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Popular Culture
Anthropology E354
, Fall 2008
Dr. Mullins

Your major class project for this semester will be a paper on some aspect of popular culture. It should apply concepts examined in the course to an original research topic and reflect your understanding of those concepts, the ability to conceive of popular cultural topics as anthropological research, and your own creativity in coming up with a topic. The paper will be graded for its persuasiveness, clarity, application of course concepts, creativity, and grammar.

I REQUIRE that you turn in a proposal for your term paper or discuss it with me in detail by THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 25.  Your proposal MUST include five sources that are not limited to websites, and all websites must include an operating URL.  I will provide comments and, if possible, leads on resources that you should include in your paper.  I will reject papers whose topic, format, or preparation do not strictly address the requirements outlined here, but rejected proposal will not count against your grade.  However, I will automatically deduct a letter grade off the final grade for any paper for which I do not receive a proposal, regardless of how good your final product may be, so do not be tempted to skip submitting a proposal.

The paper must satisfy the following basic requirements.

1. Your paper must have an abstract. In social scientific literature, abstracts summarize the basic questions, methods, relevance, and conclusions of a research paper. An abstract is a paragraph at the outset of the paper that briefly summarizes: one, the subject of the paper and the question you are asking about that subject (i.e., what is the paper's subject, and what are you asking about this subject?); two, why this research topic is anthropologically significant; and, three, a hint to your conclusion(s) that foreshadows what your study will conclude or your basic take on the subject.

2. Your paper must have a subject which can be clearly defined as an element of popular culture with an anthropological dimension. You should be able to state how your topic is properly conceived of as an element of popular culture; i.e., it must conform to the course definition of popular culture as a core of multivalent beliefs, practices, and objects that are widely shared throughout a society or societies. This includes a whole lot of possibilities, but it is not so broad that ANY subject will be suitable for the term paper. For instance, if your topic was Appalachian musical themes, style, and instrumentation, it would not really be a proper subject for this course paper unless you directly related Appalachian music to its impact on other musical genres, examined its reflection of broader sociohistorical conditions and cultural commonalities in and beyond Appalachia, or studied how it has been revived by folks with no link to Appalachia. These dimensions would link a distinctive local cultural practice to a series of broader popular contexts that rework Appalachian music, its themes and style, and cultural practices.

Given the breadth of subjects that can be considered part of popular culture, it is not difficult to find a topic, but you should be sure to find a topic that can be examined within 15 or 25 pages and will not require a dissertation-length analysis. You can choose, but should not feel compelled to examine, an Elvis subject (e.g., a study of impersonators in the midwest; Elvis material culture; popular visions of drug abuse in Elvis history; media coverage of the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death; musical roots in Elvis music or rockabilly; etc.).

Your research topic must have some anthropological dimension(s): gender, racism, cultural background, nationalism, kinship, and subculture are all good anthropological foci on popular cultural subjects. So, for example, you might take as your subject the San Francisco sound, focusing on bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. This is a popular cultural subject suitable to this assignment, but you would want to consider issues such as the subcultural origins of this music genre (e.g., why San Francisco?; who are the original musicians and fans in social terms?; why the particular musical themes such bands use?; etc.), the impact on broader American society (e.g., effect of counter cultural values; apprehension of drug consumption; etc), who were fans and why (e.g., disaffected bourgeois youth keen to unsettle "middle class values," etc.), and persistence of this music in forms such as Dead tours and subsequent tribute bands with devoted fans. You certainly should consider music within your analysis, but do not focus on lyrics or band histories alone, because you need to know where this music came from, what social sentiments it expresses, why it found an audience, and why it continues to find an audience in some form. Consequently, an exposition of the Grateful Dead's album releases might be interesting, but it will be anthropologically irrelevant unless clearly linked to the social context from which it came and negotiated.

3. Your paper must have a research question. That is, just waxing on about the virtues of a particular band or genre, probing the biographical details of a media figure, contemplating your personal devotion to folk music, or discussing your experiences with Elvis fans does not address a tangible research question. You should have a central question that clearly states why you are studying this particular topic; i.e., why should an anthropologist care about this subject? A research question should clearly state: what do you want to know?; and why do you want to investigate this problem or issue? It should also clearly state how you will go about examining this question (i.e., your methodology): e.g., you continuously watched videos for 30 hours and charted gender representations; you probed constructions of nationalism in beer advertisements by studying 125 advertisements from certain publications; you sought out a certain number of Dead fans and discussed their background and experiences as fans using a standardized set of questions included as an appendix to the term paper; and so on.

