Part 1 - Foundations 

Arrival and the First Two Years

This section of the Handbook will supply a general orientation to the curriculum and basic advice on how to complete the program's foundation requirements.


At the beginning of your first semester in the program, you will participate in an orientation session to familiarize you with core requirements, program expectations, the advising system, and degree requirements, including the process of forming, proposing, writing and defending fields. During orientation, each incoming student will be matched with a continuing student who has volunteered to serve as a mentor, to answer questions, and to familiarize you with the program quickly.


Your first two years are devoted to the completion of core, theory, and topics requirements. To this end, you'll be assigned a designated faculty advisor to guide you in selecting your courses. Barring unusual circumstances, full-time students should complete a minimum of 21 credit hours of CULT coursework during their first three semesters of enrollment.

As a student, you are responsible for meeting with your advisor, for updating your Program of Study form (the goldenrod sheet) each semester, and for keeping an up-to-date goldenrod form on file in the program office. A quickly perusable map of the program curriculum, this sheet provides a blueprint for the completion of minimal program requirements. (Most students will exceed these minimal requirements by the end of the program.)

Core, Theory, and Topics Requirements 

Core Requirements: Four courses (12 credits) are to be completed during the first three semesters of enrollment in the program, as follows:

CULT 802 - Histories of Cultural Studies (3 credits):

Historical survey of principal works and theories in the development of Cultural Studies. (Notes: Entering doctoral students take this course during the Fall of their first year. Students in a related MA program may take this course as the capstone to their MA as they are about to matriculate into the PhD in cultural studies.)

CULT 804 - Histories of Cultural Studies, Part II (3 credits):

Continues the historical survey of cultural studies up to the present and assesses possibilities for future development. (Note: First year students take this course during the Spring semester.)

CULT 806 - Research Seminar in Cultural Studies (3 credits):

Introduces research methods in cultural studies. (Notes: Specific topics vary. Students take this course during the Fall of their second year.)

CULT 808 - Student/Faculty Colloquium in Cultural Studies (1 credit):

Forum for presentation of original and current research in cultural studies. (Note: Students register for 1 credit per semester over the first three semesters of their coursework.)

Breadth Requirements: In addition, you will fulfill your Theory andTopics requirements during their first two years in the program.

Complete a minimum of one course (3 credits) in Theory chosen from the following:

CULT 810 - Culture and Political Economy (3 credits):

Surveys social science and humanities classics that relate cultural production and consumption to underlying political economic conditions. Includes Marx, Lukacs, Frankfurt School, semiotic neo-Marxism, productivist theories of power indebted to Foucault, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, Harvey, Jameson, Mauss, Mill, Polanyi, Sahlins, A. Smith, and Weber.

CULT 814 - Gender and Sexuality (3 credits):

Investigates notion of gender functions in maintaining and analyzing issues of social and cultural power. Examines conflicting notions of sexuality and their role in cultural signification. Seeks to explicate relationship of sexuality, gender.

CULT 820 - After Colonialism (3 credits):

Surveys racial, ethnic, caste, and national identities in colonial contexts; scientific racism in periphery and core sites; subsequent history of race, ethnic, national identities and conflicts; classical and contemporary texts by authors such as DuBois, Fanon, Gilroy, and Spivak; and particular place of issues of national, racial, and ethnic identities in contemporary cultural studies.

Complete a minimum of one course (3 credits) in a Topic chosen from:

CULT 812 - Visual Culture (3 credits):

Examines theories, production, consumption, and reception of visual culture. Covers film, video, visual arts, music, display, ritual, performance, performativity, and theories of the aesthetic. Includes key readings from theorists such as Adorno, Artaud, Benjamin, Brecht, Bryson, Doane, Fiske, Heath, Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre.

CULT 816 - Science/Technology (3 credits):

Considers theories and major debates on culture of science, social construction of nature, and effects of technology on modern cultural forms. Includes readings from theorists such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Horkheimer, Feyerabend, Bahro, Haraway, and Latour.

CULT 818 - Social Institutions (3 credits):

Considers theories of institutional practice and social structures, from Max Weber to Michel Foucault. Covers prisons, bureaucracies, museums, schools, political parties, and social movements.

Note that the above Theory and Topics courses are offered roughly on a two-year rotation, so plan accordingly. (If you see one of these courses offered this year, you won't see it again next year.)

Courses applied towards the above breadth requirements may not be double-counted for the field requirements. However, you may begin laying the groundwork for the field requirements by taking additional Theory or Topics courses beyond the one-course minimum. For instance, you might fulfill your Theory requirement by taking CULT 814 (Gender and Sexuality), then use CULT 810 (Culture and Political Economy) to found a field in Political Theory and CULT 820 (After Colonialism) to found a field in Globalization. It is expected that you will take more than the minimum requirements, both because these courses will serve to establish viable fields, and because they represent substantive durable areas of cultural studies scholarship with which every degree-holder should be familiar.

Special Topics (CULT 860), which vary in content, are also offered each semester. You may take these courses out of general interest or to begin conceptualizing your field. You are permitted to take multiple 860s in a given semester.

The Methodology Requirement

Under the guidance of faculty advisory committees, you will choose a course (3 credits) from program or departmental graduate offerings (600 level or above) in a relevant methodology in which you are not already trained. This course may also be used to satisfy other requirements, including the field requirement. Previous 860 offerings that have fulfilled the methodology requirement have included Critical Ethnography, Psychoanalysis, Semiotics, and Literary Criticism.

21-Hour Review

Upon the completion of 21 CULT credits (after the third semester), you will be subject to a faculty review. Instructors for the 802-804-806 sequence will meet, discuss your performance and progress, and draft a short advisory letter to you.

By this point you should be thinking about field committees, with an eye toward forming them as early as Fall of the third year, or by Spring of the third year at the latest.

Coursework in Other Units

You may not take courses in other units until you have completed 21 credit hours of CULT coursework. For a doctoral program, 500-level courses are not acceptable; 600-level courses may be minimally acceptable if augmented by additional requirements appropriate to doctoral-level work. While 800-level courses in other units may be provisionally acceptable, you should consult with their advisor before registering for coursework in other units.

A Note on Cultural Studies 808: Student/Faculty Colloquium

Cultural Studies 808 serves as an introduction to scholarly exchange within cultural studies, both as the field develops nationally and internationally and as it takes shape on the George Mason campus. Distinguished Colloquium presenters have included Dennis Altman, Stanley Aronowitz, Michael Berube, Susan Bordo, Jacques Derrida, Teresa Ebert, Nancy Fraser, Betty Friedan, Anne Friedberg, Lawrence Grossberg, Geoffrey Hartman, Rosemary Hennessy, Doug Henwood, bell hooks, Rhys Isaac, Martin Jay, Thomas Laqueur, Micaela di Leonardo, Jose Muñoz, Cary Nelson, Cindy Patton, Vicente Rafael, Herman Rapaport, Adolph Reed, Michael Rogin, Tricia Rose, Jonathan Simon, Siobhan Somerville, Gayatri Spivak, Ann Laura Stoler, Chris Weedon, Cornel West, Iris Marion Young, and many others.

In addition to providing an opportunity for Cultural Studies faculty and students to interact with scholars from the larger Cultural Studies community outside George Mason University, Cultural Studies 808 also serves as a forum for cultural studies research and related activities on the George Mason campus. Faculty members and advanced Cultural Studies students have visited CULT 808 to discuss their work in progress, and at least one session per year is devoted to public presentation of students' dissertation proposals. As a member of a vibrant intellectual community, you will participate in the colloquium over the course of your study here.