Thursday, June 23, 2005

24. An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture

by John Storey

One thing that I’ve always wanted to do is to keep up on academic social theory in my spare time. I may not have plans to go to grad school, but I did major in sociology for a reason, that reason not being having only 11 class requirements, but being that social theory, especially as it pertains to pop culture, really interests me. Eventually I want to incorporate my sociology background into my writing – this is why I love Bitch Magazine so much – but to do that I really need to be familiar with the major works in pop culture theory. It’s been three years since I graduated and I’ve read, maybe, two books in this area of study. I’m trying to rectify that situation.

John Storey’s An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture is a book that I bought a couple of years ago, hoping to embark on my personal studies, but never really having done so. I was disappointed to find out that the book wasn’t quite what I had expected it to be. It looks like his companion volume, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, is more what I was looking for. I’m used to reading original theoretical texts and studies instead of having them interpreted for me, textbook style, like Storey does here. But, because I had already bought this intro, I decided to read it anyway.

I am happy to say, however, that Storey doesn’t do too bad in his interpretation. He covers many of the fundamental tenets of culture theory – everything from Marxism to Structuralism to Postmodernism – and introduces a wealth of names that have made significant contributions to this study. I was already familiar with quite a bit of this, but it was good to have a refresher and to also pick up some of things I either missed the first time around or have repressed since graduating (this means you, Marx!). Storey devotes an entire chapter to feminism, which I thought was great since this usually falls under the guise of “women’s studies,” and wraps up the end part of the book by talking about popular film, television, and music and fan culture. Storey concludes by discussing cultural populism, which Jim McGuigan defines as “the intellectual assumption, made by some students of popular culture, that the symbolic experiences and practices of ordinary people are more important analytically and politically than Culture with a capital C.” Storey is quick to ascertain that, by this definition, he is a cultural populist. And, by virtue of my interest in pop culture, so am I.

I do believe that reading original texts is far more educational than reading summaries of them, so I’ll probably pick up Storey’s companion volume at some point, but for an introduction, this book isn’t too shabby. I now have a whole list of authors I want to read and modes of social thought that I want to explore. If the passages in the book aren’t too in depth, it’s at least nice to have something that quickly explains theories when I forget them. Instead of leafing through an entire book, I can just reread a paragraph when I want to remember neo-Gramsican thought. I’d still recommend original texts, even for someone who’s just beginning to become involved with culture theory, but this is a nice little pick-me-up and is worth it just the same.

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