Culture, Power, Politics Autum 2019

What is the connection between culture and power? How do the ideas we have about what is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ influence our decisions? How did Brexit happen? What is gender? Cultural theory makes use of techniques from philosophy, history, sociology, human geography, anthropology and political and critical theory to examine these questions in the context of contemporary popular cultures. 

This first part of the course is an introduction to the subject. The course is free because we believe not only that education should be free but that knowledge is a crucial weapon in the war against all forms of inequality. 

There is no set reading (although we’ll recommend some if you’re interested) and no essay assignments, exams or deadlines (although we’ll set some if you want to challenge yourself). All the classes are interactive and give you the chance to think about everyday life in the context of the history of ideas. We’ll provide the learning environment. The rest is up to you.

All sessions are on Wednesday evenings between 6.30 and 8.30pm beginning 16th October for nine weeks. 

This first part of the course is written and delivered by Debra Benita Shaw and Helen Palmer and part two is a series of more advanced seminars organised by Jeremy Gilbert with guest speakers. Debra and Jeremy are directors of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East London

Ridley Road Market Bar, 49 Ridley Road, Dalston, London, E8 2NP

Course outline

Session One October 16th
Making Meaning: Introduction to Semiotics We make meaning from everything we see around us every day, but what informs our decisions about what ‘things’ mean? This session will introduce you to the work of the French Philologist Ferdinand de Saussure who gave us the tools to understand the role of ideology in how we make sense of everyday life.
Session Two October 23rd 
Workers of the World Unite: Marx for Beginners Karl Marx is famous for predicting a workers’ revolution in Britain and, as some politicians will gleefully tell you, for being wrong. But many of Marx’s ideas are still startlingly relevant to how we think about the organisation of society and the role of the economy in determining our lives. In this session, we’ll develop our understanding of capitalism and think about the relationship between bodies, machines and work.
Session Three October 30th
Popular Interests: Antonio Gramsci and Hegemony Antonio Gramsci was the leader of the Italian Communist party after WW1 and spent a lot of time in prison. Happily for us, it gave him plenty of time to think. In this session we’ll study his theory of ‘hegemony’ which helps to explain why we consent to be governed by people that really don’t have our best interests at heart.
Session Four November 6th

Monsieur Foucault and the Prison of the Self
Michel Foucault was a French theorist whose work has had wide ranging consequences for how we think about power and its effects on how we understand ourselves and others. We’ll be examining the design of an eighteenth century prison and how it gives us a model for understanding why we think some things (and people) are ‘abnormal’.
Session Five November 13th
Queer: Bodies, Words and Worlds Queer: a noun, a verb and an adjective. What does it mean to queer something? We will look at the idea of queerness as continual transformation, from pop artists to performers to philosophers, and the ways in which this concept carries political power. We will look at some queer writers and theorists such as Audre Lorde and Sara Ahmed, and the ways that their words give us fresh perspectives on gender, race, class, location and orientation.
Session Six November 20th 
Does Matter Matter, or What’s New About New Materialism? From ancient to contemporary times, humans have always pondered the stuff that makes up the world. This session will be a rapid tour through different understandings of ‘material’, from ancient atomism to Cartesian substance dualism to Marxist historical materialism to contemporary feminist new materialism and the materiality of language itself.
Session Seven November 27th Racial Mythologies: Edward Said and Orientalism This week, we’ll return to Michel Foucault’s ideas and discuss their considerable implications for how we understand racism and its effects in contemporary culture. We’ll be examining the work of Edward Said who applied Foucault’s insights about history, language and self-identity to understanding how racial stereotypes come to be accepted as ‘truth’.
Session Eight December 4th Inventing Gender This week we’ll be looking more closely at ideas that have had an influence on how we identify people based on their gender. We’ll take a brief tour through the world according to Sigmund Freud, look at how Charles Darwin gave scientific authority to the assumption that women are stupid and begin to explore feminist challenges to these ideas.
Session Nine December 11th What’s Sex Got to Do With It? The current decade has exposed the widespread abuse of women’s bodies in public life alongside a resurgence of interest in feminism and demands for equality in the labour market. But is ‘equality’ enough? What does it even mean? In this final session we will examine the radical politics of gender dissent and why all forms of sexuality are political.