Key Concepts and Keywords in Cultural Studies

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Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


This course explores key issues and concepts in Cultural Studies, an interdisciplinary research field that emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Beginning from the Birmingham School of cultural studies, the seminar will consider a variety of approaches to the study of culture, including ideological and textual analysis, studies of working-class cultures and subcultures, feminist cultural research, postcolonial theory, and critical race theory. This type of investigation will rely on a methodological approach first developed by Raymond Williams in his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In Keywords, Williams shows how words of common use (such as class, culture, man, nature, popular, society, sociology, etc.) incorporate multiple meanings that have been stratified through the course of centuries. Taking a similar approach, the course will invite students to research the socio-linguistic and socio-historical evolution of terms that are of common use in our culture and in sociological research. Once they will have acquired a deeper understanding of the keywords, that is, of the basic materials and tools they use in speech and writing, students will connect them to current academic concepts. For example, the study of the term decoloniality will be based on a philological analysis of the senses of the keyword colony as they emerged historically across different semantic fields. The keywords will be partly chosen by the instructor and partly based on students’ suggestions. For this reason, students who are interested in taking this course and would like to suggest their own keywords are advised to contact the instructor before the end of September 2021.


Course Format

The course will meet seven times. Each class will be divided into three sections: 1) an introductory lecture by the instructor (or invited speakers); 2) a student’s presentation on a keyword and the relative assigned readings; and 3) a collective discussion and close reading of the assigned texts.


Required Texts

Williams, R. (2015 [1976]). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (third edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

All other required readings will be made available by the instructor in electronic format.



Students are expected to be active participants in the seminar. Reading requirements are to be fulfilled before the beginning of each class. Additionally, during the first class of the seminar, each student signs up to present the assigned readings for a class of her/his choice. The presentation assignment consists of a presentation of the keyword and relative readings, with the optional support of slides and/or a short reflection paper. Students are encouraged to connect, where applicable, the keyword to their own research. Each presentation should end with a couple of questions that may facilitate class discussion. All students are expected to prepare comments and participate in the discussion.



Phd students


Presentation (all readings)                            50%

In-class attendance and participation            50%


Doctoral students are not required to write a paper as the instructor will only determine whether they have passed (or failed) the course. Students who miss more than one class may be asked to repeat the course.

Doctoral students who opt to write a term paper for this course must consult the instructor in advance and agree on a topic. Term papers should be approximately 20-pages long, references excluded, and are due by September 30, 2022.


Master students


Presentation (1 reading)                                  25%

In-class attendance and participation                25%

Paper                                                             50%


Master students are required to write a 3,000-word paper (references included) to allow the instructor to express a grade on a 30-point scale. The paper can be written in English or Italian and must be delivered by July 2, 2022.


Schedule of Classes and Readings


1. Introduction: Raymond Williams & the Keywords Project

April 5 (Tuesday, 14:00-16:00)

Williams, R. (2015 [1976]). Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. x-xxxvii.

Grossberg, L. (2010). Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp 7-30



Williams, R. 1960. Culture and Society (1780-1950). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, pp. xi-xviii

Bennett, T., & Grossberg, L., & Morris, M. 2005. New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. xvii-xxvi.

Moran, M. 2021. Keywords as Method, European Journal of Cultural Studies. DOI:


2. From Culture to Hegemony

April 7 (Thursday, 10:00-13:00)


Keywords: Hegemony; Class


Guest lecturer: Alessandra Marchi, Università degli Studi di Cagliari


Williams, R. 2015. Hegemony. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. 99-100.

Hebdige, D. (1979). From Culture to Hegemony. In Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, pp. 5-19.

Gramsci, A. (1971). The Intellectuals; On Education. In Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers, pp. 3-16 and 26-33.



Williams, R. 2015. Class. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. 26-34.

Hall, Stuart. 1987. Gramsci and us. Marxism Today, 16–21 June.


3. History from Below

April 12 (Tuesday, 14:00-17:00)


Keyword: History


Lecturer: Irina Aguiari


Williams, R. 2015. History. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. 101-102.

Linebaugh, P., & Rediker, M. 2000. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press, pp. 1-7 and 71-103.

Federici, S. 2000. The Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia, pp. 10-18.



Chakrabarty, D. 2000. Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial Historiography. Nepantla: Views from South 1(1), pp. 1-32.

Ginzburg, C. The Cheese and the Worms. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 52-61.

Federici, S. 2000. The Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia, pp. 163-218.


4. Nations and Nationalisms

April 14 (Thursday, 14:00-17:00)

Keywords: National; Popular


Lecturer: Jacopo Custodi


Williams, R. 2015. Nationalist. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. 159-161.

Williams, R. 2015. Popular. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford UP. Third edition, pp. 179-181.

Greenfeld, L. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 3-21.

Anderson, B. 2006. The Origins of National Consciousness. In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso (Revised edition), pp. 37-46.



Finalyson, A. 1988. Ideology, Discourse, and Nationalism. Journal of Political Ideologies 3(1), pp. 99-118.

McNally, M. 2019. Hegemony: A Theory of National-Popular Class Politics. In M. Vidal et al. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx. Doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190695545.013.19


5. Racialized Bodies

April 28 (Thursday, 10:00-13:00)


Keywords: Race; Colonialism


Guest Lecturer: Angelica Pesarini, University of Toronto


Pesarini, A. 2017. “Blood Is Thicker than Water:” The Materialization of the Racial Body in Fascist East Africa. Zapruder World 4.

Garner, S. 2010. The Idea of Race and Practices of Racism. In Racisms: An Introduction. London: Sage, pp. 19-32.

Ahmed, S. 2002. Racialized Bodies. I: Evans, M. and Lee, E. (eds) Real Bodies. London: Palgrave.



Garner, S. 2010. Racialisation. In Racisms: An Introduction. London: Sage, pp. 19-32.

MacMaster, N. 2001. Blackness without Blacks. In Racism in Europe 1870-2000. London and New York: Palgrave, pp. 58-85.

Edward D. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), pp. 1-28.


6. The Politics of Aesthetics

May 2 (Friday, 10:00-13:00)


Keywords: Art; Creativity


Lecturers: Lucie Janotovà and Immacolata Pepino


Ranciere, J. Introducing Disagreement. Angelaki 9(3), pp. 3-9.

Ranciere, J. 2003. The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Bloomsbury, pp. 12-34.

McRobbie, A. 2016. Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 1-16 and 33-59.



Sholette, G. 2011. Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. London: Pluto, pp. 1-22.


7. The Politics of Care and Social Reproduction

May 6 (Friday, 10:00-13:00)


Keywords: Care; Reproduction


Lecturer: Lorenzo Velotti


Tronto, J. 2018. Care as a Political Concept. In Revisioning the Political: Feminist Reconstructions of Traditional Concepts in Western Political Theory, Taylor and Francis., pp. 139-156.

Woodly, D. et al. 2021. Critical Exchange: The Politics of Care. Contemporary Political Theory.

Federici, S. 2019. Wages for Housework. In A. Kothari et al. (eds), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. New Dehli: Tulika Books, pp. 329-332.



Care Collective. 2020. Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence. New York: Verso, pp. 1-43.

Casalini, B. 2019. Care of the Self and Subjectivity in Precarious Neoliberal Societies. Insights of Anthropology 31(1), pp. 134-139.

Obiettivi formativi

The course aims at providing students with an original methodological approach laying at the intersection of philological analysis and sociological research. The ultimate goal of the course is to put students in the condition of acquiring a deep understanding of the historical evolution of key terms and concepts, how such history conditions their current use, and how these semantic stratifications can be unpacked to advance their own research projects.