4. Your paper must have a conclusion that summarizes what you have found out or concluded. It must clearly restate what you set out to examine or focus upon, what you found out in the course of research (which can include things you did not expect as well as what you had already intuitively believed), and the anthropological relevance of the subject. You can and should admit if you believe you would need more research to sufficiently tackle some elements of the subject, thereby suggesting directions for subsequent research.

5. A bibliography is absolutely required. It must include every single source you consulted, from academic treatises, to background sources, to music videos, to the web, to albums, to your neighbor's reminiscences. Anything that does not come directly out of your head MUST have a cited source. You should consult a wide range of resources including things you do not normally cite in academic papers, such as mass media texts, media, and web discussion groups, but you still MUST use academic research as well that either directly examines your topic or provides you theoretical ideas that you subsequently use in your research paper. The bibliography must be in a consistent format--I should be able to locate any of your sources--, and specific literature citations must be cited in the body of the paper (examples of such citations are included in this handout). I prefer you use the American Anthropological Association's style guide.  I do expect your bibliography to include AT THE VERY BAREST MINIMUM 15 CITED SOURCES, and I will consider the breadth and quantity of resources used in your research when the paper is graded: a couple of videos and citations from Rolling Stone will not be sufficient.  Papers without citation will not pass.  You certainly should take advantage of the rich range of things now available online.  Nevertheless,  web pages are flooded with completely unreliable information that should be viewed warily.  Consult the UCLA Library's Web page analysis guide or the Michigan State University Library Web Page Content Guide for tips on how to separate the serious, reliable web pages from the unreliable ones.

Facts of life: due date, length, format, citations, and computer gremlins

The paper is due TUESDAY DECEMBER 2. If the paper is not turned in that day, you will not receive credit for the assignment unless you have previously negotiated an extension for an incomplete. You can turn in the paper in class or in my mailbox; please have office staff sign and date the paper if you leave it for me. The paper can be turned in any time before that point.

The paper must be at least 15 pages, typed, double-spaced. You should write as long as it takes you to do the paper well--no paper is too long, but some papers are simply too short to clearly develop ideas or examine the data sufficiently closely or critically.  I will significantly penalize papers that do not cover the full 15 pages or are clearly straining to make that page length.

Papers must include page numbers and be justified left (i.e., set up the left margin flush left, leaving a "jagged" right edge).

The 15-page length requirement assumes nothing larger than a 12-pitch font (this size, and not this); 8 " X 11" paper; and margins not more (or less) than an inch on all sides.

Please staple the paper or bind it firmly; i.e., don't turn in a paper loose or with an origami-style corner fold, since such papers are likely to be dismembered in the pile, and do not place it in a binder or folder.

The paper's grade will reflect grammatical consistency. Spell-check your papers. I strongly suggest you have someone proofread your paper to catch grammatical errors and illuminate unclear arguments. Do not use gender-exclusive language (e.g., universal "Man," or "he" as a reference to unspecified gender). I am happy to proofread early drafts and make suggestions for final versions.  I will penalize papers with consistent grammatical errors.

During the preparation of your paper, please backup your work. If you have not yet fallen victim to a malicious computer or cheap floppy disc, you inevitably will at some point, so defend yourself beforehand. I will have considerable sympathy for anyone victimized by a Windows glitch, a computer crash, or recalcitrant printers, but the deadline will not be changed. Please keep a backup copy after providing me a text copy; assuming virtually all folks work on word processors and computers, that means keep your own disc copy if you are working in one of the computer labs, backup your hard drive if working on your own computer, and do not discard the disc the very moment you turn in your paper, if you are so tempted.  Do not save it on a computer lab hard drive:  keep either a disc copy or a hard copy, and preferably save both.

Format check list

1. The paper must be double spaced throughout the text, including citations and annotations.

2. 1" margin on all sides--top, bottom, left, and right.  Yes, I will measure the margins.

3. Justify the document left (i.e., a jagged right edge like this web page); do not justify full, because the words often get spaced out in odd ways within sentences.

4. 12 pitch font only; no extra big fonts, too-small-to-read fonts, or exceptionally aesthetic fonts that look pretty cool but are a drag to read.

5. Staple completed papers in upper left hand corner. While they are picturesque, vinyl report sleeves do not stay attached; clip binders are somewhat more reliable, but they still tend to get pulled off when placed in a large pile of completed papers. Absolutely no loose papers or origami-type corner folds will be accepted.

