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Session on Popular Culture and Civilisation, Graz, 25–27 April

Posted on by Stephen Mennell

Call for Papers for a Session on Popular Culture and Civilisation, Graz, 25–27 April 2013

This session will take place within the conference on Habitus, War and Civilisation, Department of Sociology, University of Graz, in honour of Helmut Kuzmics upon his retirement from his chair in Graz. Besides his work in recent years on war, Helmut has written extensively on literature and popular culture.

Email 300-word abstract plus bio to Jason Hughes at Deadline for abstracts: 24 February 2013

Elias had excellent sociological reasons for selecting the term ‘civilisation’ to bear the conceptual weight of his theoretical approach. As he discusses in the opening to On the Process of Civilisation, the term ‘Kultur’, particularly in its German usage, has retained certain connotations from its specific sociogenesis – stressing introspection, difference, uniqueness. ‘Civilisation’, on the other hand, has sociological value because of its emphasis on development: for its application as a term which invites comparison, contrast, and which is always attuned to processes of becoming. Culture, particularly in the anthropological usage, has largely emerged unchallenged as a technical term. The distinction between culture in the technical and normative sense of the world is by now so deeply ingrained in Western academic traditions that it hardly needs to be stated. Civilisation, by contrast, remains highly contested, seemingly unable to shake off the hangovers of the normative usage as a watchword for colonising groups, particularly its mobilisation in the name of Western superiority, progress, and the domination of ‘others’. Yet, arguably, civilisation, or more specifically (to use Elias’s technical term) ‘civilising processes’, with its structure and process connotations, remains sociologically useful and encompasses much that is normally considered in relation to studies and analyses of ‘culture’. This presents an enduring problem for ‘figurational’ scholars: how does ‘culture’, particularly ‘popular culture’, ‘fit’ within the conceptual scheme and the approach to research developed by Elias? What is the ontological and epistemological status of ‘cultural artefacts’? Might popular culture constitute a vehicle for standards of socially acceptable behaviour, one that follows in a line of succession from previous modes of arbitration, such as manners texts, aristocratic edicts, and spoken (and eventually unspoken) codes of etiquette? Where do studies of popular culture stand in relation to analyses of civilising processes? How might a contemporary researcher locate research into say film, television, new media, in the context of longer-term processes of development? How might one reconcile Elias’ (and others’) work with ‘media studies’ and other analyses of popular culture? We invite papers that explore the relationship between popular culture and civilisation, exploring these questions amongst others. We would particularly welcome papers which are research-based, and which grapple with the problems of combining an engagement with long-term processes with a contemporary empirical focus.