A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Aesthetics: Theories about (the study of) taste and notions of beauty; term allied to broad range of debates concerning 'art', 'literature', etc., and cultural value.

Aesthetic (Pure) gaze: Term associated with Pierre Bourdieu. Looking at / perceiving 'art' in terms of its form as opposed to its function. The term is made more meaningful in the context of the opposite term: the naïve gaze of popular culture (as opposed to the (so-called) appreciation of 'art').

Americanisation: The assimilation of American culture, can be viewed in positive and negative terms. Example, the appearance of McDonalds food franchises across the world.

Articulation: Used in neo-Gramscian cultural studies to suggest that texts do not mean anything outside of the articulations (expressions and connections) of different voices and groups. Such 'articulation' adds to the meanings of the text. Term used in association with 'structure' (issues which might shape or determine the text; e.g. context of production) and 'agency' (factors connected to the subject's own use of the text; e.g. context of consumption and use of text). See the work of Stuart Hall.

Aura: Meaning of term also associated with Walter Benjamin; the aura of a text/practice is its sense of authenticity, authority, autonomy and distance. Term also used in order to differentiate texts associated with mass technological reproduction.

Authentic culture: Term associated with Frankfurt School, referring to art/culture whose purpose is different to texts/practices associated with the culture industry and mass produced popular culture. Authentic culture displays 'the defeated possibilities, the hopes unfulfilled, and the promises betrayed' (Marcuse).

Avant-garde: Writers, musicians, artists whose texts/practices are seen to influence or be in advance of (vanguard) other trends in music, writing, art, etc.

Back to the top


Base-superstructure: Both terms associated (initially) with classical Marxist theory. The 'base' refers to the economy and modes of production (e.g. feudal, capitalist). The 'superstructure' refers to the social, cultural, legal and other arrangements which operate in relation to a particular economic base. For example, compare the social and political institutions of a feudal economy with those institutions which are seen to typify late twentieth-century Western economies.

Binary oppositions: The term is associated with structuralist and poststructuralist theory. For example, the oppositions 'culture-nature' and 'urban-rural' are words/concepts which placed in binary opposition. Some theorists (e.g. Derrida) would argue that all writing is based around binary oppositions - oppositions which 'structure' our thinking about culture. See the work of Barthes; de Saussure.

Bourgeois(ie): The social class which emerged and expanded in relation to capitalist modes of production; the middle class. Term is understood in relation to the 'aristocracy' (land-owning class) and 'proletariat' (working class). Class also linked to notions of dominant class (the class in a position to exercise power and control) as well as ideology (see later entry). See also the work of Marx.

Bricolage: Term often associated with youth and subcultures. Products are combined and transformed in ways not intended by their producers; commodities are rearticulated to produce 'oppositional' meanings. See the work of Dick Hebdige and his readings of punk and other subcultures.

Back to the top


Carnival(esque): Term associated with the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Medieval carnivals were often typified by behaviour considered 'grotesque', outrageous, transgressive, anarchic, etc. Moreover, excess (in relation to bodily pleasures) and non-conformity (in relation to morals and expected behaviour) are also central aspects of carnival cultures. Features of carnivalesque and wrestling are studied by John Fiske.

Cultural field (as opposed to financial/economic field): Term associated with the work of John Fiske. The commodities from which popular culture is made circulate in two simultaneous economies, the financial and the cultural. Thus, the cultural field refers to the meanings and pleasures (as opposed to simply economic factors) associated with commodities.

Compulsory heterosexuality: Term associated with the work of Adrienne Rich (and Judith Butler). Used in order to indicate the degree to which opposite-sex relations have come to be seen as dominant and natural - as if 'compulsory'. All other forms of sexual behaviour are seen to be deviations from the 'norm' of compulsory heterosexuality.

Connotation: The word 'red', for instance, refers to a colour. Similarly, 'blue', 'green' and 'yellow' point to the colour spectrum. However, all of these words have other meanings attached to them and which connote (that is: suggest, allude to) other meanings. 'Red', for example, also refers to broadly left-wing political groupings. However, in British political history, red has often been used negatively in order to connote 'anti-British' sentiment. See the work of Roland Barthes. See also ideology below.

Conscious: The component of waking awareness perceptible by a person at any given instant. (See also pre-conscious, subconscious and unconscious.)

Back to the top


Deconstruction: Binary oppositions (e.g. masculine-feminine) often operate in cultures on the basis of the assumed privilege of one term. An aim of deconstruction is to call into question this hierarchy, to deconstruct its apparently natural logic. 'Masculine' will be seen to be not more natural or privileged than the supposed dependent term 'feminine'. One of the effects of this simple deconstruction is to cast doubt on the association feminine is to woman and masculine is to man. See the work of Derrida; Butler.

