Sociology of Popular Culture Syllabus

Authored by Dr Crystal Abidin

For SC2210, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
August–December 2016

.pdf version here


Learning Outcomes

The aim of this course is to critically assess the history, function, and design of popular culture, and to scrutinize academic approaches to the phenomenon, paying special heed to digital media in the context of Singapore, East Asia, and globally. The first few lectures examine general aspects of popular culture such as theory, industry, and celebrity systems, before we investigate specific artifacts and practices such as subcultures, cute culture, trolling, paralanguages, selfies, gender, and consumption and fan culture. The course is mounted for students with an interest in the study of popular culture.


Week 01: Theories of Popular Culture

Compulsory readings
Grindstaff, Laura. 2008. “Culture and Popular Culture: A Case for Sociology.” American Academy of Political and Social Science 619: 206-222.

Storey, John. 2012. “What is popular culture?” Pp. 1-5 in Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction. Harlow: Pearson.

Supplementary readings
Milestone, Katie. 2008. “Urban Myths: Popular Culture, the City and Identity.” Sociology Compass 2(4): 1165-1178.

Nichols, Lawrence T. 2009. “Toward a Renewed Sociology of Mass Media and Popular Culture.”The American Sociologist 40(3): 147-148.

Platts, Todd K. 2013. “Locating Zombies in the Sociology of Popular Culture.” Sociology Compass 7: 547-560.


Week 02: The Culture Industry

Compulsory readings
Adorno, T.W., and Max Horkheimer. 2007. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Pp. 34-43 in Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader, edited by Sean Redmond and Su Holmes. London: Sage.

Storey, John. 2012. “Culturalisms.” Pp. 37-58 in Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction. Harlow: Pearson.

Tan, Kenneth Paul. 2008. “The Culture Industry in Renaissance-City Singapore.” Pp. 37-76 in Cinema and Television in Singapore: Resistance in One Dimension. Leiden: Brill.

Supplementary readings
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2009. “Distinction and the Aristocracy of Culture.” Pp. 431-441 in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, edited by John Storey. London: Pearson.

Debord, Guy. 1994. “Separation Perfected” and “The Commodity as Spectacle.” Pp. 11-24, 25-34 in The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.


Week 03: Celebrities

Compulsory readings
Grindstaff, Laura. 2002. “The Genre Goes Hard-Core: A Brief History of Talk Shows and the Money Shot.” in The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows. Chicago: Chicago Scholarship Online. [e-book]

Marshall, P. David. 2014. “Tools for the Analysis of the Celebrity as a Form of Cultural Power.” Pp. 51-76 in Celebrity and Power. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Turner, Graeme. 2010. “Ordinary People: celebrity, tabloid culture and the function of the media.” Pp. 12-32 in Ordinary people and the media: The demotic turn. Los Angeles: Sage.

Twitchell, James B. 1997. [book in rare circulation, read pp. 1-15, pp. 96-129 in CA’s notes] in For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture. Collingdale, PA: Diane Publishing Co.

Supplementary readings
Marshall, P. David. 2014. “The System of Celebrity.” Pp. 185-199 in Celebrity and Power. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Morrow, Katherine. 2014. “Fei Cheng Wu Rao (非诚勿扰): Staging Global China through International Format Television and Overseas Special Episodes.” New Global Studies I8(3): 259-277.

Turner, Graeme. 2006. “The mass production of celebrity ‘Celetoids’, reality TV and the ‘demotic turn’.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 9(2): 153-165.


Week 04: Microcelebrities

Compulsory readings
Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Communicative <3 Intimacies: Influencers and Perceived Interconnectedness.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, & Technology 8. OA:

Marwick, Alice. 2015. “You May Know Me From YouTube: (Micro)-Celebrity in Social Media.” Pp. 333-350 in A Companion to Celebrity, edited by P. David Marshall and Sean Redmond. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Senft, Theresa M. 2008. “Keeping it Real on the Web: Authenticity, Celebrity, Branding.” Pp. 15-31 in Camgirls: Celebrity & community in the age of social networks. New York: Peter Lang.

