Cultural studies is a field of theoretically, politically, and empirically engaged cultural analysis that concentrates upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture, its historical foundations, defining traits, conflicts, and contingencies. Cultural studies researchers generally investigate how cultural practices relate to wider systems of power associated with or operating through social phenomena, such as ideology, class structures, national formations, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and generation. Cultural studies views cultures not as fixed, bounded, stable, and discrete entities, but rather as constantly interacting and changing sets of practices and processes. The field of cultural studies encompasses a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and practices. Although distinct from the discipline of cultural anthropology and the interdisciplinary field of ethnic studies, cultural studies draws upon and has contributed to each of these fields.
Cultural studies was initially developed by British Marxist academics in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and has been subsequently taken up and transformed by scholars from many different disciplines around the world. Cultural studies is avowedly and even radically interdisciplinary and can sometimes be seen as antidisciplinary. A key concern for cultural studies practitioners is the examination of the forces within and through which socially organized people conduct and participate in the construction of their everyday lives.
Cultural studies combines a variety of politically engaged critical approaches drawn including semiotics, Marxism, feminist theory, ethnography, post-structuralism, postcolonialism, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, translation studies, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies and historical periods. Cultural studies seeks to understand how meaning is generated, disseminated, contested, bound up with systems of power and control, and produced from the social, political and economic spheres within a particular social formation or conjuncture. Important theories of cultural hegemony and agency have both influenced and been developed by the cultural studies movement, as have many recent major communication theories and agendas, such as those that attempt to explain and analyze the cultural forces related and processes of globalization.
During the rise of neo-liberalism in Britain and the US, cultural studies both became a global movement, and attracted the attention of many conservative opponents both within and beyond universities for a variety of reasons. Some left-wing critics associated particularly with Marxist forms of political economy also attacked cultural studies for allegedly overstating the importance of cultural phenomena. While cultural studies continues to have its detractors, the field has become a kind of a worldwide movement of students and practitioners with a raft of scholarly associations and programs, annual international conferences and publications. Distinct approaches to cultural studies have emerged in different national and regional contexts.