Denotation (see also connotation): The word 'letter', for instance, denotes two meanings; an item in an alphabet and a written composition sent to specific second party.
'Red', on the other hand, denotes a colour but also connotes other meanings. See also the work of Barthes.

Diachronic: An approach to language study which investigates (changes in) meaning in relation to temporal and historical factors. See the work of de Saussure.

Discourse: Relates to the work of Foucault. In his writings the term is not just another word for speaking but a historically located practice that generates power relations. Discourses, which are bound up with knowledge (e.g. discourses of sexuality or gender) exist in and support institutions and groups.

Back to the top


Economic determinism: Proposes that the economic base, in the final analysis, determines all other aspects of human cultures. The 'superstructure' is thus relegated to a marginal place in economistic models.

Ego: The division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behaviour, and is most in touch with external reality. (See also id and superego.)

Ethnography: Ethnographic research in cultural studies 'takes as its object of study the lived experience which breathes life into [the] ..... inanimate objects [the commodities supplied by the culture industries]' (Angela McRobbie). Research which, in part, focuses on respondents' articulations, practices, experiences and interpretations of culture and society.

Exchange value: value placed on a commodity in the financial (as opposed to the cultural or semiotic) domain.

Back to the top


False consciousness: Used in relation to ideology and social class. Refers to the ways in which some texts present distorted images of reality - a false consciousness of the world. Such distortions work in favour of the dominant class. See ideology below. See also the work of Marx.

Female gaze: Used in relation to Mulvey's work of the 'male gaze'. Used to mean ways of looking/viewing which connect with issues of gender. For Mulvey the male gaze refers to how the male spectator fixes his gaze on the hero (the bearer of the look) through to the heroine (the erotic look).

Feminism: Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes and the movements organized around this belief, for example radical feminism, post feminism.

Financial economy: See cultural field above; see exchange value above.

Forces of production: In Marxist theory this term refers to the raw materials, tools, technology, and workers required in order for any economy to function. See base-superstructure above.

Freud, Sigmund: Austrian founder of psychoanalysis. His psychoanalytic theories profoundly influenced 20th-century thought.

Back to the top


Genealogy: A term in the work of Foucault. His examination of discourse and knowledge suggests that there is no single, causal or linear route which allows us to see how knowledge is 'put together' in discourse. Rather, he suggests that discourse and knowledge are very localised, relational and discontinuous.

Globalisation: Economic, social or cultural growth to a global or worldwide scale.

Grounded aesthetics: Term associated with Paul Willis (form work of Bourdieu), referring to the process through which people make cultural sense of the world: 'the ways in which the received natural and social world is made human; [....] the creative element in a process whereby meanings are attributed to symbols and practices' (Willis).

Grotesque: See carnivalesque.

Back to the top


Hegemony: Term associated with the work of Antonio Gramsci, referring to the way in which dominant groups in society, through processes of intellectual/moral leadership, seek to win the consent of subordinate groups in society. Hegemony theory, especially as deployed by neo-Gramscian cultural theorists, stresses process of incorporation and resistance in the cultural field. Moreover, texts, practices and commodities have to be made to mean; texts do not mean anything outside the conflictual context in which meanings are articulated/contested. See also articulation above; bricolage above.

Hermeneutics: Term used in order to stress interpretative strategies and meaning in relation to cultural texts. Although initially associated with Biblical (and latterly, literary) scholarship, the term is associated with perspectives in cultural studies which emphasise how texts mean and signify in different cultural contexts.

Hyperrealism: Used in relation to postmodernism and the work of Jean Baudrillard. In postmodern world, according to Baudrillard, the 'real' and the imaginary continually collapse into each other. The result is that reality and simulation are experienced as without difference - operating on a roller-coaster continuum.

Back to the top


Id: The division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands. (See also ego and superego.)

Ideological State Apparatus (ISA): Coined by Louis Althusser, and refers to the ways institutions of the state (education, religion, the media, organised politics) operate to structure and constrain subjects. Education, for example, is not outside of the ideology of the same state which finances and resources educational provision.

Ideology: (a) Views, beliefs, values and opinions of a particular group or class; systematised body of ideas; (b) material practices (e.g. holidays; the celebration of Christmas); (c) ideological forms (as in the way texts offer a particular view or (distorted) perspective of the world; (d) see also connotation above. See the work of Marx; Althusser; Gramsci.

