. Hence, we cannot now what really is, but need to be more pragmatic in order to figure out how we can talk about certain things we would like to know more about. In this manner we do not search for universal truth but rather focus on the reasons justifying truth. Such reasons are however interlinked with norms and values which are acquired through social practice. Truth is therefore considered to be an continuing conversation as it is understood differently by distinct communities.

Body Culture

According to scholar Turner the contemporary world we live in can be described as a somatic society which expresses political and personal problems increasingly through the body. Hence, the body becomes shaped by culture, flexible and a mean to perform. Some issues increasingly disputed are:

  • The ownership of bodies regarding organ transplants.

  • The boundaries of the body considering implants.

  • The formation and control of our body through diets, exercise or cosmetic surgery in order to fit into certain cultural norms.

  • To have a healthy body as a moral ideal.

  • The transformation of the body through fashion.

The ability to change one’s biologically given sex.

Body performance

Today, the performance of body work stands central in active identity construction. However, as Foucault argues the body also gets passively disciplined by modern institutions, practices and discourses. Human get disciplined through practices, training and standardization learned in social institutions such as schools, prisons or hospitals. In this manner human bodies get transformed and improved within a policing society in order to be governable. Hence, humans become subjects and controlled through disciplines created by the bureaucratic system. Foucault’s argument indicates however that individuals lose any form of agency. Therefore, Canadian-American sociologist Goffman emphasizes how humans communicate and present themselves using their bodies such as facial expressions, or wearing particular clothing. The body is thus not only a material entity but also communicates cultural signs which can be understood and shared by other individuals. Foucault however reintroduced agency of the individual in his later work, stating that discipline can constrain and enable at the same time as it can be used by the individual in order to reflect and master the self.

Biological perspective

In medicine based on biology, the body is usually understood to be a fixed entity. Hence, diseases are consequences of specific mechanism which are malfunctioning within the body. Hence, diseases are the outcome of biology which a doctor with his attained scientific knowledge can treat best. However, a more holistic understanding of health emerged within Western contemporary culture which focuses more on how the surrounding impacts one’s health. This new perspective of health is also called bio-psychosocial which emphasizes the responsibility of the own body and its well-being. Hence, the body becomes active and part of the environmental context and preventatively treated. Moreover, medical authority is controlled by co-operations with professionals in this field. However, some argue that health promotion is a new form of discipline as they prescribe the appropriate attitude towards and treatment of our bodies. Here, the moral responsibility becomes apparent again as illness is considered to be a sign of weak self-control.


Genetic engineering is the manipulation of genes in order to change a human being. One practice is somatic in which genes or cells are added in order to change the DNA reproduction by enhancing desirable DNA or certain characteristics of the cells. Another practice is known as germline in which genes are removed or added to the DNA in the eggs, sperm or embryos. The former is gene therapy and non-heritable, whereas the latter is genetic engineering and inheritable. In order to treat serious illness somatic methods are often applied without much controversy. Genetic engineering on the other hand is often criticized to be used in order to create superior beings such as avoiding to get a child with a handicap. Advocates however argue that genetic enhancement does not differ much from the advantages children get while growing up in a favourable environment. According to them, genetic engineering should be a possible option to everybody. They rejects the claim that in the future two separate species, one untreated and the other one treated by genetic engineering could emerge. However, some scholars argue that is particularly the vulnerabilities and problems in life which make us loveable, caring for others and building up relationships.

In cultural studies, such developments are concerning the relation between the human and non-human and questions arise such as:

  • How will such post-human versions of individuals affect power relations?

  • What will be the role of identity and subjectivity?

  • How many forms of the human being will be developed?

Evolution of the Biological Body

Evolutionary theory indicates that the contemporary species have ancestors, new species are able to develop and that the living world is constantly and gradually changing according to natural selection. The genes which are strong enough will reproduce, build bodies and survive in the environment.

Evolution and Culture

Culture too is a product of the ancestors which adapted to the environment. In this process language played a major role as it serves as a foundation for any form of culture. Behaviour of humans cannot be explained by genetics but rather by adaptations and the environmental input which influences such adaptation. The human brain serves as a mechanism to perform tasks and adapt to certain circumstances. However, this adaptation only sustains in a specific environment and needs to adapt anew as soon as the environment changes again. Hence, the evolved psychological mechanism is able to take up certain information and transform it in a way which serves to solve a problem and adapt to a new situation. In this manner also culture gets transmitted from one person to another by observing, interacting and adapting.

Cultural studies is concerned with the issue that human beings from distinct cultures distance from each other while forgetting that we are the same species. Moreover, cultures share some universal characteristics such as signs, languages, relations, emotions, rituals, birth death and food.


Emotions are a reaction to certain conditions which are culturally and socially constructed. Our body is thus an expression which can be differently interpreted and understood according depending on the specific cultural context we are living in. However, as emotions developed and emerged throughout history from an evolutionary perspective, there are basic emotions such as sadness, disgust or joy which are responded to with body movements and facial expressions as an automatic reaction. Hence, these emotions cannot be acquired and are universally and cross-culturally understood. Nevertheless, such emotions can still be influenced by cultural conventions and norms which develop in order to regulate emotional expressions.

Emotions as a cultural construct

According to scholar LeDoux, emotions are dynamic as they are created by mechanisms in our brain, our body and our conscious experience. Responses of the body such as heart racing when we experience fear, is a reaction which happens automatically. However, we can add conscious feelings from our memory and words in order to label the emotions according to a specific context which can influence the way we perceive certain feelings. Hence, the cognitive, uncontrolled processes which are involved during receiving and processing emotions become apparent when we regard emotions as an outcome of judging things which are important to us. Hence, emotional reactions cannot be fully controlled by the individual. By acquiring a language, emotions become part of a cultural dimension. They are a cultural construct, regulated by cultural specific interpretations and understood under cultural discourses.

Emotions as cultural constructions are part of cultural discursive repertoires rather than individual interpretations. Scholars Potter and Wetherell argue, that emotions are evoked depending on our linguistic and cultural abilities and understandings. Hence, certain emotions linked to specific events are expected, such as expressing joy at a wedding which turns emotions into subjects to rules. The rules are once more culturally different as in Asians for instance feel more shame and guilt for others than in the individualized western countries.

Circuit of emotion

Emotions are a system of responses including cognition, response of the body, cultural naming in social contexts, interpretations and motivations to act. Hence, emotions can be considered as a circuit of different elements which interact with each other. For instance, if somebody perceives threat, which is cognitive, his heart will race and his hands start to sweat, which is the response of the body. The person wishes to flight, which is the action he wants to undertake and depending on the social and cultural context the person is in, the reaction can vary. By naming the elements, we interpret the situation. This is the so called ‘circuit of emotion’ in which emotions are generated and formed by the interacting elements of:

  • Culture including language and meaning.

  • Cognition as information processing.

  • Brain as psychological mechanisms.

  • Genetics as the DNA according to which one can predict certain behaviour.

  • The biological body.

By describing it as a circuit, it enables us to analyse the specific moments while examining the relations between them.

Emotions can also be perceived as an experience as emotions is a form of conscious existence which becomes meaningful within the cultural world. Hence, it becomes as way of being which is lived and experienced and shaped by cultural discourses.


An example is the emotion of happiness which gained increasing attention in the twenty-first century. The so called happiness movement is concerned with the promotion of well-being. Many authors argue that culture influences happiness as it is an emotion which emerges tout of social constructions and cultural practices. Cultural studies considers happiness to be formed by culture and power relations. Hence, processes of power define the experience and notion of happiness. At this point, Foucault’s argument of taking care of the self is relevant as it raises the question whether happiness becomes a compulsory state of being in which specific practices are adopted in order to live in a culture of contentment.

The theory of Meme

Meme is a term describing the relation between genetic theory and culture. It reflects a small cultural element which can be imitated such as the alphabet, fashion, books or ideas. These elements are thus replicated through imitation. An example is the development of mass communication from the printing press to the television and the internet which becomes less constrained by genes. Also the self is built out of interconnected memes which turns human consciousness into a product of memes.


After this chapter it becomes clear that humans are the outcome of genes, culture and evolutionary processes. Hence, humans can be considered as thinking bodies in which the human mind forms the cognitive and behavioural capacities.

Chapter 5 World in Chaos

The global order is changing and therefore the traditional concepts of societies and cultures are transforming into a multidirectional and chaotic way.

Changing Economy


After the end of World War 2, the economic practice of Fordism and policy of Keynesianism which indicates that output is influenced by aggregate demand, became dominant and enhanced a social formation. Since 1945 large-scale production of standardized goods for mass consumption was thus the new economic principle. In order to sell the goods, promotion and advertising increased in order to consume the mass produced goods. The economy became more efficient by dividing labour in separated tasks, control and measure labour through time, and motivate workers by promising payments. In order to manage and regulate the economy, world currencies were dominated by the USA, states increasingly cooperated with each other and the state obtained the role as policy maker and economic manager which turned the state into the creator of social welfare, conflict resolver and employer.


Post-Fordism is the period after the oil crisis in the early 1970s which had an immense impact on the economy as the supply grew bigger than the demand. As a result, price competition from mainly Asian countries started and the US hegemony wakened. In order to find a solution to the global recession following, flexible production and new technology were introduced. Hence, standardized goods were turned into flexible units for niche markets. Through computers and advanced machines, the production went faster and better controlled. Moreover, the labour process got restructured by applying multiple skills and eliminate demarcation lines in order to establish a horizontal workforce relying on mutual responsibility. The focus shifted from quantity to quality.

As multi-skilled workforce is expensive, companies started to offer long-term jobs for the core workforce which is a typical characteristic of post-Fordism. Part-time jobs for a short time and at a low salary are still covered by women, people of colour and young people. Post-Fordism is sometimes also described as neo-Fordism which include the diversification of products sold, establishing markets internationally and an economy of scale, the intensification of labour by applying new technologies. By dividing the work between full-time and part-time workers, the group which is de-skilled or unemployed forms a third class.

Society and class

Some scholar argue that post-industrial society consists of service industries which rely on information technology. Hence, the focus on consumption places information technology and communications central in the economy. Moreover, the economy is increasingly constituted by service sectors in which people are selling their skills. As already mentioned before, the population can be divided in 3 classes: the privileged aristocracy, the working class and the unemployed. The dominant class on the top is controlling and accessing information and knowledge which evokes social conflicts.

However, the scope of changes is not as large as some might think it is. Firstly, despite many shifted from manufacturing to a service economy, labour organizations with the traditional capitalistic pattern still exist. Secondly, the new service class consist of shop workers, lawyers and chief executive officers and therefore cannot be regarded as one homogenized class but as fragmented. Thirdly, technology lays central to the post-industrial society but however needs to be understood in a cultural, social and economic context. Social theorists Lash and Urry argue, that capitalist social relations remain and capital accumulation is necessary in a society still dominated by capitalism. They also refer to it as ‘disorganized capitalism’.

The organization of capitalism

Disorganized capitalism indicates the decentralization of capital by increasing global production and distribution. Hence, in Western societies the economy becomes more deindustrialized by concentrating more on the service sector due to the developing world which is competing with its manufacturing industries. As a result, the service class took over the working class in most Western economies which led to a more flexible form of work organizations and a change in the role of the state. The state obtains less authority over large corporations which led to a decline in the influence of politics.

‘Organized capitalist’ they describe as an capitalistic process which happens on a global level which includes the centralization of the economy such as capital and regulated markets, and the establishment of bureaucratic hierarchies with enhanced technologies, managerial skills and scientific knowledge.

Increasing consumerism

With the change of the economy, the level of consumption changed as well. The absolute consumption levels increased and the consumer orientation of the working class increasingly detaches them from the underclass. Postmodern French scholar Baudrillard argues that commodities are no longer consumed for their use value but for the signifying social value and prestige. Depending on the cultural context, commodities represent status and power. Hence, commodities are use in order to signify the social class. The lifestyle, according to Featherstone, is expressed in the consumption of aesthetic signs which created the culture of consumption in which the individual displays its individuality through the assemblage of commodities, practices, experiences and bodily dispositions.

It becomes thus apparent that by the increasing importance of consuming material goods as social signs, multiple positionalities and identities are available in social life. Hence, the role of culture plays a significant role and disrupts the autonomous development of the economy, polity and society.

The concept of Globalization

The process of globalization can be described as the compression of the world which refers to modern institutions, and as the increasing consciousness of the world in regard to cultural terms. According to British sociologist Giddens, the modern globalized world is marked by the capitalist economy, a global information system, the nation-state and the global military order. Modernity, he argues originates in Western Europe with institutions holding the power spreading across the globe. This is however a rather Eurocentric and temporal perspective denying the global modernities in regard to spatial and relational terms. An example is Japan which did not follow the linear development of tradition – modernity – postmodernity but is still the largest investor worldwide. Hence, Japan developed its own modernity.

Global economics

Despite the argument of the increasing importance of culture, most of the global processes are economic, more specifically the financial sector. Global financial markets is more and more interconnected constituting a world economy. By the emergence of transnational companies and new technologies to fasten the transfer of information, economic activities became interrelated and interdependent on a global scale in the disorganized era of capitalism.

Global culture

With the rise of globalization, social relations become increasingly reaching beyond borders. Hence, culture becomes more and more translocal. Signs and commodities are more diverse and accessible through new forms such as television, shopping centres or radios. By the diversification of cultural signifiers and the movement of people and electronic communication, cultural elements are increasingly mixed. Indian socio-cultural anthropologist Appadurai introduced five different disjunctive flows:

  1. Ethnoscapes which is the movement of ethnic groups

  2. Technoscapes which is the dynamic of technology.

  3. Financescapes which refers to financial transactions.

  4. Mediascapes which describes the movements of media images.

  5. Ideoscapes which refers to ideological conflicts.

However, these flows shaping the global world are happening in a fractured and disconnected manner. At this point, it is important to note that globalization did not bring a linear set of global cultural flows but rather uncertainty, contingency and chaos. Hence, globalization is does not lead to cultural homogenization but evokes the importance to emphasize diversity and fragmentation which is likely to lead to nationalist, neo-fascist politics and fundamentalism.

Cultural homogenization

Some scholar argue that through globalization cultures lose their autonomy and increasingly become the same. This is also described as cultural imperialism which involves the taking over of one culture over another. It is also considered to be the outcome of global capitalism which is often related to westernization as it exports western commodities and values and modernity. A first attempt to spread the Western ideas across the world was during the time of colonialism in which military dominance, cultural ascendancy and economic dependency was introduced in order to maintain colonial control. In the beginning of the twentieth-century however independence movements which succeeded the colonial domination. Most of the countries’ economies covered already a subordinate role in the world economy by then. However, today global flows are no longer a one-way traffic from North to South and West to East but also vice versa and can therefore not be defined as domination only. Moreover, the processes of fragmentation and hybridity are as strong as homogenization and hence imply that globalization has various effects on the world.


Non-western influences on the west are a form of hybridity. Some examples are world music, Latin American telenovelas, ethnic diasporas, taking over beliefs from Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism in a western context or the commodification of exotic food and clothing. Globalization led thus to t a complex, overlapping and disjunctive order.

Homogenization and heterogenization are both present in the modern world which is also referred to as the mutually existing of the global and the local. The local is increasingly embedded in globalizing discourses such as global capitalistic strategies which are focusing on diversified local markets. This is also described as a form of glocalization in which the processes of globalizing the local and localizing the global occur.

Another legacy of colonialism is the creolization of language which is invention of new forms of languages based on a hybridity of two languages as a cultural practice.

With hybridity however power relations and hegemony are reproduced asymmetric according to culture, place and descent which demonstrates that globalization is an uneven process putting its participants in unequal positions.

Cultural loss

Certain scholars such as Tomlinson argues that western modernity led to a loss of culture. Pre-modern societies were living according to traditions involving the importance of family, morality and religion. In the modern western world however such values are no longer important and quantity is often preferred over quality. As a result one can witness increasing forms of depression, self-indulgent and addictions which demonstrate how individuals are struggling in a world dominated by consumer culture offering a quantity of meaningless goods, rising powers of bureaucratic organizations and decreasing traditional human relations and values. The moral resources in order to live a satisfying life are scarce which evokes feelings of personal meaninglessness in the contemporary world. However, whereas individuals in the west are struggling with the new arising problems due to globalization, others are denied the cultural experience at all but do need to live with the consequences of globalization such as increasing climate change.

Climate change

The increasing emission of greenhouse gases due to human practices triggered the global climate change. Predictions are indicating that temperatures will rise which will have a great effect on the world’s ecosystem. Three arguments stand central in the climate change debate. First, sceptics argue that global warming is not necessarily a result of human practices but rather a natural development. Moreover, they consider poverty or Aids as more severe challenges for the future than climate change. Second, on the contrary the gradualist argument explains that it is human action which primarily impacted climate change. It supposes policies and practices to control and limit emissions of greenhouse gases which however need to be applied by all countries in order to be most effective. Further, it proposes assistance for the ones most affected by climate change which is however often happening on a too small scale and too late. Third, catastrophists or radicals are emphasizing the threats of climate change based on scientific evidence. The effect of climate change will not be linear but rather unexpected and dramatic. Therefore, emissions reductions and adaptations measures need to be introduced as soon as possible.

Cultural studies is looking at how climate change debates are apparent in political and cultural conversations. One could observe that the issue of climate change became a central topic in the public debate worldwide. An example is the climate change campaign of Al Gore or the natural catastrophes of the tsunami in Asia which sparked discussions all over the world. As the political is intertwined with the cultural practices and norms, it is important to include more than the individualistic, market based and calculative economic discourses. The role of environmental aesthetics is able to shape the public debate around climate change by for instance using the polar bear as a symbol for climate change. Hence, culture has a great influence on how we thing about such global issues.

The shifting Role of the State

The process of globalization occurs on a supranational level which reaches beyond the nation-state. Hence, the role of the state, political ideologies are shifting and New Social Movements (NSMs) are emerging. The traditional characteristics of the state are its sovereignty, demarcated borders, military power, rule of law and monopoly of legitimate violence which create national identities. However, in the modern world the state gets challenged in its external defence, internal surveillance and citizenship rights.

The nation-state in decline

The three elements the nation-state is increasingly challenged in are mainly influenced by the horizontal power relations and autonomous organizations, vertical redistribution of power and responsibility to local bodies and the emergence of supranational bodies. Such developments of decentralization undermine the central power to the state.

As the state more and more fails to provide the basic needs to its citizens, intergovernmental and supra-governmental organizations started to take over these tasks such as the European Union, the United Nations or the World Health Organization. This new actors however restrict the autonomy and sovereignty of the state as other national, regional and international agents become as well involved in the decision making process. Moreover, this development leads to a decrease of legitimization of the state body. However, critics argue that nationalism and military power of the state remain to play a significant role in the international arena. Hence, the nation-state is still farm from disappearing in the future.

American political scientist and economist Fukuyama introduced the theory of ‘the end of history’ by arguing that western liberal democracy becomes the universal ideology remaining. Hence, the global ideological struggle will end. British political theorist Held however contests this argument by stating that economic inequalities and distinct national, ethnic, religious and political ideologies will further lead to conflicts. An example would be Islamic fundamentalism as a global movement which challenges Fukuyama’s argument of liberalism as remaining ideology in the world.

Civil society

During the 1960s the first New Social Movements appeared in the West such as student movements, feminists movements or anti-war protests. NSMs are usually concerned with social aspects such as ecology politics, peace or cultural identity. Hence, NSMs form a collective identity and with collective action they have an increasing social and political impact on society. Especially with the decreasing legitimacy of major political parties, NSMs gain more public attention. This emancipatory politics is trying to break out of traditional social life forms and rather support self-actualization and free choice of lifestyles.

NSMs distinct themselves from class politics as they are not acting within a constrained political system but form an own autonomy in order to focus on social developments. Characteristics of NSMs include an anti-authoritarian stance, loose organization modes, flexible and shifting membership and the importance of participation. Hence, they directly act with the civil society in order to challenge the power hold by few institutions. In order to gain attention, NSMs make use of the mass media to spread their message. One could argue that NSMs are a form of cultural politics instead of traditional party politics.


The world changed significantly in regard to economic, social, political and cultural aspects. In the chaotic global disorder we are currently living in, culture gained a significant role as it increasingly creates the discourses in which the world economies and politics develop. New forms such as hybridity and glocalization evolved in contrast to homogeneity and cultural imperialism. Globalization also had an immense impact in the development of economies ranging from Fordism to post-Fordism and politics where autonomous New Social Movements were arising as a response to the decreasing legitimacy of the nation-state.


Chapter 6 Postmodernism

Postmodernity is concerned with cultural formations and experiences, styles in art and architecture, philosophical questions about knowledge and truth. Postmodern thinkers are not searching for universal truth but rather for specific socio-historical explanations of truth.

Modern Institutions

Institutions of modernity can be described by four characteristics: industrialism in which nature transforms, surveillance in which control and supervision emerged, capitalism which includes capital, labour and markets, and military power referring to the industrialization of warfare.

  1. With industrialism, productivity and growth increased which changed the economy significantly. Mass production and consumption and division of labour led to the rise of economic value.

  2. Surveillance was apparent in factories which became places in which discipline and control was increasingly exerted including regularization of social relations, time and space.

  3. Modernization and globalization developed along with capitalism which is continuously searching for new sources in order to accumulate capital and generate profit. Western institutions are thus globalizing as they create capital and knowledge which fosters social relations transcending time and space.

  4. The nation-state is practicing its power and politics within its demarcated borders. Moreover, the state reproduces cultural discourses forming national identities. In order to maintain order within the nation-state, the state applies the rule of law and legitimizes this by using its military power. In the modern warfare includes however military power of the state, politics and national identity which are increasingly ruled by capitalist elements such as bureaucracy, discipline and capitalist corporations.

Modernity and Urban Culture

Modernism can also be described as a cultural experience in which things start to shift by newly introduced elements such as technology, communication systems and the industry. Modernity is thus a process which promises growth, change, power and at the same time destroys the traditional picture what we were used to be. Hence, modernity involves ambiguity, doubt, risk and continual change in which individuals are continuously in process.

Baudelaire’s flâneur

The flâneur introduced by French Baudelaire in one of his poems during the nineteenth century, is a literary type walking slowly through the urban city experiencing its complexity and trying to grasp the impressions he gets of the modern space. According to German sociologist and philosopher Simmel, the flâneur expresses to the state in-between individuation and the collective.

Modern aesthetics

Modernity expressed in aesthetics is rejecting realism and rather explores the unknown. It is more about interpreting and understanding the self and create meaning than miming reality. Hence, modernist artist try to express the depth reality by fragmentation. They make a montage of different representations, ideas and images creating fragmented discourses of reality which create new meanings. Art becomes thus the means to narrate human existence in place of God. Hence, art can create universal mythic-poetic meanings are created which at the same time are confronting other modernists characteristics such as fragmentation and instability.

Hungarian Marxist philosopher Lukács argues that modernism is merely demonstrating the surface of the world without content and neglecting reality. On the contrary, German social critic Adorno states that modernist artists are evoking critical activity of the individual instead of miming what they see. German poet and theatre director Brecht proposes to express reality through modern means. Hence, he establishes a relationship between the audience and the stage in which the audience is able to actively reflect and create meanings themselves.

Modernism and Postmodernism


The Age of Enlightenment is a philosophical movement which took place in Europe during th eighteenth century. Human creativity, rationality and scientific exploration should break with traditional beliefs in religion, myth and superstition. Hence, the philosophy of enlightenment tried to discover universal truths such as knowledge and moral principles which are equally understood across time, space and cultures. In the end of the nineteenth century, scholar Taylor introduced the claim that scientific knowledge enables better organization of the production process such as division of labour, capital as motivation or planning and control, in order to improve efficiency. Such standardization measures were applied during the period of Fordism. Hence, Taylor used rationality and science in order to create more efficiency and material benefits. Further, also Marx contributed to the philosophy of enlightenment by stressing the scientific thought, historical progress and human creativity of the proletariat under the condition of capitalism. Moreover, Marx implied that a party, in his regard Lenin’s communist party, has the knowledge to guide humanity in the right direction. Hence, both Taylor and Marx share the importance science and knowledge which are part of the enlightenment theory. However, the modernist philosophy of enlightenment inherits domination and oppression by rationalizing everything and therefore rather starts to control and destroy the world.

Enlightenment critics

The rationality which evolved out of the Age of Enlightenment is by some scholars argued to be a form of domination and oppression as it controls nature with science. In this manner, competing ways of thinking are eliminated and rationality becomes a universal truth. Foucault too contests the idea of a universal truth. He bases his arguments on German philosopher and poet Nietzsche who rejects objective truth and regards sentences in a language as the only thing which can be true. Through language one can develop knowledge in order to interpret the world and as interpretations can be limitless, various truths about the world exist. However, there are certain interpretations which count as truths over others which indicate that what we see as truth is an outcome of power. Nietzsche also describes truth as the mobile army of metaphors.

Foucault examines the historical conditions in which knowledge is generated and objects defined. This is also called as Foucault’s archaeology apparent in his earlier works which involves the historically constructed discursive practices and formations. Over time, discourses change which makes them discontinuous. Another concept regarding truth is Foucault’s genealogy which appears in his later work and tries to trace the historical continuities and discontinuities of discourse. The material and institutional condition in which discourses are generated and power applied is central in the genealogy. Foucault analysed institutions such as schools, or prisons where knowledge and discourses are formed in order to demonstrate the present forms of power and discipline. A third contribution of Foucault is his breaking with the enlightenment in five ways.

  1. He regards knowledge not as universal but rather as context specific. There are regimes of truth which is the knowledge counting as truth under certain conditions.

  2. Knowledge is perspectival as there are multiple viewpoints and truths.

  3. Knowledge is created by and part of regimes of power.

  4. Foucault analyses discourses and their effect in a certain context.

  5. Knowledge as discourse is discontinuous as it develops differently over time.

Forms of postmodernism

Postmodernism involves the embracement of local, plural and heterogeneous knowledges. It is not so much about the rational and scientific but rather about differences and understandings according to various knowledge regimes. Hence, there is no universal truth as argued in the Enlightenment theory, but multiple truths formed by cultural discourses. Therefore, epistemology is increasingly abandoned and accept truth as a social state of being. Some scholars argue that postmodernism can be considered as a form of relativism. In this regard, truth is a result of diverse competing debates and depends on the position one is in.

The Contribution of Postmodernism

As postmodernism is celebrating diversity, it is able to transform ego-centred tolerance into socially oriented and militant solidarity creating the future. However, the grounds on which postmodernity is built on are rather ambiguous and uncertain which evokes critical thoughts of many scholars claiming that postmodernism is likely to lead to irrationalism. Other scholars argue however that these doubts and uncertainties are conditions of a radicalized modernity which is an ongoing emancipatory project in which money and administrative power is dominating the lifeworld. German sociologist of critical theory and pragmatism Habermas argues that language is the universal tool which individuals use in order to interact and form social relationships. Language is thus enabling to engage in debate and argumentation which generates truths.

Role of the public sphere

Truth claims are determined by the public sphere in which it is generated. According to Habermas, public sphere is a space connecting society and the state as it enables individuals to develop and engage in rational debate in order to form a public opinion. Moreover, public space should be open for all but with the rise of capitalism and the increasing monopoly of the state, the public sphere is in decline and autonomous rational citizens are transformed into consumers. Hence, the state increasingly holds power over the life of its citizens. Habermas’ arguments are reflecting on the concept of modernity and it becomes once more apparent that the emancipatory project of modernity needs to shift towards a postmodern notion in which public spheres embrace difference and create solidarity.