Supplementary readings
Abidin, Crystal. 2014. “#In$tagLam: Instagram as a repository of taste, a brimming marketplace, a war of eyeballs.” Pp. 119-128 in Mobile Media Making in the Age of Smartphones, edited by Marsha Berry and Max Schleser. New York: Palgrave Pivot.

Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Digital detox, Media panics, and What’s next”. OA:

Mavroudis, Jonathan, and Esther Milne. 2016. “Researching microcelebrity: Methods, access and labour.” First Monday 21(7). OA:


Week 05: Cute culture

Compulsory readings
Allison, Anne. 2013. “Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokemon as Japan’s new global power.” Postcolonial Studies 6(3): 381-395.

Dale, Joshua. 2016. “Cute studies: An emerging field.” East Asian Journal of Popular Culture 2(1).

Yano, Christine. 2013. “Kitty-Japan-Global” and “Kitty backlash.” Pp. 1-41, 163-198 in Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific. Durham: Duke University Press.

Supplementary readings
Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Agentic cute (^.^): Pastiching East Asian cute in Influencer commerce.”East Asian Journal of Popular Culture 2(1): 33-47

de Seta, Gabriele. 2014. ““Meng? It Just Means Cute”: A Chinese Online Vernacular Term in Context.” M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture 17(2). OA:

Steinberg, Neil. 2016. “The new science of cute.” OA:


Week 06: Break


Week 07: Subcultures and Resistance

Compulsory readings
Kosut, Mary. 2006. “An Ironic Fad: The Commodification and Consumption of Tattoos.” The Journal of Popular Culture 39(6): 1035-1048.

Jain, Andrea. 2014. “From Counterculture to Counterculture.” in Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture. Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online. [e-book]

Storey, John. 2012. “Marxisms.” Pp. 59-92 in Cultural theory and popular culture: An introduction. Harlow: Pearson.

Supplementary readings
Bunting, Amanda Marie. 2012. “A Sociological Study of Graffiti in Seville, Spain.” Journal of Student Research 1(2). OA:

Twitchell, James B. 1997. [book in rare circulation, read pp. 1-15, pp. 96-129 in CA’s notes] in For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture. Collingdale, PA: Diane Publishing Co.

Wolff, Brett. 2011. “The Writing on the Stall: Graffiti, Vandalism, and Social Expressions.”Kaleidoscope 9(11). OA:

Week 08: Trolling
Movie screening: Banksy (2010) Exit Through the Gift Shop, 1hr 27mins

Compulsory readings
Abraham, Benjamin. 2014. “Challenging Hate Speech with Facebook Flarf: The Role of User Practices  in Regulating Hate Speech on Facebook.” The Fibreculture Journal 23. OA:

Coleman, Gabriella. 2015. “On Trolls, Tricksters, and the Lulz.” Pp. 19-51 in Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. London: Verso books.

Phillips, Whitney. 2015. “The only reason to do anything: Lulz, play, and the mask of trolling” and “The lulz are dead, long live the lulz: From subculture to mainstream.” Pp. 27-36, 137-150 inThis Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Supplementary readings
Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Anonymous and trolling in context: An interview with Gabriella Coleman.” PopAnth. OA:

de Seta, Gabriele. 2013. “Spraying, fishing, looking for trouble: The Chinese Internet and a critical perspective on the concept of trolling.” Fibreculture Journal 22. OA:

Leaver, Tama. 2013. “Olympic Trolls: Mainstream Memes and Digital Discord?” Fibreculture Journal 22. OA:


Week 09: Digital Media and Paralanguages

Compulsory readings
Highfield, Tim. 2016. “Waiving (hash)flags: Some thoughts on Twitter hashtag emoji.” OA:

Miltner, Kate M. 2014. “There’s no place for lulz on LOLCats: The role of genre, gender, and group identity in the interpretation and enjoyment of an Internet meme.” First Monday 19(8). OA:

Stark, Luke, and Kate Crawford. 2015. “The Conservatism of Emoji: Work, Affect, and Communication.” Social Media + Society Journal 1(2). OA:

Willard, Lesley. 2016. “Tumblr’s Gif Economy: The Promotional Function of Industrially Gifted Gifsets.” OA:

Supplementary readings
Highfield, Tim. 2015. “Memeology Festival 04. On Hashtaggery and Pormanteaugraphy: Memetic Wordplay as Social Media Practice.” Culture Digitally. OA:

Highfield, Tim. 2015. “News via Voldemort: Parody accounts in topical discussions on Twitter.” New Media & Society 1-8.

