Theories in Cultural Studies

Since Cultural Studies (CS) emerges from various critical traditions and has taken varied directions, the course aims to provide a mapping of these approaches and problematics that foregrounds their historicity, location, and transformations. This mapping of theories, which is of necessity introductory, is designed to “orient” us to CS from our location in Hawai‘i nei and our responsibilities here as students, teachers, writers, and scholars to intersectional practices of cultural critique in the Asia/Pacific regions; thus, CSAP is at the core of our mapping. The course has three general objectives: we will read foundational texts marking what, within English studies, makes CS distinctive in scope, methodology, history, goals, and practices; we will consider the relevance, impact, limitations, rewards, and possibilities of CSAP for us studying and doing cultural work in Hawai‘i; and we will discuss questions, vocabulary, methods, and practices to nurture our skills and confidence as critical participants in/consumers and makers of various cultures.


As part of our CS practice, we will discuss and historicize key critical concepts (from ideology, capitalism, gender and performance to heteronormativity, racialization, performativity, orientalism & pacificism, globalization, and more) and learn from different approaches—specifically marxism in the plural, semiotics, and gender and queer studies, as they intersect with indigenous studies, media studies, and globalization studies. We will do so with a keen eye to decoding assumptions (e.g., about what counts as culture) and to engaging responsibly and anti-hegemonically in social discourses and action.


Every year, there is a common theme or thread for all four ENG 625 courses, and ours will be announced asap. We will familiarize ourselves with different approaches and issues in CS that the theme raises, work on a short related assignment, and participate in the ENG 625s Departmental Colloquia based on this work.


Student Learning Outcomes:

Students will demonstrate

Foundational knowledge of the theories and methods of Cultural Studies;

Understanding of how and why our position in Hawaiʻi and in the Pacific affects the ways we practice the theories and methods of Cultural Studies;

Written and oral ability to place one’s own scholarly work within broader critical conversations.


Students will develop

Understanding of advanced research methods in CSAP that informs their own independent research;

Precise deployment of critical vocabulary to frame and support detailed analysis;

Experience with delivering concise, informed, focused, and thought-provoking presentations to other professionals in the field.



Texts (UHM bookstore):

Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (2nd edition), edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans, and Sean Nixon;

Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2nd edition; print & web) edited by Bruce Bergett and Gelnn Hendler;

Kanaka ʻŌiwi Methodologies (2015), edited by Katrina-Ann R. Kapāʻanaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliviera and Erin Kahunawaikaʻala Wright.


We will read chapters from Asian Settler Colonialism, Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation, Mai Pa‘a I Ka Leo: Historical Voices in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Theorizing Native Studies, Rooted in Wonder: Tales of Indigenous Activism and Community Organizing, and We Are the Ocean; as well as selections in pdf form by Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Horkheimer and Adorno, Fanon, Williams, Hall, Said, Butler, Spivak, Žižek, Trask, Silva, Arista, Kuwada, Goodyear- Ka‘ōpua, McDougall, hoʻomanawanui, Wolfe, Agamben, Munoz, Mignolo, Naithani, and more.

We will also discuss a selection of feature films and documentaries to be chosen collectively from a list that currently includes The Land Has Eyes (dir. Vilsoni Hereniko), Even the Rain (dir. Iclar Bollain), Sinalela (dir. Dan Taulapapa McMullin), Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story (dir. Yousry Nasrallah), Jamaica for Sale (dir. Esther Figueroa), I am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck), and Kumu Hina (dir. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson).


Assignments: Informal assignments include sharing a response to a CS event, leading discussion on an essay, identifying takeaways in critical readings, writing a comparative response to two readings, and participating in various in-class activities (20%).

Formal assignments consist of a 15-minute presentation of a keyword in CS/CSAP, focused on its critical provenance(s), changing definitions, uses, and productivity (20%); a short presentation on the common theme at the ENG625 Colloquia with research and writing leading up to it (25%); a one-page proposal of the final project and a final essay that offers a sustained reading of a cultural text or practice, making use of CSAP concepts and reflecting on their productivity in relation to your positionality (35%).