Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies

core definition

The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham was the first and best-known cultural studies research centre in the United Kingdom.

explanatory context

The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies was located at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.


Its main period of activity was during the 1970s when it produced a large number of working papers and a series of edited texts and monographs related to cultural studies. Stuart Hall was director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies from 1969 to 1979.


It was at the forefront of the development of cultural studies, particularly the analysis of the media.


The Centre has been instrumental in the development of semiotic analysis of media content.


The Centre adopted a mainly Marxist perspective.


Other areas of specific concern were, ideology, feminism, education, social history (especially oral history), racism, violence, and working class and youth culture.


Summary of the CCCS approach to media studies (Hall 1980)

1. Opposed to the stimulus response model and moved to one which looked at the ideological nature of mass communications.

2. Opposed to the idea of media as transparent bearers of meanings and considered the linguistic and ideological structuration of media messages
3. Opposed to the idea of an undifferentiated and passive audience, moved to an idea of an active audience which 'read' messages and considered the relation between the encoding and various decodings of different audiences at different moments.

4. The role of the media in circulating and securing dominant ideological definitions and representations. Such concerns are not the focus of content analysis/audience response mass communications research of more traditional types.


The closure of the Centre in 2002 was highly controversial.

analytical review

Curtis (2002) in The Guardian reported the untimely and acrimonious demise of the Centre as follows:

Students of sociology and cultural studies at the University of Birmingham found a computer typed notice tacked to the door of the department this morning: "This department has been cancelled. Nothing else matters," it read.

Birmingham University this morning confirmed that the department - known internationally as the birthplace of cultural studies - was indeed being restructured. Although not confirmed, it seems likely that 11 staff jobs will be lost, leaving an estimated 210 students unsure of where they will be doing their degrees in September.

Staff received letters on June 20 informing them that the department would close "in its present form".

Sociology would be assimilated into the social policy and social work department, while the media, culture and society programme (MCS) would be absorbed into the institute of applied social studies.

The letter explains that the restructuring is taking place "against a backdrop of the outcome of the 2001 research Assessment Exercise". The university planned to maximise the number of five and five star ratings in the next exercise. The department had scored a 3A.

Laura Topham who was expecting to go into her third year in the department in September, found the note this morning.

She said: "The department comes out top in the teaching score year after year. It was the first cultural studies department and you won't find a cultural studies book without a reference to us. This was the best course I thought I could do, and Birmingham is supposed to be reliable. But it seems they don't do enough research."

The department scored the maximum of 24 points in the teaching quality assessment last year. Degrees are highly popular with 600 applications last year for 40 places on the MCS course. Sociology is rated highest in the Guardian league tables every year they've been running.

Staff and students are angry at the way the department was closed. While rumors have been rife in the last few months, staff only received the letters informing them on the last day of term, too late to inform students of what would be happening....

Carnie (undated) wrote:

Contemporary British cultural studies has its origins with the founding of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham in 1964 as a postgraduate research institute. In fact the intellectual genealogy of British cultural studies is concomitant with the intellectual history of the CCCS. The Centre is acknowledged for producing what are generally regarded as thefoundational texts of “modern” British cultural studies. Its approach was interdisciplinary, drawing on sociology, literary criticism, and history. The Centre’s approach and methodology drew upon a long history of British cultural thinkers and later mined the intellectual wealth of contemporary European theoretical thought. These multiple approaches and multiple “voices” in turn impelled new questions and a subsequent rethinking of what “culture” means. The Birmingham group re-conceptualized “popular culture” as the location or site of resistance and negotiation by marginalized and disempowered groups in modern society and thus granted popular culture an entirely new order of importance. They perhaps most importantly reinterpreted culture in relation to dominant political structures and social hierarchies. The intention of this project, both implicitly and explicitly, was to give a “voice” to the marginalized. Initially, this project was propelled in terms of class but later, as we shall see, also in terms of gender and race.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 5

Critical Social research Section 2.6 for an assessment of the critical work of Paul Willis in Learning to Labour, who received his PhD from CCCS in 1972.


Carnie, H.J., undated, Talking to the Centre: Different Voices in the Intellectual History of The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), available at, accessed 1 February 2013, page no longer available 14 December 2016.

Curtis, P., 2002, 'Birmingham's cultural studies department given the chop' The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2002, available at, accessed 1 February 2013, still available 23 November 2019.1

Hall, S., 1980, 'Encoding/Decoding' in Hall, S., Hobson, D., Lowe, A. and Willis, P. (Eds.), Culture, Media, Language, pp. 12838, London, Hutchinson.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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