Cultural Studies aim to produce an understanding of contemporary cultures, their component elements and cultural practices, through analysis of their texts, and of their historical, social or political contexts.
By “texts”, we are not just referring to written documents, but to all products of culture which convey meaning, like film, photography, fashion, food, behaviour, rituals, and to the physical space which we inhabit and organise.
This is not the only approach adopted by Cultural Studies, which are in themselves inter-disciplinary. We often use a series of methods and concepts, associated with literary theory, sociology, history, cultural anthropology, media or film studies, in order to achieve maximum understanding of the full scope of cultures, in terms of everyday life, popular culture and high culture.
Urban cultural studies deal with the culture of built-up areas with high-density population. They are interested in the history of the development of these urban areas, including issues of town planning, and deal with the shift from primarily rural to primarily urban societies in the industrial era, which brought change in economic, social and political thought and practice. Urban cultural studies try to pinpoint the significance of local conditioning factors within wider overall patterns of change.
Urban cultural studies also deal with questions connected with planning policy, town planning and the revitalisation of cities, the atomisation of urban society in the industrial period, along with grass-roots initiatives aiming at the revival of urban community structures in the post-industrial era.
Ethnic, race and gender studies explore issues of ethnicity race and gender from an interdisciplinary standpoint.
Gender studies deal with gender as a culturally-determined construct. While taking note of the profound differences between the ways in which the apparently natural categories of male and female are perceived in various cultures, gender studies seek to analyse the processes involved in the development of cultural perceptions of gender. A sub-division of gender studies conducts research into social and legal discrimination in particular cultures against individuals who fail to conform to normative gender-based behaviour models. In this area, research in progress in the department covers the role of women in Puritan colonial America, women’s suffrage movements, early-20th century models of masculinity, or determinants of male and female clothing fashions.
Just as in the case of gender studies, there is no one single approach to questions of race, and indeed perceptions of race differ with cultural perspective. Race studies are particularly interested in the problems of racial discrimination, race as a signifier of otherness, and the difference between the concepts of ethnicity and race.
Ethnic studies deal with inter-cultural relations and also with the dialogue between text and context within particular cultures, for example between Anglo-American culture and other American cultures (Afro-American, Native American, Polish-American, Jewish-American etc.), or between the native cultures of the British Isles and those of other ethnic groups (immigrants from the Indian sub-continent or West Indies).
Social history reconstructs and contextualises the everyday lives of ordinary members of society in the past, making use of class, gender and race as tools for analysis of overall patterns of development.
Cultural history links the disciplines of anthropology and history in order to conduct research into cultural traditions and provide a cultural interpretation of historical experience in the context of the class, religious or political setting. This approach can also entail analysis of the fine arts, ideology, technology or behavioural norms, and raise questions connected with intellectual history and intellectual culture. Cultural history usually concentrates on features which function outside the framework of elite cultures, like carnivals, festivals, public rituals, story-telling, or other forms of expression which exist within the folk tradition.
Cultural historians also deal with individual belief systems, and examine individual self-perception, culture-based perceptions of space or cultural geography, and culture-based perceptions of time.
Work in the Department on art history and theory of art concentrates on the art of Great Britain and the United States of America as well as that of other English-speaking regions, thus covering a period from the early middle ages to the contemporary. Within this framework, research is conducted into the social significance of particular types of artistic expression, like fashion, architecture, sculpture or interior decoration, making use in analysis of the key categories of race, class and gender. Primary significance is attached to placing and interpreting both high and popular art within a social context, as a product of the problems, aspirations and beliefs of the period in which the particular artefact was created.
Cultural anthropology is one of the approaches used in the practice of cultural studies, believing that it is through cultural formations rather than inherited individual characteristics that people adapt to their environment. This approach identifies cultural differences through analysis of family structures, communication strategies, material culture, religion, symbolic culture, art and popular culture.
Cultural geography examines cultural artefacts and norms in the context of their spatial placement. It deals with the ways in which language, religion, economics or political behaviour differ depending on the region or place in which they occur, for example, in terms of the North-South divide, which can be found both in the United States and England.
Culinary culture examines from an historical or sociological perspective the links between cultural identity and different cultures of nutrition, on the assumption that changes in this area reflect social, political and economic change.