Popular cultures between artifice and trompe-l’oeil

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
2018 AFEA Conference Magnifying America : the poetics and politics of details May 22-25, 2018, University of Nice.
contact email: 

North-American Popular cultures between artifice and trompe-l’oeil


Danièle André and Elodie Chazalon

University of La Rochelle, CRHIA research center


Popular culture has often been equated with stereotypes, shallowness and superfluousness. It is generally believed to be solely “mass culture” (C. Lasch) whose serialized productions are incompatible with the accuracy and craft of fine arts. Meticulousness is usually considered the prerogative of an elite and of « high » culture, a prejudice dating back to the 19th century which has led to the qualitative and quantitative polarizations between “mass civilization” and “minority culture” (M. Arnold; F. R. Leavis) and between the Old Continent and North America.

At first glance, it may be thought that audio, visual, and literary works (movies, photographs, paintings, but also street art, video games, musical pieces...) undergo multiple changes through borrowings, adaptations, and more or less obvious alterations that can only be apprehended through flat screens (whether they be cinema, TV or digital/touch). In the same manner, repetitions and adaptations instill a sense of indifference as cultural works and produce seem to lose their substance, their capacity to move audiences and their puctum (what makes them stand apart), their eye-catcher (Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire. Note sur la photographie). The question to be raised is how to find the least significant difference (Baudrillard, La Société de consummation) that satisfies our need to differentiate from one another.

Yet, as Angela McRobbie argues in Postmodernism and Popular Culture, there lies the trick of “postmodern” popular culture, which “refuse[s] to take itself seriously” and privileges “the surface” with “meaning being paraded as an intentionally superficial phenomenon.” But the superficial “does not necessarily represent a decline into meaninglessness or valuelessness in culture” and is rather a “political strategy.” Popular culture challenges us to question the purpose of detail in our postindustrial societies where modes of productions and of being seem to be homogenized, normative, and repetitive.                                                                                   

Furthermore, in the vastness and seeming vacuity of popular culture, there remain spaces and “points of intersection” between the different forms of culture (S. Hall, « Notes on Deconstructing the Popular »), which represent as many challenges for minority and “alternative” groups. Popular culture, indeed, cultivates detail, the infinitesimal, specificity as well as unevenness. Therefore, it is necessary to look into the matter more closely and to rethink detail as an intrinsic part of popular culture.

Thus, thinking about detail in popular culture also means thinking about the moving and not in the least antinomic links between stereotype and detail, margin and norm, essential and inessential, individuality and collectivity, metonymy and metaphor. Therefore, among others, the following questions can be raised:

-       The place and use of detail and of the infinitesimal in the writings, narratives, scenarios, video editing, visual and material representations, iconography, and game design of popular culture works (science fiction and other imaginary worlds, role-playing games, collectibles, vidding, TV shows, etc.),

-       The link between detail, cultural industries and serialized production, or the ambivalent link between stereotype and detail,

-       Mass consumption and its practices (junk food, binge watching, etc.), practices that are supposed to be anti-consumerist and entail more rigorous selection (slow food, recycling, DIY, etc.), all referring to the dichotomy between the “strategies” of the strong versus the “tactics” of the weak (De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life),

-       The invisible and the less visible, cultural forms that claim to be non-commercial, or the way in which marginal, atypical and less commercial practices and movements participate in developing, strengthening or, on the contrary, criticizing and rejecting the economic, cultural and political mechanisms of contemporary societies,

-       The different perceptions and representations of what is fact/detail according to the different audiences, forms and cultural practices taken into account,

-       Gender and the annihilation of differences: sex equality, reclaiming sexual difference, the “differential valence” of the sexes, (F. Héritier), etc.,

-       What is still “detail” in our academic practices: disciplines divided into autonomous sub-disciplines vs. interdisciplinarity, etc.

-       Popular culture theory: popular culture as a “superficial phenomenon”, as apparent contempt for detail.


Papers and presentations can be in French or in English. However, if speakers can present and/or write in English, they are encouraged to do so. Proposals (from 300 to 500 words approximately) may put forward different fields of study and theoretical frameworks and approaches. They will be sent along with a short biography to both Danièle André (daniele.andre@univ-lr.fr) and Elodie Chazalon (elodie.chazalon@univ-lr.fr). The deadline is January 15th. The site for the conference is: http://www.afea.fr/2018-AFEA-Conference.html. There will be updates and information in the coming weeks and months.