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Audience studies is not the vibrant field it was in its 1980s and early 1990s heyday. Cultural
studies today has a more balanced interest in production, audiences and texts. A renewed focus
in audience studies on everyday meaning production, identity and relations of power could
benefit from recent developments. Theorization of power especially has benefited from recent
work on governmentality. In accord with recent work on ‘affect’, there is an opportunity for
renewed vitality and urgency. Was audience studies damaged beyond repair by the charge that
it is a populist field that celebrates rather than interrogates everyday media culture? Could a
concept such as cultural literacy provide a bridge to help re-establish the critical credibility of
audience studies or would it burden this field with its implied notions of standards, distinction
and cultural exclusion? The article discusses recent work with youth audiences to inquire into
the possibilities of ‘critical literacy’. It proposes taking up questions and insights raised by affect
theory, to merge appreciation, criticism and understanding of the forces that drive (the possibility
of) change, and to embed critical literacy in cultural studies’ ongoing interest in the construction
of (cultural) citizenship.