Culture and Postmodernism

As postmodernism is transforming modern economic, social and cultural patterns, cultures in the contemporary life were significantly impacted. This is especially apparent with the postmodern structure of feeling including the recognition of cultural difference and ambiguity of nature, the relevance of contingency and the increasing speed of living.


Under the uncertain and ambiguous conditions of postmodernism, individuals need to be more reflexive in order to understand the discourses and construct themselves by creating multiple identities. In this manner, it is possible to acknowledge the ones which were suppressed by modernity due to their differences such as feminists or ethnic diasporas.

Crossing cultural boundaries

With the rise of postmodernism, a more figural representation of everyday life appeared leading to the collapse of cultural boundaries. Modernity can be considered to be a discursive regime of signification which prioritizes words over images, stresses a rational world view and examines the meanings of cultural texts excluding its spectator. On the contrary, postmodernism is more figural as it visualizes the everyday life, rejects the rational view of culture and includes the spectator in the meaning creation of cultural texts. Hence, postmodern culture eliminates the traditional boundaries between culture and art, high and low culture, commerce and art, culture and commerce. As a result, one can witness a remix culture which is mixing different cultural elements in order to produce something new. This process is also known as bricolage.

By rearrange cultural signs, bricolage is creating new meanings. This can be observed in various cultural sectors such as film, architecture and music. The outcome of the postmodern practice of bricolage is the citation of one text within another which is also referred to as self-conscious intertextuality.

The increasingly blurred cultural boundaries led to an aestheticization of urban life. Hence, one could argue that life turns into a work of art in which individuals consume aesthetic objects and signs in order to create multiple identities and lifestyles. A central element is the television which mixes texts and meanings in order to produce new cultural images. An example is the TV detective series Miami Vice which is considered to be an example of postmodernity as aesthetics are central such as the lightning, camera work or music and it is polysemic by including multiple conflicting identities, meanings and ideologies. An example of double-coded series is the popular show of South Park which presents us with stereotypes of race, gender etc. but however is able to undermine them by giving it an ironic twist and make us laugh. The show insult everyone and does not take anything serious while at the same time undermining the offence and making serious statements.

Politics of representation

Artistic satire undermining mass media messages is called culture jamming. It is artistic in the sense that it creates images such as logos in order to putt attention on the issues of consumption, environmental degradation and inequality. It also involves the strategy of bricolage by transforming pre-existing cultural texts and created new meanings often contrasting the initial meaning.

An example of culture jamming is the Berlei underwear advertising billboard in Sydney showing a woman in underwear prepared to be cut in half by a magician. Five women publicly contested the advertisement by adding the words: ‘Even if you’re mutilated you’ll always feel good in Berlei’ which evoked a public debate about the representation of women in regard to male violence against women. This raises the question whether culture jamming is able to undermine the ideologies of consumer culture. Some scholars argue that culture jamming becomes another commercial machine by producing anti-advertisement. Hence, the concern of representing women is often used in order to promote products which turns it into a commodity used for the market.

Significance of postmodern culture

Some scholars, such as Baudrillard argue that postmodern culture is rather superficial and depthless. Value is generated through the exchange of symbolic meanings which are consumed. Baudrillard considers postmodern culture as a form of hyperreality in which we consume an overload of images and information creating an aesthetic hallucination of reality. Hence, the boundary between the real and simulation gets blurred such as between the media and the social which can be observed in television combining real life situations and at the same time entertain.

American literary critic and Marxist political theorist Jameson supports Baudrillard’s argument by stating that postmodernism represents a depthless present and loses historical understanding. He states that currently we live in a postmodern hyperspace which loses authenticity, stresses a culture of simulacrum leading to the struggle of individuals to locate themselves in a world of fragmentation, instability and disorientation. Moreover, he argues that postmodernism is a historical reality in which culture is a form of late capitalism in which personal and social life is transformed into a copied image.

Other scholars however claim postmodernism to be transgressive and progressive as the it becomes more self-conscious, self-contradictory and self-undermining. Hence is offers multiple positions and identities, and triggers the agency of individuals to actively create meanings. Hence, consumers become bricoleurs juxtapositioning cultural signs in order to construct their individual style.


The historical epochs of modernity and postmodernity had a great impact on social formations. Modernity introduced the rise of capitalism and the nation-state which triggered several concepts such as individualization, commodification and rationalization. Postmodernism involved the increasingly blurring of cultural boundaries such as between the real and simulation. Moreover, it questions the enlightenment philosophy of modernity. However, both concepts ae concerned with everyday experiences and movements.

Chapter 7 Subjectivity and Identity

Despite being two closely linked issues, subjectivity and identity are distinct and can be divided in three concepts, namely subjectivity, self-identity and social identity:

  1. Subjectivity refers to being and becoming a person in a specific cultural context.

  2. Self-identity represents how we identify with the conceptions and descriptions about ourselves.

  3. Social identity reflects on how the surrounding perceives us.

Identities are social and cultural productions which can be interpreted differently according to the cultural context in which the self is created. In a Western conception, the self is considered to have a true self which is expressed through representation and the constructed identity which is recognized by ourselves and others. Hence, we use signs in order to express our identity which is personal but also social. Additionally, identity is not fixed but rather consists of changing discourses. Therefore, it is argued that identity is anti-essential as it is described and hence made by language. Some scholars also state that identity can be regarded as a project which changes according to circumstances, time and space and involves the individual perception of the past, the present and the future.

Identity however is not only constructed by the individual but also by its social surrounding which is also known as socialization or acculturation, including the use of language and cultural practices. As mentioned above, the social identity is a result of the combination of self-description and social ascription. Overall, identity is about what an individual has in common with others and what distinct him or her from others.

Disentangled identity

Hall argues that identity can be conceptualized in three distinct ways: as the enlightenment subject, the sociological subject or the postmodern subject. These three concepts will be examined in further detail in order to demonstrate the idea of a decentred postmodern subject.

The enlightenment subject refers to the human progress as an outcome of reasoning and rationalizing. In this regard, the human person is a unified and conscious individual with an essential core, namely the identity. However, this perception of identity is a rather western perspective including the morality of individuals taking responsibility for their actions and hence being autonomous but still held accountable.

The sociological subject argues however that besides being autonomous, the individual is a sociological subject as it is formed in relation to others. The significant others which influence the identity production are for instance family members which learn the individual how to behave in the world.

The postmodern subject takes it a step further by referring to the subject as decentred, fragmented and shifting. Hence, an individual is able to consist out of multiple identities which do not have a unified core self. Rather the multiple identities are contradictory and pulling in various directions which results in a constantly changing self.

Social theory

According to Hall, the subject is understood as decentred through five major concepts such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, the centrality of language and the theories of Foucault. These concepts will be examined below.

First, Marxism contests the universal essence of the subject as identities are created under historical circumstances which are not self-selected. Hence, the social formation of the self occurs according to a specific context. The Althusserian interpretation of Marx states that subjects are formed through differences: ‘We are what we are not’. Althusser places the ideology as a central element in the subject formation process. Hence, the particular ideologies or world views prioritize the interests of the powerful and create a structure in which social relations and identity is constructed.

Second, Hall uses the concept of the unconscious through psychoanalysis introduced by Freud. He argues that the identifications of the inside is related to the discursive outside. Moreover, the fragmented self which consists of the ego, the superego and the unconscious demonstrates that a combination of the rational conscious and the unconscious lead to what we do and what we think. Over time we are increasingly able to identify with the social discourses around us and create the idea of a unified identity. Hence, psychoanalysis refers to the psychic and emotional process of identity construction. However, some cultural studies theorists propose constructionism as an alternative to psychoanalysis. The concept of constructionism indicates that psychological notions including attitudes and emotions can be analysed through shared language. Hence, feelings cannot exist separately from language.

Third, the decentred subject can be understood by feminism which explains sexual difference as a social organization resulting in the subordination of women to men. More specifically, postmodern feminism emphasizes that sex and gender is not biologically defined but rather socially and culturally. Hence, gender is not universal but constructed along several discourses which create fragmented gendered identities.

Fourth, language plays an important role as the decentred subject is the meaning of identity which depends on how we speak about it. For instance, signs are generated by relating to other signifiers depending on a specific context. Moreover, meanings are created based on other meanings. Hence, language plays a crucial role in the production of meaning and identity as well as in the understanding of the self and identity. One could argue that language brings the self into being. However, language is still regulated by discourses which contribute to the construction of the fragmented self.

Fifth, the theories of Foucault describe the subject as a discursive product of history. He emphasizes that discourses brings the self into being. This process occurs if one takes a subject position in which the discursive meanings become understandable. Foucault argues that the subject is thus an outcome of power generated by discourses. Hence, institutions such as schools, organizations or prisons hold this power and construct identities. He claims that there are three disciplinary discourses which are of great importance, namely: sciences regarding the subject as an object, technologies of the self which expects individuals to turn themselves into subjects, and dividing practices which create binary distinctions between friends and enemies or the mad and the insane. Hence, discipline involves standardization which leads to a hierarchy with a minority on top having knowledge and holding power and control. Hence, we are produced and classified along historical discourses which result in the subject formation of multiple identities.

Articulation of the self

Hall provided the five different concepts above in order to contest the essentialist notion of a unified self. This would argue that a collective identity exists by sharing certain features such as being British. However, such a generalized representation of identity is problematic and therefore an anti-essentialist conception of identity which considers the self as decentred and constructed and consisting out of multiple dynamic identities, is of great importance. Cultural identity is therefore not a fixed entity but continuously produced and constantly shifting.

Whereas Argentinian political theorist Laclau argues that links between discursive concepts do not exist and identities are historically and temporary defined meanings, Hall suggests that identities build the unity of discursive elements which are socially determined. Hence, as individuals have multiple identities, they can identify with several elements at the same time such as on grounds of race and gender.

Post humanism

The anti-essentialist notion of the human self is also known as post humanism as it goes beyond the traditional individual. Post human theorists argue that the self can only come into existence through the forces around it. Hence, it depends on external forces. Here the question arises to which extent our identity is actually made by ourselves and to which extent can we autonomously control it as it becomes increasingly apparent that the self is an outcome of external discourses and conditions. Furthermore, the boundaries of the human bodies and machines become more blurred and binary distinctions such as between humans and animals are questioned. This problematic is a consequence of defining humans based on differences and considering the similarities between humans and animals which puts human identities under scrutiny.

Politics of Identity and Agency

Critics of Foucault’s discursive constructed identity argue that he ignores the role of agency as his argument does not indicate why certain discourses are playing an important role to certain subjects and how subjects resist the discourses. However, in his later work Foucault introduces the role of agency by stating that persons actively resist and change discourses. He argues that individuals recognize and reflect on themselves to be a subject. Hence, discourses construct the self and enable the role of agency.

Giddens argues that identities are constructed through interaction in everyday life with the use of language shared by other knowledgeable members, which creates a social structure. Hence, according to his introduced structuration theory as discussed in chapter 5, subjects are knowledgeable agents which actively produce and reproduce social structures such as class, gender or ethnicity, through interaction. Moreover, Giddens argues that structures are not only constraining but rather enabling individuals to act.


The concept of agency includes several elements such as freedom, action and originality. Here one can make a distinction between the metaphysical notion of agency which refers to self-constituting agents and socially produced agency which is generated by social and cultural resources. Hence, agency is said to either be free and undetermined or socially constructed. However, the former is problematic in the sense that it would consider subjects to be independent from their context which becomes, after regarding the theories proposed by Giddens and Foucault, almost impossible.

How agents behave is determined by previously established social constructions in which the subject is constituted. Moreover, according to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, psychic and emotional narratives of the self explain how one acts under certain circumstances. Freedom and determination can be also referred to modes of discourses as they are socially produced and applied in several ways by humans.

Identities are constructed out of social and cultural resources which are differently and uniquely arranged for each individual. Therefore, the self can be considered to be an original construction out of unique social structures, discourses and psychic arrangements. This can lead to innovation and change as nothing can be identically recreated due to the continuously shifting context. Individuals are rethinking and redescribing themselves and create new political subjects and practices. Hence, the concepts of agency, originality and innovation enable individuals to talk about a politics of identity and social change which entails that individuals having agency are able to act consciously and purposefully.

Anti-essentialism, feminism and identity

Certain feminists argue that commonalities can be found among the same biological gender. However, women still distinct themselves from each other along social and cultural lines such as class, ethnicity, age or nationality. Hence, biological truths are always embedded in cultural discourses. According to the American philosopher and feminist Butler, sex is a normative concept which produces the material body through discourses. She argues that by performing, we become gendered subjects. Hence, discourse and materiality are inseparable.

This notion of sex and gender contests the division of sex and gender which is made by most feminists. In their perspective, sex is biologically determined and gender is a social construct. Feminists usually explain the inequalities by women with social, cultural and political discourses and practices of gender. On the contrary, Butler’s argument indicates that there is no binary distinction between male and female, and rather accepts ambiguous sexualities.

As feminism is tied to specific times and places, it is argued that universal feminism cannot exist. However, several scholars compare feminism to language. They argue that all languages are learnable and therefore understandable. Hence, diverse culturally produced feminisms across the world are able to get into dialogue and learn from each other. Feminism thus creates the experience and meaning of being a woman through language.


Identity consists of self-identity and social identity. It is a notion about ourselves and about our relations with others constructed within cultural discourses. Hence, it is constantly in process and fragmented. Through redescriptions in language and temporary coalitions, identity politics is formed by several people sharing norms and values such as feminists.

