Poststructuralist and postmodern cultural criticismCriticism;postmodern
An important step toward expanding the scope of studies by cultural critics occurred during the 1960’s. Academics influenced by Marxist and other leftist ideologies began highlighting the unspoken ideology behind mainstream ideas about high culture, exposing its inherently elitist, racist, and gender-biased view of society that privileged certain elite groups while marginalizing most others. The study of culture as a critique of mainstream society was the principal aim of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, established in 1964 by Richard Hoggart at the University of Birmingham in England. Hoggart and his colleagues applied a variety of new and traditional theories to examinations of literary works to expose the ideology behind them. In the view of these new cultural critics, any literary work had value as a cultural text. As a consequence, the academic study of poetry changed not only in its methodology but also in its selection of subject matter. Practitioners of the then-new cultural studies, for example, were as apt to study song lyrics as they were sonnets.
This new form of cultural criticism had been influenced by numerous philosophical studies of culture, largely European in origin. The Frankfurt School, a group of writers and thinkers guided by Marxist ideology, produced a series of leftist tracts on the inherent weaknesses of Western society and its principal institutions; their work came to be known as critical theory. Writings by members Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin began to have an influence on literary studies shortly after the end of World War II. Another impetus for a revaluation of the idea of culture was provided by the Italian critic Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the notion that critics should be engaged directly with social issues and should use their work as weapons for social change.
Cultural commentary by such French theorists as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, as well as by the Belgian theorist Paul de Man, have had perhaps the greatest impact on American cultural critics, who have been strong in replacing old-style literary...
(The entire section is 890 words.)