Literary Theory

Key Terms

Transdisciplinary- relating to more than one branch of knowledge; interdisciplinary.

Mass Culture - the culture that is widely disseminated via the mass media culture - the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group

Heteronormativedenoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.

Key People

Roland Barthes

Walter Benjamin

Susan Bordo

Michel Foucault

Stuart Hall

Edward Said

Raymond Williams

Antonio Gramsci

Judith Halberstam

Donna Haraway

Slavoj Zizek

Key Works

Cultural Studies



Cultural Studies has been influenced by many of the other theories found on this guide. It arose as an effort to apply literary theory to new forms of entertainment, media and cultural expression that emerged from the 1980s, in particular, those texts associated with mass culture such as advertising, publishing, television, film, computers and the internet. Cultural Studies defies a traditionalist approach to criticism and can be seen as transdisciplinary, bringing together a range of critical thought to a range of different cultural forms. Moreover, Cultural Studies may explore examples of hegemony, and look at the ‘whole’ text, such as its publications (including relations to profits), its reviewers, its academic field of criticism, the politics of awards and the hype of publicity machinery that sells the text. Texts therefore can be explored as part of a discourse that reinforces certain ideological values and identities, which may conceal oppressive conditions of heteronormative, capitalist, and patriarchal ideas of the nation, nationalism, and national identity. As such Cultural Studies is often focused on how texts can be understood in relation to the politics and ideology that define contemporary culture.

What Cultural Studies Critiques do

They examine reality as a social construction, exploring ways in which assumptions about the world are built through consensus, conventions and expected norms.

They also look at identity as a social construction, exploring how historical and political process have come to influence the development of various cultural identities, including those of gender, race, sexuality, nationhood, and ethnicity.

They connect assumptions about reality and identity to different ways texts can be interpreted.

The highlight the ways in which marginalised and subaltern identities may perceive various texts, often placing these perspectives in opposition to hegemonic or dominant readings of texts.

They challenge the literary canon by privileging cultural forms and expressions that may not be considered ‘worth’ analysing by other theorists.

What Questions to Cultural Studies Critiques ask

What kinds of behaviour, what models of practice, does this work seem to reinforce?

Why might readers at a particular time and place find this work compelling?

Upon what social understanding does the work depend?

Whose freedom of thought or movement might be constrained implicitly or explicitly by this work?

What are the larger social structures with which these particular acts of praise or blame might be connected?

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