Chapter 8 Ethnicity, Race, Nation

As already mentioned in the previous chapter, identities are continuously changing constructions. However, they are temporarily stabilized by social practice. Race, ethnicity and nationality are identity characteristics which are more enduring than others.

Race, ethnicity


Race is determined by biological and physical characteristics such as skin colour. Racism then starts with creating a hierarchy along racial lines. Hence, subordinate certain races to others. An example are the Afro-Caribbeans in Britain, the African-Americans in the US or the Australian Aboriginal. They are disadvantaged in several categories such as the labour market or the education system. However, it is often argued that race is a social construction instead of a biologically defined characteristic, which is also known as the process of racialization. Meanings of race can therefore change such as British Asians which over time started to belong to a different social hierarchy as they are increasingly stereotyped as doctors and shopkeepers in contrast to British Afro-Caribbeans which are still often regarded as criminals. Hence, race can change according to time and space.


Ethnicity is culturally determined by sharing norms, beliefs, and practices. Sharing an ethnicity is creating a sense of belonging. It is however not a universal notion but rather formed by discursive practices. It can also be described as a boundary formation constructed and maintained by socio-historical conditions and relations. Ethnicity thus acknowledges shared history, language and culture which form subjects and identities. However, ethnicity gives rise to uneven power structures such as taking whiteness as a granted universal element, while talking about diverse ethnicities when referring to coloured people. Hence, some ethnic groups are superior to marginalized ethnic groups which led to several instances of ethnic cleansing, for instance during apartheid in South Africa. In this manner, ethnicity is often tied to nationalism which perceives the national shared culture as superior to others.


The nation-state

The nation-state is defined by a specific territory creating national borders. National identity however is an imaginative concept emerging out of the discourses within the nation-state and is more flexible. Nations are therefore a form of cultural representation reproducing national identity and using the nation-state as a political apparatus. The national culture consists of several social groups which perceive their national culture differently but unite them in the notion of national identity. National unity results from a narrative of a nation including stories, images, symbols and rituals with which people can identify with.

Imagined community

In order to analyse nationalism, in the late 1980s Irish historian and political scientist Anderson described the nation as an imagined community and national identity as it is constructed of symbols and rituals. The nation is imagined because it consists of members which do not know each other personally, yet they see themselves as being part of the same communion. Hence, it is limited as it has finite boundaries. Moreover, it is sovereign as it destroys the hierarchical realm, and it is a community as it implies a horizontal comradeship. Anderson argues that national consciousness is enabled by the printed language which produced the national language through which people can understand each other. Additionally, the recognition of time contributed to the shared concept of nationality across a specific nation.

However, Anderson ignores that distinct social groups have different access to the above mentioned means. He thus overstates the unity of the nation which is rather diversified regarding class, gender, ethnicity etc. Moreover, with the rise of globalization hybrid cultural identities emerged which challenge the idea of a homogenous national identity.

Hybrid Identities


Diaspora refers to a network of ethnically and culturally related peoples which transcend borders. Identities within a diaspora are local as well as global and involved in a network. According to British professor Gilroy, such a network is usually forcedly and unevenly built. Hence, people living in a diaspora are trying to remember their location of origin in order to prevent the process of dispersal. Gilroy proposes the example of Black Atlantic in order to show the hybridized cultural forms resulting of the diaspora. He argues that black identities can be considered as the black diaspora of the Atlantic, producing hybrid identities which however cannot be considered as one black identity. Hence, cultural identities differ from each other, but they also share common historical experiences such as of powerlessness. Moreover, the emergence of several hybrids such as Rap and Hip Hop are cultural elements the black diaspora usually can identify with as it reflects common historical experiences.


Hybridity is a concept describing the cultural mixing which leads to new forms of identities. However, one can distinct structural hybridization which refers to sites of hybridity such as border zones, and cultural hybridization which refers to cultural responses such as assimilation, separation or blurring boundaries.

Critics of hybridity argue that it would assume to mix separate and homogenous cultural spheres. However, cultures are already hybrid themselves as they consist of diversities such as class, gender, age, etc. Therefore, the concept of hybridity rather serves to indicate the formation of new identities and cultural forms.

An example of the development of hybrid forms are migrants from South Asia which primarily immigrated into Britain as temporary workers. However, after a certain time they started to settle down and build houses, established businesses and created families. After the first generation of Asians was born in Britain, ethnic boundaries started to become blurred as they got mixed with other ethnic groups in schools, at leisure sites and through watching television in a different language than their mother tongue. Hence, young British Asians created hybrid cultural forms. By being part of such a hybrid form, one identifies with elements from various cultures which result in multiple identities.


There is a useful distinction made within representation, namely types which refer to a generalization of persons and roles determined by cultural categories, and stereotypes which refer to simple representations by reducing the person to usually negative characteristics through which the person differs from others. According to scholar Dyer, types indicate people living according to the rules of society, whereas stereotypes are usually excluded of such rules. Hence, stereotypes are not ‘normal’ and one could argue that stereotypes therefore naturalize difference which is often related to racism.

For instance, colonialism under British rule was based on the aim to civilize the non-Christian savages. The British conquest and white colonial power was often represented through images on bottles or tea tins. In the 1970s with an increase of immigration, the racial discourse centred in Britain and lead to the rising threat of losing the national culture. Blacks were thus increasingly stereotyped as being involved in crime which was often represented in the media. Hence, the notion of racism against the black population in Britain increased significantly by the 1970s. Racism is therefore an outcome of individual psychology as well as cultural representation.


Palestinian literary theoretician Edward Said elaborates on the societal character of racism by introducing the concept of Orientalism in the late 1970s. He argues that the ‘Orient’ is a western invention based on historical discourses. Hence, Orientalism is a western discourse of power which reproduces the superiority of the west over the Orient. Moreover, the Islam is often represented as a religion of fanatics which is continuously reproduced by news events such as 9/11 or the ‘war on terror’. Hence, the perspectives of several issues related to the Islam are often very western and claim Islam to be a Devil incarnate.

Media representation

Television in America and Britain often excludes people of colour in their broadcasting which is said to promote white ignorance and places especially black people outside of the mainstream society. However, this started to change during the 1980s and more attention was put on the representation of non-whites. But the representations mainly showed non-whites as being funny and stupid which rather reproduced racists stereotypes. Today however Britain, America and Australia are usually represented as multicultural societies in which the variety of ethnicities contributed to their culture richness. Moreover, racism in television soap operas is decreasing and the boundaries between black and white is becoming increasingly blurred.

However, mainly in the US poor blacks are still connected to crime, guns and violence which makes them unacceptable and a menace to society. Hence, they are often regarded as people generating a social problem. Therefore, many middle-class black American sitcoms represent success as the outcome of hard work, education and responsibility. However, despite the fact that many black underclass citizens have these qualities, they often do not have the opportunity to realize them.

Racism in America and Britain is often said to be an issue of the past but the media still represents it as a problem today. That is the reason why it is often stressed to represent black people positively. This is often seen in sports where black people are very successful. Hence, black people get more accepted but at the same time one could argue that black people are thus stereotyped in being physically successful but mentally still lacking behind.

Moreover, Hollywood films made by African-Americans are representing a so called ‘New Ghetto Aesthetic’ by demonstrating shocking life circumstances of black Americans. However, such films are problematic as they reproduce the stereotype of black men being involved in crime and violence, having problems with the police or reduce black women to being tough or sexy. Hence, stereotypes remain. The same happens with television series increasingly trying to broadcast multi-ethnic communities in order to include diverse ethnic groups. However, stereotypes are still reproduced by for instance represent Asians as doctors or shop owner. Hence, despite trying to broadcast a multicultural community instead of a white Anglo-Saxon one, stereotypes remain.

The Internet

Usually the internet is seen as a cyberspace in which everybody is considered equal apart from their race or ethnicity. However, it is frequently argued that race is discursively constructed and performed on the internet as users often explicitly define themselves as raced and gendered subjects. Many video games for instance, take whiteness as a norm and represent non-white neighbourhoods as dark and dangerous. Users usually do not take such underlying racial discourses into account.

Positive images

Regarding the continuous stereotyping of black people it is increasingly stressed to create positive images of coloured people. However, by doing so a rather essentialist and homogenizing understanding of ethnicity appears as differences such as class or gender are not taken into account. Moreover, perspectives on stereotypes are rather diverse which results in what for someone seems to be a positive image, is another’s stereotype. Thus, representation is different from the real as it considers race as a cultural identity. According to Hall, it is therefore necessary to consider a politics of representation including the registration of the arbitrariness of signification; exploring power relations within representations; contest the binary distinction between black and white; and promote differences.

Post colonialism and literature

The issues of race, ethnicity and nation are frequently discussed by writers from former European colonies. Postcolonial theory often examines postcolonial discourses and the position of the individual towards the concept of power, hybridity or subjectivity. There are two models which stand out in postcolonial literature, namely the national model and the black writing model. The former focuses on the relation between the former colonizers and the nation. Critics argue however that this notion is rather essentialist as it considers national culture to be homogenous. Therefore, the black writing model was introduced which focuses on the African Diaspora of the Black Atlantic and is based on culture rather than nation.

In order to simplify the issues of postcolonial literature and theory we will focus here on two concerns: domination vs. subordination and hybridization vs. creolization. Domination vs. subordination usually refers to the domination of colonial power over the native culture for instance, the English language. As English was the language of a dominant colonial power, it might still carry some sort of colonial ideals. However, domination and subordination can also occur within ethnic groups such as women from former colonies. According to Indian feminist Spivak, these women suffer from a double burden as they were colonized and subordinated by the native men. She refers to such women as the subaltern which cannot speak and is condemned to silence.

Hybridization vs. creolization is a common theme in postcolonial theories as it argues that language, literature and cultural identities become increasingly mixed and create new forms. Creolization refers to the mix of languages which invents new modes of expressions. Hence, colonial and colonized cultures and languages are neither pure nor separated from each other. One rather needs to accept new forms of cultural hybridity which blur and cross cultural boundaries.


Ethnicity, race and nationality are argued to be discursive and performative constructs rather than biological determined facts. The anti-essentialist notion of representation is crucial in this regard as it often reproduces stereotypes of race, ethnicity and nation. After witnessing the increase of multicultural societies, it is necessary to mention new forms of cultural hybridity including the mixing of different cultures. However, despite living in multicultural societies, racism still results from the rising fear of differences. Hence, it is necessary to understand our societies and learn how to live with differences and start to appreciate them.

Chapter 9 Representation of Sex and Subjectivity


Feminist theory is essential in regard to sex and gender issues. Cultural studies and feminism have several notions in common such as the aim to connect theories to social and political movements; taking a critical stance towards established ideas of knowledge; and the wish to voice marginalized groups. Feminism moreover argues that sex is a social formation which subordinates women. Hence, uneven power relations between men and women can be observed in everyday life such as in social institutions and practices. Such structural subordination is also defined by many feminists as patriarchy which refers to the superiority of men. The feminist movement is focusing on two issues. Firstly, to achieve equal citizen rights between men and women. Secondly, make cultural representations beneficial for women. This is aimed by introducing seven feminist movements, namely:

  1. Liberal feminism which explains diversities between men and women as an outcome of socio-economic and cultural constructs. Hence, liberal feminists stresses equal opportunities for women mainly in western liberal democracies.

  2. Socialist feminism which argues that gender and class are interconnected. Capitalism is thus the reason for gender inequalities as women are cheap and flexible labour which reproduce capitalism.

  3. Difference feminism celebrates the differences between men and women. Here it is argued that women are superior of their values in contrast to men.

  4. Black feminism emphasises the differences between black and white women which distinct themselves from each other in their experiences, cultural representations and interests.

  5. Postcolonial feminism indicates that women from former colonies carry a double burden as they were colonized and subordinated by men. Hence, such women are not allowed to speak and will not be heard according to feminist Spivak.

  6. Poststructuralist feminism which argues that sex and gender are cultural constructs. Hence, femininity and masculinity are discursively produced concept.

  7. Post feminism which claims that structural inequality creates uneven social and cultural power relations and subordinates all women to men. Moreover, post feminists argue that despite a long history of feminist action not much has changed until today. However, there were some achievements made such as that more women are involved in the economic sector, laws regarding pay and divorce are reformed, or women wielding sexual power are increasingly acknowledged. Hence, the a certain increase in women’s autonomy did occur over time but it is important to note that such development mainly took place in western countries.

Relation of Identity to Sex and Gender

It is often argued that biology determines behaviour of men and women. Hence, men are naturally more dominant and are aiming for power, whereas women are more social and caring. However, as mentioned above poststructuralists are claiming that gender is a social and cultural construct. Here we would suggest that masculinity and femininity is both biologically as well as culturally determined. Thus, biology enables certain behavioural predictions regarding men and women but at the same time the behaviour can change.

Science provided some evidence that men are biologically different from women. It is argued that men have different patterns of brain activity than women which is often apparent in the distinct capabilities of women being more organized and verbal, and men possessing more mathematical and motor skills. Moreover, hormones differentiate women from men as well. A higher level of testosterone for instance leads to mean being greater risk-takers, more disposed to anger and less open to show emotions. Hence, some aspects cannot be changed but culture and language remain to have a crucial impact in forming sex and gender.

The difference of women

Here it is not the biological natural difference which is stressed, but rather how women are described and represented. Belgium philosopher and psychoanalyst Irigaray examines patriarchy and the exclusion of women. She argues that the experience of being a woman cannot be shared by men. Moreover, she tries to deconstruct western philosophy which she claims to be phallocentric, by applying the same language of the philosophy. Hence according to her, womanspeak is miming phallocentrism in order reveal what is covered. However, other scholars such as Alcoff and MacKinnon stress the equality between men and woman. They argue that the subordination of women is the outcome of men’s dominance of institutionalized heterosexuality. Hence, they emphasise the claim of sex being linked to biology, and gender linked to cultural assumptions and practices.

