Aesthetics A set of principles of good taste and the appreciation of beauty (Oxford English Dictionary). It is used to describe and evaluate the form and style in which representations are embodied — in semiotic terms the ‘signifiers’ as opposed to the ‘signified’. In cultural studies the emphasis is on how these criteria of aesthetic value are established and reproduced.
Avant-garde Innovative artistic movements that are ahead of the mainstream ideas of the time. Associated most strongly with the modernist movement of the twentieth century in which the ‘new’ replaced artistic tradition as the primary criterion of value. Indeed, it involved dismantling and deconstructing those traditions.
Broadcasters Audience Research Board Ltd (BARB) A company that sells audience statistics to broadcasters in the UK. Less detailed information is provided free on the website http://www. barb. co. uk.
Bohemian A socially unconventional person. Associated with the Romantic ideal of the artist as ‘outsider’ who rejects the conformist values of bourgeois society. It has come to be associated with a form of middle-class rebellion linked to sexual permissiveness and a rejection of materialist values. It re-emerged in the post-war period as a strong component in the hippie movement.
Bourgeois The economic class that owns or manages the means of production in industrial capitalism. Used pejoratively to describe people who are conventional, unimaginative and materialistic to the extent that they put profit-making and the maintenance of the social order, from which they materially benefit, above all other values.
Carnivalesque A term that describes the kind of licentious behaviour that emerges on festive occasions when the norms of behaviour that govern everyday life are temporarily suspended. It emerged as a concept of cultural analysis following Michael Bakhtin’s (1984) theorization of its significance in the work of the writer Rabelais.
Citizen Member of a political community usually defined in relation to national forms of belonging. This involves inclusion in the rights that are offered to citizens, such as the right to vote in political elections, but also responsibilities such as the legal requirement to pay taxes.
Class This term is often used in everyday language to mean social status; that is, where people are placed in a hierarchy of esteem. In Marxist analysis, however, it is used to designate an economic relation to wealth creation in capitalism. In these terms there are two classes, those who own the means of production and those who are paid wages. However, the middle classes, in professional and managerial roles that help to reproduce the system but who are still dependent on wages, occupy a contradictory position in terms of their interests between these two classes. The connection between social and economic classes, in Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis, is that social hierarchies, which are reproduced through cultural and educational institutions, work to legitimate and reproduce the economic classes.
Codes The socially produced rules that govern the selection and combination of signs in symbolic forms and whose shared understanding facilitates communication between the participants in a cultural community.
Commodity A product that can be bought or sold in a market. Commodification is the process by which experiences, services or goods are turned into a form in which they can be exchanged in this way.
Conglomerates Large, usually multinational, organizations resulting from mergers between smaller firms. In capitalism there is a tendency for firms to merge in this way in order to remain profitable by reducing competition and monopolizing the market.
Consumer culture/society Used to designate the cultural and social consequences of what is variously described as ‘late’ or ‘postmodern’ capitalism. It indicates an emphasis on the stimulation of consumption in order to sustain the cycle of production and consumption in a system that can produce more goods than are needed for basic survival.
Deviant In sexual terms, this refers to those acts, and the people who perform them, that fall outside a culturally defined ‘norm’. I place it in inverted commas to indicate that it is not an intrinsic quality of the person or act but is produced through these cultural processes and is subject to challenge and change.
Digital The technical form in which information is encoded and transmitted as binary code. This allows for the transfer and sharing of data between differing media technologies, such as computers, radio, televisions, films and print media. It is gradually replacing older forms of ‘analogue’ broadcasting based on ‘wave’ transmission rather than binary code.
Disavowal A term used in psychoanalysis to indicate when a wish is expressed in the act of denial but not acknowledged because it is too painful, threatening or shameful to do so. This depends on unconscious psychological processes that are by definition not amenable to conscious control. These unconscious wishes are brought to consciousness in order to be denied. In Freudian theory this originates in the castration complex where the knowledge of sexual difference between the boy child and his mother stimulates desire that is then repressed because of the prohibitions on incest.
Disinterested I am fighting a losing battle here to retain the use of this term not to mean ‘uninterested’ as is its most common usage today, but in its original sense of there being no personal gain or financial reward for promoting a particular case or state of affairs. This is an important concept in weighing up the ‘public interest’ as opposed to the profit incentive that underwrites the commercial media.
Diversity In relation to culture it is used as a term to describe the range of identities that arise in complex modern societies, with their dynamic mix of ethnicities, sexual orientations and class interests, for example.
Ethics Used to indicate where personal actions are based on weighing up choices between what is right and wrong. The values that underpin those choices may originate in a specific community, such as religious values. The attempt to find common grounds for ethical choices that negotiate between the specific interests and value systems of these diverse groupings is one of the purposes of political discussion in the public sphere.
Ethnicity Forms of belonging that derive from recognition of shared cultural values, customs, beliefs and a common history and destiny that give a sense of collective solidarity. This may also be embodied in a shared language or national identity. People may identify with more than one group where individuals have a mixed cultural heritage. It may also change over time.
Exchange value A Marxist concept that refers to the monetary value of a commodity in a market.
Feminism A diverse set of political and cultural discourses that share the aim of overcoming the relative powerlessness that women experience in comparison to men. The causes and therefore the solutions to this inequality are much disputed and form the basis for different ‘schools’ of feminist theory and activism. For example, liberal feminists see the problem as wanting to improve women’s position within the existing political and economic order, while socialist feminists see that order as part of the problem and in need, therefore, of more fundamental change before women can achieve equality. ‘Second wave feminism’ refers to the intense period of political activity and polemical writing during the 1970s and 1980s, often also referred to as the ‘women’s liberation movement’. This is to distinguish it from the ‘first wave’ of feminist activism when the ’suffragettes’ campaigned for women to get the vote early on in the twentieth century.
