Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction Michael Ryan. 1st Ed 2010. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. $24.43 (Amazon)
This book uses an interesting methodological approach in that it separates the various facets of cultural studies into separate chapters. It serves as an interesting depiction of culture—and Michael Ryan is sure to state that his definition of culture, “the things we humans make when we translate ideas into objects” (ix). As such, Ryan’s methodology involves exploring the various ideas that create culture. As a person who is interested in cultural rhetorics, and culture in general, the organization of this book is one of its more appealing features. This book covers most of the aspects of culture, with chapters like “policy and industry, identity, lifestyle, and subculture, media studies, ethnicity, and bodies and things” (Ryan). The book does not purport itself to be unique or interesting in regards to other textbooks of its type. However, it does mention the distinct lack of cultural studies textbooks that provide such a thorough overview as this one does. This book, according to Ryan, shows readers how Cultural Studies “is done,” and provides opportunities for students to practice doing the work themselves. Ryan also explains that the book is meant to serve as a companion to the Wiley published text, Cultural Studies: An Anthology, which I looked over.
In relation to the works we have read this semester, Ryan’s work does not directly reference SoTL, but one can see applications of SoTL ideas throughout the book. For example, the crowdsourcing work of Cathy Davidson could easily be applied to each chapter of the book. Moreover, each chapter ends with a question or questions to consider, and these answers could be provided through a twitter essay like the ones described in the Hybrid Pedagogy blog. This text also confronts issues of identity and class that the SoTL works we have read in the course also cover. It was interesting for me to read this textbook in relation to those articles, and I could see myself utilizing some of the SoTL articles in my course planning if I were to use this textbook. Moreover, since this text covers so many aspects of lived experience and identity, it reviews the same topics as the SoTL literature on class, queering pedagogy, and emotional literacy.
This textbook presents many strengths and weaknesses in relation to lower level cultural studies courses. The clear divisions of ideas are one of the book’s biggest strengths, as they allow students to focus on one idea at a time, and also allow the instructor to relate the ideas to each other through coursework, but this relation is not necessary. One of the negative aspects of this book is that it is very dependent on time. This book mentions television shows and “current” events. The main issue is that the book was published five years ago, and has not published a newer edition, so many of the television shows, trends, songs, and events are already outdated. However, they are not yet outdated enough to make the book not useful—it would just have to be used in conjunction with supplementary texts that are more recent.
This book is very applicable to a literature course because each chapter includes a student exercise at the end. The exercise can help facilitate discussion, as well as be turned into a longer writing assignment. Interestingly, the exercises relate the content of the chapter to what Ryan calls the “current historical moment” (68). Moreover, each chapter includes a bibliography that instructors can use to incorporate secondary readings. The price and small size of the textbook would allow me to require it to be purchased by students, and the bibliographies would allow me to obtain PDF files that I could compile in BlackBoard for supplementary reading. In a lower level cultural studies course, I would require only this book, as it serves as a strong introduction, and a concise overview of various topics in cultural studies. The book also has fourteen chapters, which makes it perfect for structuring a cultural studies course. This book would be especially useful for a writing in cultural studies classroom, or a mid level composition course. This book would only be very useful in a survey course, however, because it is so broad. If I were to conduct a focused course, I would probably just copy the chapter that corresponded with the course’s subject. The bibliography for that chapter would also be especially useful. The other negative aspect of this book is that it is meant to serve as a companion text—this can make it cost prohibitive for many students. If I were to use both texts, I would have to rely on them exclusively, and not require much in the way of outside reading. This book also does not come in an electronic version, which would make it a bit inconvenient for hybrid or online courses.
Overall, the book provides a strong overview of cultural studies, and does provide students with numerous opportunities for written reflection. However, it is constructed in a way that forces it to be dependent on its companion anthology, or various outside texts if one wants to get into specific details.