The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart was first published in 1957. Part autobiography, part English literature and even part anthropology, it was an attempt to understand the changes that were taking place in the kinds of working class communities from which he came as a result of the arrival of mass media. The book helped to make Hoggart’s name – he was appointed Professor of English at the University of Birmingham in 1962 and two years later, established the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Although cultural studies at Birmingham changed radically over the years, Hoggart’s committment to taking both popular culture and working class life seriously remained a core influence throughout.
This is the front cover of the Centre’s annual report for the period 1972-1974. The annual reports were important for the Centre because they were a way of explaining the kind of research that students and staff members were involved in – what cultural studies was. Cultural studies as a field of study never really existed before Richard Hoggart established the Centre in 1964. By the time this report was published ten years later, Stuart Hall has been appointed director of the Centre following Hoggart’s departure to go and work for UNESCO. The front cover of the report is interesting because it reflects the Centre’s growing interest in youth cultures – groups like the mods, rockers and later the punks. This interest was reflected in ground-breaking publications like the jointly authored Resistance Through Rituals (1976) and Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: the meaning of style (1979) and will be returned to as part of this summer’s exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the Centre’s establishment.
Handsworth, an inner-city district to the north of Birmingham’s city centre, became an important subject of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies’ work. Chas Critcher, a postgraduate at the Centre, also ran a community advice Centre in Handsworth. When in a sixteen-year-old youth of mixed ethnic origin was sentenced to an unprecadented twenty years in prison for the ‘mugging’ of a white passer-by, Chas and his colleagues at the Centre began a major research project that eventually became Policing the Crisis, a seminal book that charted what the authors identified as the collapse of the post-war consensus and the growing ‘moral panic’ over the presence of black youth in inner-city areas of Britain. This photograph was taken by Brian Homer, a Handsworth-based photographer in the 1970s, a time when black communities were the subject of increasing racism, hostility from the police and vilification in the media.
Welcome to this blog about the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, a pioneering research centre set up by Richard Hoggart, a Professor of English at the University of Birmingham. The Centre academic group to treat ’mass’ or popular culture such as advertisements, magazines, newspapers and soap operas as subjects worthy of serious academic study. Prior to its controversial closure by the University in 2002 the Centre became a name that was widely recognised in academic circles throughout the world, and associated with the Muirhead Tower (pictured), its home on university campus for the longest period. Summer 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Centre’s establishment. To commemorate this landmark there will be a series of events, including an exhibition at the Midland Arts Centre featuring the work of a number of contemporary artists. This blog will keep you updated about what’s going on – check back for more informatuon.