Doing things with Cultural Theory

Matt Hills’ Fan Cultures has already become an anchor text across the first year of my MA course, and his book How to Do Things with Cultural Theory is giving me a great sense of impetus heading into my second year. 

Importantly it gives some sound advice – especially on reading and writing cultural theory – without being a simplistic textbook. In fact Hills goes into some excellent discussion on what it means to be a cultural theorist, do research or become an academic. The most crucial chapter for me concerned the argument that students should be prepared not just to note down the most important quotes from a book – there should be a desire to take in the whole text before breaking it down through rigorous investigation. It gives you the tools to do the job while simultaneously arguing what job you should indeed be doing (and reminding you that some tutors may not have your best interests at heart).

What I’m most surprised by is actually how accurate the title is – this isn’t “introduction to cultural theory” or “how to write a cultural theory essay”. It’s actually a detailed account of how one should approach a body of cultural theory in order to eventually produce one’s own contribution. “Do” becomes a much more active word in the tasks “do some research” or “do an assignment” than it ever has before.

Hills is happy to explore some of the criticisms of his own work in his arguments, pointing out that no theory is complete and all theory – no matter how canonical to cultural studies – is open to reappropriation. Nearing the end of this book now, I know the next text I read – incidentally I’ve got Hills’ “Triumph of a Time Lord” ready to go – will be read with a much better sense of “doing” theory, rather than merely “reading” theory. 


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