Lim, Sun Sun. 2015. “On stickers and Communicative Fluidity in Social Media.” Social Media + Society 1(1). OA:

Milner, Ryan M. 2013. “Pop Polyvocality: Internet Memes, Public Participation, and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.” International Journal of Communication 7: 2357-2390. OA:


Week 10: Selfies

Compulsory readings
Brager, Jenna. 2015. “The Selfie and the Other: Consuming Viral Tragedy and Social Media (After)lives.” International Journal of Communication 9: 1660-1671. OA:

Burns, Anne. 2015. “Self(ie)-Discipline: Social Regulation as Enacted Through the Discussion of Photographic Practice.” International Journal of Communications 9: 1716-1733. OA:

David, Gaby, and Carolina Cambre. 2016. “Screened Intimacies: Tinder and the Swipe Logic.”Social Media + Society 2(2). OA:

Warfield, Katie, Carolina Cambre, and Crystal Abidin. 2016. “Introduction to the Social Media + Society Special Issue on Selfies: Me-diated Inter-faces.” Social Media + Society 2(2). OA:

Supplementary readings
Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Aren’t these just young, rich women doing vain things online?: Influencer selfies as subversive frivolity.” Social Media + Society 2(2): 1-17. OA:

Albury, Kath. 2016. “Selfies, Sexts, and Sneaky Hats: Young People’s Understandings of Gendered Practices of Self-Representation.” International Journal of Communication 9: 1734-1745. OA:

Senft, Theresa M., and Nancy K. Baym. 2015. “What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon.” International Journal of Communication 9: 1588-1606. OA:


Week 11: Gender

Compulsory readings
Durham, Aisha. 2012. ““Check On It” Beyoncé, Southern booty, and Black femininities in music video.” Feminist Media Studies 12(1): 35-49.

Edgar, Eir-Anne. 2011. “‘Xtravaganza!’: Drag Representation and Articulation in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’.” Studies in Popular Culture 34(1): 133-146.

Horrocks, Roger. 1946. “Male Images and Stereotypes.” Pp. 143-166 in Male myths and icons: Masculinity in popular culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Supplementary readings
Benbow, Candice. 2016. “Lemonade Syllabus.” OA:

Dobson, Amy Shields. 2015. “Introduction.” Pp. 1-22 in Postfeminist Digital Cultures: Femininity, social media, and self-representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nagaike, Kazumi. 2012. “Johnny’s Idols as Icons: Female Desires to Fantasize and Consume Male Idol Images.” Pp. 97-112 in Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture, edited by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. KarlinLondon: Palgrave Macmillan.

Week 12: Consumption and Fan culture

Compulsory readings
Dixon, Kevin. 2013. “The football fan and the pub: An enduring relationship.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 49(3-4): 382-399.

Luvaas, Brent. 2016. “Style Radar: On Becoming a Street Style Blogger and Knowing Whom to Shoot.” [book still on order, pp. tba, read chapter 3] in An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging.London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Mattar, Yasser. 2009. “Popular cultural cringe: language as signifier of authenticity and quality in the Singaporean popular music market.” Popular Music 28(2): 179-195.

Supplementary readings
Gn, Joel. 2011. “Queer simulation: The practice, performance and pleasure of cosplay.”Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 25(4): 583-593.

Harris, Cheryl. 1998. “Introduction Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity.” Pp. 3-8 in Theorizing fandom: Fans, subculture, and identity, edited by Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander. Cresskill, NJ.: Hampton Press.

Hu, Kelly. 2016. “Chinese Subtitle Groups and the Neoliberal Work Ethic.” Pp. 207-232 in Popular Culture Co-production and Collaborations in East and Southeast Asia, edited by Nissim Otmazgin and Eyal Ben Ari. Singapore: NUS Press Ltd.

Veblen, Thorstein. 1899. “Conspicuous Consumption”. Pp. 33-47 in The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Penguin Books.