American Cultural Studies

The Programs in African American and American Cultural Studies (AAACS)

In 1990, the Bates community founded and combined two intersecting, interdisciplinary programs that introduce students to models of scholarly inquiry and interpretation of shared multifaceted socially constructed topics: race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, disability, immigration, power and social justice. Though the primary focus of African American Studies (AAS) is the exploration of the experiences, histories, and cultures of people of African descent in the United States as well as throughout their diaspora; its affiliation with ACS gestures toward the study of other American ethnic experiences in the combined programs of AAACS.  American Cultural Studies (ACS) examines the ways that Americans categorize and represent what they understand to be their distinctive social experiences and how they express and symbolize these activities.

These fields also investigate the reciprocal transnational cultural relations between the US and other societies. We have no single theory or methodology but instead draw upon ideas and practices of several disciplines in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Rather than seeking answers that will hold over all time, AAS and ACS develop flexible tools that adapt to this rapidly changing world.

AAACS facilitates its faculty and students’ identification and examination of different social roles assigned to individuals by race, gender, sexuality, ability, and social class. In addition, this includes the analysis of the inequitable distribution of material resources and the connection between structures of knowledge and larger systems of privilege and oppression.

American Cultural Studies Description

American Cultural Studies pursues the interdisciplinary analysis of cultural processes, both past and present. While it focuses on the United States, it situates the U.S. in a wider transnational context. ACS explores the various ways that institutions, values and practices shape, maintain, and challenge relations of power.

Such discussion interrogate realities and discourses that have been deemed natural in order to expose their socially contingent character. ACS courses are designed to elucidate what has been rendered socially invisible.  By design, American Cultural Studies students are grounded in African American Studies and critical theory. Furthermore their foundation in critical race theory enables them to apply these methods of inquiry to the study of several ethnicities that constitutes the body politic. Studies interrogate the meaning of belonging, privilege, and exclusion. Among current American Cultural Studies courses are those that focus on cultural geography and cultural politics, borderlands, disaporas, film and media, gender, history, literature, music, performance, queer theory, and race theory.

Goals and Objectives:

  • To analyze the production, circulation, and critical reception of material culture.
  • To consider the ways that performances in everyday life (such as cooking and dress) produce cultural meaning.
  • To introduce students to important conceptual constructs such as queer, race and critical theories.
  • To consider the intersectionality of race, class, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and other modes of social differentiation..
  • To demonstrate the importance of race, gender, sexuality as tools of critical analysis for explaining, among other things, the allocation of economic resources, formation of personal and group identities, the dynamics of unequal power, the changing nature of political behavior, and the creation of aesthetic expressions.
  • To consider the construction and contestation of American identities, nationalisms, and distributions of rights, privileges, and citizenship.
  • To delineate the fundamental elements of thinking historically, especially their importance in social, cultural and intellectual analysis.
  • To scrutinize the history of America by focusing on specific eras and political movements such as the American Civil War, westward expansion, and the Civil Rights, Women’s, and American Indian Movements.
  • To communicate effectively in writing and speech.
  • To facilitate a vibrant conversation between students and faculty across the campus and beyond in a variety of different fields: anthropology, art and visual culture, education, history, literature, music, politics, rhetoric, sociology, and science; and African American, women and gender, environmental and religious studies.
  • To foster engagement in the larger community–local, national, and international.
  • To prepare students for fulfilling careers in a variety of fields, including research and teaching; policy, advocacy and community work; law; cultural organization and curating; digitization and management.