Theories of Cultural Studies

ENGLISH 625E Theories of Cultural Studies

Wednesday 6:30-9:00 pm

Cristina Bacchilega


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, will be designed to “orient” us to CS from our location in Hawai‘i nei and our responsibilities here as students, teachers, writers, and critics grounded in varying positionalities. Thus, the course has three objectives: to read and discuss foundational texts marking what, within English studies, makes CS distinctive in scope, methodology, history, goals, and practices; to consider, throughout the semester, the relevance, impact, limitations, and possibilities of CSAP for us studying and doing cultural work in/from Hawai‘i; and to provide students with critical questions, vocabulary, methods, and practice that nurture their skills and confidence as active and critical participants in various cultures.


As part of our reading practice, we will discuss and historicize key critical concepts (from representation, ideology, capital, and gendering to heteronormativity, performativity, orientalism & pacificism, globalization, settler colonialism and more) and learn from different approaches—specifically marxism, semiotics, and gender & 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 analysis and action.


The course will include an orientation to the Hawaiian and Pacific collections in Hamilton Library. Every Fall, there is a common thread for the ENG 625s that helps to reinforce how porous the boundaries among the four concentrations are and at the same time what is specific methodologically to each concentration. This year’s thread is “The Environment,” and clusters of related readings in CSAP will help to prepare students for participating in departmental Colloquia on this topic.


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;

Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence (2011), by Leanne Simpson.

Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty: Land, Sex, and the Colonial Politics of State Nationalism (2018), by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui.


Rooted in Wonder: Tales of Indigenous Activism and Community Organizing (2016), edited by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada and Aiko Yamashiro. [available through Hamilton Library’s Project MUSE and JSTOR]


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, Kanaka ʻŌiwi Methodologies, 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, Berlant, Trask, Silva, Arista, Kuwada, Goodyear- Ka‘ōpua, McDougall, hoʻomanawanui, Wolfe, Agamben, Munoz, Mignolo, Naithani, Justice and more.

We will also discuss a selection of films to be chosen collectively from a list that currently includes Let the Mountain Speak (dir. Vilsoni Hereniko), Four Faces of the Moon (dir. Amanda Strong), Jamaica for Sale (dir. Esther Figueroa), Moana (dir. Ron Clements and John Musker), Border (dir. Ali Abbasi), and Kumu Hina (dir. Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson).




Informal assignments include sharing a response to a CS event, identifying takeaways in critical 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 compact 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%).