Our First Canvas Post
In the past, I had students do weekly Canvas posts to reflect on the readings or class discussions of the week. We’re changing it up and having Fridays be discussion days and in-class, informal writing days. However, I want you to do a quick post for two reasons:
1) to get to know the varied interests of the class and
2) to have you post in Canvas to make sure you don’t have any issues.
There’s a one-week time limit on this one (have it done by August 30th). Below are the details, and Ms. Rogers and I will have our responses up. We’ll go over those in class if we have time.
Vocabulary for Discussing Culture
These are important terms to know when talking about culture. Sometimes we (English professors) use different terms interchangeably, but the definitions below are good for our purposes in this class. They might not be the exact definitions your fields adhere to, but, knowing there are slight differences, allows you to (re)consider how a person from a certain discipline comes to knowledge.
- Ideology: prevailing cultural/institutional attitudes, beliefs, norms, attributes, practices, and myths that are said to drive a society. Members of a culture (or subculture) aren’t devoid of ideology. Take a look at the OED Online’s 1st and 4th definitions.
- Hegemony: the ways or results of a dominant group’s (the hegemon) influence over other groups in a society or region. The dominant group dictates, consciously or unconsciously, how society must be structured and how other groups must “buy into” the structure. For example, the former Soviet Union was the hegemonic power influencing the communist countries of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
- Systemic: (adjective) pertaining to an entire system, institution, or object; something ‘systemic’ cannot be removed from the system.
- Rhetoric: the ability to perceive the available means of persuasion (Aristotle), or the ways in which meanings are conveyed.
- Epistemology: “a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.”
- Genre: literary or other textual products “with certain conventions and patterns that, through repetition, have become so familiar that [audiences] expect similar elements in the works of the same type” (Dick, p. 112).
- Illusion: “false or misleading representation of reality.”
- Privilege: (as a verb) to grant something a special right or status; to value something over another. An economist privileges a worldview that believes individuals make decisions based on maximizing self interest.
- Ambiguity: “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention.”
The last word, ambiguity, is extremely important for this type of class. Unlike assumptions of other disciplines, we’re not searching for material to plug into an equation. Most answers will be contextual–they will depend on the situation. Not all ideas are black and white, but we often absorb information from speakers that, rhetorically, present ideas as black and white. You should be ready to leave class with more questions than answers. That doesn’t mean you leave saying, “what was that all about?” Instead, you leave being able to ask smarter questions. A more informed person and one able to deal with ambiguity, will be able to ask smarter questions.
Asimov’s “A Cult of Ignorance”
Let’s discuss the article you read for today. Areas to start or get to…
- Right to know
- Credibility and trust
- Reading scores
- Drop in magazine readership
- “true concept of democracy”
Introduction to Cultural Studies
How to think about science fiction from a cultural studies perspective.
Culture: “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group” (dictionary.com’s 5th definition).
- American Culture
- Southern Culture
- Youth Culture
- Business Culture
Take a look at the OED Online’s 6th and 7th definitions. (Must sign in through Atkins Library if you’re off campus.)
It’s important to repeat the definition of Ideology: prevailing attitudes, beliefs, myths, and ideas that seem collectively to guide individuals in a society. Ideology is often invisible. In fact, popular media claim something is “ideological” when they mean “biased” in general.
Simply put, studying culture. Having a cultural studies lens means one looks at ideas, values, movements, society in general as being mediated be prevailing characteristics of a group (often on a large scale). This approach attempts to find (or read) the meanings of artifacts (ideas, technologies, and texts—including literature, film, music, etc.) as products of the cultures from which they come. There’s a social demand for new science and technology. Of course, initial reasons for researching a science or developing a technology can change based on how consumers use the technologies in ways not intended by inventors.
No artifact or idea is created in a vacuum—devoid of external influence. Scientists, engineers, authors and the materials they create are products of the characteristics of their culture, which includes the culture’s moment in time. Although we can’t identify universally essential features of each individual, we can argue (and support) what appear to be prevailing values of a culture. Unlike analysis that aims to “unlock” meaning based on an individual’s life (e.g. psychoanalysis), a cultural studies perspective interprets individual and group actions as primarily influenced by culture. People don’t like to hear this because it emphasizes that we’re really just herd animals.
There are other types of interpretations of science fiction. We’ll be privileging a social science fiction approach. One thing to remember is that in the Humanities, we don’t consider any one discipline having THE answer. Instead, we arrive at answers based on the questions we ask, which are mediated by our disciplinary epistemologies. Cultural Studies is inherently interdisciplinary because it borrows methods of interpretation from a variety of disciplines: History, Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology, and others. In this class, when we focus on actual sciences and technologies (as opposed to speculative fiction), we’ll mostly consider science and technology from historical and sociological perspectives—time period and society, respectively.
Time permitting, we’ll discuss this article on Dark Matter. Specifically, I want to demonstrate the imagination that scientists have when approaching, speculating upon their research.
Make sure you read Isaac Asimov’s short story “Reason” and Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies–” before coming to class on Monday (8/26). The PDFs are on our class’s Canvas page. Follow along on the syllabus and the class website.
Dick, Bernard F. Anatomy of Film. (5th ed.). Boston: Bedford, 2005.