Harold E. Hinds, Jr., Marilyn F. Motz, and Angela M. S. Nelson, eds. Popular Culture Theory and Methodology: A Basic Introduction. Madison: Popular Press/ University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. Pp. vii + 406, introduction, bibliography. $65.00 hardcover, $21.95 paperback.
Trevor J. Blank
The relationship between folklore and popular culture has been the subject of scrutiny amongst folklorists, and the study of the connections between these fields is problematic for scholars entangled in debates over the scope and legitimacy of their disciplines. The comparative analysis of popular culture by folklorists has been peripheral, not rigorous. However, it is important to note the influential role of popular culture on folklore, and this field certainly merits the attention of folklorists and cultural historians. Popular Culture Theory and Methodology provides a wonderful introduction for folklorists and interested scholars seeking to enhance their knowledge of the core fundamental theories, methods, and debates that have shaped the popular culture discipline since its acceptance as a serious academic field in the 1960s.
In truth, Popular Culture Theory and Methodology does not cover new ground in the fields of popular culture or folklore. Instead, this book is a compilation of twenty-nine previously published essays pertaining to popular culture studies throughout the history of the discipline. Scholars familiar with the historical debates in popular culture will welcome this work as a great reference tool. Folklorists and other scholars with interests in popular culture will welcome this compilation’s depth and selection of material. After reading the book from cover to cover, scholars will effectively have “caught up” on the background of the popular culture discipline and have a clear understanding of the major pioneers, theories, debates, methods, and contemplations that the discipline has embraced for the past fifty years.
The book begins with an overview of the major pioneers of the pop culture discipline, introducing readers to the early attempts at shaping and defining what the discipline stood for and noting the important contributions of pop culture pioneers such as Ray Browne, Professor Emeritus of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University. Throughout the chronological progression of the book, readers are apprised of the complex arguments that contemplated the future of popular culture studies—be they visions of popular culture studies as innovatively groundbreaking, inevitably doomed, or as a perpetual subsidiary to other disciplines’ missions. The book also peruses the major criticisms and theories that popular culture scholars have debated about the direction and methodology of the field. Of particular interest to folklorists is the section titled “Popular Culture and Folk Culture,” which contains essays on the correlations between the two disciplines, contemporary (or urban) legends, cokelore narratives, and media studies.
The editors cleverly preface each entry with the historical context of the original publication and its importance to the ongoing debates within popular culture. This is a helpful addition that transitions between the various movements propagated throughout the discipline’s history.
Despite the many successes of the book, there is room for a small complaint. This book is extremely dense, perhaps necessarily so for the amount of information it crams into its pages. However, at times this density is distracting and even exhausting. This book is clearly geared towards academics with patience and appreciation of a discipline’s formative underpinnings and should be approached with these considerations in mind.
After reading Popular Culture Theory and Methodology, it is clear that folklore and popular culture have faced many of the same hurdles, debates, and worries in the pursuit of legitimizing their places in academia. Both disciplines have debated (and continue to debate) how they should define their fields. Both fields have heroes that furthered the cause of their disciplines; for folklore—Stith Thompson, Richard Dorson, Alan Dundes; for popular culture—Ray Browne, Russel Nye, Madonna Marsden. There is a kinship between popular culture and folklore; our causes and struggles are the same. Popular Culture Theory and Methodology is an excellent tool for folklorists hoping to understand our important, allied discipline and its similar struggle for recognition and legitimacy, as well as its overlap with the interests of folklorists.