Introduction to Cultural Studies

Introduction to Cultural Studies: Culture, Technology & Power

Free Course

Who has power in our cultures and how does it work? How do the ideas we have about what is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ influence our decisions? What exactly is technology and how does it affect social change? Cultural Studies makes use of techniques from philosophy, history, sociology, human geography, anthropology, radical economics and political and critical theory to examine these questions in the context of contemporary popular cultures.

This course is an introduction to the subject taught by senior academics moonlighting from their day jobs at the University of East London. The course is free because we believe not only that education should be free but that knowledge is a crucial weapon in the war against all forms of inequality.

This course runs  at Open School East in London and covers  a number of key issues in contemporary cultural politics – race, gender, sexuality, technology, neoliberalism, music, money, the future, etc. Jeremy Gilbert taking most of the sessions – Stephen Maddison will do the one on queer politics.

For the time being, the ‘Culture, Power and Politics’ seminars that were being hosted by Jeremy and the New Economy Organisers Network have effectively merged with this course. It sounds complicated but the situation is pretty simple. Jeremy started running the ‘culture, power politics’ seminars with the New Economy Organisers Network in 2015. Around the same time, his colleagues at University of London, Debra Shaw and Stephen Maddison, started the free course ‘Introduction to Cultural Studies’ at Open School East. After December 2015, Stephen and Debra didn’t have time to run that course any more and asked Jeremy if he could help out. It turned out that actually the first block of lectures in that course had covered much of the same ground as many of the first ‘Culture, Power Politics seminars’. So rather than continue to duplicate, for the time being, Jeremy is running the second block of ‘Introduction to Cultural Studies’ and it has effectively merged with ‘Culture, Power and Politics.’ Below you can find a list of topics for this term, including recordings and slides. Below that you can find a list of topics from the first block of ‘Introduction to Cultural Studies’ lectures taught by Debra and Stephen, with links to slides.’ There are no recordings of those sessions, but if you go HERE you can find recordings of previous ‘Culture, Power and Politics’ sessions, and sometimes slides as well, which cover much of the same ground. See, we told you it was simple…

Anyway never mind about all that. These sessions are interesting and anyone is welcome.

Although these lectures / seminars are technically the second part of a free course titled ‘Introduction to Cultural Studies: Culture, Technology & Power’, they should be accessible and interesting whether you are completely new to these things, or an advanced cultural theory postgrad, or anything in between. So please do pass on  the information to anyone who might be interested.

To find recordings and slides from lectures that have already happened, scroll down to the list of topics below. For more details about the course, the context, etc. see HERE and HERE

The information about what, where and when is below:

Where and how to get there ?

Open School East
The Rose Lipman Building
43 De Beauvoir Rd
London N1 5SQ

View Map

Buses: 67, 149, 243 (Haggerston Station) & 21, 76, 141 (Downham Road)
Overground: Haggerston

(Open School East is fully wheelchair accessible)

What and When?

Every other Tuesday (normally – see dates below), Feb 23rd – June 14th 2016

6:30pm -8:30pm

Just turn up no booking required

 

Course Topics

Tuesday February 23 2016

We are all migrants

‘Some bunch of migrants’ is what David Cameron called the refugee inhabitants of the Calais ‘jungle’ when Jeremy Corbyn went to visit them. But migration and movement of people has shaped every aspect of our lives and culture, from the forced migrations of the slave trade to the take-away menus on our high street. With the EU referendum just around the corner, and anti-immigration feeling running high in the UK, what hope is there for a progressive cosmopolitan politics today? 

Tuesday March 8th 

Computer World  

‘Computer World’ is the title of Kraftwerk’s best album (yes it is). At just around the time they recorded it, economists, philosophers and social theorists were predicting that the ‘computerisation’ of society would change everything, creating a world of infinite information, without stable values, in which the very idea of being ‘modern’ would come to seem out of date.  Were they right? The technological changes of the past few decades have radically changed how capitalism works – but is it still fundamentally the same old system?

