Cultural Analysis

Cultural Analysis Essay: A Mini Research Paper
Your task here is to analyze the meanings surrounding an object which has cultural significance. There are many such objects you may examine, including a song, a video clip online, a computer game, a CD cover, a highly popular consumer device, a book, an item of clothing, a film, an advertisement, a television show (or famous episode from the show), a film poster, a website, etc. (more suggestions are provided below). The meaning these things have are cultural in that they derive from the way the object is valued, perceived, used, marketed, discussed, joked about, condemned, etc. By studying a single cultural aspect we are able to interpret the possible meanings that surround it. Some cultural meanings attached to the object may be obvious, but others, the ones you want to try to determine and argue for, will be harder to spot and require careful research and analysis. The essay you will write is not a report but an argumentative essay in which you make a claim and argue for it (more or less the same format as your literary essays, just with a different topic and approach).

You are free to choose what to focus on so long as it is produced or exists within an English-speaking culture, and so long as it is an object. We are limiting you here—you may not focus on a behavior, trend, practice, etc. as these tend to be harder to analyze, require much more research, and generally students in the past have had difficulties producing good papers when they don’t focus on objects.

Additional suggestions of things you can examine: a book cover, a magazine cover, a political speech (many of which are available online), a website for a certain cause or organization (or part of one), a famous scene from a film, a literal version of a music video, etc.
Once you have chosen an object consider how you will examine it, the cultural meanings associated with it. This should involve some initial brainstorming on your part. To give you an example, say that you have chosen an object, the computer. Cultural associations today may be connected to the information society, role playing, instant access to friends and family members through email and social media sites, but also more troublesome areas such as personal integrity, viruses, etc. These (and many more) are all things that we may associate with the computer, and if we were to look more closely at any of these aspects we’d be able to consider more specifically some of the cultural meanings it has. Do a similar brainstorming around your object to get started.

Once you’ve done that, you need to narrow your focus or else consider how you will approach the analysis of your object. With some objects it will be clear how you might narrow what you examine (e.g., looking at a popular book may include a consideration of the genre(s) it belongs to), while others may require that you do some research to find out about the cultural meanings tied to the object to begin with before you decide how to analyze it. You should also use the textbook or any of the additional readings we’ve had as a starting point in considering how you may approach your object–don’t forget that there are chapters in the textbook that cover things we haven’t discussed, so use that as a resource if you can. Obviously, be open in considering the many meanings surrounding your object, but eventually you must narrow down what you consider, because you won’t have the space in the essay to adequately examine every aspect of the object. You need to determine an approach.

One way to help determine an approach is to see what inspiration you get from the course reading (e.g., suggestions for how to consider fan production, television, etc in the Storey book), or you may decide to adopt a theoretical approach. For example, many cultural objects engage with cultural meaning that is linked to (generally) shared Western ideas about gender, power structures, social institutions, etc. These broad concerns may provide helpful lenses through which you may narrow down your approach. For example, an analysis of how images of masculinity are tied up in your object’s cultural meanings may be a good way to proceed.

At this point, move into a miniature research project. If this were a novel and you were analyzing the novel within its social or historical context, or as a narrative that represents a certain type of genre, you would need to both analyze the narrative (as in a literary analysis) and also find information about it, about the context, etc. in secondary sources that you can then use to support your analysis. This paper will work similarly, except that your analysis is not confined to the specific aspects of the object only (though it can be), but may include how secondary sources discuss it (what can you interpret about its meaning from that?).

Remember that you will be producing an argumentative essay. You need to make a claim (one that is not obvious but which must be proven) and argue for it. We expect you to demonstrate analysis, particularly of your object (which may include language, visuals, physical properties, sounds, etc.), but also possibly of how the object is perceived by others (i.e., in your secondary sources). Note that unlike the A level cultural studies course, where you were allowed to be somewhat speculative with some analysis, here you need to be much more careful in showing how your analysis logically develops from the details you examine. For instance, this means that if you analyze a reality TV show and want to make a point that the show is misogynistic (despite how it is popularly discussed), you will need to logically argue for that via an analysis of details in the show and/or by presenting a secondary source that supports this claim.

Secondary Sources
For this paper you will have to use at least two secondary sources to show that you have researched the ways your object produces meaning (the sources have to be in English). At least one of these has to be a print source, or originally from a print source (online versions of articles that were originally printed on paper are fine to use, for example). This means that we will work with references. Information about how to refer to sources in an appropriate way is included on the course website. This includes how to quote, paraphrase and provide parenthetical references in the body of the essay, as well as how to document the sources you used in a Works Cited at the end.

Essay Format
The essay should follow the same basic structure you would use for an argumentative essay, with an introduction (including a thesis statement), body where you make several arguments to support your thesis, and conclusion. More information about essay formats and, importantly, effective paragraph structures, can be found in the Writing Skills: Literature and Culture resource. You are expected to follow the guidelines there, so make sure you are familiar with them. The format, style and overall set up of the essay should be roughly the same as with a literature essay, it is just that your approach and study object are different.

Don’t forget a good, informative title!
Formalities and important dates:
• The essay should be about 1400 words long – give or take 10%. Note that this does not include title and works cited, but it does include everything in the body of the essay, including quotations, parenthetical references, etc.
• Use a standard font and 1.5 line spacing, please. Upload you essay as a Word or Pdf document.
• All essays are automatically checked for plagiarism. If you are at all unsure of what is meant by plagiarism, please read the post “Plagiarism and Urkund/Ouriginal”.

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