Developing in the 18th and 19th centuries among writers such as Jonathan Swift, John Ruskin and, especially, Matthew Arnold, cultural criticism as it is practiced today has significantly complicated older notions of culture, tradition and value. While Arnold believed in culture as a force of harmony and social change, cultural critics of the 20th century sought to extend and problematize such definitions. Theorists like Raymond Williams, Antonio Gramsci, and those connected with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England—as well as French intellectuals such Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault—described culture not as a finished product but as a process that joined knowledge to interest and power. Cultural critics critique the traditional canon and focus their attention on a variety of texts and discourses, tracing the interactions of both through an eclectic mix of interpretive strategies that include elements of economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and new historicism. In critiquing the traditional canon, cultural critics avoid privileging one cultural product over another and often examine texts that are largely seen as marginal and unimportant in traditional criticism, such as those connected to various forms of pop culture. Essentially cross-disciplinary, cultural criticism and cultural studies have become important tools in theorizing the emergence and importance of postcolonial and multicultural literatures.
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