Tuesday March 15th  (NB this is only one week after the last session)

No Such Thing As ‘Society’

“There’s no such thing as society: only individuals (and their families)”. This was perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s most notorious public pronouncement. It was also one of the few moments when she made explicit her commitment to the ideals and assumptions of ‘neoliberalism’: the individualistic political philosophy that has come to dominate our politics, our culture and our lives. 

After the 2008 crash, and the rise of Corbynism, we’re hearing a lot of discussion these days about the problems with neoliberal economics, which basically wants to privatise everything, drive down wages and cut taxes for the rich. We don’t hear so much about neoliberalism as a cultural ideology, promoting individualism, competition and greed in every area of life, from the nursery to the hospice. But without understanding this, we can’t understand how  ruling elites have got away with imposing such an unpopular programme for so long. 

We’ll have a think about this here – and take the opportunity to revise a bit of Marx, Gramsci and Foucault. 

Easter break 

Tuesday April 5th 

This is what a feminist looks like 

If historians of the future remember our era for anything, it is probably going to be the unprecedented revolution in the social status of women that we have lived through, and are living through.  But the movement which made that change possible is still derided and feared, often seemingly unpopular with the very generations of young women who have benefited from it. At the same time it has raised a question which cultural and social theory is still struggling to answer – what is gender? Is it a social construct or a biological fact, or both, or neither? What does it mean to be a feminist today? Where does masculinity fit into all this? What are ‘performativity’ and ‘intersectionality’ when they’re at home? We will sort all this out in time to get to the pub before 9, honest…

Tuesday April 19th

Queer as Folk

Another huge cultural and political change of recent years has been the transformation in social attitudes towards same-sex relationships. It’s hard to believe now that both advocates and opponents of ‘gay liberation’ once thought that capitalism itself simply could not tolerate open same-sex relationships, and would be fatally undermined by any attempt to validate them. At the same time sexuality remains a highly charged political issue in many complex ways, and the broad field of ‘queer theory’ has been one of the most productive and contentious areas of cultural studies. 

Tuesday May 3rd

The Multitude, the Metropolis (and the Mayor)

Since around 2000, there’s been growing interest in the English-speaking world in a particular strain of radical Italian thought. This ‘autonomist’ tradition believes in the creative, dynamic capacities of workers of all kinds, from factory workers to software engineers, and wants to liberate the creative power of ‘the multitude’ from capitalist control. Political  activists, from the anti-capitalists of the early 2000s to the grassroots radicals who have recently taken over Barcelona’s city government, have drawn much inspiration from their ideas.

Thinkers such as Hardt & Negri and Lazzarato offer very interesting ways of thinking about the rise of the ‘creative economy’, about how social media platforms generate profits from our everyday communications, and about why cities are so often hotbeds of radicalism and innovation.These ideas have always emerged from innovative programmes of concrete social research and active struggle. For example, Maurizio Lazzarato’s book Experimental Politics, which Jeremy has edited the forthcoming English translation of, is inspired by the struggles of casual workers in the French entertainment industry to defend and democratise their unique system of unemployment protection. We’ll discuss their contributions to progressive thought and their political relevance.

Two days before the London Mayoral election, we’ll also think about what potential there might be for Londoners to take back our own city from the clutches of the oligarchs and the Corporation of London. The second half of this session will be a discussion with Amina Gichinga and Jacob Mukherjee of Take Back the City. Take Back the City is an organisation and a new political party campaigning for a grassroots democratic politics in London, and Amina is standing as a candidate for the Greater London Authority in this year’s election. This will be a great chance to discuss the connections between urgent social issues, radical ideas, and experimental politics.

HERE IS THE FACEBOOK EVENT  for this one

Tuesday May 17th  

Can you Feel it?

Can you Feel it?

