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Who Needs Cultural Research?

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Submitted By thoompilbinu
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WHO NEEDS CULTURAL RESEARCH?
The massive lack of public understanding of what contemporary humanities scholarship entails becomes painfully clear to me when I am asked by, say, the hairdresser, what I do. As part of my ongoing fieldwork, I generally decide to tell the truth. “I am a university teacher,” I say. “Oh,” would be the answer, “what do you teach?” I take a deep breath and say: “Cultural Studies.” What follows is usually a big silence. Conversation closed. And the hairdresser is not the only one who is embarrassed. She (or he) probably feels very ignorant because she doesn’t know what I’m talking about, while I feel bad about making her feel that way and feel hopelessly cut off from what she stands for: the general public.
Part of the silence is related to a general unawareness of the complex meanings of the term “culture” itself. For most people, “culture” is extraordinary, set apart from daily life. It is either synonymous to art, something elevated and lofty, or refers to “other people” such as migrants or Aborigines. In other words, culture is either aesthetics or anthropology, and has nothing to do with their own lives. In the academic world, what is now called “cultural studies” has revolutionised the study of culture in contemporary society, by doing away with the separation between aesthetics and anthropology. “Culture” in cultural studies relates to the production and negotiation of meaning and value, and this is an ongoing, plural, often conflictive process taking place in all dimensions of social activity, be it at the workplace, in education, the media, in international relations, even in the hairdresser’s salon. Culture is neither institutions nor texts nor behaviours, but the complex interactions between all of these. In other words, culture is not only very ordinary, to speak with Raymond Williams, it is also fundamentally practical and…...

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