Faculty-Graduate Seminar 2008–09: Race & Popular Culture

Tuesday afternoons, 4:30-6:00pm. Stanhope Hall
Tuesday afternoons, 4:30-6:00pm. Stanhope Hall

Faculty Convener: Daphne Brooks

Popular culture, commodified and stereotyped as it often is, is not at all, as we sometimes think of it, the arena where we find who we really are, the truth of our experience. It is an arena that is profoundly mythic… It is where we discover and play with the identifications of ourselves, where we are imagined, where we are represented, not only to the audiences out there who do not get the message, but to ourselves for the first time.

—Stuart Hall, “What is this ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?”

This is the second year of the Center for African American Studies Faculty-Graduate Seminar at Princeton University. The seminar meets bi-monthly throughout the course of the academic year and provides a forum for faculty and graduate students who are committed to critically examining race and pursuing intellectual discourse in African American studies. The seminar combines presentations by Princeton faculty and visitors and hosts both established and emerging scholars from institutions throughout the country. The seminar is decidedly interdisciplinary and engages scholarship from multiple fields, perspectives and methodological approaches. We encourage graduate student and faculty participation from the humanities, social sciences, physical and natural sciences, arts and professional schools.

Theme:  This year’s theme for 2008-2009, Race and Popular Culture draws inspiration from the groundbreaking 1992 critical anthology Black Popular Culture (Seattle, WA: Bay Press) in its aim to explore “the popular” in relation to race and across multiple sites of inquiry and fields of cultural production: literature and print media, film, video, the visual arts, dance, digital-web media, television, popular music and sound media, theater and performance art. Following the Center’s commitment to interdisciplinarity, the seminar will stress multiple methodologies, as well as its three thematic subfields (life and culture; race and public policy; and comparative race and ethnicity) in order to explore how constructions of race in popular culture intersect with historical, social, political, religious, economic and material issues. The research presented in the workshop will assist participants in theorizing the politics of racial representation in popular culture, the impact of globalization on the production and dissemination of black popular culture within an historical framework, and the potential for sites of popular culture to engage with contemporary policy issues. How do marginalized subjects negotiate power and “play with their own identifications” in relation to the “collective unconscious” that is popular culture? What are the grounds for collective action in contemporary popular culture and what are the responsibilities of critics, artists/activists, and policy makers in creating and sustaining collective action? To quote Black Popular Culture contributor Cornel West, how might we imagine the potential for a radical “joy” to emerge out of our conversations with popular cultural texts that re-galvanizes “love, care, kindness, service, solidarity, the struggle for justice—values that provide the possibility for bringing people together”?