Once upon a time, Cultural Studies was basically about looking at everything as if it were a language: fashion, advertising, music and journalism were understood as different ways in which people ‘make meanings’. A lot of cultural studies still is like that – it’s a very useful and productive way of looking at things. But what about those aspects of our lives which are not easy to translate into ‘meanings’?  What about feelings? What about the sounds of music, the colours of paintings, the physical thrill of watching a movie? These issues aren’t just important for thinking about art and music – they’re also crucial to understanding what motivates people politically and socially. We’ll  explore these issues and try to get inside one of the most difficult but rewarding bodies of 20th century theory: the ‘schizoanalysis’ of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that if there’s one pair of thinkers from the past hundred years who offer uniquely insightful ways of thinking about all of these issues, about the nature of power and the nature of change, and about the very question of what it means to be alive, then I think it’s Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Deleuze was arguably the most influential French philosopher of the late 20th century. Guattari was a militant psychotherapist, an early advocate of ‘queer’ politics’, a key figure in the run-up to the events of May 1968, a widely innovative thinker who ended up running as a Green candidate in regional elections shortly before his death in the early 90s.

D&Gs work is very difficult to read for the uninitiated because it draws on an obscure and idiosyncratic set of sources, and it has become normal in both the French and English-speaking worlds for it to become largely the preserve of academics and aesthetes.

This is a shame, because once you get past the unique terminology (or rather, start to become accustomed to it), this really is one of the most powerful bodies of thought around for thinking about politics on every scale – the result of one of the most ambitious attempts to date to think about the relationships between psychic, the social, the physical and the political aspects of human (and non-human) experience.

In particular D&G have been taken up in various areas of the humanities and social sciences in recent years as theorists of ‘affect’ – of the emotional and bodily aspects of communication and social relationships. Again – this is a really important issue when thinking about all forms of political communication. When focus groups in Nuneaton say that they don’t like Corbyn because he just sort of looks and sounds wrong, they are not primarily responding to the things that he says, but in the way that he says them, in the tone of his voice and the way he seems to carry himself. This is all a question of ‘affect’ as much as it is a question of ‘framing’ or ‘meaning’. So…a lot to think about!

Tuesday May 31st 

How did we get here?  Forgotten Moments, Lost Leaders, and Remembering our Recent Radical Past

Special extended session (5:30-8:30) on the radical history of our times with several special guest speakers:

Natasha Nkonde and Deborah Grayson who are researching the radical history of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, Andy Beckett who writes for the Guardian and is that author of two acclaimed major studies of the politics and culture of the 70s and 80s (When the Lights Went Out and Promised You a Miracle) and John Medhurst, author of That Option No Longer Exists, will join us for an extended panel discussion.

This session will start at 5:30 with a discussion with Andy Beckett talking about his historical work and the importance of understanding our recent past
(don’t worry if you are a regular attender who can only make it at 6:30 – we’ll understand!)
6:30-7:30 Deborah, Natasha and John will be talking about their research,
7:30-8:30 Jeremy  offer some observations on how we can use some key theoretical concepts to illuminate the issues under discussion, along the lines of:

How did we get into this mess? Rising inequality, climate catastrophe, miserable youth and a culture which can’t innovate: it’s hard to believe that until some time in the 80s, people actually believed the world was getting better.  Can Cultural Studies help us to understand how we got here? It can and it will.

In this session we’ll bring together many of the ideas from the previous weeks, and the previous term, to see how they can help answer this questions. We’ll be looking at some classic Cultural Studies text such as Sturt Hall et. al’s Policing the Crisis published in 1978 (which starts off analysing newspaper reports about muggings, and ends up basically predicting Thatcherism before anyone else could see it coming), and asking if culture in 2016 is still stuck in ‘the long 1990s’. 

Tuesday June 14th 

Where are we going?

What kind of world are we heading into, and who gets to decide? Will artificially-intelligent robots be our masters? Will we be cyborgs ourselves? Are we already? What will happen to us once Chinese workers start demanding decent wages for making all the stuff we buy? Can the planet tolerate the levels of consumption we’ve got used to? Will technology save us or destroy us.? Are we already experiencing ‘post-capitalism’?  Are we already ‘post-human’? All this and more will be revealed. 

