Theory and Practice of Cultural Studies (SC3224)

This course is a 3rd year sociology capstone seminar for students in the Cultural Studies Minor at NUS. The module begins with a modest and admittedly perspectival genealogy of the field of cultural studies, followed by a detour through postmodernism as an historical moment and a concept, then turning to some new 'methodological' approaches (namely new materialisms and assemblage theories), and then concludes by staking out a few 'practical' areas of cultural analysis: work, protocol, time, and pain. Because the course is a capstone, the topics, readings, and assignments are designed to allow for experienced students to delve deeply into both the foundations of the field and some its most current areas of exploration. However, because the course is also open enrolment, the seminar format and assessments are modular in design, allowing for novice students to engage with basic concepts while simultaneously immersing themselves in the field alongside their more experienced peers. 

 
 
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A Cultural Studies Genealogy (of sorts...)

The first unit of the course sketches the beginnings of a genealogy of the field of cultural studies. There isn't time to do a complete genealogy which would explore the diverse origins of cultural studies, but an attempt is made to both cover the commonly received narrative of the origin of the field (namely, the emergence of British cultural studies and the influence of the Birmingham School of Contemporary Cultural Studies), as well as begin to understand the trajectory of its internationalization and globalization. 

Texts for this unit are a mix of textbook accounts of the development of the field and 'primary source' essays written by some of the major figures of cultural studies. Readings include:

  • Terry Eagleton, "Versions of Culture" from The Idea of Culture
  • Raymond Williams, "The Analysis of Culture" from The Long Revolution
  • Stuart Hall, "Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies"
  • John Storey, From Popular Culture to Everyday Life (excerpts)
  • Chua Beng Huat, "Conceptualising an East Asian Cultural Studies"

Postmodernism

The occasion of cultural and conceptual upheaval we identify today as the postmodern moment is highlighted, given the profound effect it had on the field of cultural studies. In particular, an attempt is made to unify theory and practice in the production of a report on 'Postmodernism in Singapore'. Students apply the assigned readings to an aspect of Singaporean society of their choosing, from architecture to museums, television and film to cultural policy. 

Readings include:

  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (excerpts)
  • Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (excerpts)
  • Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (excerpts)
  • Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction"
  • Ackbar Abbas, "Building on Disappearance" and "Cultural Studies in a Postculture"
  • Meaghan Morris, "Things to Do with Shopping Centres"
  • William Gibson, "Disneyland with the Death Penalty"
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New Methodologies 

This third unit turns to the exploration of two emergent methodological approaches that are related yet distinct: new materialisms and assemblage theory. In particular, this unit serves as a bridge between the postmodern moment of simulation and simulacra and the contemporary resurgence of the ontological in the analysis of culture.

Readings for this unit include:

  • Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (excerpts)
  • Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (excerpts)
  • Manuel DeLanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (excerpts) 
  • Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier, Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (excerpts)

Directions in New Cultural Studies

The final unit in this course delves into some areas that stem from the new directions taken by cultural studies in recent years. Namely, rather than a focus on popular culture or forms of media, youth and subcultures or consumerism and audience studies, this unit extends cultural studies analysis into aspects of culture that might not immediately seem like traditional areas of study: work, protocol, time, and pain. Readings for each of these areas are intended to be provocations for discussion, allowing students to apply what they have learned throughout this semester as well as synthesise across their other courses in cultural studies. 

Readings include:

Work

  • Kathi Weeks, The Problem with Work (excerpts)
  • Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (excerpts)
  • Paul Lafargue, "The Right to Be Lazy"

Protocol

  • Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on Societies of Control"
  • Alexander Galloway, Protocol (excerpts)

Time

  • Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

Pain

  • Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (excerpts)
  • Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages (excerpts)
  • Coco Fusco, A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (excerpts)