Gendered subject

According to Foucault, the subject is a discursive production. Hence, gender is historically and culturally specific and changes according to time and space. We are thus gendered through the power of discourses. Foucault considers subjectivity to be the outcome of both sex and control of the body. Hence, discourses regulate sexuality which produces sexed subjects. Such discourses are reproduced by several institutions such as the church or schools. However, feminist criticism arose stating that Foucault treats subjects as being gender-neutral as he ignores that institutions are differently affecting men and women. Moreover, critical feminists argue that Foucault does not take the subject’s agency into account which is necessary for an emancipatory project. In his later work however, Foucault considers the role of the self and its production determined by discourse which is tightly linked to ethics and morality. Morality refers to live according to a set of imposed rules, whereas ethics focuses on how the subject acts in relation to the imposed rules. Hence, Foucault argues that subjects form their own individual behaviour which awards them with a certain degree of individual autonomy.

Gendered psychoanalysis

Freud argues that any object can become the target of desire. However, this is regulated with Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex which introduces heterosexual relationships as a norm. Hence, sexual identity is formed through our first relationships. The Oedipus complex can be considered to reproduce male dominance over women, as mothers treat their boys as independent persons whereas girls are more narcissistically loved. Boys at one point separate from the mother due to identifying themselves with their father who expresses power and independence. Hence, they create masculinity at the costs of an emotional dependence on women and low skills at communicating emotions. Girls however by identifying more with their mother, are better in communicating intimacy but do have more difficulties with externally oriented autonomy. However, as masculinity and femininity are context determined, it allows new forms of subjects to arise. Many feminists criticize Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex to be male-centred as it indicates that the symbolic Phallus is necessary in order to form a subject by distancing oneself from the mother. Hence, masculinity is powerful whereas femininity is rather passive.

Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst and feminist Kristeva stresses the relevance of the semiotic and symbolic in regard to subject formation. She deconstructs the sexual identity by arguing that the subject involves both the semiotic and the symbolic, as language functions as a symbolic mechanism through which the body can express itself. Hence, sexual identities are a matter of representation. This leads to an inner struggle over sexual identities as both men and women possess masculinity as well as femininity.

Between Foucault and psychoanalysis

American philosopher and gender theorist Butler agrees with Foucault’s theory that subjects are the outcome of discourses and generate power and control. She also applies Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis in order to examine the psychic power through processes of identification. Additionally, Butler argues that sex and gender are performatives which express a certain subject and reproduce it. Hence, Butler combines the theories of discourse, speech act and psychoanalysis in order to understand the identification with a certain sexual norm. She argues that identification is the expression of an emotional bond with a fantasized object. Therefore, identification is a fantasy which is never completed. This demonstrates the instability of identity.


While most of this chapter discusses the role of women, it is also important to discuss masculinity as a cultural construct. Hence, there are multiple masculinities determined by time and space. What is central in the discussion of men and masculinity is its cultural representations which refers to how men experience their character in life and their problems in the contemporary culture.

Men are usually associated with reason, control and distanced from emotions. Moreover, in a modernist view after the division of labour, men were supposed to earn a salary, whereas women stayed back home taking care of their children. Hence, men obtained a greater role in the public where they try to be recognized and present their achievements. This can be also considered as hyper-individualism in which the ‘I’ gains most attention. However, such a traditional image of men is no longer accurate and often forms the problem of being in between new notions of masculinity and the traditional accepted social norms.

Struggle of men

In history we could witness that men were usually involved in war, violence or overwork. They are also referred to as the disposable gender as they die in wars and are more likely to commit suicide. Some scholars argue that men are trying to live up to the traditional images of masculinity but often fail to do so which results in loneliness, compulsive competition and lifelong emotional timidity. Several surveys suggested that almost half of the men in the US get at one point involved in violence or crime, or suffer from depression or drug abuse. Psychotherapeutic work indicates that low self-esteem together with perceived failure to live up to the expectations of achievement is the reason for that outcome and addictions enable men to find comfort and get a break from pain and anxiety.

The modern man

American humanist and journalist Faludi argues, that post-war manhood leads to the loss of the traditional social order for men. Earlier, the man was expected to be in control and work. Moreover, after the Second World War men of the baby-boomer generation were playing the role of the organizational man and the provider and protector for the family. However with increasing unemployment and rising feminism, the confidence of the post-war men was undermined. Faludi describes the end of the traditional role of men as ornamental culture, which refers to consumerism including the culture of celebrity, image and entertainment. Hence, masculinity became a performance. Some examples of men in trouble were managers who’s American dream was threatened with the rising recession, or young men dreaming of success but ending up in crime. For this reason, men need to find new ways of being men in the modern world.

Gender representation

In a poststructuralist view, gender is a representation consisting out of cultural constructions. Within the media culture for instance, the image of a woman becomes a stereotype as in US television good women are usually represented as sensitive and domesticated, whereas bad women are rebellious and independent. Additionally, also Indian television represent stereotypes of women. Regarding affirmation, women are presented as passive and tied to their housework, husband and children. Regarding denial, women’s creativity and individual agency is often ignored. Hence, the world-wide representation of women is often unrealistic and damaging. By realizing or resisting such representation in reality, women become marginalized and subordinated subjects.

Subject position and representation

By identifying with the subject, discourses become meaningful and create a subject position. A powerful representation of women in the western culture is the slender body. The western media culture is often indicating that women should be concerned with dieting in order to get tighter and smoother which fits a constrained body profile. Especially through advertisement, the media is presenting female attractiveness by having the desired women body which often leads to women suffering from eating disorders. Hence, one could argue that the media is representing the correct attitude of living.

However, subject positions for women are constructed but do not necessary remain static. An example is motherhood which in the contemporary culture is increasingly represented by involving an independent mother who is working and has autonomy. Hence, mothers are able to combine child caring with exploring their individuality and look attractive. Another concept which is central in post feminism, is raunch culture which refers to sexual provocativeness and promiscuousness by women as women. Women believing in this concept stress the individuality and power of women and their bodies such as choosing to do plastic surgery. Hence, the representation of women is tied to politics and it is therefore important to examine how women are represented and what the consequences are.


Cyberspace was often believed to be a virtual space in which everyone is equal and gender did not matter. However, it became clear that the representations in the internet are usually constrained by ideals of beauty and behaviour determined by masculinity or femininity. However, it depends on the subject positions offered to the reader of cultural texts. Hence, readers construct and perform multiple meanings and generate multiple gendered identities. In regard to femininity and masculinity it depends on how women and men play their roles in the subject position and read gendered cultural texts.


Sex and gender are social constructs which depend on representation. Cultural studies indicates that sexual identity is not a biological essence but rather depends on how femininity and masculinity are spoken about. Hence, cultural texts construct subject positions which however can be negotiated and resisted.

Chapter 10 Cultural Texts and its Audience

Media has a great influence in cultural studies, most specifically the role of television. No other medium can create as many cultural texts and reach such a big audience. Television constructs social knowledge through which we can see the world and is a medium which is widely accessible. It offers texts in the form of television programs; creates a relation between text and audience; works as a political economy by being an industry; and reproduces patterns of cultural meaning.

Television as Text

One of the principal texts of television are news which significantly influence public life. However, it is important to note that television does not reflect reality but rather selectively constructs a representation of reality. The selected news published offer us a particular framework in which we can make sense of the world. Firstly, topics of the news are selected such as politics, economics, foreign affairs and sport. Second, the content is defined. Third, the values of the news are decided upon which in a western context include references to elite nations and elite persons, personalization and negativity such as scandals.

There are three models determining the media, namely:

  1. The manipulative model, which considers the media as a representation of the dominant group in society determining the ideology transmitted through media. However in a western democratic context, journalists are rather independent, news organizations constrained to the law and the audiences usually sophisticated.

  2. The pluralist model which refers to the plurality of outlets and multiple voices speaking to the audience. This model indicates that the concentration of media ownership cannot lead to total control due to its professional staff. Hence, rather the audience determines what the media is broadcasting and the media is therefore not only manipulated by its owners.

  3. The hegemonic model refers to the continuous reproduction of ideologies by the staff working with media. Journalists working for the media produce thus a common sense about how things should be, which results in cultural hegemony.

An event which marked the Cable News Network (CNN) as a major news program was the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. The journalists were not free to report and the new coverage was therefore rather selective. Most television news programs broadcasted the high-tech weaponry used and the military objectives of the war instead of lying their focus on the underlying reasons for the conflict. Additionally, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 journalists joined the combat forces which often resulted in developing empathy with soldiers and a greater control of the broadcasted news. Back then there was little alternative to the CNN, whereas today news coverage is very diverse and rivalling such as the Arabic station Al-Jazeera which counts more than 35 million viewers.


News on television include not only stories but are underlined by the use of images and modes of address which ranges between entertainment and informational-educational. Presentational styles of television became more diverse due to the increasing commercial competition. This also includes new popular formats such as tabloid-style broadcasting or talk shows which include emblematic visuals and create a proximity to their audience. However, we might know quickly what has happened, but do not know how it precisely happened.

Social Media

Social media refers to media aiming at social interaction and participation of its users usually through the internet with communication tools such as Facebook, Wikipedia or Twitter. This new form of citizen journalism allows citizens to play an active role in reporting news. In this manner it is possible to collect independent, accurate and wide-ranging information. There are three main elements which generated citizen journalism, namely:

  1. Open publishing which makes the production process more transparent.

  2. Collaborative editing which enables users to participate in various ways.

  3. Distributed content which decentralizes the news process and makes it more diverse.

Social media is increasingly competing with newspapers and television which requires them to invent new ways to operate. However, traditional news media such as television also often make use of instant information sources via tools such as Twitter which serves as a regularly source. An example of the rising importance of social media such as Twitter became apparent during the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009. After former president Ahmadinejad was re-elected, street demonstrations followed and during these incidents Twitter and YouTube were widely used to broadcast the events and enabled citizen journalism to avoid censorship.

Between news and entertainment

As news items are increasingly discussed in an entertainment manner in order to capture the audience, a new hybrid emerged called infortainment. An example is The Daily Show which uses funny parodic discourses instead of serious political branding. In this manner, a wider audience is involved but at the same time it undermines rational political discourses.

Popular Television

Popular television includes several programs such as game shows, reality TV or soap operas. The latter will be used as an example of popular television in context of cultural studies. Soap operas usually have open-ended narratives which makes it a long-running serial. The location used in soaps are often places the audience can identify with such as apartments or working-class areas. Moreover, both realism and melodrama are apparent in soaps. Realism becomes apparent as narrative techniques are used in order to present the artificial as reality. Melodrama is created by involving drama and emotional ups and downs. Additionally, interpersonal relationships are present in soap operas such as marriages, break-ups or acts of revenge. Such relationships combine both the narrative dynamic and the emotional interest. The struggle to keep up the ideal image of a family despite divorces and affairs often plays a central role in soap operas. However, the perception of family differs according to the cultural context as in US soaps family is a patriarchal model, whereas in British soaps the role of women is crucial for the family survival.

Some feminists argue that the soap opera is a women’s space which validates the role of women by publicly demonstrating marriages, divorces and the task of rising children. However, despite increasingly showing financially independent women on television, the physical appearance is still very important and sometimes argued to please the male audience. Moreover, women might be presented as strong but this new characteristic still serves the family and men.


The active audience produces meanings by consuming cultural texts according to its cultural background. However, meanings are still bounded to its structure within the text. Moreover, due to the diverse contexts in which the audience consumes cultural texts, multiple meanings are constructed. In order to research the character of audiences, a theoretical framework is used by applying the model of encoding-decoding.

Theoretical framework

Hall relates the process of television to the circuit of meaning which includes distinct elements which are linked. At each level of the circuit, meaning is embedded but not necessarily influencing the next moment. This is due to the polysemic character of television which generates multiple meanings. The producer of cultural codes encodes messages which will be decoded by the audience and result in diverse outcomes according to the audience’s social position. Hall introduces three ways the audience can decode messages:

  1. The dominant-hegemonic encoding/decoding by which the audience accepts the preferred meanings by the producer.

  2. The negotiated code by which the audience perceives the hegemony as legitimate but still generates its own rules.

  3. The oppositional code by which the audience decodes the message in a contrary way.

Hence, regarding the third way of decoding, audiences produce new meanings.

Empirical research

In order to research encoding-decoding in practice, several researches were conducted. An example is the study of the soap Dallas and its female audience in the Netherlands conducted by Indonesian Cultural Studies professor Ang. By examining the underlying attitudes behind letters written to her by female Dallas viewers, Ang demonstrates that they are actively producing meaning. These responses are however not only generated by the structure of the text consumed, but also have an ideological effect. According to Ang, this is the danger fiction involves as it blurs the boundaries between involvement and distance, acceptance and protest. Hence, viewers adopt several positions such as an ironic stance towards the soap, feel guilty by watching it or watching it by stating that they are aware of its dangers.

By claiming that the audience consists of active consumers generating their own meanings, the underlying ideology on television is resisted. However, this form of consuming cultural texts does not necessarily prevent the audience from reproducing ideologies. Moreover, the audience is only able to deconstruct the given meaning by using alternative discourses which creates a struggle over meaning and significance.

Audiences and Identity

Television is considered as a source in order to construct cultural identities. According to a research conducted by Liebes and Katz in the beginning of the 1990s, people from distinct cultural backgrounds read television narratives differently. They distinct between a referential approach by which the audience reads the program as reality, and the critical approach by which the audience is aware of the program being constructed. As a result, Liebes and Katz suggest that the audience decodes programs according to their national and ethnic identity. Hence, television is localizing the global by broadcasting texts and discourses on a global scale which are consumed by the audience on a local scale and used in order to construct local cultural identities. Moreover, television is a part of everyday life and provides thus social events wherein people come together in order to commonly watch certain programs. Hence, television enables to bring public events into the private space such as watching the World Cup or Congressional elections in the living room. At the same time such national events are shared across the world through the television.

