Co-editors, Dennis D. Waskul and Phillip Vannini, discuss the constantly changing field of Popular studies and their latest book, Popular Culture as Everyday Life.
1. What experiences led you to co-editing Popular Culture as Everyday Life?
Phillip: This may sound personal and perhaps borderline unprofessional but the strongest source of motivation for me for co-editing this book is the *co-* part of editing. Dennis is a great friend and I enjoy working with him. It's always fun to do something together and since we don't see each other much it gives us a chance to "hang out" virtually. This may seem like an unimportant reason but honestly when we're both having fun doing something our creativity and energy translates into original and interesting work.
Dennis: For over a decade Phillip and I have had a close and personal relationship, and our collaborative works have been the highlight of my career so far. I find that our combined energy, work ethic, and creativity is so complimentary that anything we do together greatly surpasses anything that at least I can accomplish alone. The mere opportunity to work with Phillip again was motivation enough for me to co-edit this book. Moreover, from the very beginning Phillip and I were committed to a text that features very short, highly accessible, and oftentimes witty essays. We believed that these essays would be extremely attractive to both authors and readers, as well as a huge departure from the usual “chapter” format of academic texts. As a teacher-scholar myself, I was very motivated to co-edit a text that would be useful as well as delightful to use in the classroom. I strongly believe that the variety and insight of the short essays in Popular Culture as Everyday Life can be used to effectively and efficiently stimulate outstanding classroom discussion, which was our goal from the beginning.
2. How have you seen the Popular Culture studies grow as a field and where do you see it expanding?
Phillip: Popular Studies is a constantly-evolving field. Of all fields I know it is the most quickly-shifting, in large part because it follows the fast-evolving trends in the word of pop culture. This has often been a problem for popular culture studies scholars because the shelf-life of their research tends to be quite limited. So, merging popular culture and everyday life studies seemed like a good idea. Everyday life rituals are slower to appear and disappear and most of the essays in our book will therefore be relevant for a long time to come. And that's my hope for the field and its evolution: a stronger rootedness in everyday life.
Dennis: Studies of popular culture are as inevitably ever-changing as popular culture itself. However, what people do with the content of popular culture is much less fickle. Fashions change, but people still wear clothing. Music changes, but people still listen. Television programs come and go, but people still watch. While there is much merit to studying both the content of popular culture and how it is produced, one may argue that perhaps too much of Popular Studies has emphasized these aspects—and maybe at the expense of the more enduring ways that people interact with the vast material of popular culture. There is room for the field to grow by simply shifting focus to the ritualized, patterned, and far more stable ways in which people act toward popular culture rather than the production and content of it.
3. What advice would you give first time readers of your text?
Phillip: My hope is that readers will gain an appreciation of the vividness and richness of everyday life. Much too often I see books and articles about popular culture that aren't quite about popular culture. They are about popular culture theory. While theory is interesting, I'm not sure that there is anything especially "pop culture" about Foucault or Zizek. With our book we wanted to re-discover the mundanity of culture and shift away the emphasis a bit from theory for theory's sake. So, my advice would be to go out and fill the gaps we haven't touched. There are hundreds of intersections between popular culture and everyday life that remains to be explored by someone ready to be fascinated by the extraordinariness of the ordinary.
Dennis: Anyone who picks up the book would be wise to read reflexively. The topics covered are so mundane that most essays should trigger many personal experiences and memories for just about any reader. Most everyone puts on clothing, watches television, listens to music, has sex—and we all certainly do things like sleep and go to the bathroom. Perhaps most importantly, most of us do these things rather consciously. It’s in these most mundane aspects of our everyday lives where we are arguably the least reflexive of how deeply popular culture structures, informs, and seasons the life in which we all live. Hence, we recommend that our readers reflect in these personal and intimate ways in which our contributing authors inform us all of the significance of popular culture as everyday life, and not so much about the significance of Popular Culture as Everyday Life.
Phillip Vannini is Canada Research Chair in Public Ethnography and Professor of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University. He is the author of five books and editor of seven, as well as the editor of two book series, including Interactionist Currents (Ashgate). All of his scholarship deals with cultural and everyday life issues. Several of his journal articles and chapters for edited books have also dealt with popular culture and everyday life issues, such as research studies on camping, eating, drinking, travelling, building, consuming, body modification, experiencing the weather, and more.
Dennis D. Waskul is a Professor of Sociology and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has authored or edited six books and is the editor of the book series Interactionist Currents (Ashgate). He has published many empirical studies, including various investigations of the use of new media technologies for sexual purposes, sensual sociology, and the intersections of fantasy and lived experience. Dennis serves on the editorial board for multiple journals, including Sexualities and Qualitative Sociology.