What is Cultural Studies (and Why Should I Care?)?

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Have you ever witnessed people being dismissed because of the way they dress or how they speak, or found yourself making snap judgments about others based on the TV shows they watch or the kinds of music they enjoy listening to?

Or possibly you’ve wondered why some consider graffiti to be an art form while others view it as an act of vandalism? And what about such things as yarn bombing or the slow food movement? Believe it or not, if you find yourself trying to make sense of topics such as these, you are already “doing” Cultural Studies!

There are many reasons wworldmaphy Cultural Studies remains a vibrant and compelling field. Characterized by interdisciplinary approaches from its inception, the roots of cultural studies are nourished by scholarship from both the Humanities and Social Sciences and its objects of study include both textual representations, and cultural practices. However Cultural Studies does not simply consider these as aesthetic objects or random events somehow divorced from the world around them. Rather they are seen as manifestations of how culture both shapes and expresses our individual and collective identities, often doing so without our conscious knowledge.

In the MA-IS Program, the Cultural Studies focus area features course offerings that span a variety of disciplinary approaches and reflect a range of subject areas. From ethnobiology (Anthropology 591), which explores traditional approaches to understanding and relating to nature, to a course such as MAIS638 that looks at how language and discourses sometimes disguise the truth, there is much intriguing and relevant material to choose from. Perhaps you know someone who has been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and this has led you to wonder how historical and cultural contexts played a role in this far-from-simple and seriously disabling condition? MAIS662: Mourning and Trauma focuses on exactly these kinds of issues. And for those interested in the improbable-seeming connections between culture and criminality, MAIS626: Art and Crime is definitely the course for you.

Finally, Cultural Studies intersects with other MA-IS focus areas such as Equity Studies, Global Change and Educational Studies in part because, before we can act to bring about change, or address questions of social justice, we need to recognize that many of the phenomena we encounter in our daily lives, while appearing natural are, in reality, cultural constructs. In short, Cultural Studies provides us with the imaginative and analytical tools with which to read our world.

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