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Washington State University
College of Education

Cultural Studies Theoretical Framework

Overview and theoretical framework

The theoretical framework that guides this Ph.D emphasis has its roots in the academic discipline of Cultural Studies and also draws from a range of related socially oriented perspectives such as sociology, anthropology and literary studies. Our program of study and our expectations for students and for faculty are framed by culture as the concrete practice of everyday life and as a process of meaning making that is deserving of concerted intellectual investigation and concrete social action. While there are many different definitions of culture and Cultural Studies our program is grounded in a few assumptions that are outlined below

Culture and cultural meaning is the starting point

Culture, Raymond Williams argues, is one of the most complex and dynamic words in the English language. Consequently, stating a simple and unambiguous definition of culture is a near impossible task. Culture may refer to the architecture of meanings, practices and artifacts that define the life-world of an identifiable group of people or it may concern the logic of meaning production in the consumption of electronic media. In Cultural Studies culture is not a hard and fast readily definable concept, but exists as an intellectual problem and constant source of questioning.

Culture reveals and maintains relationships of power

In Cultural Studies, culture may be defined in various ways but at the center are relationships of power. Culture manifests and maintains a complex array of power differentials that shape people, ideas and environments, and inevitably privilege some individuals and groups and disadvantage others. Understanding how power works through and within cultural relationships is the defining element of Cultural Studies. The work of Cultural Studies is to reveal the working of power in its many facets for the purpose of addressing and ameliorating the pernicious effects of power in human cultural relationships.

Education is a process of cultural practice, cultural production and cultural change

Education, whether it takes place in the formal settings of schools and museums or the informal contexts of home and the movie theater is defined by its cultural context. Cultural Studies takes these cultural contexts as the essential starting point to build research projects and define teaching practices. As a cultural practice education is a system of personal and collective organization of experience; as cultural production education is the act of articulating, shaping and transforming established cultural practices and meanings.

Cultural Studies generates cross disciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary intellectual work

The intellectual identity of Cultural Studies is its conscious crossing of disciplinary boundaries that often define intellectual work at a university. Cultural Studies purposefully draws from the social sciences, humanities and arts to identify and examine the multifaceted issues of culture in contemporary society. While often theoretical in nature, intellectual work in cultural studies is grounded in the life experiences and material conditions of many different educational contexts.