Introduction to Literature
Michael Delahoyde

Cultural Criticism

Cultural criticism, or cultural studies, is related to New Historicism but with a particular and cross-disciplinary emphasis on taking seriously those works traditionally marginalized by the aesthetic ideology of white European males. It examines social, economic, and political conditions that effect institutions and products such as literature and questions traditional value hierarchies. Thus it scrutinizes the habitual privileging of race, class, and gender, and also subverts the standard distinctions between "high art" and low. Instead of more attention to the canon, cultural studies examines works by minority ethnic groups and postcolonial writers, the products of folk, urban, and mass culture. Popular literature, soap opera, rock and rap music, cartoons, professional wrestling, food, etc. -- all fall within the domain of cultural criticism.

Obviously the field of cultural criticism is broad. We will focus on it particularly as it concerns itself with questioning the ways Western cultural tradition expressed in literature defines itself partly by stifling the voices of oppressed groups or even by demonizing those groups. We will focus on how literary tradition has constructed models of identity for oppressed groups, how these groups have constructed oppositional literary identities, and how different communities of readers might interpret the same text differently due to varied value systems.

Works Consulted

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Critical Theory
Introduction to Literature