October 31-November 2, 2013
Despite ongoing attempts to cross borders and close gaps, popular culture is still often construed in opposition to high culture in contemporary academic and non-academic discourses. Partly indebted to what could be labeled a 'Birmingham-School-tradition' of the study of the popular, scholars have repeatedly attempted to deconstruct the popular by problematizing various binaries the study of popular culture might summon; especially with regard to processes of identity formation, agency, and political positionalities. Yet the concept of popular culture itself also implies a dichotomy of a very different kind, and this conference seeks to explore the implications of this Other, an excluded middle that seeks to provide a new angle on popular culture: the unpopular. As an adjective, it can be used to describe either popular or high culture (and one might even define high culture by it), depending on one’s ideological perspective, but as a concept it offers a third term that complicates the other two, and that accordingly deserves more critical attention.
The notion of the unpopular is as crucial to an understanding of popular culture as it is marginalized in the discourse on the subject. For example, significant parts of what is classified as popular culture rely on self-definitions of unpopularity, for example “underground” or “independent” movements or subcultures opposed to the “mainstream.” Furthermore, a theory of the unpopular provides a way of analyzing the aesthetic value judgments that are integral to the study of popular culture but are not often made explicit. This conference seeks to explore and theorize the manifold implications of the unpopular from a variety of different angles, for example addressing questions such as:
- How does unpopularity come about? How is it constructed and defined, how are such constructions maintained, and by whom?
- How do the mechanisms of the unpopular change in time? What histories of the unpopular could we tell?
- How does unpopularity relate to popular and high culture? Can there even be such a thing as unpopular culture, or is the unpopular at odds with culture itself? Is the unpopular rather a mark of high culture than popular culture, or vice versa?
- What are the politics of the unpopular? What is its importance as a category of inclusion and exclusion, for 'subcultures' and 'the mainstream'?
- How do particular cultural artifacts represent unpopularity, and to what end? Can we describe an aesthetics of the unpopular?
- What particular fields of popular and high culture distance themselves from or embrace the unpopular?
- How do particular cultural artifacts themselves become unpopular, and why? How is the unpopular related to value judgments such as 'offensive,' 'controversial,' 'cool,' 'ugly,' '(un)fashionable,' or 'bad'?
We invite scholars from all academic disciplines to submit a proposal on their variety of unpopular culture of choice—whether it be on Edgar Allan Poe or Stephenie Meyer, on Justin Bieber or Black Metal, on camp or hipsterism, on New Criticism or Queer Theory, on Atari's E.T. or Duke Nukem Forever, on Birth of a Nation or Django Unchained, on Finnegans Wake or 50 Shades of Grey, or on anything that is unpopular or should be (or shouldn’t). Please send abstracts (or topical rants) of no more than 300 words, as well as a brief bio statement, to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 26, 2013.
Organizers: Martin Lüthe (John F. Kennedy Institute, Berlin) & Sascha Pöhlmann (LMU Munich)