The concept of “culture” is often taken-for-granted and unproblematic, whether in official or disciplinary discourses, or even in everyday parlance; yet it has remained contentious and rigorously debated in scholarly interrogations. The deployment and deconstruction of culture in everyday life to explicate human activity, and the history of its many uses provide the basis of “Cultural Studies”, an interdisciplinary and broad field established over sixty years ago. Since then, interest in the field has grown and expanded to include the context of Asia as a substantive empirical site, which provides the main locus of empirical investigation for this module. Incorporating a variegated range of theoretical directions, methodological innovations and objects of inquiry, this module seeks to engage with several issues related to contemporary culture shaping different Asian societies, while being simultaneously cognisant of their specific historical formations. The module seeks to work in a critical and comparative manner to scrutinise the character of the relationship between culture, representation, identity formation and meaning construction.
The core of this module approaches any distillation of culture in Asian societies and contexts as sociologically illuminating and pertinent, regardless of the form that it takes. If anything, the field is indeed vast, which hence renders any study of cultural forms with a large range of possibilities. As such, the module broadly includes, amongst others, in its selection: analysis of contemporary urban cultural practices, including the consumption and production of material culture such as food, film, fashion and music; the spread of consumption and popular culture; the centrality of the body, emotions, and senses in society; the construction of individual and collective identities and formation of subjectivities; and the politics and interests in knowledge production and reproduction in the context of globalisation. Through comparative multidisciplinary methodologies and theoretical perspectives, the course combines and adapts qualitative research strategies and critical theories to specific analytic interests, including textual analysis, ethnographic observations, and different theories of interpretation, which especially includes in anthropology, sociology, feminisms and postcolonialism. At the end of the course, it aims to equip students with an adequate knowledge of contemporary debates in inter-Asian cultural studies as well as a theoretical toolkit to critically analyse a range of social processes and cultural forms and practices in everyday life in Asia.