W h a t is Popular Culture?
aus: STOREY, John: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. London e al. (PearsonlPrenUce Hall) 2001 t
Before we consider in detail the different ways in which popular culture has been defined and analyzed, I want to outline some of the general features of the debate which the study of popular culture has generated. It is not my intention to pre-empt the specific findings and arguments which will be presented in the following chapters. Here I simply wish to map out the general conceptual landscape of popular culture. This is, in many ways, a daunting task. As Tony Bennett points out, 'as it stands, the concept of popular culture is virtually useless, a melting pot of confused and contradictory meanings capable of misdirecting inquiry up any number of theorrtical blind alleys'.' Part of the difficulty stems from the implied otherness which is always absendpresent when we use the term 'popular culture'. As we shall see in the chapters which follow, popular culture is always defined, implicitly or explicitly, in conuast to other conceptual categories: folk culture, mass culme, dominant culture, working-class culture, etc. A full definition must always take this into account. Moreover, as we shall also see, whichever conceptual category is deployed as popular culture's absentlpresent other, it will always powerfully affect the connotations brought into play when we use the term 'popular culture'. Therefore, to study popular culture we must first confront the difficulty posed by the term itself. That is, 'depending on how it is used, quite different areas of inquiry and forms of theoretical definition and analytical focus are suggested'." The main argument which 1 suspect readers will take from this hook is that popular culture is in effect an empty conceptual category, one which can be filled in a wide variety of often conflicting ways, depending on the context of use.
In order to define popular culture we h t need to deiine the term 'culture'. Raymond Wllliams calls culture 'one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language'.' Wllllams suggests three broad defimtions. First of all, culture can be used to refer to 'a general process of lnteuectual, spiritual and aesthetic
W/,at i s l'opcrtor
Day, Gary (ed.), Readings hi I'oprrlnr (:ulti.irc, Lonilon: ~Vlacmillan,1990. A mixed collccrion of essays, romp inteicsting and useiol, nrhc~.stilo unsure abimr how seriously to take
Du Gay, Paul, Stuart Hall, Llnda Jancs, Hugh Mackay and Keith Negor, Doing Cultural Siudies: The Story of the Sony Wlilbi??an,London: Sagc, 1997. Ail cxcellcnr ilitroducrio~,lnrCrriture, Berkeley: Universiry of California Press, 1991. A collenion of essays, with an informed and interesrinp introducrion. The book is helpfully divided into sections on differeim a~,lproaches m Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991. A useful and interesting collection of essays on cultural theory and popular culture. Strinati, Dominic, A n Introd~ictronto Theories of Popular Cultidre, London: Routledge, 1995. A clear and comprehensive introduction to theories of popular culture. Tolson, Andrew, Mediations: Text and discoullre in media s t u d i ~ rLondon: Edward Arnold, , 1996. An excellent introduction to the study of popular media culture. Turner, Graerne, British Culturn1 Studies, 2nd edn, London: Routledge, 1996. Still the best inrroduction ro British cultural studies.
w Ha\,cn: Yale Univcr sit" Press. 1957, D. xv. ! k c rnc ;I,ml>.?~~~. I .:I:? ,
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What is P o p u l a r Culture?
1. Tony Bennett, 'Popular culture: a teaching objcct', Screen Edrrcotion, 34, 1980, p. 18. 2. Ihid., p. 20. 3. Raymond Williams, Keywords, London: Fontaaa, 1983, p. 87. 4. Ibid., p. 90. 5. Ihid. 6. Ihid. 7. Craeme Turner, British Cultui.al Studies: An introduction, 2nd edn, London: Routledge, 1996, p. 182. 8. James W. Carey, 'Overcoming resisrance to cultural studies', in W'hat Is Cultural Studies: A Render, edited by John Storcy, London: Edward Arnold, 1996, p. 65. 9. Stuarr Hall, 'Some paradigms in cultural studies', Annali, 3, 1978, p. 23. 10. See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (srudenr edirion), edited and introduced by C. J. Arthur, London: Lawrcncc & Wishart, 1974. 11. I