Global Television

Television is globalized as it is public and commercial; its distribution and audience goes beyond the boundaries of the nation-state; and across the world one can find similar television narratives. Therefore, the political economy is concerned with the control of production and distribution of television as well as with the consequences of ownership and control of culture, then private ownership centralises conglomerations such as industrial conglomerates, service conglomerates and communications conglomerates.

Since the 1990s, conglomerates were mainly made in order to search for synergy. Hence, by combining different elements of television and other media in regard of production and distribution, one could produce cheaper and get higher profits. An example is the combination of films with pop music soundtracks which are both owned by the same company. Synergy and convergence creating multimedia conglomerates, was mainly possible due to the reregulation of television and tele-communications industries. The reason for this shift is mainly due to three factors, namely the new communication technologies which allows splits and alternatives; the legal rights to communicate as a public principle; and governmental benefits by funding television through commercials rather than through taxation.

The increasing global electronic culture shows several trends which is also called the new order in television including public and commercial broadcasting at the same time; deregulated commercial television; more multimedia transnational companies; and the pressure to broadcast public television with commercial logic.

Electronic Culture

In the current globalized context, culture is able to transcend time and space as several cultural artefacts from distinct times and spaces can be mixed.

Media imperialism

It is often argued that media communicates the capitalistic system and manipulates its audience by imposing a certain ideology which is also known media and cultural imperialism. Despite the US exports the most television programs across the world, regional markets are increasing based on a shared language, history and culture. Additionally, the heterogeneous audience creates global disjunctures and new global connections. Hence, as already mentioned before, the global television becomes localized.

An example of a global television form is the soap opera of which the narrative is produced and viewed in several countries around the world. This is mainly due to its universal form of open-ended narratives; the main topic of personal relations; and the use of an international style developed in Hollywood. However, despite the global character of soap operas, many of them keep their local settings, language and story-telling.

Postmodern culture

Television is considered as a postmodern visual medium as it enhances self-consciousness; bricolage; ambiguity; intertextuality; and irony. An example is The Simpsons which represents a cartoon and at the same time the American life and culture. Moreover, the TV cartoon makes intertextual references to other television programs and genres in an often ironic way.

The rise of popular culture hastened by television increasingly blurs the boundaries between high and low culture and enhances promotional culture in order to rise consumption. The consumer culture and capitalism is therefore increasingly influenced by television such as through commercials of Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. Baudrillard also refers to television as hyperreality with an overload of images and information, and being highly superficial.

On the contrary, many cultural studies writers see the potential within contemporary television and consumer culture as the rise of commodities is able to construct multiple identities. Moreover, they consider consumers as meaning-oriented and active selecting and arranging commodities and create their own meanings. Hence, through television people are able to construct opinions, values and define their actions. In this manner, television becomes a democratic an creative culture consumed by the public which creates meaning.

Circulation of TV programs

Nowadays, many youngsters use the capacity of the internet in order to watch television programs and distribute them. Some television networks also broadcast their content on several social media websites themselves in order to widen their audience. Hence, producer and consumer are encouraged to actively participate in the creation and circulation of the media content.


Television is a central medium in communication across the globe. Global television became increasingly commercialized and owned by multimedia corporations. Through television, narratives and genres are circulating world-wide and interpreted differently by its audience depending on the cultural context. The audience consists of active consumers which produce diverse meanings by juxtaposing elements and creating hybrid forms.

Chapter 11 Digital Media

Besides mass media we increasingly make use of digital media and find ourselves in the middle of a digital revolution which has a significant impact on our world. Through digital media, more information is organized electronically which enables to process it at a great speed over long distances. Digital technology mainly involves computers and its services as well as digital equipment such as USB sticks, cameras or mp3 players. However, despite the rise of the digital media, conventional mass media such as television remain present in the leisure time. Moreover, mainly young people engage with the digital media and less older people. It is also important to note that the use of digital media is not equally shared across the globe as it is determined by the distribution of wealth. Hence, the majority of the world population remains unconnected due to not having enough money, available access or sufficient knowledge.

Utopian space

Cyberspace is a virtual space generated by electronic culture in which digital communications occur. It is also often referred to as utopian space beyond the physical world in which people find themselves on a daily basis. Moreover, some scholars argue that cyberspace is accessible by anyone disregarding gender, race or age. Hence, one could consider it as a democratic space using a universal language. However, digital culture and ordinary culture stay connected as identity is determined by both. On the contrary, opponents to digital technology indicate the increasing surveillance and control through electronic devices. Hence, it is important to stay critical towards the expanding cyber space. Additionally, the overload of information leads to disinformation benefitting the ones holding the power. Often it is also argued that the so called information bomb is likely to explode and could cause an accident with huge impact due to its increasing velocity, complexity and interactivity.

Democratic Space

Two arguments support the claim of cyberspace being democratic. First, it enhances liberal democracy by allowing a wider access to information and enabling the interaction in discussions which provides more people with knowledge. Second, it gives unheard voices the opportunity to speak which expands the public sphere. Hence, more people can participate in the democratic processes as the internet decentralizes communication by making it more interactive. Moreover, hypertext allows its reader to choose from multiple pathways using links and menu options according to its own interest. The internet is thus a new social space which is open and democratic. In contrast to intertextuality in which generated meanings are determined by other texts, hypertexts is multivocal which allows the reader to be active. Hence, hypertexts offer more open communications which is necessary for the ideal speech situation. According to German philosopher Habermas, the ideal speech situation refers to a situation in which truth claims in a democratic context are enabled and not determined by specific power interests.

Hence, the characteristics of the web 2.0 are its possibilities to be participatory and interactive. Everyone is able to edit the content of the digital media which makes the user a producer. An example is eBay which is used in order to buy and sell products, or Wikipedia which serves as an encyclopaedia edited by and benefitting its users. One can note, that cultural elements are no longer generated by professional artists but rather by amateurs which are able to become successful by posting a video on YouTube such as the band Arctic Monkeys or by remixing high culture with popular culture. The remixing of cultural elements is a central characteristics of postmodern culture and enhances participation in the cultural production process.

Cyber activism

Social movements are increasingly using the internet for their political activism as it engages marginalized groups. American socialist Sassen argues, that the internet supports non-elites to be part of the civil society and activism beyond borders. Hence, local issues can become part of a global network in which discussions can be held by a broader public which enables marginalized groups to participate. Moreover, activism is supported by clicking on petitions or publish support messages which is likely to influence the political situation. This is however often debated as critics argue that such click-through-activism mainly gives people a good feeling while being rather passive and does not necessarily lead to an effective change in society.

Information war

Due to the information overload in the digital age, the competition to make information memorable and outstanding increases. Here the concept of the meme discussed in chapter 4 is applied in order to explain this process which is also called meme wars as digital communications enlarged the available memes and the capacity to reproduce them. By having multiple memes, it is thus necessary to make a selection which is done by the psychological mechanisms of our brains including attention and memory. Hence, cyber activists need to generate unforgettable messages in order to win the meme war over the consumer culture and the government agencies which create unforgettable messages mainly through commercials.

The dilemma

However, Greek communication theorist Papacharissi has a rather negative view of the rising digital media and argues that the unequal access of the internet and abusive online exchanges limit the political space. She states three concerns, namely:

  1. The restricted democratic forces to distribute information online.

  2. The low level of ability to bring diverse people together.

  3. Global capitalism influencing the internet with its commercial interests.

Papacharissi contests the claim of a broader political system by stating that a view voices hold the power and resources, and are more dominant than others in the so called open discussions. More specifically, she claims that the political discourse in cyberspace is usually dominated by the conservatives, while the liberal and progressive stay in the background. Moreover, despite offering a space where diverse people can virtually meet, discussions might stay in the same group rather than becoming more diverse regarding for instance the separated groups of gay men and evangelical Christians. The internet is thus more an illusion of political progress which often stands still in reality.

Moreover, through the vast amount of advertisement on the internet, the digital world can be considered to play a key role in the capitalist consumer culture. Hence, the concern arose that the internet enhances a visual promotional culture instead of spreading well-formed arguments. This can be seen by the dominant actors of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo as the most accessed websites which are guiding us through the internet according to commercial interest instead of letting us surf freely. This is accompanied by the new media devices and soft wares which are designed to be outdated after a particular time and requests consumers to buy new media items in order to stay updated.

Free culture

Copyright laws are a method to control the use and revenue of cultural items by the cultural producer which invented them. However, the duration of copyright is limited and after a specific time the cultural items become available for everybody. In this manner new producers can creatively make use of it and enhance public culture. Copyright laws were mainly introduced in the US due to being the major player in the digital media age. In 1998 the laws were raised from 50 years in 1975, to life plus 70 years. This extension is said to support major commercial cultural producers while harming small-scale creative talents as it reduces the cultural resources available which leads to a view powerful actors maintaining a monopoly and a decrease in the participatory cultural democracy.

As a reaction, the non-profit movement Creative Commons was launched by American political activist Lessing in 2002, stressing the protection of original ownership while widening usage. It is about sharing and collaborating by separating work for commercial purposes to make profit, from work used for entertainment and oneself. With the Creative Commons movement, Lessing argues that intellectual property laws do not serve to make criminals out of young people but let them freely express themselves. Hence, cyberspace is not fully democratic but rather a battlefield of the struggle between citizens and economic/political elites. The internet could be used to enhance democratic processes, however the threat of becoming an instrument of power and control in order to spread consumer capitalism remains.


Computer gaming became a new activity for many in their free time. However, one can distinguish between games with a digital software in which one plays against the computer, and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) in which games can be played online with other users from all over the world. The former refers to simply playing games, whereas the latter refers to creating a virtual world. Some scholars argue that the virtual world gave way to a new active relationship between author, text and reader. In order to research game players and their performative skills one however needs to reach beyond texts by considering first, the game-play which refers to the psychological motives and actions of the players. Second, the game-structure which looks at the rules and design of games and third, the game-world which examines cultural characters and narratives.

Electronic Communication Arts professor Berger argues that electronic gaming is connected to social isolation, violence and addiction as players are part of a virtual gaming community rather than of a real community. On the contrary, advocates of online gaming claim that cyberspace offers a space for identities free from social constrains which allows a range of identity performances. However, gender and race still play a role as users are reproducing familiar ideas according to characteristics such as gender and race which might reinforce traditional hegemonic narratives.

Cyber identity

In many online games, figures still have a gender or belong to a certain race indicated by their skin colour or their characteristics. Moreover, it is possible to obtain multiple identities which vary according to time and place. In this manner, the self becomes decentred and the authentic identity displaced. It enables people to take on a different identity than in real life which allows them to express certain feelings which are hidden in reality. For instance men taking on a female identity in order to be more assertive or wheelchair-bound people taking on a different identity which is able to walk. This is also known as boundary crossing between the real and the virtual which can become a danger as some become lost in cyberspace by regarding it as the real world.

Some feminists argue that cyber space might end the patriarchal attitude which is ruling the world since many years as identities become more fluid. Additionally, American feminist Haraway claims cyberspace as an ironic political myth including feminism and socialism. She introduces A Manifesto for Cyborgs, the latter referring to a hybrid combining machine and organisms. Hence, the boundary between culture and nature becomes increasingly blurred and Haraway argues that by the world becoming increasingly artificial, the privileged male knowledge can be contested and poststructuralist feminist theories enhanced.

However, most internet users and computer engineers and programmers are still male which creates thus a certain gender hierarchy with women stereotypes. This observation leads to the debate whether the internet should be publicly regulated which however becomes difficult as reality becomes blurred with cyber culture. Whereas some women argue that women often become subjects of unwanted sexual attention on the internet which should be restricted by law, others contest this argument and claim that such unacceptable treatment should rather be protested by robust women to undermine the women’s weakness.

Cyberspace and the Economy

According to Spanish sociologist Castells, the new global economy is characterized by five interrelated features, namely:

  1. Information and applied knowledge becomes increasingly important in the modern economy.

  2. Material production shifted to information-processing activities.

  3. Production changed from standardized mass production to flexible customized production which is able to adapt to dynamic markets.

  4. The economy occurs on a global scale.

  5. The world economy undergoes a technological revolution including microelectronics, informatics and telecommunications.

Cyberspace becomes thus a new place for the global information economy which enables the private control of social spaces by capitalist corporations such as Apple or Microsoft. Moreover, one can privately own intellectual property such as mp3 music files. Hence, cyberspace increasingly becomes a marketplace for consumption, entertainment and information gathering.

Mobile phone

Through the new digital culture boundaries converge and become increasingly blurred. Scholar Jenkins points out three convergences, namely:

  1. Technological convergence which refers to devices with multiple functions such as the laptop or the mobile phone.

  2. Industry convergence which refers to companies merging together owning various communication means such as television studios, newspapers or internet sites.

  3. Media convergence which refers to how consumers use the media such as youngsters using several media devices simultaneously.

The mobile phone is considered as the most widespread convergent device. Besides calling, it offers us multiple uses such as downloading videos or playing games. It serves as a primary connection device in order to enhance the social network. However, some critics argue that due to mobile technology and entertainment mainly being owned by US corporations, the issue of cultural imperialism needs to be considered in regard to the rising digital age. Some scholars refer to this development as digital imperialism under US control in order to make profit. Additionally, the main language of the internet is English which might weaken local cultures and reinforce western capitalist economic interests. However, more research is necessary in order to claim the wide use of English as a form of cultural imperialism.


Despite living in an electronic world which is considered as a new era of democracy, not all people can enjoy the same access and some critics argue that cyberspace rather reproduces hegemonic power. Moreover, digital media became a space in which multiple identities are able to exist and be redefined. However, multinational corporations being in control of the digital media are aiming for profit rather than redefining the social world and this development is likely to enhance global capitalism and its consumer culture.

