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Chapter 1: The Social Organization of Popular Culture


Chapter 1: The Social Organization of Popular Culture Robert Wonser Fall 2011 Social Organization of Pop Culture Lesson Overview The Sociological Imagination Some ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Chapter 1: The Social Organization of Popular Culture

Chapter 1 The Social Organization of Popular
  • Robert WonserFall 2011

Social Organization of Pop Culture Lesson Overview
  • The Sociological Imagination
  • Some notes about pop culture
  • What is popular culture?
  • Popular?
  • Culture?
  • Why culture is important
  • Pop culture as a collective activity
  • Interpretive communities
  • Producing and consuming popular culture
  • Three Approaches to the Sociology of Media and
    Popular Culture

The sociological imagination
  • Sociology examines how diverse forms of sociality
    take place. It is the study of what people do
  • Studying music is no different from studying
    collective organization or labor relationsindeed
    we could study these things in the context of
    music production!
  • The sociological study of popular music has not
    always been common.
  • After the cultural turn sociologists began to
    follow the advice of the Frankfurt School and the
    urban ethnographers of the Chicago School, who
    were pushing for a wider definition of culture as
    a broad way of life.
  • The sociological imagination refers to the
    ability to connect, individual and social forces,
    and biographical and historical issues.

It follows
  • In linking the study of pop music with the study
    of society we ought to focus on three questions
  • What is the structure of a particular musical
    social world and how does it differ from and
    compare to other actual and possible forms of
    social organization?
  • What are the key features of this musical social
    world, and what is its unique position and
    relation with greater historical processes?
  • What are the defining characteristics of men and
    women engaged in these musical social worlds and
    what goes on in their day to day lives?

Sociological theory and music cultures
  • Culture is intended as a way of daily life, not
    high culture.
  • Contemporary ways of life are called by some
    constructionists postmodern.
  • A postmodern culture is one in which ones way of
    life is less grounded in traditions and
    certainties and more in choices and doubts.
  • Postmodern culture is marked endless availability
    of choice, endless stimulation, the explosion of
    consumption and consumerism, and the increased
    interconnectedness of the globe.
  • Music cultures reflect these characteristics and
    their study allows us to understand greater
    cultural and social trends.

What is Popular Culture?
  • Popular culture refers to the aesthetic products
    created and sold by profit-seeking firms
    operating in the global entertainment market.
  • Popular culture popular culture
  • So, what does popular mean?
  • So, what does culture mean?

  • 1) culture that is well-liked (demonstrated
    through sales)
  • 2) icons or media products that are globally
    ubiquitous and easily recognized the world over
  • 3) commercial media that is thought to be
    trivial, tacky or lowest common denominator mass
  • 4) belonging to the people folk culture

  • To the Humanist
  • works and practices of intellectual and artistic
  • To the Social scientist
  • a particular way of life, whether of a people,
    period, a group, or humanity in general
  • To the Sociologist
  • a mode of living in the world as a social being,
    as represented by the practices, rituals,
    behaviors, activities, and artifacts that make up
    the experience of everyday life.

  • Culture then is richly symbolic, invested with
    meaning and significance.
  • The meanings attributed to culture are never
    simply given but are the product of human
    invention, socially constructed and agreed upon
    among a demonstrably large number of societys
  • Finally, for culture to be sensibly understood it
    must be embodied in some kind of recognizable

The Importance of Culture
  • Cultures importance cannot be overstated
  • It is the lens through which we view the world
    around us
  • Is represents humanitys unique ability evolve
    not just biologically but on its own terms
    through the use of symbols, arts, technologies
    and other artifacts humans make
  • Culture is a memorate (memory template) of the
    artifacts of a particular group of people have
    made in their history and continue to make in
    order to evolve.
  • We create an emotion (rather than rational)
    connection to the memorate itself which is used
    as a template for evaluating life and people.
  • Culture is the primary template through which our
    worldview is formed, where does this template
    come from?
  • Culture shapes thoughts and behaviors
    (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis)

Levels of Culture
  • Pop culture is intrinsically linked with youth
    culture (often used as a synonym)
  • Youths had more free time, cars to be mobile and
    schools separated youths from their parents and
    allowed them to associate with each other and
    create their own culture.
  • A post-war affluence, subsequent baby boom,
    considerable buying power ? the ability to shape
    trends in fashion, music, and lifestyle through
    such power.
  • Became a widespread social reality in the 1950s
  • Popular trends makers were usually young
  • As youths age they dont discard their pop
    culture it becomes cultural nostalgia
  • Main difference pop culture trends carry over
    and become pop culture more broadly and no longer
    only considered a part of youth culture

Popular Culture as Collective Activity
  • Howard Beckers Artworlds (1982)
  • Artworlds are networks of participants whose
    combined efforts create movies, novels, musical
    compositions, comic books, advertising and so
  • scenes
  • When an artist creates they create with the
    conventions and modalities of a scene in mind
  • This is learned, sounds like a generalized
    other in Meads terms
  • ex jazz as improvisational
  • Division of labor
  • Ex closing credits on a movie

Some notes about pop culture
  • Pop culture is never the product of a solitary
    artist but always emerges from a collective
    activity generated by interlocking networks of
    cultural creators.
  • Popular culture is produced, consumed, and
    experienced within a context of overlapping sets
    of social relationships.

