Disrecognized Space

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Tools of cultural studies

This essay discusses genre, discourse, intertextuality and reading practices as tools in cultural studies to determine meanings from a text, specifically, an extract from Rumpole Last’s Case (Mortimer 1987, pp184-185).
Genre essentially classifies(and groups) things. It forms societal meanings as well as meanings carried on within its own category (Lecture 5 2010, p4). Genre can be applied to examine what a text says within that genre, but also how it relates to society (Lecture 5 2010, p8). Chandler (1997, p2) argues that genre is like art: easy to spot, but much harder to define, since genres shift and are often unclear. The Rumpole text exists within the genre of crime fiction (Malmgren 2004, p127).
Discourse details the assumptions that are included with, but not overt in, texts (Lecture 4 2010, p5). These assumptions can stem from a number of areas: how people perceive themselves (race, gender, class for example), institutional (particularly politics) and social (such as religion) (Lecture 4 2010, p5). Texts, of course, can be subject to multiple discourses (Lecture 4 2010, p12). Kress defines discourse as a set of structures that define what can be said, how it can be said and how it can be used (Lecture 4 2010, p10). Discourse therefore represents a ‘way of being’ beyond simply a way of saying something (Lecture 4 2010, p11). It expresses forms of power (Barker 2008, p93) which subjects can become ‘docile bodies’ to or react against. The subject text displays elements of a sexist discourse with its delineated roles between male (the employed wage earner) and female (the housewife) as well as class and power (the Foucaultian (Barker 2008, p20) emphasis on the machinery of justice as it is played out between a bourgeois shop owner and various legal justice authorities – as well as the implied class distinction that the greengrocer comes from Kilburn). These discourses tumble over into the significance of the annual holiday as a ritual, and a marker of income with the emphasis on price.
Intertextuality, defined by Kristeva, is a “passage from one sign system to another”. Thus texts carry with them, and imply, meanings from other texts (Lecture 5 2010, p11). Bakhtin describes it as a way of communicating amongst heteroglot soundings – without these communication could not happen (Lecture 5 2010, p13). Barker (2008, p83) relates it to the shifting meanings of texts, as meaning pauses at one particular point via intertextuality and its postmodern adoption of bricolage (2008, p203). Intertextuality can be expanded infinitely, but the subject text exists within a certain set of knowledge particular to the educated upper-middle class or higher (references to H Rider Haggard, Savonarola for example, and the implication that readers are familiar with the British legal process)
Reading practices in culture studies assume that readers are active: creating meanings rather than simply absorbing them (Lecture 7 2010, p4), particularly dominant readings (Lecture 7 2010, p6) or mainstream (culturally dominant) meanings of texts, and resistant readings (Lecture 7 2010, p8) in which readers assess texts from non-dominant viewpoints (Lecture 7 2010, p9). Tactical reading (Lecture 7 2010, p10) involves reading a text in a non-dominant way while still using it to confirm a cultural position. Texts tell stories, layered through semiotic choices and symbolism which can be deconstructed to reveal what has been hidden (Barker 2008, pp35-36). The subject text can be read as a dominant reading as a reinforcement of social values for this class (and maintaining social order – a particular concern of crime fiction (Cavendar & Deutsch 2007, p68)), while containing a resistant reading exposing the shallowness of concerns about class and money. A tactical reading might emphasise the hidden power of Rumpole’s wife who, from a submissive position, is nonetheless She Who Must Be Obeyed.
Cultural Studies can unpack and expose various implications, subtexts, extensions and variations contained in a text, but rarely explicitly stated by using various tools to show different interpretations and meanings.Bibliography
Barker, C 2008, Cultural studies: Theory and practice, 3rd edn, Sage Publications, London.
Cavender, G & Deutsch, SK 2007, ‘CSI and moral authority: The police and science’, Crime Media Culture, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 67 -81.
Chandler, D 1997, An Introduction to Genre Theory, viewed 25 September 2010,
Malmgren, CD 2004, ‘Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction’, The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 115-135.
Macquarie University 2010, CLT110: Lecture 4, Macquarie University, viewed 19 September 2010,
——, CLT110: Lecture 5, Macquarie University, viewed 19 September 2010,
——, CLT110: Lecture 7, Macquarie University, viewed 19 September 2010,
Mortimer J 1987, Rumpole’s last case, Penguin, London.


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