6. Number pages throughout at bottom center of page.

7. Print on only one side of the paper.

8. For internet resources, bibliography must include a complete and accessible URL address. I should be able to look up and locate any site to which you refer.  

9. Spell check the document AND proof-read scrupulously for grammar errors:  I will grade closely for spelling and grammar errors, so please have me, another student, or an obsessive editor proofread before you turn in the final product.

10.  PLEASE be sure to backup all your computer work: Remember that somehow computers know when your paper is due tomorrow, and armed with this information your motherboard will decide this would be a good time to delete your paper and two years of Everquest backups.  You should always have a backup copy.  I will be sympathetic if your disc crashes the day before the paper is due or if you are unable to get a printer in the computer lab that can read your disc, but I cannot grade the papers if they are not turned in by the deadline.  Please backup your work and plan ahead so that you can deal with technological challenges and whatever else life may throw in your path at semester's end.

11. It sounds funny, but put your name on the paper.  You would be surprised at the number of papers that get turned in without identification.


The paper must reference all research used in its production. References are sources from which you quote directly or borrow ideas, even if you adapt their ideas to your own ends. This includes direct quotes, paraphrases (i.e., when you restate something someone else already said), or theoretical concepts that you borrow. The latter borrowing of concepts means that if you discuss a concept such as subculture and use it as it was defined by another scholar, you must cite them as the source of that idea, regardless of whether you and that scholar work on the same topic.

References should provide general intellectual background for the work that has been done on your subject as well as any specific work done on this topic. They can be journal articles, books, or newspaper articles which analyze the very same things you are analyzing, or they can be texts which develop ideas or principles which you borrow or adapt--for instance, if you choose to study MTV, you would find a considerable amount of academic research and even more popular and often erudite analysis in the mainstream press. Be creative about your resources and dig for some original things to synthesize: take advantage of stuff like journal articles, Dissertation Abstracts, interviews, conference papers, and edited volumes that you may not typically use in courses, and obviously use sources like albums, videos, or media if they are appropriate. You can find an amazing amount of pertinent stuff on the Web, with numerous libraries hooked up and offering encyclopedic, scholarly reviews of popular culture references--go check my links page for some of these at  There are also talk groups and sites on every musical group imaginable: there are hundreds of Elvis sites, not surprisingly, but there also are MTV sites, genre sites (e.g., Goth fan talk groups), and superb sites dedicated to particular periods (e.g., New Wave). HOWEVER, please be critical of anything you take from a web site: unlike academic literature that is produced and reviewed by scholars, anybody can put up a web space and represent virtually anything as fact.

References should be noted in two places in your text: in the body of the text and at the conclusion in a bibliography. Do not use endnotes or footnotes. Within the body of your paper, you can quote directly from another author, placing their ideas verbatim within quotation marks. At the end of the quote you must cite the source--for example,

Jim Morrison observed that "I'm interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that appears to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom" (Time, 24 January 1968:32).

Or you can paraphrase--for example,

In 1968 Jim Morrison indicated that the central motif in the Doors' music was turmoil. Although violence appeared to have no concrete political goals, Morrison believed that such anarchy was focused on securing important personal freedoms (Time, 24 January 1968:32).

Within the body of the paper, each time you directly cite or paraphrase another author, you should cite the author's name, date of publication, and page number in parenthesis. In the above example, the quote or the material being paraphrased is referenced at the end of the sentence, which establishes that the idea/quote came from page 32 of the January 24, 1968 edition of Time.

Full citations of the volume's title and publication information should appear in your paper's bibliography. You will be graded on your use of consistent referencing style. For the most part, you'll primarily reference a couple of types of sources (books, journals/magazines, and papers in edited volumes) for which I've included samples here. If you have other sources you can't figure out, consult a style guide or talk to me.

The two style guides I work with most (and strongly prefer you use) are the American Anthropological Association Style Guide and the Society for Historical Archaeology Style Guide.


Savage, Jon

1992 England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond. St. Martin's Press, New York.

Deetz, James

1977 In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Press, New York.

In-text: (Savage 1992) and (Deetz 1977)

Journal article

Leone, Mark P., Parker B. Potter, Jr., and Paul A. Shackel

1987 Toward a Critical Archaeology. Current Anthropology 28(3):283-302.

In-text: (Leone et al. 1987) Use "et al." when there are three or more authors

Paper in edited volume

Ferguson, Leland

1991 Struggling with Pots in South Carolina. In The Archaeology of Inequality, edited by Randall H. McGuire and Robert Paynter, pp.28-39. Basil Blackwell, Cambridge.

