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Popular Culture: A User's Guide, International Edition

ISBN: 978-1-119-14033-7
384 pages
September 2017, Wiley-Blackwell
Popular Culture: A User


Popular Culture: A User’s Guide, International Edition ventures beyond the history of pop culture to give readers the vocabulary and tools to address and analyze the contemporary cultural landscape that surrounds them.

  • Moves beyond the history of pop culture to give students the vocabulary and tools to analyze popular culture
  • suitable for the study of popular culture across a range of disciplines, from literary theory and cultural studies to philosophy and sociology
  • Covers a broad range of important topics including the underlying socioeconomic structures that affect media, the politics of pop culture, the role of consumers, subcultures and countercultures, and the construction of social reality
  • Examines the ways in which individuals and societies act as consumers and agents of popular culture
  • Numerous learning features including case studies, real-life examples, suggested activities, boxed features, a glossary, and an instructor’s manual
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Table of Contents


Preface: A User’s Guide to Popular Culture: A User’s Guide


1: Introducing Popular Culture

Approaching Popular Culture

Defining Popular Culture

What Is Culture?

What/Who Defines the Popular?

What Is Popular Culture?

The Politics of Popular Culture

Why Study Popular Culture? A Brief History of Cultural Studies

Popular Culture Invades the Classroom

Sneaking in through the Back Door

The Democratization of Culture

The Americanization of Popular Culture

The Decolonization of Culture

What Is an Education For?

Culture Wars

Culture and Economics—The Postindustrial Revolution

Why This? Why Now? Why Me? A Couple of Final Arguments for the Importance of Studying Popular Culture

Coffee as Popular Culture

The Representation of Coffee

The Production of Coffee

The Consumption of Coffee

And It All Boils Down To . . . What Is in a Cup of Coffee?

Suggestions for Further Reading

2: The History of Popular Culture

Taking It from the Streets

Making the Streets Safe for Commerce

Popular Recreation before 1830

The Bonds of Community

Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution

Redefining Cultural Spaces


The Production of the Working Class

Popular Recreation and Resistance

Rational Recreation

Popular Culture and Politics

The Production of Commercial Mass Culture—the Birth of the Culture Industry


The Engines of Change

Regulation, Innovation, Consolidation

Continuities and Changes

The Organization and Commercialization of Sports

Back to the Streets, Forward to the Present

Suggestions for Further Reading

3: Representation and the Construction of Social Reality


Constructing a Crisis—the Discourse of Violent Youth

Signification—the Production of Social Sense

Structuralist Theories of Representation


Reading the Headlines

Discourse and Power

Representing the Youth Crisis

The Construction of Youth

The Kids Are Not All Right

Making the News

Media and Youth Crime

Picturing Crime

Crime on Television

Truth2Power: The Politics of Representation

Enhancing Visibility, Challenging Negative Representation

Representational Strategies

Beyond Representation: Who’s the Boss?

Contexts of Representation

The Myth of Mass Media Manipulation

What Do We Do with Texts? The Role of the Audience in Constructing Meaning

Encoding and Decoding

Representation in Contemporary Culture

Political and Ideological Context

Virtual Culture

The Trouble with “Truthiness”

Suggestions for Further Reading

4: The Production of Popular Culture

The Business of Culture

“Money Changes Everything”: The Pitfalls of Thinking about Production

Economic versus Artistic Success

Walter Benjamin

The Culture Industry Thesis

The Frankfurt School

What Is the Culture Industry?

Culture, Experience, and the Culture Industry

Summarizing Horkheimer and Adorno

Some Problems with the Culture Industry Thesis

Shifting Modes of Cultural Production

The Evolution of Hollywood

Production and Meaning

Cultural Production Today

Lifestyle Marketing and Market Segmentation

Copyleft: Challenging Copyright

Digital Production

Suggestions for Further Reading and Viewing

5: The Consuming Life

Back to “Normal”

Consumption Patterns

A Brief History of Consumer Culture

Commodities and Desire

The Creation of Consumer Society: Advertising, Credit, Debt

Consumer Culture and Mass Culture

Consumption as Distinction

Consumption and Agency

Taste and Distinction

Consumption and Power

Consumption, Desire, and Pleasure

Making Meaning in Use

The Politics of Consumption

The Consequences of Consumption

A Different Kind of Consumer Culture

Authenticity and Co-optation: The Merchants of Cool

Suggestions for Further Reading and Viewing

6: Identity and the Body

Identity—a Necessary Fiction?