Fetishism In Freudian theory this refers to the sexual satisfaction that men can gain from objects that stand in for the female genitalia, such as shoes, fur or stockings. In film theory it has been used to explain the obsessive return to the image of the glamorized woman in which her sexual allure is presented through a transfixed camera gaze at parts of her body or face or clothing. Explanations for female fetishism need a revision of the Freudian version, based as it is on the displacement provoked by castration anxiety.
Heteronormative The assumption of a universal heterosexual orientation, which works to marginalize and exclude same-sex forms of desire.
Hybridization The bringing together of two distinct cultural identities or forms to create a new one. This sense is derived from the practice of grafting two different plants together to produce a new type of plant.
Identity We create our sense of self out of the interrelation between who we imagine we are, or want to become, and the way in which we are positioned by existing subject positions constructed through discourse and social experience. These produce multiple identifications based on, among other things, nationality, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the jobs that we do. The notion of self-fashioning foregrounds the degree to which our identities are open to transformation over time, while more traditional sociological theory emphasizes the degree to which we are positioned by relatively slow-to-change social structures and the discourses to which they give rise.
Imagined community This concept captures the degree to which our identifications are base on an imagined relation to others with whom we feel an affinity and to whom we attribute an identity.
Individualism The belief that the individual is the primary source of agency and values, rather than the social groups to which we belong.
Interests In some cases this word is used not in its common meaning of being enthusiastic about something but to mean having some existing advantage, often monetary or political, at stake.
Market Means by which goods and services are exchanged for money, which is based on the belief that prices respond to the balance between supply and demand.
Marxism A political theory derived from Karl Marx’s analysis of the way that capitalist markets exploit the labour of workers to extract surplus value in the forms of profits for the owners of the means of production. In this theory the fundamental division in society is between wage labourers and the owners of capital.
Modernity The condition of living in a modern world in which innovation and progress is valued over tradition and continuity. The ‘creative destruction’ produced by capitalist markets contributes to this condition.
Narcissism The love of one’s own self-image. In Freudian theory this is one of the primary drives (for survival of the self) that is shaped by the formation of the ego. It underlines fantasies of omnipotence but can also be expressed through autoeroticism.
Neo-liberalism A political ideology that became dominant in the 1980s, based on the belief that capitalist markets should be free to operate with as little government interference as possible.
New social movements The social liberation movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s with an emphasis on collective identities, values and lifestyles rather than, or in addition to, developed ideologies, and that tended to emerge more from middle – than working-class constituencies. Examples include women’s, gay and lesbian, environmentalist and anti-racist movements.
Nielsen Media Research A global ratings company. In the United States, Nielsen sells television audience estimates for broadcast and cable networks, television stations, national syndicators, regional cable television systems, satellite providers, advertisers and advertising agencies.
Normative A sociological term meaning the way in which certain common expectations are established about how we ought to behave and what values we should hold.
Paternalism Well-meaning policies based on an assumption that people need to be protected rather than having the freedom to make their own choices.
Patriarchy Societies that are based on the power men hold over women, both in the private sphere of the family and in public institutions such as the church, law, government and business.
Pedagogy The theory and practice of education.
Performative A linguistic term in which the words perform an action. The example often cited is the words ‘I do’ at a marriage ceremony, which in their enunciation seal the contract. It has been taken up more widely to describe the way in which identity is formed through discursive practices.
Petit-bourgeoisie The lower middle classes.
Popular Used in cultural studies to refer to cultural practices that arise from ‘the people’ rather than originating in the dominant classes, but that in modern societies, more often than not, arise from their interaction with the mass-produced media.
Postmodern Used to describe a transformation in the conditions of modern societies in the post-war period, and to the forms of culture to which this period has given rise. In both cases a greater uncertainty, ambivalence and loss of faith in ‘grand narratives’ of explanation have been argued to characterize the transition.
Psychoanalysis A set of psychological theories and practices originating in the work of Sigmund Freud (1856—1939), based on a belief in the existence of unconscious motivations and desire. We can only discover these indirectly through the interpretation of bodily symptoms and other symbolic manifestations, such as dreams or fictional narratives.
Puritanism A form of Protestant Christianity in which great emphasis is placed on austerity and the sinful nature of sensual pleasures.
Queer Originally used as a term to denigrate homosexuals but then reappropriated as a term of political defiance against the policing of sexual identities and behaviour. In political and theoretical discourses it emphasizes the transgression of culturally produced identity boundaries that limit sexual expression.
Race Used in inverted commas to indicate the ideological nature of the common assumption that ‘race’ is a description of groups of people separated by biological differences. There are, in fact, no clear boundaries between humans based on biology; instead they are produced though cultural and political processes. The categories of ‘race’, and the hierarchies to which they give rise, are thus open to challenge and transformation.
Traditional Used to describe societies in which social and cultural practices and values are reproduced in a relatively unchanging way from generation to generation.
Use value A term used by Marx to differentiate the value a product has for its owner based on its usefulness, as distinct from the value it has in exchange for money.
Voyeurism A Freudian term used in feminist film theory to describe the sadistic pleasure in looking at a character who cannot look back at the spectator. This heightens the potential pleasure in watching sexualized imagery, in that the guilt induced by sexual arousal in these circumstances can be evaded by projecting the guilt on to the object of the look, who is almost always a woman. This objectified woman can then be devalued and punished through the processes of narrative, thereby heightening the viewer’s sense of their own