Plus and minus of a brief too wide

Cultural Studies

May 30, 2003

Although the title of this book suggests its target audience is students of cultural studies, it is in fact much more broadly aimed. As Jeff Lewis explains, his foremost purpose is "to bring together the various lineages and perspectives that comprise contemporary cultural analysis and which form our understanding of contemporary culture itself". This is responsible for both the book's strength and its weakness.

On the positive side, it presents with clarity and conviction an impressive and wide-ranging account of different ways of thinking critically about culture. On the other hand, it fails to deliver the "basics" of cultural studies, for two main reasons. First, because it tries to cover too much ground (its genealogy of cultural studies begins with Descartes); second because it does not distinguish between cultural studies as an inclusive term to designate the study of culture, and cultural studies as a way to study the complex and ever-changing relations between culture and power.

The problem is not the range of theories and theorists discussed but the failure to explain fully their relationship to contemporary cultural studies and why this relationship has not been claimed before.

Put simply, cultural studies did not invent the study of culture but it did introduce a particular way to study it.

The book should have explained the influence of past ways of thinking about culture on contemporary cultural studies rather than presenting the connection as self-evident. Not having done so seriously weakens its usefulness. The reader looking for the "basics" of cultural studies will be either disappointed or confused. This is a great shame, as the book also contains much to admire.

John Storey is professor of cultural studies, University of Sunderland.

Cultural Studies: The Basics. First edition

Author - Jeff Lewis
ISBN - 0 7619 6324 3 and 6325 1
Publisher - Sage
Price - £70.00 and £19.99
Pages - 467

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