The History of Identity—Some Different Theories

Identity and the Unconscious

Identity and Ideology

All Selves Are Not Created Equal

Identity and Power/Knowledge

The History of Sexuality

Summary of the Key Theories of Identity

Hegemonic Masculinity, Postfeminism, and the Third Wave


Being and Doing


It Gets Better? Possibly . . .

Identity and Affect

Different Bodies, Different Selves?

Embodied Selves

The Human Body: Natural or Cultural?

Physical Capital and Social Status

Altered States

Enhancing/Producing the Healthy Body

What Is Natural/Normal?

Transcending the Body?

Suggestions for Further Reading

7: Identity, Community, Collectivity

Who Do You Want Me to Be?

“The People Who Are Ours”

Like Us, Only Worse

Cultural Symbols, Material Contexts

Collective Identity and Crisis

Modern Identities: Nation, Empire, and Race

I Am Canadian

Nations and Nationalism

Imagined Community, Invented Tradition

Nation and Empire

The West and the Rest

Orientalism—Then and Now

Race and Identity

Postcolonial Identities

Decolonizing Cultures

Diaspora and Cultural Hybridity

Postnational Identities: Melted, Frozen, Reconstituted

Consumerism, Identity, and Resistance

The Marketing of Difference

The Postmodern Nation

Virtual Belonging


Community or Collectivity?

Global Belonging

Imagined Collectivities

Suggestions for Further Reading

8: Subcultures and Countercultures

The Mainstream and Other Streams

Minority–Majority Relationships

Subcultures and Countercultures: What Is the Difference?



Popular Representations of Subcultures and Countercultures

Forrest Gump: Subcultural Deviance

Fight Club: Fight the Power?

Ghost World: Being Ghostly

The Politics of Subcultures

Hiding in the Light

Avant-Garde Punk

The Invention of Skateboarding

From Zines to Blogs

Suggestions for Further Reading

9: Space, Place, and Globalization

(Dis)Locations of Popular Culture

Organizing Space and Place

Private versus Public Space

Playing in the Park

Rich Kids Swim, Poor Kids Sink

Factories and Offices: The Spaces/Places of Work

Inside Out

Moral Center, Uncivilized Chaos

Out in the Wilderness

Environmental Awareness

The Big Picture: Globalization?

Is Globalization Real?

Economic Globalization

Globalization and Politics

The Technological Dimensions of Globalization

Globalization and Popular Culture

Culture and Space

Global Culture and Cultural Imperialism

The Noble Savage versus Ronald McDonald

Globalization: What’s Next?

Suggestions for Further Reading

10: Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century

In with the New?

Many Popular Cultures?

Learning to Love Céline: Twenty-First-Century Taste

New Technology and Its Discontents

Social Media and Political Change

The Fate of Information

The Real-World Costs of E-Life

Lost Generation?

The Future of Higher Education

What Is Next?

Suggestions for Further Reading and Viewing


Works Cited


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Author Information

Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) of Cultural Studies and Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. He is also Adjunct Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, Canada. He is the founder of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies and a founding member of the US Cultural Studies Association. His main areas of research are in energy and environmental studies, social and political philosophy, and critical theory and cultural studies. He is the author or editor of more than 16 books, including Cultural Theory: An Anthology (Wiley Blackwell, 2010) and After Globalization (Wiley Blackwell, 2011). 

Susie O'Brien is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, Canada. Her research and teaching focus on postcolonial and environmental cultural studies.  She has published on postcolonial literature, the slow and local food movements, scenario planning, and the temporality of globalization.  She is co-editor of Time, Globalization and Human Experience (forthcoming 2017) and is currently working on a monograph on the power and vulnerability of resilience stories.

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