Below is the course outline from part one of the Introduction to Cultural Studies course, including links to slides:

Course outline 2015

Session 1: Tuesday 29 September
‘Making Meaning: Introduction to Semiotics’

We make meaning from everything we see around us every day, but what informs our decisions about what ‘things’ mean? This session will introduce you to the work of the French Philologist Ferdinand de Saussure who gave us the tools to understand the role of ideology in how we make sense of everyday life.

Slides from this session – OSE Semiotics

Session 2: Tuesday 13 October
‘Workers of the World Unite: Marx for Beginners’

Karl Marx is famous for predicting a workers’ revolution in Britain and, as some politicians will gleefully tell you, for being wrong. But Marx wrote a lot of books and said a lot of things that are still startlingly relevant to how we think about the organisation of social life and the role of economics in determining how we think about ourselves. In this session, we’ll develop our understanding of ideology and think about the relationship between bodies, machines and going shopping (with a little help from Johnny Cash).

Slides from this session – OSE Marx

Session 3: Tuesday 27 October
‘Culture Consuming Itself?’

Why has consumption become so central to the cultures of capitalism? This session will apply key concepts from Marxism to a discussion of ideas of identity, taste and cultural meaning. Why do we define ourselves through our shopping choices? Can we ever achieve individuality? How does semiotics help us to understand culture as representation?

Slides from this session – OSE Consuming Culture

Session 4: Tuesday 3 November
‘Sometimes it’s Just a Cigar: The Surreal World of Sigmund Freud’

Sigmund Freud is another towering figure of the twentieth century who gets a bad press. But, like it or not, he gave us the language that we use when we speak about our personalities, early childhood development and mental health (he also provided PR and ad agencies with effective strategies for persuading us to, yes, go shopping). In this session, we’ll look at psychoanalysis as cultural theory; as a way of thinking about what we dream about, how we behave and how we learn to distinguish ourselves according to the roles we’re expected to play.

Slides from this session – OSE Freud

Session 5: Tuesday 17 November
‘Popular Interests: Antonio Gramsci and Hegemony’

Antonio Gramsci was the leader of the Italian Communist party after WW1 and spent a lot of time in prison. Happily for us, it gave him plenty of time to think. In this session we’ll study his theory of ‘hegemony’ which helps to explain why we consent to be governed by people that really don’t have our best interests at heart.

Slides from this session – OSE Gramsci (1)

Session 6: Saturday 21 November, 2-4pm
‘How to Get Interpellated: Louis Althusser (with Intro to Jacques Lacan)’

The French nearly had (another) revolution in 1968 but, ultimately, it failed. Louis Althusser was one of the post-’68 theorists who set himself the task of working out why people give in to authority, even when it would be better for them to not do so. We’ll be studying how he made use of the post-Freudian theory of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to explain why we all consider ourselves guilty until proven innocent.

Slides from this session – OSE Althusser

Session 7: Tuesday 24 November
‘Monsieur Foucault and the Prison of the Self’

Michel Foucault was another post-’68 theorist whose work has had wide ranging consequences for how we think about power and its effects on how we understand ourselves and others. This is the first of three sessions where we’ll explore his ideas and their relevance to contemporary culture. We’ll be examining the design of an eighteenth century prison and how it gives us a model for understanding why we think some things (and people) are ‘abnormal’.

Slides from this session – OSE Foucault

Session 8: Tuesday 8 December
‘Perverse Pleasures: Foucault and Sexuality’

One of the most important things that Foucault helps us to understand is that sexuality has a history. Although he disagreed with Marx about the way that power works, he had a similar interest in historical change and its effect on our private lives. In this session, we’ll examine how our attitudes to sexual practices are deeply entangled with the power afforded to certain institutions by vested economic and political interests.

Session 9: Tuesday 15 December (note this session is a week after the last one)
‘Racial Mythologies: Edward Said and Orientalism’

Foucault’s ideas have considerable implications for how we understand racism and its effects in contemporary culture. In this session, we’ll discuss the work of Edward Said who applied Foucault’s insights about history, language and self-identity to understanding how racial stereotypes come to be accepted as ‘truth’.

Slides from this session – OSE Said