December 3, 1999
Cultural studies program is unveiled
By Kathleen Holder
Like Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, UC Davis newest graduate program is springing into the academy full-grown.
Faculty members who worked five years to create the masters and doctoral program in cultural studies say it will be one of the largest and most diverse of its kind anywhere.
The cross-disciplinary program draws on more than 60 faculty members from 25 programs and departments in two collegesLetters and Science, and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Faculty expertise spans such subjects as gender, race, sexuality, social class, politics, religion, popular culture, transnationalism, science and society, history, and rhetoric and critical theory.
"The thing that excites me the most is that the program is truly interdisciplinary. It brings together theories and methods from the humanities and social sciences to address compelling issues in society," said Susan Kaiser, professor of women and gender studies, and textiles and clothing.
"We really have something unique here at UC Davis that we can capitalize on."
Judith Newton, director of the women and gender studies program, called the cultural studies program "one of the best things to happen on campus intellectually and socially in the last 10 years."
Newton said the new program creates a structure to bring together scholars whove been doing cultural studies work on similar topics, but in different departments. "Ive been talking and learning from people whom I hardly ever saw four years ago. Its tremendously exciting," she said. "It makes it possible to think about things in a really comparative way, which can really challenge your original assumptions. Were unsettling each others ways of approaching our material. Its great."
Cultural studies has come into its own over the past quarter-century, combining the methodologies of literature, sociology, anthropology, the arts and other disciplines to look at the cultural framework of everyday life.
Topics of study have included such things as family values, globalization, and the interplay of television and popular understandings.
"In some ways, its like a history of the present," Kaiser said.
Program director Kent Ono, an associate professor in American studies and Asian American studies, said the development of cultural studies reflects a movement in many fields to "rethink how we think."
Cultural studies cuts across theory and practice in exploring such questions as "what we do know, what we should know and what we do with what we know," Ono said. "It raises questions about fundamental things that maybe many of us have taken for granted about what it is were doing."
The program recently received approval from the Office of President, UC Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs and the California Postsecondary Education Commission.
The cultural studies program is accepting applications now for next fall. The program plans to accept about five students each year.
Interest in cultural studies in growing worldwide, according to Ono, Kaiser and others who helped develop the UC Davis program. More than 30 current graduate students, responding to a flyer from the programs organizing committee, said they would have pursued such a degree had it existed when they first started here.
"At last half a dozen potential graduate students, some Davis undergraduates, have talked of delaying their entry into graduate school in hopes that this program would soon be running," the committee said in a report submitted to the state Postsecondary Education Commission.
Ono said he has received inquiries from about 25 prospective students, some from as far away as Italy and Romania. "Im getting about two inquiries a day," he said.
The proposal to create the UC Davis program was published in late 1998 in Cultural Studies, a leading journal in the field. The issue was devoted to issues surrounding the creation of formal programs in cultural studies.
Kaiser said the journals editors were intrigued by UC Davis unique use of graduate groups, which allow the creation of cross-disciplinary programs that are not tied to any single academic department.
It will be the first graduate program in UC system to bear the name of cultural studies, although UC Santa Cruz has a hallmark program titled the history of consciousness. In addition, UCLA has proposed a doctoral program in world arts, cultures and dance and UC Santa Barbara is seeking to create one in East Asian languages and culture.
Other cultural studies graduate programs include one recently created at Claremont College in Southern California, while Harvard University is creating an undergraduate program in the area.
Most courses for the UC Davis program are already in place. Students will be able to pick from existing courses in departments such as art history, landscape architecture, community and regional development, sociology, English and Native American studies.
Only three core courses will have to be created"Theories, Histories and Practices of Cultural Studies," "Studies in Theoretical Traditions" and "The Practice of Cultural Studies."
Students will also attend a yearlong, weekly colloquium.
Ono said many of the cultural studies faculty members, including himself, who teach in undergraduate programs are excited about the chance to work directly with graduate students.
"There was widespread glee when we heard" that the program had been approved, he said. "Theres general excitement about the vitality the graduate students will bring to the program."
For the students, the training in cultural studies could lead to a variety of careers in a society that is growing more and more culturally diverse, program organizers believe.
Students graduating with a masters degree could go into jobs in education, state government, the media and the arts, they said. Doctoral degrees could lead to careers at foundations, community groups, publishing companies, museums, as well as teaching positions at colleges and universities.
"In California, where issues of identity are so fraught and cultural analysis so complex, training in cultural studies, which makes these issues central, seems particularly relevant," according to the Cultural Studies journal article written by Newton, Kaiser and Ono.
Dateline UC Davis is the faculty and staff newspaper for the University of California, Davis.