University of Sydney Handbooks - 2018 Archive

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Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study in which culture is understood not just as textual or artistic products like books, music or films, but in the broader sense of dynamic and complexly patterned ways of life. A major in Cultural Studies introduces you to critical approaches used in the study of a wide variety of cultural forms and practices. It cultivates critical thinking and an ability to intervene in surrounding social, political and scholarly debates.

Culture shapes our understanding of who we are and the world we share. Cultural Studies explores the cultural aspects of a range of topics, including youth, race, class, nation, gender, consumption, everyday life, popular media and the environment. It will provide you with tools to analyse cultural practices, representations, identities and power.

Historically, Cultural Studies draws principally on the fields of Anthropology, Education, History, Literary Studies, Media and Communications, Philosophy, and Sociology but it now interacts closely with Law, Politics and many of the physical sciences. It has notably influenced disciplines like Literary Studies and Sociology by insisting on the importance of studying the contemporary, the popular, and the everyday.

About the major

A major in Cultural Studies will allow you to examine everyday practices in relation to systems of power and will provide you with a range of tools to analyse how meanings are produced, circulated and exchanged in cultural contexts. You will learn how to think analytically, how to question social norms, and how to share ideas in clear and persuasive ways.

A major in Cultural Studies complements all forms of study in the humanities and social sciences as well as law and legal studies, the sciences, the arts, government, economics, commerce and education. It equips you to become informed and engaged critical thinkers in relation to important contemporary cultural issues and everyday experiences and it encourages good writing skills. We also train students in ethical scholarly conduct and appropriate techniques for engaging in critique. Students will understand what cultural competence means in different contexts. You will learn values of intellectual generosity and critical engagement without negativity or closing down discussion, through studying how power operates discursively.

A major in Cultural Studies enables you to become an engaged critical thinker, informed about cultural issues and their social significance. It will prepare you for further research and graduates with majors in Cultural Studies often go on to careers in the arts, heritage and cultural sectors, legal areas, education, government, the NGO sector, and media and communications. Studying Cultural Studies also complements study in other fields of the Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as degrees in Business, Education, Psychology, and Law, as all social institutions and fields of practice have cultural dimensions.

Requirements for completion

A major in Cultural Studies requires 48 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 6 credit points of 1000-level core unit
(ii) 6 credit points of 1000-level selective units
(iii) 12 credit points of 2000-level units
(iv) 18 credit points of 3000-level units
(v) 6 credit points of 3000-level Interdisciplinary Project units.

A minor in Cultural Studies requires 36 credit points from the Unit of Study table including:
(i) 6 credit points of 1000-level core unit
(ii) 6 credit points of 1000-level selective units
(iii) 12 credit points of 2000-level selective units
(iv) 12 credit points of 3000-level selective units

First year

First year introduces the major concepts of Cultural Studies and the key intellectual values a major in Cultural Studies seeks to confer. GCST1601 Introduction to Cultural Studies is core to the major. It will introduce you to how media representations and cultural practices convey meanings that inform our everyday social and cultural world. While drawing upon students’ existing cultural literacies and providing contextual information about Cultural Studies approaches, it provides students with concepts and techniques of analysis that enable them to debate critical issues through the interpretation of cultural texts. In your tutorials, you will learn how to use cultural studies techniques to understand contemporary phenomena.

To progress in the major or minor, students must take at least one from three additional selective units to supplement GCST1601. GCST1603 Screen Cultures and Gender: Screens to Apps considers cinema, television, videogames, the internet and mobile devices, asking how changing media forms and practices impact on our gendered identities and everyday lives. GCST1604 Introduction to Diversity Studies will appeal to students interested in social, economic and cultural marginalisation and new social demands for inclusion. GCST1602 Introduction to Gender Studies familiarises students with foundational concepts in the study of gender.

After taking these units, students are in a position to form preferences regarding which of our more focussed units to take at second and third year level to complete their major or minor.

Second year

Second year units are designed to broaden your knowledge of Cultural Studies and its objects of study while preparing students for the more advanced content they will be exposed to in their third year. You must complete 12 credit points at 2000-level to complete either a major or a minor, before enrolling in 3000-level units of study. Progression is achieved through breadth and depth, allowing you to draw upon your existing cultural literacies and providing contextual information about Cultural Studies approaches.

You will learn how different cultural practices and forms can be analysed, including the range of factors that need to be considered in critical analysis of public discourse, popular culture, and cultural identities and relationships. You will build on your foundational knowledge from first year to more deeply analyse diverse cultural forms, texts, practices and sites, and be able to recognise competing theories and approaches and develop arguments in relation to relevant texts and debates. Such skills not only set you up for a successful third year, but are essential workplace skills, better enabling you to think precisely, deliberate carefully, and communicate ideas in clear and persuasive ways.

While it is not mandated that you choose particular units you are encouraged to pursue themes related to your interests. Offerings might include a focus on consumption, on the environment, on the body and more.

Third year

To complete a Cultural Studies major, you will complete a minimum of 18 credit points at senior-advanced 3000-level units of study and an additional 6 credit point interdisciplinary project. For a minor, you will need to complete 12 credit points.

Units at 3000-level are designed to intensify your study of critical cultural theory and Cultural Studies research methods. You will be introduced to research, project and transdisciplinary learning experiences through units that provide competency in a range of research methods, fieldwork and cultural theory; and be expected to undertake research with a significant degree of independence, expressing findings convincingly and contributing to collaborative peer inquiry with intellectual generosity and a commitment to social inclusion.

You may choose to focus on research methods or cultural theory or do both, and you will be coached to demonstrate a deep disciplinary expertise in and facility with complex cultural issues of identity, meaning and power. By this third year, students should also have acquired high level competence in cultural analysis, theoretical reasoning, and ethical engagement with diverse challenges and cultural communities, developing reflexivity and agility in the course of engaging with different knowledge systems and practices including policy phenomena.


If you commenced your degree prior to 2018: Admission to Honours requires a major in Cultural Studies with an average of 70 percent or above.

If you commenced your degree in 2018: Admission to Honours is via the Bachelor of Advanced Studies and requires the completion of a major in Cultural Studies with an average of 70 percent or above. You will need to ensure you have completed all other requirements of the Bachelor of Advanced Studies, including Open Learning Environment (OLE) units and a second major, prior to commencing Honours.

The honours program gives students an opportunity to refine their thinking to a very high degree, pursuing an independent research topic that will be of deep interest to them. The thesis is an extended piece of research on an approved topic of the student's choosing, and is written under the individual supervision of a member of staff who will be an active researcher in their own right. The thesis gives students the experience of formulating and conducting a substantial piece of independent research, working closely with a supervisor who helps to bring their reflections and research into sharper focus. It is thus a key means of demonstrating the attributes required for further study.

The honours year consists of:

  • 18,000-20,000 word thesis on a topic devised by the student in consultation with a supervisor appointed by the department;
  • Arguing the Point, a unit which provides training in thesis research and writing and includes a series of practical research skills;
  • Participation in an honours mini-conference where constructive peer review is given and received on a 20 minute thesis presentation; and
  • A seminar unit chosen from an approved 4000-level suite.
Advanced coursework

The requirements for advanced coursework in Cultural Studies are described in the degree resolutions for the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Advanced Studies.

24-36 credit points of advanced study will be included in the table for 2019.

Contact/further information

Undergraduate Coordinator:

Degree Advisor:
Honours Coordinator:

The Department of Gender and Cultural Studies is administered by the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI). The School office is located on Level 3 of the Quadrangle Building (A14), near the MacLaurin Hall stairway.