Imaginary: Associated with the work of Lacan and the processes of subject (self) formation. A realm of images in which we make identifications. However, in the process of identification we are also led to misrecognise ourselves. The individual subject is constructed out of images which are used to generate a sense of unitary selfhood. See also lack and mirror phase.

Interpellation: Taken from the work of Althusser and refers to the ways in which texts and institutions seem to 'speak to', 'hail' or 'address' subjects as unique individuals. Adverts, for example, seem to interpellate/address subjects in specific ways (especially the direct address 'You!'). Interpellation also operates alongside ideology (e.g. the capitalist notion of the unique individual). See the work of Judith Williamson.

Intertextuality: Initially associated with the work of Barthes (and Foucault). Refers to the ways a particular text cannot be seen a the pure medium of authorial intention. Rather, a text is a space of many writings, sources and quotations, with many allusions and references, all of which blend and clash. The text is thus inseparable from the active process of its many readings.

Back to the top


Back to the top


Back to the top


Lacan: French psychiatrist who interpreted Freud's theories. His theoretical work departed greatly from Freud's.

Lack: The work of Lacan argues that all subjects are born into a state of lack. This lack (separation from the union with the mother) forces subjects to overcome the condition, resulting in an endless quest in search of an imagined moment of plenitude. See also mirror phase and imaginary.

Langue: Refers to the system of language - the rules and conventions by which we make meanings in any language. Also relates to structure - the frameworks which enable any particular performance. See also connected term under parole. See de Saussure and Barthes.

Back to the top


Male gaze: See female gaze above.

Metanarratives: In the context of the book, this term refers to descriptions of culture and society which also offer totalising explanations (grand narratives) of how the 'world' came to be in its current condition. Metanarratives (Lyotard used the term to index Marxism, religions, science) are said to make claims to truth which in the sceptical postmodern era are called into question. Postmodernism also casts doubt on the homogenising and universalising tendencies of all metanarratives.

Mirror phase: Term associated with Lacan, referring to the child's desire to construct a sense of self. Looking in the mirror (real or imagined) we begin to recognise ourselves as separate individuals - as a subject that looks and object that is looked at. Importantly for Lacan, the mirror phase is also the moment of entry into an order of subjectivity which Lacan calls the imaginary (above).

Myths: In cultural studies, the term is closely connected to the work of early structuralists and Barthes. In addition to being forms of communication and expression, myths make the world explicable, resolve its problems and contradictions. Next to ideology, myths can make the world of history and culture seem natural and inevitable.

Back to the top


Back to the top


Oedipus complex: A psychoanalytical complex of males; desire to possess the mother sexually and to exclude the father. Can be reversed to be appropriate to female desire.

Organic intellectuals: In Gramscian studies, the organic intellectual is the intellectual who is created by her/his class. Organic intellectuals function as class organisers. Gramsci defines the organic intellectual as one who has the function of providing leadership of a cultural and general ideological nature. See also hegemony.

Orientalism: In the work of Edward Said (see also discourse), orientalism refers to the principal way of dealing with the Orient - making statements about it, describing it, teaching it etc. Orientalism is a western discourse whose effects include the Western domination of the Orient.

Other(ness): In discourses of race, gender, and sexuality, for example, one term in a binary opposition has often been figured as the privileged term. For example, 'white' is often seen as an 'un-marked' term. 'Black', on the other hand, is seen to be marked, 'ethnic' and thus different or other. In fact, White is also marked and also ethnic, but the historical/ideological privilege accorded to 'white' has made some discourses (in this case 'black') seem separate and 'other'. Similar privileging occurs in relation to other terms (e.g. feminine, female, homosexual; 'popular' culture, etc.).

Back to the top


Parody: To copy, ridicule and to mock. Term is often linked to debates about postmodernism. See the work of Frederic Jameson.

Parole: Refers to individual utterance in language. De Saussure uses a game of chess to explain his point. The actual game you play (parole) is not possible outside of the conventions which structure and enable the game to be played in the first instance.

Pastiche: If parody, according to Jameson, is thought to have an ulterior motive, pastiche is a form of blank parody (an empty copy), without intention or motive. Pastiche blends and imitates elements of prior versions of texts/commodities - but without obvious aim to mock or critique the original. Jameson suggests postmodern culture is typified more by pastiche than it is by parody.

Performative: Initially used in speech act theory but re-worked by Butler. The term is used to describe the way in which gender is produced as an effect of specific regimes, discourses and regulations. Rather than being innate or essentially biological, gender is performative to the degree that it is always repeated, ritualised and performed.

