This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Long Strange Trip: Mapping Popular Culture in Composition




Campbell, Jennifer

Type of Degree





Popular culture has been a continuing research and teaching interest for compositionists since the 1950s, but the focus, tone, and quality of popular culture scholarship and pedagogy have been far from consistent. In the 1960s and ‘70s, writing teachers turned to the popular culture studies movement for content and methods. From the late 1970s on, however, compositionists have been increasingly influenced by cultural studies in the Birmingham tradition. Throughout the late ‘80s and ‘90s, cultural studies approaches dominated the study of popular culture in composition; these approaches have benefited writing instruction, but they have had problematic results as well. We can overcome the weaknesses of cultural studies pedagogies and develop more effective writing curricula by reclaiming useful elements of popular culture studies and grounding our appropriations from both movements in established theories and methods from rhetoric and composition studies. This dissertation delineates historical, theoretical, political, and practical similarities and differences between cultural studies and popular culture studies and traces how these fields have influenced composition studies. I then present a hermeneutic and heuristic guide that maps three main avenues for engaging popular culture in composition based on content and practice from all three movements. Functional approaches are concerned with the technical and formalist methods shared by popular culture studies, cultural studies, and composition studies. Relational approaches, which are more common in popular culture studies, focus on the relationship between the reader and pop culture texts as well as the relationship between producer and text, with an emphasis on the affective aspects of production and consumption. Conjunctural approaches, based in cultural studies, pursue more comprehensive critical projects that analyze the production, distribution and consumption of texts as well as historical, cultural, and political contexts. Specific course plans and assignments illustrate each level of engagement and suggest how these approaches can be combined in a balanced composition curriculum that meets established educational outcomes, particularly those set forth by the “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition.”