Cultural Theory

Module Leader:
Ádám Kornél Havas
2016-2017 Autumn
Social Sciences

It is commonly held among scholars of various fields that cultural theory traverses many disciplines, from philosophy through psychology, history and (cultural) sociology. Therefore, the aim of this module is to provide a pluralistic view of the main approaches. Our endeavour has its roots in the Enlightenment era, when core social, cultural and aesthetic issues emerged that are associated with the rise of modernism; the aesthetic consequences of the mechanical reproduction of artworks, the creation of a ‘culture industry’, or the (now outdated) dichotomy of elite and mass, high and popular culture are typical examples. By interpreting the carefully selected, eclectic readings of seminal authors belonging to fields such as psychoanalysis (Freud), aesthetics (Schiller), critical sociology (Adorno-Horkheimer), the Birmingham school (Hoggart), post-structuralism (Bourdieu) and interpretative anthropology (Geertz), the module provides a meaningful account of the problematics present in the field. Special attention is placed on the paradigm shift from the ‘disinterested pure aesthetics’ to the socially constructed cultural forms and practices by contrasting the theories of post-cultural turn scholars with earlier, Kantian aesthetics. By the end of the module, students will both be able to orientate themselves in the labyrinth of cultural theories – by designating the major problems marking the field – and be familiar with empirical methods that play an important role in the paradigm alchemy of the (cultural) sociology of late modernity. Following Stuart Hall’s admonition that “The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency”, students are encouraged to interchange critical remarks on the key texts, both in the form of discussions and in written essays. The broader list of recommended literature aims to supplement the chosen articles, and to correct any possible unwilling ambiguities committed by the module leader during the selection of the course literature. The learning outcome is twofold: on the one hand, as students are expected to debate the main arguments of the studied texts, they become more experienced in theoretical debates based on the relevant bibliography; on the other hand, the empirical orientation of the module leader – a (cultural) sociologist himself – will be emphasised through the study (and discussion) of sociological texts in the final 2-3 sessions, offering students the opportunity to become acquainted with how the construction of cultural theories and paradigms are studied by means of empirical methods.