Cultural Studies: Meaning-making Essay

Cultural Studies: Meaning-making Essay

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Cultural Studies focuses on two particular systems of meaning-making, i.e. a set of beliefs, ideas, practices, etc. These two systems are Humanism and Poststructuralism.

In particular, Humanism has been extremely important to Western culture’s development, and so has become naturalised. Humanism therefore can be considered to be a ‘common sense’ way of interacting with the world; Poststructuralism was created in response to critically analyse and engage with Humanism. (Sullivan, n.d.)

Humanism is defined by Mansfield and Fuery as “the basic value system of the traditional humanities… most closely associated with the study of human arts and cultures, literature, history, fine arts, philosophy, and languages”. (as cited in Sullivan, n.d., pp.1) This means that humanism is “a human-centered system”. (Sullivan, n.d., pp.2) Humanism is atheistic, it was created in response to the lessening belief in God as the centre of the universe, during the Enlightenment (17th-18th centuries). (Sullivan, n.d.)

Humanism can be considered a type of universalism. Habermas, who Sullivan (n.d.) describes as a ‘common-sense’ style philosopher, argues that at the most basic level humans all share similar characteristics - that is, that we are all human. Therefore our different ethnicities, gender, sexuality, class, etc. is secondary to the fact that we are all human and so are capable of “enlightened progressive thinking”. (Sullivan, n.d., pp.12)

Most importantly in regards to Cultural Studies, Humanism is rooted in dichotomous logic - it operates on a binary level or “a series of oppositions” (Sullivan, n.d., pp.13) of same/opposite or true/not-true. For example, Mind/Body, Reason/Emotion, or Man/Woman. (Sullivan, n.d.; Spencer, 2004)

Cultural Stud...


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...ognitions, comparisons, exclusions, demarcations, divisions, alignments and realignments.” (Spencer, 2004, pp.23)

Cultural Studies aims to engage with Humanist theory, i.e. the natural, common sense way of looking at the world, by using Poststructuralism to disrupt and denaturalise the Humanist view.


Works Cited

Belsey, C. (2002). Post-structuralism: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grosz, E. A. (1994). Volatile bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lewis, J. (2002). The Body. In Cultural studies: The basics (pp. 294-304). London: SAGE Publications.

Spencer, B. (2006). The body as fiction/Fiction as a way of thinking. Ph.D. Thesis. Retrieved from http://www.bethspencer.com/body-as-fiction.html

Sullivan, N. (n.d.). Humanism and Poststructuralism. In Lecture notes. Sydney: Macquarie University.

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