Leone, Mark P.

1988 The Georgian Order as the Order of Merchant Capitalism in Annapolis, Maryland. In The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern United States, edited by Mark P. Leone and Parker B. Potter, Jr., pp.235-261. Smithsonian, Washington.

In-text: (Ferguson 1991; Leone 1988)

Unusual Sources

For all web sites, provide a full address for the site with all case sensitive grammar where appropriate. The date should be the date you consulted the site, not when it was posted. For example,

1997 <>. March 3.

In text: use a consistent abbreviation, rather than full URL address (e.g., rdustin 1997)

For albums, CD's, and other music, provide complete album names, band/artist, label, year this version released, and format (e.g., CD, 45 rpm, etc.). On reissues, original date of recording is not necessary.

Presley, Elvis

1987 The Sun Sessions CD: Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue. BMG Music, New York. CD format.

In text: (Presley 1987).

For videos: band, song title, album, and year of video release is sufficient.

Black, Frank

1996 "Man of Steel." From Songs in the Key of X. Columbia.


I require you prepare a brief proposal of what you will be writing your paper about by THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 25. Your proposal should briefly outline the subject, suggest the central questions you will ask about this topic, identify the preliminary research sources you have located, and provide a basic plan for how you actually will analyze this material culture. People who turn in proposals always do far better on the final paper than their counterparts who do not.

I will deduct a full letter grade from the final paper grade for anybody who does not submit a proposal, so do not skip it.

Good proposals do several things:

1. Provide the seeds of an interesting research question focused on some dimension of culture. State as clearly as possible what you want to examine in popular culture (e.g., race, class, subculture, gender, consumption, regionalism, sexuality, marketing, etc.).

2. Demonstrate that this is a subject worth examining. For instance, if you propose to study race and Elvis discourses, why is it important to illuminate how race figures in these discourses? Or, if you are proposing to examine gender and MTV, specify the sociocultural significance of gender constructions in music videos and on MTV in particular. Don't assume that just because you have found an interesting thing to study that the intellectual significance of the subject is self-evident.

3. Outline a basic method for the analysis--i.e., how do you propose to analyze your topic, what literature sources will you examine, and how will that analysis methodology and data address your research questions?

I will return all proposals and provide suggestions for comparative research, analytical strategies, research question ideas, and general help in focusing your paper. If you have a solid idea of what you want to do already, turn in a proposal as soon as possible and I'll return it so you can get a jump on the paper.

Possible subjects

These are subjects students have used in the past, as well as possible topics that could be used now. You certainly can take one of these subjects if you like, but this primarily is meant to stimulate your own creativity and give you a sense of the sorts of topics that can be used for the paper.

Football Hooliganism and Class in Contemporary Britain

Owning the King's Face: The Trademarking of Elvis Presley

Star Wars and the Cold War

Bourgeois Groceries: Class and Food Marketing at Wild Oats

This Ain't No Party: Youth Resistance and Raves

Race and Alcohol Advertising

Defusing Youth Resistance: Popular Media Coverage of Goth Fans

Elvis Religions

Consumer Culture and Popular Culture: Historians' Definitions

"Poison Put to Sound": 1950's Media Coverage of Rock and Roll

Art for the Masses: Starving Artists' Sales and Artistic Taste

Elvis on the Net: A Critical Study of Elvis Presley Web Sites

The Politics of Paranoia: The X-Files and Late-Twentieth Century Politics

Theories of Resistance in Popular Culture Studies

The Romance of Distant Lands: Culture and the Washington Post Travel Section

Gender in Punk

Pop History and the Fight for Disney's America

Taste, Kitsch, and Class in Elvis Collectibles

House Music and Race in Baltimore

Constructing White: Blackface Minstrelsy in Antebellum America

The Subculture of Northern Soul

The Artsy Herd Instinct: Constructing Social Identity at the Van Gogh Exhibit

The King of Pop: Race, Sex, Celebrity, and Michael Jackson

MTV, Sexuality, and Masculinity

Laughing like the Devil: Satanic Imagery in Comics and Cartoons

Making America Heroic in the Enola Gay Exhibit

Domestic Ideology at General Hospital

The Commodification of Grunge

Authentic Irish: Irish-American Popular Culture

Culture and History at Stonehenge

Studio 54 as Carnival Space

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