Chapter 12 Cultural and Urban Space

Space and Place

Particular spaces are connected to social meanings which can be divided into front and back regions. The former refers to spaces such as the living room in homes where formal and socially acceptable activities happen. The latter refers to spaces which are not available for the public but rather serve as private and informal spaces. However, such a socio-spatial division differs according to distinct cultures.

Time and space

In general the socio-cultural world is organized along spaces including places of work, leisure, sleep, shop, etc. Time-geography traces the movements of persons within the physical environment. A time-space path is for instance the office space or the supermarket which includes physical limitations such as walls or distances to go from one place to the other. Hence, time and space are interrelated concepts which form a social space in which social interactions can happen. Space is therefore socially constructed and the social is spatially constructed but dynamic due to changing social relations.

Space vs. place

Space and place can be distinguished by describing the latter as a human experience, memory, desire and identity. Hence, places are related to emotional identification and therefore discursively constructed. The social processes constructing places are for instance gendered spaces. In a western context gendered spaces include the home referring to the private domain of women, or the workplace referring to the public domain of men.

An example of gendered spaces is related to the rise of modernism in which the spatial and social organization of the city became increasingly important, namely Baudrillard’s flâneur which was introduced in chapter 6. The flâneur moving through the city is often considered as a male figure walking through public spaces, excluding women or including them only in order to become desired objects to the flâneur’s gaze. This is also a reason why this time period is often referred to as masculine modernism.

Urban Places

The city can be regarded as a product and symbol of modernity. According to French sociologist Durkheim, urbanization created a space for creativity and progress but at the same time is likely to become a space of moral decay and anomie. German sociologist Weber shares Durkheim’s scepticism by arguing that urban life is enabling modern industrial democracy to flourish but also limits it by the increasing bureaucratic organization. German socialist Marx on the other hand, viewed the city as progress and related it to the rise of capitalism and productivity while poverty and indifference increase simultaneously.

Urban studies was mainly established by the Chicago School which emerged during the 1920s and 1930s led by the sociologists Park, Burgess and Wirth which were aiming to research the underlying laws of urban life. In the end of 1960s, Burgess introduced the ideal-type city which consists of several zones expanding from the Central Business District and passing through a zone of transition, working-class housing, high-class dwellings and satellite towns. Hence, groups within the city are allocated according to their social class and income. American sociologist Wirth focuses more on a cultural approach by examining the cultural and lifestyle diversity in urban spaces. He argues that people within cities become more socially and spatially mobile which results in impersonality and a loss of sense of place and stability. Such early urban studies arouse some criticism such as the overgeneralization from Chicago to other cities; not taking into consideration the greater variety of urban life; and the claim that space determines culture and economy.

Political Economy in a Global City

Scholar Harvey and Castells argue that structures of cities are not created by natural forces but rather by capitalism and its market and workforce. Hence, capitalist corporations chose their location strategically in order to make the most profit which shapes the urban environment. The city serves thus to restructure capitalism on a global scale.

Global cities

Global cities such as London, New York or Paris play a significant role in the global economy as they are centres of accumulation, distribution and circulation of capital. The reason for increasing global cities is thus the rise of institutions of global capital; the geographical concentration and the further global reach through telecommunications; and transport. Hence, finance and banking became crucial aspects of global cities. The post-industrial global city includes key spaces such as high-rise Central Business Districts which command, control and co-ordinate the increasing globalization of capitalism, declining post-industrial zones and zones inhabiting diverse immigrant communities. The global economic activity includes thus multinational corporations as well as local informal economic activities.

Urban Symbolic Economy

Symbolic and representational aspects of cities refer to the inclusion and exclusion of social groups; the increasing material economic power transforming the geography of cities; and the symbolic economy attracting investments and competing with other cities. However, it is necessary to consider the economic role of culture as it is branding the city, providing cultural industries for economic benefits as well as consumption spaces for business and tourism. This is also known as cultural economics.

Creative industries

The notion of creative industries emerged in the late 1990s to use the creative potential of culture in order to generate urban economic growth. The collective creative umbrella includes inter alia architecture, art, design, film and music. Through the creative industries such as museums or libraries, the industrial economies concentrated no more only on the production of goods and services but rather on the creation of ideas and knowledge in order to further social and cultural development. The rising creative class will thus play a major role in the economic development of cities. American urban studies theorist Florida introduces the 3Ts, namely technology, talent and tolerance which will, according to him, become the main characteristics of successful cities in the future. He argues that cultural tolerance of a city attracts creative talent which will enhance technological innovation and growth. However, some critics argue that creative industries are increasingly becoming part of the private sector and hence do not contribute to increase the public cultural space.

Private public space

The privatization of public space becomes apparent regarding public parks. Parks and squares in cities are public spaces where people can interact. However, due to decreasing funding of city governments, rising crime and leisure companies managing public space, public culture gets increasingly situated in private commercial spaces. By trying to transform parks into safe public spaces, the government often creates middle-class public spaces only accessible by a certain social group.

Hence, public culture is becoming shaped and controlled by private sector elites. This results in the government mainly investing in sites which have the potential to generate profits. Moreover, the access to public spaces becomes controlled and excludes social groups such as the urban poor. Thus, the total environment becomes controlled and transformed into sites of commerce such as shopping malls and theme parks. A particular example is the fantasy place of Disney World. Disney offers a tourist attraction and public culture without social problems such as crime or homeless people. It rather represents an imaginary world in which culture including commerce and social control becomes visible. One could also refer Disney World to Baudrillard’s hyperreality which is reaching beyond reality and embracing the fake.

Postmodern City

American professor of Urban Planning Soja considers Los Angeles as a typical postmodern city due to its continuous urban restructuring and change. The postmodern urban geography visible in Los Angeles consists of six intertwined processes, namely:

  1. Fordist to post-Fordist urbanization which is the shift from mass production towards small specialized production focusing on niche markets. This can be witnessed by the reindustrialization of Los Angeles in which high-technology, design-sensitive, labour-incentive industries emerge.

  2. Los Angeles also serves as an example to indicate increasing globalization and the formation of world cities, as it serves as a finance and trade centre for the global market. Moreover, the high percentage of immigrants contribute to the growth of Los Angeles’ economy.

  3. A combination of decentralization and recentralization where the inner city and residential suburb become blurred leading to restructuring and redistribution of jobs, housing, transport and ethnic divide.

  4. New patterns of social fragmentation, segregation and polarization which leads to increasing social, economic and cultural inequality.

  5. The increasing carceral city which refers to an ungovernable city led by armed guards, surveillance systems and wire fences such as in Los Angeles which witnesses wars between gangs and the police.

  6. A new mode or regulation involving the rise of hyperreality and simulacra which indicates the increasing social control and regulation in which image and reality become blurred.


The modern Anglo-American city is usually structured with an inner-city zone in which the urban poor and coloured people live, and the suburbs with a predominantly white middle class. However, Soja argues that suburbs become increasingly centres of industrial activity as the inner city undergoes a transformation by middle-class groups taking over which is also known as gentrification. By taking over the inner city, housing prices rise and cultural activities increase which results in the displacement of the lower social class. At the same time edge cities grow on the city borders inhabited by the suburban middle class which usually pay lower tax rates and privatize the local government.


Urban transformation often result in social polarization which gives rise to urban crime and unrest. According to American urban theorist Davis, Los Angeles is marked by the myth of the good life, rapid population increase and suburbanization. Moreover, Los Angeles is an example of a city in which social and economic polarization, poverty and urban unrest increases. Such conditions are triggering riots and introduce the city as Fortress LA in which urban design, architecture and the police apparatus merge into security means to restructure and control the city. Hence, certain groups of people such as the urban poor are increasingly excluded from the centre and pushed towards spaces where they can be harassed and controlled by the police. Additionally, many public spaces and buildings in Los Angeles are reconstructed in order to provide security for its citizens while denying access for marginalized groups. However, on the contrary to Davis’ rather negative perception, cities offer many opportunities for work and leisure; enable the encounter with different people; and provide cultural excitement.

City and Cyberspace

Pleasures in contemporary urban life is increasingly influenced by electronic mediums such as television, film or the internet. Electronic culture enables more flexibility and the development of identity within cities. The relation between telecommunications and cities is the enabled combination of fixed urban places and mobile electronic spaces; the social struggles developing in urban places and electronic spaces; and the issues of social representation, identity and perception. Hence, electronic technology created new networks and a new perception of time and space within cities.

Informational city

According to Castells, the professional and managerial class is increasingly determining the modern development such as the technological revolution of computers and circulating information; the increase of the global economy; and the widespread social polarization within the world and cities. The increase of social control and surveillance within cities is mainly due to the rise of electronic technology such as CCTV cameras, security systems or electronic shopping cards. Such developments had a significant impact on social power and conflicts within urban spaces.

City as Text

From a poststructuralist perspective, the city can be read as a text and representation of cities through maps, photographs, films, etc. enable us to read and understand them. More specifically, cultural representation of cities shows how the world is lived. Hence, cities are the complex surfaces of activities and interactions.


Reflecting on this chapter, it became clear that spaces and places are socially and culturally constructed. Moreover, both concepts are related to social relations of class, gender, ethnicity, etc. Global cities in particular gave rise to the world economy which is restructured and regenerated. Despite providing many opportunities, cities are often leading to increasing polarization, surveillance and control. Additionally, the privatization of public space and the rising suburban edge cities are characteristics of global cities in the twenty-first century.

Chapter 13 Youth and Resistance

Cultural studies focuses mainly on spectacular youth cultures which are known for their different and avant-garde youth styles. These researches gained more importance as the first wave of postgraduates at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) were part of the baby boomer generation and hence started to study their own culture.

Rising Youth

American sociologist Parsons argues that youth is not solely a biologically determined period in life, but a socially and culturally constructed marker determined by a particular time and particular circumstances. Especially through the rise of capitalism during the 1960s, youth or adolescence gained importance as it represented the discontinuity between the family and society. Young people were thus part of a transition and socializing period and were characterised by structured irresponsibility between childhood dependence and adulthood responsibility. Hence, youth is a stage of development in which values and ideologies become fixed, and often includes a rebellious phase. The transition is thus difficult and for some professional help is required to support young people in their development.


Youth is constructed by discourses including style, image, difference and identity which are determined by the time and space young people find themselves in. Hence, youth is ambiguous as the definition of young has a different meaning across the world such as the different age at which one can legally buy alcohol or vote. Moreover, it is ambiguous as youth refers to the state between child and adult, distanced from the child but still retaining some links but at the same time denied full access to the adult world. Youth is both related to trouble such as gangs or hooligans and fun including fashion, parties and consumption.


Subculture refers to a certain life style representing the social world and being different from the mainstream society.


The resistance towards the dominant culture is also described as the subaltern or subterranean indicated by the ‘sub’ in subculture. The values of a subculture are understood as a collective resistance of the young working-class against the imposed problems of the dominant class such as the middle-class and its success, money and social control. Hence, subcultures were often also considered as the solutions to the structural problems of class and existential dilemmas of identity as they offer a collective identity outside school and work, and provide alternative experiences such as diverse leisure activities.


The concept of homology was introduced by British social scientist Willis in the end of the 1970s referring to the youth as a structural resonance forming a socio-cultural whole with its social values, order and cultural styles. More specifically, it refers to the continuous play between a group and its cultural items producing styles and meanings. Homology together with the concept of bricolage in which objects are re-contextualized in order to create new meanings, are relevant in regard to resistance. By resisting the parent working-class culture and the dominant culture, young people are constituted through a double articulation. Hence, they want to distinct themselves from their parents which again resist the hegemonic culture. In order to differentiate themselves, young people make use of cultural signs and develop their own styles which is also discussed in the book written by Hall and Jefferson ‘Resistance through Rituals’ describing youth cultures in post-war Britain.

Whereas the book by Hall and Jefferson reduces youth styles to class cultures, British sociologist Hebdige argues that subcultures create new codes of meaning through bricolage as a form of resistance to the dominant order. In this manner, subcultures are able to signify difference and create a collective group identity. Hebdige underlines his argument by providing the example of British Punk during the 1970s which not only responded to the factors such as poverty and unemployment due to the crisis, but also dramatized it by expressing the anger and frustration through Punk style. Such revolting style including safety pins, dyed hair, offensive language and anarchic graphics undermined discourses and characterised the subculture which was resisting society.

Youth Difference


Children of working-class parents often do realise their class difference in contrast of the well-educated and rich class. Research indicates that working-class boys, also known as lads, are convinced that the system will not change and success is only limited to a few which does not include them. Hence, they rather put their effort in pleasures of leisure and sexuality than in education. In this manner the working-class boys reproduce the societal class structures and in the end turn out to be in the same position as they parents.


Feminists such as British cultural theorist McRobbie, criticize the studies conducted regarding youth subcultures, as they usually ignore women in their research. Hence, it is argued that girls become marginalized and subordinated in male subcultures. Women stand more central in regard to family and subcultures including pop music and magazines about beauty, fashion and mainly romance. However, in her later work McRobbie emphasizes the active production of femininity through bricolage which is still marked by girls’ magazines. Hence, femininity transformed from romance to pop, fashion and self-confident sexuality through youth magazines which provide girls with a space for feminism politics.


In regard to Britain, youth cultures can also be seen as a response to black immigrants. Punk for instance, sympathized with the resistance against Britishness and authority of the black youth and embraced the black music style Reggae. Hair is a main ethnic signifier as it reinforces racist discourses such as regarding black hair as wild and natural. Hence, the Afro and Dreadlock style expresses the value of black hair texture together with postcolonial and anti-racist struggles. Hence, hair is able to become neutralized as a signifier of opposition.

