Popular and Mass Culture in late Soviet Society
January 24th – 25th, 2013, University of St. Gallen
Organization: Center for Governance and Culture in Europe, University of St. Gallen
Dr. Carmen Scheide (St. Gallen), Dr. Peter Collmer (Zürich), Dr. Julia Richers (Basel), Prof. Ulrich Schmid (St. Gallen)
Popular culture is a multifaceted, global phenomenon that is associated with such attributes as freedom or subversion. It is accessible to broad sections of the population, and offers lifestyles that can be adopted or adapted informally and without commitment and which therefore - at least to some extent – remain beyond the reach of political control. Popular culture embraces (urban) songs, dances, light reading (pulp fiction), the entertainment stage (such as cabaret and musicals), cinema, television, radio, sports, leisure activities, fashion (such as jeans and trainers, as well as hairstyles), styles of behavior, gestures, emulative postures (e.g. of cinema stars), speech patterns, jokes, narrative styles, mass graphics etc. Thus, popular culture has a much stronger link with the everyday experiences of ordinary people than is the case with what might be considered culture in an elitist sense.
The term popular culture can have many different meanings, but it does imply a certain temporal context: first and foremost, it refers to the musical and artistic output of American and British society from the 1950s on, which rapidly spread to different regions of the world through a process of cultural transfer. The term 'Pop-up' in the title of the conference reflects the rapidity of the changes brought about by popular and trendy music groups, new concepts of style and ways of life that sprang up not only in the West, but also in the so-called “Eastern Bloc”. A global phenomenon such as “Beatlemania” would not have been possible without the technology for reproducing both sound and images. Thus, the issue of popular culture also raises questions of consumer habits, medialization, entertainment culture and leisure activities.
The organisers of the conference see research into “popular culture” as offering potential insights into the interdependencies between culture and society. Popular culture reflects concepts of order, patterns of interaction and shifts in mass culture through the media, consumer goods or cultural transfer. From this point of view, it is possible to analyse processes of negotiation or loyalties between state and society – as well as cultural practices – that point to hegemonic concepts, distinction or integration. Analyses of popular culture in the Soviet Union have hitherto focused mainly on the early Soviet era or Stalinism, on film and the cinema, on visual culture and, occasionally, on rock and pop groups as well as on regional case studies.
By contrast, there remains a need for research focusing on the comparative analysis of synchronic cultural developments in the late socialist era; this conference aims to address that need. How did Soviet society change from the late 1950s on, when the state at times retreated to a laissez-faire position and so allowed new areas of cultural activity to emerge? What trends were there, and who set them? How was taste discussed, and how did fan-based communities come into being? What was the relationship between the new cultural dynamics and the discourse of ideology and the politics of identity? Was Soviet popular culture an expression of subversion and protest? Did it tend to break down the system, or rather to exert a stabilising influence? How did popular culture influence people’s lifestyles and leisure activities? How can processes of cultural transfer – such as between East and West – be described? What autonomous developments took place?
The Authors’ Conference will serve as a preparatory meeting for a subsequent publication on the topic. Accordingly, it will focus mainly on discussion and feedback regarding the individual contributions, as well as on conceptual issues. The texts will be circulated to all participants two weeks before the conference. At the conference itself, each author will give a short presentation lasting between 5 and 10 minutes to recapitulate his or her central theses; this will provide input for a subsequent discussion of the manuscript. Once finalised, the revised texts should then be submitted by May 30th 2013, with publication planned for 2014.
Length of each final text: 5’000 words.
Submission deadline: 30.5.2013
The organizers invite proposals for papers (500 words maximum), to be submitted by 25th June 2012. Upon acceptance, each selected participant will be asked to provide a full-length working paper as the basis for discussion by 6th January 2013. The conference will take place in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Accommodation and board will be provided. Grants to cover travelling expenses will be available. Proposals should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Center for Governance and Culture
University of St. Gallen
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