Before together under the convenient label of cultural studies.[1]


Before engaging in the different, and the various ways in which Cultural Studies has been given definition, approached, and analyzed. One must first draw upon the debate that Cultural Studies has generated, ever since it has first emerged as a subject of inquiry. To define cultural studies, theorists have acquainted themselves with the fact that such terms are difficult to define, Colin Sparks asserts :

It is not possible to draw a sharp line and say that on one side of it we can find the proper province of cultural studies. Neither is it possible to point to a unified theory or methodology which are characteristic to it or of it. A veritable rag-bag of ideas, methods and concerns from literary criticism, sociology, history, media studies, etc., are lumped together under the convenient label of cultural studies.1

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Sparks views Cultural studies as label which comprehends methods, disciplines and approaches that are lumped together for the object of analyzing culture. Such a definition can be an entry to defining, or answering the question of cultural studies, but at the same time it brings out a new query which is notoriously ambiguous, that of ‘Culture’, a question which is essential to the work of Cultural Studies.

Raymond Williams (1983) refers to culture as ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’. He suggests three broad definitions. The First is culture as a referral to ‘a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development’. A second definition of the word ‘culture’ suggests ‘a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period or a group’. the last definition, Williams suggest that culture can be used to refer to ‘the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity’.2

John Fiske, on another hand, argues that culture in cultural studies is ‘is neither aesthetic nor humanist in emphasis, but political’, referring to Williams’s second definition of culture, understood as the way of life in general.3 Such a definition is seen to be exclusive to the study of popular culture, and reduced to the study of only one major theme, which is popular culture. As a field of study, which is referred to as a vague collection of ideas, methods, and disciplines, cultural studies cannot be limited in the study of popular culture. From the other side, popular culture should be understood as a major aspect studied within the framework of cultural studies.4

Cary Nelson points out ‘people with ingrained contempt for popular culture can never fully understand the cultural studies project’, meaning that the potential of cultural studies goes beyond any narrow vision to the field, to understand a variety of cultural aspects, either social, political, racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, economic, etc.5

Cultural studies then, will always remain difficult to define because it incorporates a range of critical practices that cross disciplinary practices






The notion of poststructuralism is a succeeding one to structuralism, a term which demonstrates a vision of both, understanding and analyzing its predecessor. Poststructuralism acknowledges the aspects and characteristics of structural linguistics; while at the same time argues that these facets are subject to analysis and critique.6      

In short, poststructuralism rejects the idea of an underlying stable structure that founds meaning through fixed binary pairs (black–white; good–bad). Rather, meaning is unstable, being always deferred and in process. Meaning cannot be confined to single words, sentences or particular texts but is the outcome of relationships between texts, that is, intertextuality.7

That is, as explained by Barker “poststructugralism deconstructs the very notion of the stable structures of language”8, poststructuralism goes beyond the forming grounds of structuralism and rejects the fundamental structures on which its latter are based. Poststructuralism is a line of theory that emphasizes the instability of language, and argues that meaning can never be limited to only lajnguage and terminology, but it is an outcome of relationships between texts, also referred to as “intertextuality”, a term coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966.9

The major theoretical foundations of poststructuralism are Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva. However, this line of theory cannot be regarded as a united body of work, since each of these theorists embarks on a different emphasis. Derrida’s application concerns language, and the deconstruction of the identity between the signifier and the signified.10 

Derrida accepts Saussure’s argument that meaning is generated by relations of difference between signifiers rather than by reference to an independent object world. However, for Derrida, the consequence of this play of signifiers is that meaning can never be fixed. Words carry many meanings, including the echoes or traces of other meanings from other related words in other contexts.11

Barker argues that Derrida’s claim concerns the instability of meaning. Derrida absorbs De Saussure’s argument, which implies that meaning is constructed through the relations of difference between the binary oppositions of words that undergird our ways of thinking (presence/absence, speech/writing, and so forth.), however, he also argues that these relations at play can carry, generate, or regenerate other meanings from other interconnected words, depending on the context. The best example to enhance Derrida’s argument would be searching for the meaning of a word in a dictionary; this act of exploration will take one to an infinite course of deferral.12

Barker asserts that Derrida’s argument suggests that we only think in signs; signs that circulate within a matrix of relations that construct meaning under the framework of ‘representation’. Derrida also states that “there is nothing outside of texts or nothing but texts”, an idea that recommends that the constitutive human practices is the fundamental aspect through which textual meaning is produced.13



1 John Storey, What is Cultural Studies? A Reader, “Cultural studies: an introduction”, (Arnold), 1996, Web, p.1

2 John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, 5th Edition, (Pearson), 2011

3 John Storey, What is Cultural Studies? A Reader, p. 1

4 John Storey, What is Cultural Studies? A Reader, p. 2

5 John Storey, What is Cultural Studies? A Reader, p. 2

6 Chris Barker, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, (SAGE Publications), 2007, p. 12

7 Chris Barker, p. 18

8 Chris Barker, p. 18

9 Intertextuality is a term first introduced by French poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in the late sixties. It is a way of accounting for the role of literary and extra-literary materials without recourse to traditional notions of authorship. It subverts the concept of the text as self-sufficient, hermetic totality, foregrounding, in its stead, the fact that all literary production takes place in the presence of other texts

10 Chris Barker, p. 18

11 Chris Barker, p. 18

12 Chris Barker, p. 18

13 Chris Barker, p. 18


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