So, which opinion is correct?
  • Bieber is Awesome! Nah, Bieber sucks!
  • Meaning, interpretation and value are not
    ultimately decided by the creators of media and
    popular culture (though they do have some input),
    but by its consumers.
  • Cultural objects are multivocal because they say
    different things to different people.

  • Audiences draw on their own social circumstances
    when attributing meaning and value to popular
  • These meanings are patterned according to
    persistent systems of social organization
    structured by differences in socioeconomic
    status, nationality, race, ethnicity, gender,
    sexuality, religion, or age.
  • These are called interpretive communities
  • Though, often a dominant ideology reigns

Interpretive Communities
  • Shape our tastes, likes and dislikes
  • For example many African Americans (not all of
    course) are more likely to report listening to
    jazz, blues, soul, and rb music than whites who
    are more likely to attend classical music
    concerts, opera performances and arts-and-crafts
  • Do you like the same stuff as your parents?
  • 38 of senior citizens (65 and older) go online
    or use computers, but 95 of teenagers do
  • What are the reasons for such differences?
  • Ex digital divide

Media, with other people
  • Remember, most media is consumed in the presence
    of others as collective activities
  • Could you imagine a concert, movie, etc with no
    one else present?
  • Ex book clubs, televised events, MMORPGs,
  • parties

Collage, Bricolage, and Pastiche
  • Collage a term taken from the domain of modern
    painting, describing a picture or design made by
    gluing pieces of paper or other materials onto a
    canvas or other surface.
  • By clever arranging of materials the artist can
    create strange or witty effects not possible with
    traditional painting techniques
  • Many pop culture spectacles from early vaudeville
    to The Simpsons are created by a collage
  • In Vaudeville, its a collage of acts from
    skits to acrobatics
  • The Simpsons uses diverse elements from different
    levels of culture in the same episode to create
    similar effects of a collage
  • Bricolage a type of collage that emphasizes
    disproportion, parody, and irony
  • The Goth lifestyle is an example, featuring
    implicit references to themes of horror,
    difference and vampirism in an essentially ironic
    juxtaposition against the mainstream culture

  • Pastiche refers to an admixture of elements in a
    work or spectacle intended to imitate or satirize
    another work or style
  • Pastiche describes pop culture well, which is
    essentially a pastiche of spectacles, fashion,
    fads, and other accouterments that together give
    pop culture its distinct character.
  • Finally, nostalgia allows pop culture to sustain
    itself because of pop cultures emotional nature.
  • People react nostalgically to the pop culture
    symbols and works of their eras.
  • Ex Elvis, Disney movies, Beatles, disco dancing,
    Barbie dolls, punk clothing etc.
  • By clinging to their memories people have made it
    possible for pop culture to perpetuate itself

Producing and Consuming Popular Culture
  • Who does what?
  • Distinctions between cultural consumption and
    production are blurring (ex youtube mashups)
  • The tools of pop culture making are being
  • The creators control of how enterprising
    consumers actually make use of cultural objects
    in the real world is diminishing

1966 Adam Wests portrayal of Batman was
intended to be serious, not campy.
Three Approaches to the Sociology of Media and
Popular Culture
  • Functionalist approach illustrates how culture
    functions as the social glue that generates
    solidarity and cohesion within human groups and
  • Contemporary collective ritualshs football
    games, local parades and pep rallies, award
    ceremoniesforge emotional bonds of recognition,
    identity, trust, commonality within communities
    and other social groups
  • Pop culture provides the source material for
    consumers to communicate with strangers
  • Band T-shirts

Three Approaches to the Sociology of Media and
Popular Culture
  • Critical approach maintains that the ascendance
    of certain kinds of popular culture can be
    explained primarily in terms of their ability to
    reflect and reinforce the enormous economic and
    cultural power of the mass media industry (and
    broadly capitalism itself).
  • A top-down form of domination that we actively
    seek out and enjoy in our subjugation

Have you ever wondered why movies or music seem
derivative and predictable?
Three Approaches to the Sociology of Media and
Popular Culture
  • Interaction approach emphasizes the power that
    informal processes like word-of-mouth and peer
    influence enjoy in the cultural marketplace
  • Consumer tastes are deeply affected by those
    around us

Why were initial Friday ticket sales high but low
later Friday and Saturday?
Conclusion and Reflection
  • Understanding pop culture is a way of
    understanding society.
  • For example, in what ways do your musical choices
    highlight your social position in terms of things
    like class, age, race, gender, identity, etc.?
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