Birmingham school of cultural studies

Report
You’re a Disney Princess
now; come on, fix your
hair and goofy eyes.
Hegemonic beauty
standards demand it!
Hey, Maybe People Aren’t Zombies . . . Sometimes
BIRMINGHAM SCHOOL OF CULTURAL
STUDIES
BEGINNINGS

Founded in 1964 at the University of Birmingham
by Richard Hoggart

Was a politically committed school with politics
committed to the “New Left” valuing democracy,
equality, and liberation

Like the Frankfurts, were formed out of their own
historical crisis; this time the post war politics of
England
CHANGES

Moved from literary/moral theory of culture (seen in Arnold
and Frankfurts) to an anthropological view– i.e., how do
people make meaning from cultural messages

Dropped emphasis on high/low culture to look at the process
of how all texts are produced, disseminated, and interpreted

All people are born with the potential to be an intellectual
(both consumer and producer)

Popular texts are the most important texts to look at
precisely because of the power they hold
GOALS

Sought ideological critique, like the Frankfurts, but
moved away from the perpetuation of capitalism and
consumption to a more give and take process

Returned to earlier works of Antonio Gramsci for
foundation- specifically thoughts on hegemony that
questioned the solely top-down influence the Frankfurts
gave to commodity culture

To educate and liberate people from the dominant
messages of pop culture– foster resistance and critical
awareness
STUART HALL ON BHAM DIFFERENCES

“We broke with the models of 'direct influence'
using a sort of stimulus-response model with
heavily behaviorist overtones, media content
serving as a trigger- into a framework which drew
much more on what can broadly be defined as the
'ideological' role of the media. Secondly, the school
broke with the passive and undifferentiated
conceptions of the 'audience' as it has largely
appeared in traditional research, replacing them
with how media messages were encoded, the
'moment' of the encoded text and the variation of
audience decodings” – Stuart Hall
IN THE SHORTEST OF SHORT

While Frankfurts focused solely on the
capitalistic and consumer affects of pop culture
en masse (cause the content was too bland to
be relevant), the Birmingham school focused
on the potential messages and meanings of
individual pop culture texts (they turned to
content) to understand their effects on people.
SEMIOTICS

Understands language and images as symbolic
sign systems where absolute or guaranteed
meaning cannot be housed in the thing itself
Connotation
 Changing Definitions over time, place, cultures
 Polysemousness

SO WE’RE USED TO THIS

The Birmingham school essentially adopted the
techniques of literary criticism (especially New
Criticism) and applied them to popular culture

These textual effects were fundamental for
exploration because of pop culture’s
prevalence in people’s lives
HEGEMONY

“Cultural Hegemony describes the domination of a
culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who
manipulate the culture of the society — the beliefs,
explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so
that their ruling-class worldview becomes the
worldview that is imposed and accepted as the
cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant
ideology that justifies the social, political, and
economic status quo as natural, inevitable,
perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than
as artificial social constructs that benefit only the
ruling class” – from good ol’ Wikipedia
LIBERATION
From society’s
dominant codes
about gender
roles
LIBERATION
From society’s
dominant codes
about race and
racial/cultural
appropriation
LIBERATION
“"We have got this tailspin of
culture in our inner cities in
particular of men not working, and
just generations of men not even
thinking about working, and not
learning the value and the culture
of work. So there's a real culture
problem here that has to be dealt
with.“
From society’s dominant codes
about class and racial
connections.
RESISTANCE
• Fetishized the notion of
resistance- i.e., oppositional
reads, going against society’s
dominant codes (we’ll see this in
Hepdige)
• Believed that only through
education and close reading
could people be trained to resist
the dominant codes
• Unlike Frankfurts, believed this
was possible– to get outside of
the system and peer back it at
critically
TITLES

Blood, Biceps, and Beautiful Eyes: Cultural Representations of Masculinity
in Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya

Popular Culture, Ideology, and the Comics Industry: Steve Ditko's Objectivist
Spider-Man

Beyond the Alternative vs. Mainstream Dichotomy: Olympic BMX and the
Future of Action Sports

Faith and Bad Faith in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Revising (the) Resistance: American Guerrillas in Popular Film and
Television

“Between Light and Nowhere”: The Queer Politics of Nostalgia

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