Laurie Taylor looks back at 50 years of cultural studies, established with the founding of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964.
Fifty years after Richard Hoggart established Cultural Studies with the founding of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Laurie Taylor takes a personal look at what this new discipline has given us -- taking cultural studies out of the academy to ask: has it really narrowed the separation between high and low culture, or just been an excuse for soap fans to write dissertations on Coronation Street?
Founded with money donated by Penguin following the Lady Chatterley trial, the idea of the CCCS was to move away from traditional cultural thinking, which emphasized the importance of "high culture," toward a focus on contemporary "lived experience" and popular culture. So out went a preoccupation with the Great Tradition, and in came a theory-infused approach to pop music and soap operas.
Society was changing. There needed to be a response to the explosion in leisure and popular culture in the post-war period and it took outsiders -- Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and the slightly younger Stuart Hall -- to identify what these new appetites could tell us about changes in the wider society.
The aim in refocusing on mass media and popular song was to develop a critical language that would spread throughout society. It was of absolute importance that people were able to arm themselves against peddlers of rubbish. It mattered to those founders that people be able to look at a magazine or a soap and work out whether it had been produced out of sincere enthusiasm or cynicism.
In the intervening years, culture has been radically democratised -- via tabloids, TV and the internet -- and it's cultural studies that provided the critical tools to understand that. But has it really made us any more savvy about what's being sold to us, culturally?
Featuring: Christopher Frayling, Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, Lynsey Hanley, Matthew Hilton, Owen Jones, Caspar Melville, Angela McRobbie and Paul Willis.
Producer: Martin Williams.
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