The Birmingham School, better known as the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, was a research center at the University of Birmingham. Founded by Richard Hoggart in 1964, the school played a major role in the development of cultural studies not only in Britain, but across the globe. Cultural studies can be defined as the study of culture with the intention to understand a society and its politics (Sebastion 2017). It has become normal to associate The Birmingham School with the creation of this global idea of cultural studies (Connell 2015).
Established as a post graduate research institution, the school’s main focus, Sebastian (2017) explains, was to “contest the cultural elitism of literary theory” (p. 3) and to look deeper into the way culture and the people of society go together. For post-war British democrats, the CCCS provided a “point of focus” for the way the new generation of British democrats interacted with an increasingly affluent culture which was constantly being introduced to new forms of mass media (Connell 2015). The teachings here were rooted in the fact that culture was recognized as something that maintained a political order (Sebastian 2017).
However, the main approach of the Centre was to look at reconstructing the theory of pop culture into one that stated that pop culture is a way of resistance for the marginalized groups of society. Other approaches to investigating cultural studies included ideas from Antonio Gramsci, a leader for Mussolini’s Communist party who was later jailed by the Fascists and in jail, wrote a book called The Prison Notebooks (1948). In this book he describes the way elites maintain power over society using domination and power to create a sense of obedience and consent among the people. Better known as hegemony, this became another main course of study for the CCCS as it turned the focus of study towards mass media and pop culture to study the domination effect that it truly has on society (Sebastian 2017).
The CCCS was incredibly active and diligent in its quest to become a major research institution of cultural studies (Connell 2015). Typically, work began as a discussion of individual’s findings in certain areas of cultural studies which was then followed by field work and ethnography work (Sebastian 2017). Annual reports were also done to recap all the new findings and investigative work done the previous year. On a weekly basis, members of the Centre would alternate between the research of one single significant text and a person’s individual findings as a result of the research. This eventually developed into a broader infrastructure involved with academic debate and discussion (Connell 2015).
In the Centre’s first year, there were only six full time students involved with it. Other members of the staff included Hoggart, Michael Green who was a member of the University’s English department, and a secretary. However, the student sit-in of 1968 not only catapulted the Centre into notoriety, but also led to the departure of the founder, Richard Hoggart (Connell 2015). When Hoggart’s successor, Stuart Hall took over as director of the CCCS, the school began to apply Louis Althusser’s beliefs and urge to study subcultural groups and why they make the decisions they make. As the CCCS continued to grow in the background of the rising New British Left, many founders of the New Left became important members of the CCCS such as Hoggart, Hall, Raymond Williams, and historian E.P. Thompson. This created a balanced influence between work on cultural studies and looking at the new form of politics (Sebastian 2017).
By 1973, there were 39 students, the Centre was financially backed by the University, and it began to focus more on its famous “sub-group” model of research. In the academic year of 1975-76, cultural studies was first offered as a M.A. and had over 50 students involved with the Centre. Cultural studies, however, was often misunderstood due to the fact that many of the subject areas were initially regarded by higher ranking colleges of the school and other institutions as irrelevant and unimportant (Connell 2015).
The Centre became the center of political and academic scrutiny due to misunderstanding because of the unorthodox approach to challenging academic organizations. Former members of the school argue that the University was the school’s main enemy due to its lack of funding after the events of 1968 when the Centre began to flourish on its own. Another enemy of the school was some members of the British far left who disagreed and were upset at the embracement of Althusserian structuralism, also known as structural Marxism. Political issues involving feminism and race led to major division among the Center which, in turn, resulted in the departure of Hoggart’s successor, Stuart Hall in 1979. The University of Birmingham not only refused to properly fund the Centre, but treated it in a nonsensical manner shown by its many re-organizations of the institution as well as its final close decades later (Connell 2015). In 2002, management at the University chose to shut down and finally end the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (Sebastian 2017).
Connell, Kieran, & Hilton, Matthew. (2015). The Working Practices of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Taylor & Francis Group, Vol. 40 (30). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03071022.2015.1043191
Sebastian, Bibin. (2017). Birmingham School of Cultural Studies: An Overview. International Journal of Advance Research and Innovative Ideas, Vol. 3(5), 1338-1342. http://ijariie.com/AdminUploadPdf/BIRMINGHAM_SCHOOL_OF_CULTURAL_STUDIES__AN_OVERVIEW__ijariie6810.pdf
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Written by Jack Greer, 2018