The purpose of American cultural studies is to offer a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of modern and historic cultural processes which are relevant to the United States society. While the subject focuses on the United States as a country, it provides a much broader global context and the influence that the U.S. has played in it throughout cultural history. The mission of this subject is to create discussion around the realities and events which have been socially relevant to the formation of the American socio-cultural character. Courses in American cultural studies are designed to explore and discover aspects of cultural that both influential and those that have been forgotten.
American cultural studies relate to the broader field of cultural studies because it unwillingly touches upon aspects of “culture” that influence American society. The subject also explores factors of daily life such as cooking, entertainment, clothing, and art that are inherently cultural aspects. Furthermore, the subject studies and demonstrates the importance and diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and political affiliation as part of critical analysis for the structure of society, formation of identities, and allocation of resources. The focus on the United States is tremendously important from a cultural perspective because of the role that the country has played in recent international history, as well as its status as the “melting pot” of immigration due to offered socio-economic opportunities.
American cultural studies is a multidisciplinary subject in its core foundation. This is due to the fusion of various disciplines such as political science, economics, literature, history, media and marketing, visual arts, philosophy, and theology which are a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage. To gain an introspective in the subject, it requires a holistic examination of the United States through the lenses of these disciplines and the focus of value, ideologies, and cultural practices or products.
The unique advantage of American studies is that it allows to examine the process of nation-building with its benefits and challenges. The United States from its very inception as a country has purposefully selected and has been inconspicuously influenced by various political, economic, cultural, and social models from around the world in order to shape the national identity. The very nature of American studies is focused on the conceptualization, analysis, and interpretation of evidence from a diverse range of sources and perspectives that have played a critical role in the cultural foundation of the modern U.S. society. Intersectionality of cultural differences shaped many of the historic events, political ideologies, social beliefs, and economic practices. Practically every influential institution in U.S. history has been formed on the foundational beliefs of a specific cultural group that promoted an innovative concept for its time.
The history of American cultural studies can be traced back to the mid-20th century. It came about as part of a shift in academic perspectives, as more liberal scholars sought to divert from the entrenched formalism and rigid curriculums, studying American culture solely through the traditional history and English courses. It was an innovative pedagogical and methodologic approach to a subject through the use of an interdisciplinary approach. The success of American studies came mostly due to a rise in American nationalism and the country’s growing influence in the world after World War I. During the Cold War and Red Scare, it was a subject seen to effectively combat the supposed propagandistic influence of Soviet Union. There was an inherent focus on the Democratic principles of U.S. society and government which supported freedom of choice and capitalism versus the oppression and socialism of Communist governments. Overall, American studies allows examining the aspects of American political, technological, and societal developments within a context of globalization. This includes how the United States has influenced the rest of the world with its pop culture or political beliefs. It may examine the decision-making processes which have contributed to the emergence of Democracy and freedom worldwide. Furthermore, the subject evaluates the power dynamics of global politics where American influence, manipulation, and intervention has impacted the turn of events for the last several decades.
However, the context of American studies gradually shifted towards a more social and cultural academic discipline. It was no longer a study of historical figures and political foundations. American society opened its boundaries through social movements to become more inclusive of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and other non-traditional perspectives. The subject began to consider the mind and spirit of American society. This includes challenging the status quo regarding historical narratives (slavery and colonialism), perspectives on social norms (feminism, Civil Rights Movement, and Queer Theory), and culture.
These changes occurred due to the overall shift in social thinking as well as academic approaches to the study of culture, considering the influence of the social movements and pop-culture as driving forces behind American identity. Significant changes are currently ongoing in the American society as a myriad of new perspectives are emerging, social movements are driving cultural shifts, and non-traditional players overturn political status quo. American society is undoubtedly experiencing a turbulent time with many values and ideals being challenged both domestically and abroad. As these events begin to create a new phase of American cultural identity, American cultural studies will begin a new period of interdisciplinary exploration.
Flow of Information
The concept of media has become a relevant topic in the past year as more details emerge that information can be easily falsified or modified for the purpose of manipulating public opinion. While propaganda is old media tool, to a certain point the accessibility of information has been limited until recent times. Especially in the United States, people usually received information from established sources with journalistic credibility. However, the rise of social networking has led to a shifting trend of people receiving news (especially upon initial release) from these platforms where anyone can post anything without the need to follow guidelines or ethical standards. American studies are critical in analyzing the tradition and method of receiving information and how it has transitioned in modern times. Social networking is considered a cultural aspect because it has become one of the primary methods of communication, entertainment, and consumption of information. Subjects like American studies could evaluate the rise of social networks and its integration into society as well as how the discipline influences public behavior and opinion.
Subfields and Focus
The most important subfields of American studies right now are gender and sexuality studies, social justice, and media or communication studies. These are important because of the socio-political atmosphere in the country currently as the intense debate is emerging on topics directly related to these subfields. It is difficult to predict which subfields will emerge as important but with significant debate on immigration and its impact on American society, racial and ethnic studies might be critical subject matter. American cultural studies over the next decade should focus on the socio-political dynamics which are forming after the election of President Trump. The 2016 election resulted in a significant shift for political expectations, social perceptions, and has challenged many concepts of American traditions such as public service, use of mass and social media, and division within the fabrics of society.
Challenges and Approach
One of the critical challenges for American studies in the future is the ever-expanding ideology of globalization which shifts the focus away from individual nations. Almost every discipline and subject matter is now being examined from an international perspective since the global political and economic systems are becoming intertwined. Furthermore, the rise of countries such as China on the global arena, with the United States, gradually losing its hegemonic position, creates a question of value for scholarship focused solely on America. American Studies is not positioned very strongly to take upon these challenges. Unfortunately, due to the reasons described above, there is a decreased interest in the subject matter since the United States does not maintain as much cultural influence anymore. Furthermore, American studies have become significantly underfunded and not as focused as during the 20th century. A multidisciplinary approach can only be valuable to the point where it helps to maintain perspective and analyze decision-making.
To remain relevant, American studies will need a significant shift in its approach to analyzing the United States culture, particularly within the concept of globalization. Emphasis should be made on relevant issues of the modern day including media, cybersecurity, social justice for ethnic minorities and immigrants. Furthermore, the American identity has become one of consumerism and online media. The country is a powerhouse for innovative start-ups and the new lifestyle trends which are changing much rapidly than ever before. The outreach of global interconnectivity, accessibility of information, and economic prosperity is allowing citizens to experience any cultural or lifestyle aspect they would like. Overall, the analysis of America’s global position should be made within the context of complex and multidimensional relationships that the United States is forming with its allies, competitors, and rivals.