Hegemony, Hybridity, and Semiotics

Dialogues With Power met again this week. Each class is a foray into the theoretical territory of Cultural Studies, using the vocabulary of this interdisciplinary field to further our understandings of languages—English, Portuguese, and more—, of media usage, and of the way that meaning is generated in our societies, across history, and, of course, in our cultures.

We haven’t gotten to the history of the formal creation of cultural studies yet, but one of my students referenced Stuart Hall, one of the foremost thinkers and contributors to cultural theory! I was impressed and so delighted.

Until now, we have focused primarily on understanding and applying the following terms. In my own studies, these terms have been essential to the practice of “doing” cultural studies. I hope they will help anyone looking to drop in on class and participate.

Hegemony: a term to describe relations of power and domination which may not be visible as such; the acceptance of the dominant ideology as the norm in society.

Hybridity: the mixing together of different cultural elements to create new meanings and identities.

Semiotics: the study of signs and their meanings.

Three students presented cultural texts in class, and we discussed the works that they brought in according to these three concepts.

Marcos is a cello player, and he brought in a presentation about musical notation and instruments, in which we did a semiotic analysis (signifier/signified) of each of the symbols. We also watched a video that hybridized classical and contemporary music in Bach’s Suite 1 for cello.

Cauê brought in a wonderful video called “El Empleo” that calls upon the audience to critically examine our relationship to labor, consumption, and human interaction.

Fernanda presented five images from the Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski. All of these challenged us to articulate the powers that hold us in our places in society— whether it be in our studies, our work, our acceptance of inequality, political systems, and the consumption of meat.

I’m thrilled by the texts that students brought in, and by our fruitful conversations. Next week we will continue to see presentations, and to continue practicing our use of the concepts of cultural studies as applied to our everyday lives.

 

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