Readers' reactions

November 20, 1998

Two weeks ago in The THES... Valentine Cunningham warned that the study of English risked being swallowed up by cultural studies. Responses are still flooding in Anthony Easthope, Professor of English, Manchester Metropolitan University

Val Cunningham represents cultural studies as an interest in people who "go to the disco, buy Jackie, watch a vid, catch a soap, go to the match, have a ****, weep for Di, love k.d. lang". This is a partial, sour, puritanical and, frankly, rather middle-aged list (with a touch of homophobia in the last item?).

Cultural studies was invented in 1958 when Raymond Williams defined culture as "the development of a whole society". To study popular culture alongside texts included in the canon of English literature is more democratic than an exclusive concern with the canon's ancient privilege. Let's face it, the canon was always largely an expression of the white, male gentry. That is not the whole of England in 1998, never was.

Teaching (as Val does) at a college by the Isis, with a name that sounds like a Renaissance oath, and doing a similar job at Manchester Met. lead to rather different perceptions of the world and English culture.

Linda Dryden, Lecturer in cultural studies, Napier University

Cunningham ignores the richness cultural studies can bring to literary texts. It has grown out of English departments; but includes expertise from anthropology, sociology, history, music and politics.

John Storey, Reader in cultural studies, The 'new-new' University of Sutherland

Cunningham wonders why English studies is continually trying to reinvent itself, the answer might be to escape from what Cunningham seems determined to defend: a finishing school aesthetic of "feeling" and "sensibility".

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