Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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Culture is a deep and fascinating topic, but a dirty little secret of academia is that there are two words used to signal subjects and courses for the not-so-bright kids: one is “Studies” and the other is “for.” (As in “Math FOR Economists,” a course that I once took that was – I’m sure of it – greatly dumbed down from what Math majors learned. “Economics FOR Business Majors” is a more widely known example; it’s Economics for people who are afraid of equations and who can’t figure out which way is up on a supply and demand curve.) So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a guide to “Cultural Studies,” as opposed to a book about, say, Cultural Anthropology, which I believe is the big-boy pants version of the discipline under discussion.
The author is forthright that cultural studies is a bit amorphous and that it struggles to find its place amid the established disciplines that touch upon culture from varying perspectives (i.e. psychology, philosophy, anthropology, etc.) The book begins before there was a “Cultural Studies,” per se, discussing competing definitions of culture and related precursor disciplines, e.g. semiotics. It then describes the evolution of the subject and its varied points of focus and ideas across its major epicenters: Europe, North America, Australia, and South Asia. It investigates colonization and its influence on indigenous cultures, and it looks at how a range of concepts intersect with culture, including: science, technology, race, gender, sexuality, and media. It concludes by reflecting on globalization and the discontents who wish to end or replace this homogenizing force.
I did learn quite a few new things from this book, and if you’re looking to understand culture as a landscape of academic study, it’s worth having a look at it.
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