Analysis of the forces that shape popular culture. Examination of the local meanings of global trends in music, clothing, and leisure activities through case studies around the world. Students learn ethnographic methods and conduct an original research project. Prerequisite: one 200-level ANTH course.
Vampire romance, designer sneakers, K-Pop, reality TV: we can speak of these products as either mindless candy or as techniques of mass control. How might we find other ways to observe popular culture “in the field” – and enmeshed with the politics and pleasures of everyday life around the world?
Until relatively recently, anthropologists and other social scientists have approached the formal study of popular culture with ambivalence. Anthropology’s genealogies, situated in colonial moments, have turned its ethnographic gaze away from the West and towards exoticized populations elsewhere. These “Others” were studied as primitives at worst, and subjects with static cultural rites and material practices at best – positioned starkly against a dynamic, modern, and developed West. Popular mass media produced in the West has thus traditionally elided anthropology’s analysis, and it need not be – these products are consumed, produced, circulated, and challenged in human contexts both “at home” and elsewhere. Key turns in the discipline’s development have since situated popular culture into anthropological thought. We have begun the process of disengaging from colonial epistemologies that qualify some subjects, objects, and practices over others. Other anthropologists have been on the vanguard of understanding the complexities of globalization and transnationalism – phenomena that blur and break the boundaries between states, cultures, and other groups – by taking ethnography to the familiar. Similarly, the development and proliferation of an emerging field – cultural studies – has called upon anthropology’s methodologies to untangle the material relations, economies, and forms of power in the cultural objects all around us.
Our focus will have three interlocking and overlapping engagements:
• Reading popular culture’s products (defined broadly as film/television productions, audio recordings, literatures, advertisements, and digital documents) as individual texts located in historical, social, and political contexts;
• Situating these products in multidirectional circulations of production, consumption, and reception across cultural contexts;
• Examining anthropology’s engagement with popular culture, as well as popular culture’s engagements with anthropological thought and ethnography.
Through classroom discussion, presentations, an ethnographic project, writing workshops, and an essay, we aim to be able to critically read popular culture’s media. We also aim to formulate persuasive written and verbal arguments about pop culture’s social meanings and points of contact, convergence, and contestation with communities “on-the-ground.”
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading