0 Introductory remarks
This workbook wants to introduce students to the most important ways of studying British culture. It presents the central theories and methods of British Cultural Studies, shows for which materials they are particularly useful and what one has to take into account when applying them. Throughout, students are encouraged to become active themselves in working with these approaches.
In order to provide a firm basis for the methods and their application, the book uses a central concept of the British collective imagination as a focal point: Oxford. In the first place, the lexical item 'Oxford' denotes a British city in the county of Oxfordshire, situated just north of the confluence of the Upper River Thames (known in Oxford as the Isis) and the Cherwell. It is most famous for the University of Oxford, which is located within it. This - at least - is the gist of the Information provided for the headword 'Oxford' in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1994. Quite obviously, however, the word evokes far more associations than it has factual, denotational meanings - think only of phrases like 'Oxford English', 'Oxford accent', the contraction 'Oxbridge' and the designation of specific developments in the humanities like the 19th-century 'Oxford Movement' and 'Oxford School'. It is therefore very hard to employ the term neutrally, without alluding to the particular position Oxford holds in the British cultural imaginary. At the same time one can conveniently draw on these widespread associations for advertising and public relations purposes. For instance, one may want to reflect why a great number of schools for English as a foreign language at least have a postal address in Oxford, so that they can include the city in their name. Which connotations are thereby linked with the respective institute?
The present volume provides a collection of key representations that both create and work with these connotations of Oxford. Facts and figures are used as background material and sometimes as a contrastive foil, but the focus of the book is on the realm of myths and images and on their analysis. The criterion for the inclusion of a particular representation is thus its importance and popularity rather than its truth value. The collection concentrates on 20th and 21st-century texts and images, which are closest to the reader's own experience, with older examples being used as a background when necessary. In studying the material, readers will not only learn about the associations connected with 'Oxford' but will almost unwittingly acquire more general knowledge about characteristic features of contemporary British culture. Excerpts from key theoretical texts on myth, representation and cultural meaning provide students with analytical tools for the texts and images and give them the opportunity to test their own approaches against these theories. The 'ways of reading' thus established illustrate how meaning and signification work far beyond the concrete example of Oxford. They can be transferred to many different subject matters in British Cultural Studies. At the same time, the choice of Oxford texts from a variety of perspectives will allow students to familiarise themselves with key categories of identity: ethnicity, dass, and gender. In each case, the textual analysis will be grounded on excerpts from important theories in the area which readers will study in depth.
The collection is divided into four main parts: Firstly, touristic representations demonsträte how the product 'Oxford' is packaged for commercial purposes and which characteristics are the dominant points of attraction for visitors. Due to the prominent economic considerations involved, the selection criteria for and functions of the associations linked with Oxford are more obvious here than with other kinds of representations. The next chapter focuses on excerpts from 'classic' Oxford 'texts' - understanding the term 'text' in a broader sense and including filmic representations as well. The examples treated have become 'classics' in that they have influenced many other Oxford representations and continue to affect views about Oxford even today. The third category of texts challenges the 'classic' representations from different perspectives. In comparing these dissenting views with those of the previous chapter and also among themselves, it becomes clear how many different things 'Oxford' can mean to different people and how futile it is to try and fix or limit these meanings. The last basic group of materials concentrates on the University of Oxford and shows how students, Colleges and the university as a whole present themselves to the outside world nowadays. The texts in this section have been produced for the main purpose of attracting potential applicants and are written with the 'classic' representations in mind. It is thus possible to observe how the characteristics analysed in the second chapter are 'quoted' or rejected in these self-representations. The texts can be used to demonstrate how in the communication between producer and addressee meaning is 'encoded' with a particular intention but may well be understood (or 'decoded') by the reader quite differently. This point will allow us to refer back to the results already established in the first chapter with regard to commercially produced Visual images. The concluding section draws together the most important cultural meanings and methods elucidated in the preceding chapters and the uses they can be put to. It is followed by suggestions for further study in the realm of myths and images as well as identity and Cultural Studies more generally. There are also some suggestions of further reading on Oxford as a city and a university.
Throughout, texts and images are introduced by short explanatory passages and accompanied by suggestions for a step-by-step analysis. The collection is thus suitable for students in the lower Semesters of the German Anglistik curriculum or BA courses, respectively. However, the questions are, of course, only suggestions and can be skipped or combined to form more complex topics of investigation when the volume is used as a source book for advanced courses on the MA level. At the same time, it may also be possible to integrate parts of this book into an English Leistungskurs unit on contemporary British culture, if the teacher reduces the theoretical discussions to the most necessary points.