Global Youth Culture

Brands such as Coca-Cola, MTV or Nike together with international celebrities indicate the commodification and homogenization of youth culture. However, youth is still produced differently according to time and spaces creating diverse meanings and behaviours. Due to the rise of globalization and its enhancement of communication technologies, youth culture crosses boundaries or races and nation-states and creates hybrid cultures such as diverse forms of the music genre Rap. Hence, youth cultures are not locally bounded but rather an outcome of interactions across space. Global elements are thus locally appropriated and mixed which creates new hybrid cultural forms.

New technologies such as the internet and its social media networks are commonly used by the youth and with the rise of the digital media, young people are increasingly globally connected and able to create a global youth culture. An example is the Japanese animation called anime which gained increasing numbers of fans from the west through the internet. In this manner anime fans got in touch with Japanese culture and sometimes even learned the language or adapted certain cultural elements. Several anime subcultures emerged which all involve the engagement in the global media market and online communication. By appropriating elements of the anime culture, western young people create new hybrid forms. Moreover, the internet also enables people sharing certain problems such as anorexia and create online communities in order to communicate stories and find support. The so called pro-ana communities on the internet enables people suffering from anorexia problems to deconstruct the cultural discourses which influenced their behaviour.

Post subcultures

Post subculture studies indicate fluid, plural and temporary cultural forms also called neo-tribes. This type of subcultures involves more temporary personal and emotional attachment. The theory of subculture needed to be redefined as critics argue that youth culture is not necessarily linked to resistance. Moreover, youth cultures are not opposing but rather formed through the media. Youth cultures become thus more fragmented and the idea of local media-free authentic subcultures is decreasing. Mass media is thus an integral part of the formation of subcultures and plays a crucial role in the formulation of young people’s activities. Whereas before subcultures were said to contest the media, today through the rise of mass media, subcultures are able to become politically relevant and their resistance gains meaning.

New bricoleurs

Through postmodern consumer capitalism culture became an industry, subcultures became more mainstream and the avant-garde became commercial pop art. Hence, due to this development more people are in search for authenticity and deepness. Moreover, the subcultural capital which includes fashion, style, knowledge and power of young people gains more value. It defines the ‘us’ as alternative, authentic and independent in contrast to ‘them’ which includes the mainstream commercial majority.

Creative Consumption

During the 1980s and 1990s, critics of mass consumption argued that the consumers are active and create meaning. Hence, popular culture is formed by the meanings people produce by reading cultural texts. Especially young people are creative, sophisticated and inventive cultural consumers which continuously transform and recode meanings of objects. Some scholars argue that capitalism provided the resources for young people to consume and creatively construct meanings.


Resistance is considered as a tool which can be used. Moreover, it includes repertoires which are determined by time, place and relationships. Hence, resistance is regarded as a defence against a dominant culture which imposes its values and ideologies onto subordinated cultures. Regarding resistance of the youth, it becomes apparent that capitalism and consumerism are part of the youth culture development as mentioned above. Resistance does thus happen within capitalism and can therefore be better referred to as a form of negotiation.

The youth uses its power by causing trouble or fun. Hence, according to scholar Hebdige the youth becomes present when it crosses boundaries and becomes a problem and poses a threat. Hence, youth cultures as a subculture contests classification and control while at the same time enjoying and triggering to be under scrutiny.

French social scientist de Certeau supports Foucault’s argument that one cannot be outside of discourses and hence outside of power. He makes a distinction between the strategies of power which refers to the means of power through which one can operate, and the tactics of resistance which refers to the use of everyday resources from the ‘other’ to act. Youth culture for instance uses capitalist commodities such as fashion items or music in order to create their own meanings and negotiate with their ‘other’. Critics of de Certeau’s theory of resistance claim the increasing banality of culture which results when considering every element of youth culture and popular culture as a symbol of resistance. However, in cultural studies resistance is not a quality of an act but rather the judgment about acts.


Youth is a cultural classification between being a child and being an adult. It is the period at a particular age when one is looking for trouble and fun. The rise of youth subcultures were understood as symbolic resistance to the hegemonic order in society. Through bricolage, homology and the concept of style, youth cultures create their own meaning and express themselves through them. However, youth cultures are increasingly fragmented due to the rise of globalization and the provided resources by capitalism and consumerism. By actively consuming cultural texts, youth cultures produce hybrid cultures across the world according to time and space. Hence, resistance of youth cultures must be understood as relational, conjunctural and normative.

Chapter 14 Cultural Politics and Policy

Cultural Politics

Cultural studies focuses on issues of power, politics and social change. Cultural politics refers to the power to define and represent. Power is considered as a social regulation which enables knowledge and identities to exist through defining them by the use of language.


During the 1970s and 1980s cultural politics was discussed by using Gramsci’s concept of hegemony which is described in chapter 2. According to Gramsci, the state produces class hegemony but two distinctions need to be made. He differs between the night-watchman state which refers to a state with repression by the army, the police and the judicial system, and the ethical state which is educative and formative by the wined consent of its citizens to one ideology. Gramsci argues that ideologies provide rules for moral behaviour and a way to understand the world and hegemony is a temporary process which gives people some stability in their continuous ideological struggle. Later, hegemony was no longer solely related to social class but also to power relations including ethnicity, gender or identity.

Gramsci’s theory plays a significant role in the work of intellectuals. According to Gramsci, one can distinct between traditional and organic intellectuals. The former refers to the ones involved in science, literature, philosophy and religion such as professionals in universities, churches, medical institutions or law firms. Gramsci argues that such traditional intellectuals reproduce hegemony and its ideologies by naturalizing the common sense in public institutions. Organic intellectuals on the other hand are involved in the working-class struggle which rather contests the hegemonic class. The model of organic intellectuals is increasingly adopted as it includes wider social and political forces which fight the ideological struggle using intellectual resources.

The concept of hegemony introduced by Gramsci also comes to the fore in the text ‘Resistance through Rituals’ written by Hall and Jefferson which is discussed in the previous chapter. In this text it becomes apparent that youth cultures use style as a form of symbolic resistance against the hegemony and hence is involved in an ideological struggle.

Politics of Difference

Poststructuralism and postmodernism including the importance of language and discursive constructions as anti-essentialist social categories, reintroduce Gramsci’s modes of thinking. The power to redefine ourselves is part of cultural and identity politics which gives rise to social change for the future. This so called rethinking occurs through social practices and constructs new political subjects and practises. An example is Rastafarianism in Jamaica which uses texts from the Bible and adapts them to own experiences in order to create new meanings. Hence, Rastafarians created new political subjects as blacks in the world.


As already mentioned in chapter 3, articulation connects different discursive elements in order to create a unity under certain conditions. The nation for instance is referred to as society in which different people live in regard to class, gender, age, race, etc. Hence, ideology and hegemony are tools to temporarily unify differences and stabilize them. According to scholars Laclau and Mouffe, such stabilized meanings are plural and not determined by class and economics. Rather they are discursively constructed and determined by time and strategy.

The new cultural politics of difference consists of three elements, namely:

  1. Deconstruction which is also discussed in chapter 1 and refers to the reading of texts in order to uncover their underlying political assumptions.

  2. De-mythologization which emphasizes the social construction of metaphors and their consequences.

  3. De-mystification which indicates the analysis of power structures and develop critical positions in order to provide multiple options for cultural politics and policy.

Difference, Ethnicity, Representation

The new ethnicities as described in chapter 8 create new spaces for identities, create hybrid identities and highlight the positionality of identities. Hence, ethnic identity is discursively constructed and differs according to its representation. An example is the black diaspora which is often linked to invisibility and namelessness as it lacks the power to represent itself as equal human beings and contest the negative stereotypes. In order to reach a different image of representation, positive images are needed in order to be treated equally to whites. However, such assimilation strategies often aim towards homogenization and require a certain loss of cultural distinctiveness. A second strategy would entail multiculturalism which does not demand assimilation but rather celebrates difference. However, it is likely to overlook the daily experiences of racism wherefore a more anti-racist strategy is needed. Such a strategy would demonstrate the underlying power relations and challenge the ideologies and practices of racist societies. A third strategy involves the politics of representation which deconstructs binaries as it focuses on discourse, language and meaning. Hence, regarding this example black identities are not fixed but constructed categories.

Difference, Citizenship, Public Sphere

The identity of citizenship unifies the diverse values within a democratic framework. Hence, the hegemony of democratic values is developed and imposed onto the public sphere. According to Habermas’ definition of public sphere demonstrated in chapter 6, it refers to a space in which individuals can form their identity and engage in debate about the future of society. However, whereas Habermas describes the public sphere as a space for everyone, Fraser argues that in reality some citizens are denied equal access to the public sphere which creates social inequality. Therefore, rather multiple public spheres exist.

Cultural Studies in Question

Politics of difference in cultural studies is often criticized of undermining the material inequalities and power relations. Hence, it is unable to engage in cultural policy and create change. Another critique regards cultural populism which refers to the binary distinction of high and low culture which however collapsed during post modernization. As cultural studies is increasingly part of the capitalist and consumerist system, it is unable to offer an alternative to the market. Hence, cultural studies is no longer critical enough towards the free market and consumer capitalism. Therefore, cultural studies is required to increasingly engage with the political economy of culture including institutions, power and control. In this manner, it would be possible to examine the meanings which are inscribed during the production process of cultural items. Hence, a multi-perspectival approach could investigate the relations between the political economy, representations, texts and its audience. The approach of involving political economy could show how the cultural production is tied to its context and controlled by a dominant mode which mainly seeks to gain profit. At this point, we can refer back to the circuit of culture which proposes the challenge to hold the moment of production in which the economic is culturally formed in order to form its representation.

Cultural Policy

According to British academic Bennett, cultural studies often do not notice the cultural power of the cultural texts. Hence, it is necessary that cultural studies work with a more pragmatic approach, engage with cultural producers and introduce policies. Policies are usually formed by cultural politics which are imposed onto the institutions and produce cultural products such as museums, schools, theatres or television organizations. Moreover, cultural studies mainly considers the ideological struggle and not the material technologies of power and cultural policy. Hence, it is important that cultural studies are more involved in the different technologies of power and forms of politics.


The augments stated above rely on the notion of governmentality introduced by Foucault. According to him, governmentality refers firstly, to the institutions and their tactics to form power. Secondly, it is the tendency to overlook sovereignty and discipline and rather form governmental apparatuses or develop a complex of savoirs. Thirdly, it is the result of the process in which the state from the Middle Ages is first transformed into the administrative state and later becomes governmentalized. Hence, governmentality is the process in which societies become subject to bureaucratic regimes and modes of discipline. The governmentality of the state including its institutions and apparatuses is thus a growing form of power.

Cultural power

In regard to governmentality, culture is increasingly constructed and controlled by the state. Hence, as culture shapes social life and human conduct, it becomes part of the institutional structures which create power and knowledge. An example are museums which with their civilizing effect regulate the people and their modes of behaviour. In this sense, cultural institutions try to form new subjectivities. Australian professor of media and communication Cunningham argues that a shift in the social democratic view of citizenship away from populism and oppositionalism towards equity, empowerment and appropriate cultural leadership is necessary Hence, policies would focus on interaction between cultural and institutional politics; textual analysis involved in policy issues; and reception work which would maintain culture and renew the perspective of citizenship. However, Cunningham seems to aim towards progressive ends rather than start a debate and reconsider values for policy making in an every changing socio-cultural context.


Pragmatism refers to an anti-foundationalist, anti-representationalist, and anti-realist perception of truth. Pragmatism further considers struggle for social change connected to the question of language and text; and material practice and policy action. Rorty’s theory of anti-representationalism argues that language cannot represent non-linguistic items. Hence, language does not correspond the material world. On the other hand, anti-foundationalism refers to the inexistence of universal truths which would justify our actions and beliefs. According to Rorty, for a pragmatic improvement of the human condition, universal foundations are not required but rather values. Hence, values are historically and culturally determined and an inevitable part of human existence. Moreover, Rorty argues that if we think something is true, it is true but however it does not need to correspond reality per se. In this regard, knowledge enables us to cope with the world as we form descriptions of the world and use them according to our purposes. Through language, it is possible to bring the underlying struggles to the fore and accept them as such. Hence, language enables the evolutionary struggle to occur.

Feminism for instance can be considered as such an evolutionary struggle. Rorty argues that feminism is a form of prophetic pragmatism as creates an alternative community with self-defined identities. However, Fraser contests this argument by stating that feminism rather develops a collective feminist politics engaged in collective debate and practice.

Private and public

Moreover, Rorty suggests a form of plural public sphere of citizens in which private identities can remain through living in a heterogeneous culture. He emphasizes cultural politics of difference which refers to re-descriptions of the world which contributes to the expansion of the democratic culture, and at the same time emphasizes the importance of public policy which supports democracy and social justice.

Pragmatic implications

In contrast to predominant voices within cultural studies, Rorty stresses the routine politics of liberal democracies. He therefore puts his focus on pragmatist cultural studies which would include several objects, namely:

  1. No universal truths; truth as a social and cultural construct.
  2. The importance of language in meaning and culture.
  3. Truth based on local stories rather than on big narratives.
  4. Trigger identity politics to develop new stories about ourselves.
  5. The necessity of engaging in liberal democratic politics where self-reflection and irony is welcomed.
  6. Develop hope in the struggle for social justice.


Cultural politics defines a method with which the world is named and represented. It includes social struggles regarding the subjects of class, gender, race, sexuality, etc. Gramsci was an influential figure and the redefinition of his theories contributed to no longer see only class as the central axis of politics but rather focus on politics of articulation and representation. Moreover, cultural studies is required to engage more in cultural policy formation and implementation which is based on Foucault’s concept of governmentality. Hence, cultural policy together with the philosophy of pragmatism might finally unify the politics of difference and representation.

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