Theories in Cultural Studies

Prof. Cynthia Franklin

ENGLISH 625/E: Theories in Cultural Studies in Asia/Pacific (T 6:30-9)

Description: Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary, and sometimes anti-disciplinary, approach to the study of culture, particularly its broadly-conceived and complex array of signifying practices. Cultural Studies theorists assume that culture cannot be understood apart from politics, and Cultural Studies practitioners are concerned with questions of power, and often strive to engage in analysis or theory that will contribute to counterhegemonic struggle, and often in a way that draws upon marxist lines of thinking.

Another important hallmark of Cultural Studies is that it is a located practice—that the scholar works with attention to the specific struggles, questions, and problems that characterize the place out of which she/he is situated. This class will therefore focus on “Asia/Pacific” as a place of contestation (and this will include thinking about the contradictions, problems, and possibilities of the term “Asia/Pacific” itself), and cultural struggle and creativity. As we pay particular attention to how Cultural Studies is practiced in Hawai’i, and other locales in the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, we will put this work into dialogue with foundational and more contemporary Cultural Studies work that emerges from other locations, and we will think about how Cultural Studies work does and does not translate and travel from one time and place to another.

We will begin the course with works foundational to Cultural Studies (Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams) that focus on questions of ideology and class struggle. We also will consult various tables of contents to Cultural Studies collections in order to understand the multiple ways the field has been mapped and the tensions and continuities among these conceptualizations of Cultural Studies and its origins.

In addition to foundational works, the course will concentrate on concepts that are central to work being done in Cultural Studies, especially as it is practiced in Hawai’i and the Pacific. The course is organized around keywords that include the following: settler/native, sex/gender, race/ethnicity, state/nation, land/water, indigeneity, sustainability, empire, education, public intellectual. We will consider how these different concepts overlap as well as diverge and we also will continuously keep in mind concerns of class, capital, and the workings of ideology that a Cultural Studies approach foregrounds. We will put our theoretical readings in dialogue with cultural texts (poetry, fiction, videos, film, advertisements, etc.).

As we proceed, we will attend closely to questions of methodology: we will think about how Cultural Studies research is constructed both at the level of research and writing, and we will investigate the ways it is both interdisciplinary and anti-disciplinary.  This will involve thinking about the wide array of literary and extra-literary texts that Cultural Studies scholars make use of and how they read them; what constitutes an archive and different ways to conduct archival research; practices and ethics of (auto)ethnography; and how the writer situates her or himself in terms of identity and location.


  1. A presentation on a keyword or issue related to the course reading (10% of your grade).
  2. An abstract and a conference-length paper that will be presented to the class (55%).
  3. Two other short papers, one involving synthesizing and taking a critical position on a theoretical or critical text; and the other, for participation in the 625 colloquium, wherein you will deliver a short presentation on a theme common to all the 625 courses this semester (30%).
  4. Attendance at and a one-page reflection on two events (talks, demonstrations, performances) of relevance to the class concerns (5% of your grade).
  5. Regular attendance.

General Student Outcomes:

  1. Foundational knowledge of the theories and methods of this concentration;

understanding of advanced research methods.

  1. Written and oral ability to place your scholarly work within broader critical


  1. Independent research in CSAP.
  2. Ability to make precise use of critical vocabulary to frame and support analysis.
  3. Experience with delivering concise, informed, focused, thoughtful presentations to other professionals in the field.

TEXTS (tentative listing):


Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson (dirs.), Kumu Hina

Anne Keala Kelly (dir.), Noho Hewa

Barry Jenkins (dir.), Moonlight

 Partial and tentative list of additional course readings: selections from Settler Colonial Studies, 3. 3-4 (2013); Raymond Williams, “Culture”; Stuart Hall, “Cultural studies and its theoretical legacies”; Karl Marx, Ch. One of Capital; Haunani-Kay Trask, “Lovely Hula Hands”; Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”; Antonio Gramsci, sels. from Prison Notebooks; Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology”; Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”; Purnima Bose and Laura E. Lyons, eds., sels. from Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation; Noenoe Silva, “Early Hawaiian Newspapers”; Ann Cvetkovich, “AIDS Activism and Public Feeling”; Paul Gilroy, “History of Black Ephemera”; Ty Kawika Tengan, “Narrating Kanaka “; Monisha Das Gupta, “The Neoliberal State and the Domestic Workers’ Movement in NYC”; Michelle Alexander, sels. from The New Jim Crow;  J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, sels. from Hawaiian Blood; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Fatal Couplings of Power and Difference”; Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”; Candace Fujikane, intro. to Asian Settler Colonialism; Candace Fujikane, “Mapping Wonder in the Māui Moʻolelo on the Moʻoāina: Growing Aloha ʻĀina Through Indigenous and Settler Affinity Activism”;  Epeli Hau’ofa, “Our Sea of Islands”; Cristina Bacchilega, sels. from Legendary Hawai’i; Ngugi wa Thiong’o, excerpt from Decolonizing the Mind; Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, sels. from Westlake Poems; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Queer and Now”; Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”; Judith Butler, “Violence, Mourning, Politics”; selections from the special Biography issue, “Life in Occupied Palestine” (2014); Jasbir Puar, sels. from The Right to Maim; Eyal Weizman, selections from Hollow Land and The Least of All Possible Evils; Julie Kaomea, “A Curriculum of Aloha?”; Konai Helu Thaman, “Negotiating Places and Spaces “; Edward Said, “The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals”; Haunani-Kay Trask, “Racism against Native Hawaiians at the University of Hawai’i”; Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, sels. from The Undercommons.