Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

Cultural Methodologies

McGuigan, Jim
London: Sage
0 8039 7485 X
£13.99 (pb)
viii + 216 pp.

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It has been asserted that Cultural studies is currently at a cross-roads, with many of its original revolutionary, interdisciplinary objectives becoming institutionalised. At the same time it has been alleged that the subject is being subsumed within wider disciplines in both the social sciences and the humanities such as Sociology, English Literature and Geography. The purpose of Jim McGuigan's edited collection appears to be to locate Cultural studies at the moment, and to predict its future. The book is divided into three distinct sections - methodologies, researches and reflection.

In the first of four chapters in the methodologies section, Douglas Kellner traces the emergence of British Cultural studies in relation to European post-war changes. He also argues for a reassessment of the work of the Frankfurt School who have traditionally been disassociated from this subject area for their critical stance towards popular culture. With the recent shift to the 'global post-modern' Kellner argues that a multiperspectival approach should be adopted within Cultural studies which integrates the neglected area of the production and political economy of culture, with textual analysis and audience usage.

A concern with the future of Cultural studies is also explored in the second chapter by Tony Bennett, a major player in the formation of Cultural studies. Acknowledging that the subject has always had plural and diverse inclinations, Bennett argues that the Cultural studies of the future should have greater practical applicability in addressing and developing cultural policy. Drawing on Jurgen Habermas work on the public sphere, the third chapter by Nick Stevenson explores ethical and moral considerations in relation to cultural research. The universalistic nature of Habermas's work is criticised, especially in relation to the advance of feminism, and the advent of postmodernity and global media forms.

Since its origins Cultural studies has also had strong connections with various social and political movements such as socialism, anti-racism and feminism. Ann Gray in her chapter explores the latter movement in relation to Cultural studies. Feminism along with Cultural studies has exposed the plight of the marginalised subject within society. But as Gray argues, feminist informed research has undertaken a great deal of epistemological clarification, which is lacking in Cultural studies. Furthermore, following the critique of Cultural studies 'ethnography' by various anthropologists for not being rigorous enough, Gray argues for the adoption of more modest methodological techniques such as interviews and autobiography.

The history of (female) autobiography is examined by Carolyn Steedman in the first chapter of the second section which is focused on current research. Steedman links the recent popularity of this form of writing to wider changes in British society, and the post-war education system. In the subsequent chapter Martyn Lee reappropriates Bourdieu's concept of habitus so that it can be used, particularly by cultural geographers, to discover the historical, cultural constructions of location ('the habitus of location'). Helen Thomas in the next chapter describes her ethnographic research into dance, and how notions of sexuality, race and gender are constructed through this activity. A reflexive account of the practicalities of her methodology is provided in this piece. This section also contains a chapter by Sabina Sharkey defending the recent launch of Irish Cultural studies. Sharkey goes on to link the emergence of this area to developments which occurred during the early days of British Cultural studies.

The concluding 'reflections' section includes chapters by Graham Murdock and Michael Green. Murdock examines the disputes between empiricist and interpretive researchers particularly in Cultural studies. As well as calling for a reassessment of the benefits of quantitative research, he also calls for a critical discussion of the uses of qualitative methods within this subject area. In Green's chapter advice is given on how to conduct research within Cultural studies, identifying the typical issues and problems experienced.

Overall this is an excellent collection which raises some interesting questions about the development and future of Cultural studies. Steedman's piece on the development of autobiography in contemporary culture was particularly illuminating, as was Martyn Lee's development of 'the habitus of location'. Michael Green's accessible chapter on the paradigms of research in Cultural studies is essential reading for anyone contemplating or conducting research in this field. However there are a number problems with this text. As some of the contributors to the volume note, there are great differences between British, European, American and Australian Cultural studies. Even though there are worthy contributions from the American academic Douglas Kellner, and the Australian Tony Bennett, the book tends to view the trans- contintental variations of Cultural studies as having the same origins and being at the same stages as the British version. The various international versions of the subject are also all predicted to progress in the same way. Although sophisticatedly written, Nick Stevenson's chapter appears out of place compared to the other pieces in the book. Stevenson's contribution actually says very little about morality and ethics, and is probably better suited to a collection on communications theory. Furthermore Sabina Sharkey's chapter exemplifies the pretentiousness and excessiveness of literary Cultural studies, which a number of other contributors to this volume argue should be avoided in the future.

John Galilee
Lancaster University

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998