Political economy (of culture): The term is also associated with the work of critic Jim McGuigan. Political economy stresses the primacy of economic determinations in the production of culture. The consumption of culture (meanings, semiotics, use of commodity) is seen to be less important than the structures of production in the economy. See cultural field; forces of production.

Polysemy: The term is also connected to semiotics. Polysemy - that signs and texts are able to signify in multiple ways. The sign/text is open to more than one reading. See the work of Barthes.

Populism: Terms generally refers to an uncritical drift in cultural theory and the study of popular culture. Popular culture is so liked and so popular, and so it must be okay and right to study its texts. McGuigan sees cultural populism as the 'intellectual assumption - that the symbolic experiences and practices of ordinary people are more important analytically and politically than Culture with a capital C'.

Pre-conscious: Memories or feelings that are not part of one's immediate awareness but that can be recalled through conscious effort. (See also conscious, subconscious and unconscious.)

Psychoanalysis: The theory of personality developed by Freud that focuses on repression and unconscious forces and includes the concepts of infantile sexuality, resistance, transference, and division of the psyche into the id, ego, and superego. Often split between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Psyche: The mind functioning as the centre of thought, emotion, and behaviour. Consciously or unconsciously adjusting/mediating the body's responses to the social and physical environment.

Back to the top


Queer: Used as noun, adjective and verb, and increasingly associated with studies of sexuality. Rather than the (seemingly) fixed identity categories 'lesbian', 'gay' or 'straight', queer points to diverse experiences of pleasure, desire and sexuality in all subjects. See the work of Butler.

Back to the top


Relations of production: In Marxist theory refers to the class relations which result in operation of any economy. For example, a slave mode of production generates master-slave relations; a capitalist mode of production generates bourgeoisie and proletariat relations. See base-superstructure above; see forces of production above.

Repressive State Apparatus (RSA): Althusser suggests that ideology is institutional, informing and structuring the operations of political administrations, media, art, etc. When such ideological state apparatuses fail to win the consent of subjects, then states will use repressive measures - where RSA refers to police force, army, prison system, etc.

Repression: An internal (often defensive) system that protects you from impulses or ideas that would cause anxiety by preventing them from becoming conscious.

Resistance: Used in Gramscian cultural studies to underscore the ways in which texts and commodities are not simply passively consumed but are sites in which meanings are questioned, contested and resisted. See the work of Hebdige; Fiske; Storey; see also subcultures.

Back to the top


Scopophilia: The desire to watch. Closely linked with voyeuristic desire.

Semiotics: Associated with the work of structuralists, particularly Barthes and de Saussure. The terms refers to the investigation of the meanings of signs and sign systems.

Sign: According to de Saussure, the sign is composed of a signifier and a signified. When we write/speak the word 'cat' what is produced is a written inscription of sound. What is also produced is a mental concept/picture of 'cat'. The concept refers to the signified whereas the written/spoken element refers to the signifier.

Signification: The processes and production of meaning -to signify something, to use signs.

Simulacrum: An identical copy for which there is no original. See the work of Baudrillard.

Simulation: Associated with the work of Baudrillard: 'The generation by models of a real without origins or reality. Simulations, according to Baudrillard, can often be experienced as more real than so-called 'reality'.

Subconscious: The part of the mind below the level of conscious perception. (See also conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious.)

Subculture: The term is used to refer to groups within, or subdivisions of, a dominant, national or parent culture. Subcultures are typified by a sense of integrated social and personal networks, beliefs, attitudes and rituals. Subcultures are also marked by their resistance to the norms and values of commercial cultures. See the work of Hebdige; Storey.

Superego: The division of the unconscious that is formed through the internalization of moral standards of society. It censors and restrains the ego. (See also ego and id.)

Back to the top


Text: The term is used in cultural studies to refer to any arrangement of signs. In that sense, a ticket for a train journey is as much a text as a Mills and Boon fiction.

Back to the top


Unconscious: The division of the mind in psychoanalytic theory containing elements of psychic makeup, such as memories or repressed desires - often affect conscious thoughts and behaviour. (See also conscious, pre-conscious and subconscious.)

Use value: The values attached to the use of a commodity or (cultural) product/commodity. See exchange value; also Marx.

Back to the top


Value: The term is used in cultural studies in order to stress the ways in which texts are valued in terms of their meanings, use, exchange and circulation. See also cultural field; exchange value.

Back to the top


Back to the top


Back to the top


Youth subculture: The term, allied to subcultures, stresses 'age' and/or generational difference as a defining feature of the group.

Back to the top


Back to the top

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Copyright © 1995-2006 Pearson Education. All rights reserved.
Legal and Privacy Notice
Pearson Education