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The Left at War$
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Michael F. Bérubé

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780814799840

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814799840.001.0001

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What Is This “Cultural” in Cultural Studies?

What Is This “Cultural” in Cultural Studies?

(p.209) 5 What Is This “Cultural” in Cultural Studies?
The Left at War

Michael Bérubé

NYU Press

This chapter explores the debates over cultural politics and cultural studies as they took place in the United States in the 1990s, in order to explain why American left intellectuals remain so addicted to “false consciousness” theories of political behavior. Cultural studies had its intellectual origins in the conviction that orthodox Marxism offered manifestly inadequate analyses of culture, seeing it merely as a superstructural reflection of the base. During the postwar period, the focus of cultural studies shifted to mass culture and how it advanced or impeded the forces of democracy. However, critics who sought to combat what they saw as the political weakness of cultural studies wound up contributing to the very problem they criticized, thereby distorting or diminishing the American left’;s sense of what cultural studies is.

Keywords:   cultural politics, cultural studies, American left intellectuals, false consciousness, political behavior, orthodox Marxism, mass culture

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