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Essay 3

Reception Analysis Essay
Due via email by class, April 28

One of the most important aspects of cultural studies is the acknowledgment that consumption of popular culture is multifaceted and not “predetermined” by producers.  This essay is an opportunity for you to explore the consumption of popular culture by examining reception practices.  You should choose some practice of popular cultural consumption to analyze – it might be viewing a television program, attending a concert, frequenting a shopping mall, playing a videogame, etc.  Whatever you choose, your case study should offer an interesting set of consumption practices to analyze using the theories and methods of cultural studies, reflecting on how popular culture matters within everyday life.

Your 1,600-2,000 word essay should answer the following questions about your case study: how do audiences make meanings and take pleasure from this form of popular culture, and what does this instance tell us about broader cultural, social, and political issues? The essay can include quotations from consumers as appropriate, but should foreground your own analysis of their practices rather than just stringing together quotes. Likewise, you should connect your analysis to the theories and methods we’ve discussed, but any citations should be in service of the core questions and arguments you are exploring.

You should employ one of the methods we will discuss to access audience practices. These can include interviewing individuals or groups, observing audiences “in action” (as in an event or place of consumption), conversational analysis among viewers, or analyzing the discursive “products” of consumption – published criticism, fan magazines, online discussions, etc. It is up to you to determine the most effective way to access consumption practices for your specific case study. Any method has strengths and weaknesses; part of your essay should offer some methodological reflection on your process following the ideas explored by class readings.

Some questions that you might wish to explore regarding your consumers include:

  • How do these consumption practices fit within Hall’s encoding/decoding model?
  • What do these consumption practices tell us about ideology and hegemony?
  • How do consumers view their own practices in relation to the producers of popular culture?
  • How do consumers use popular culture to form communities?  Are these communities typical or exceptional compared to “average” consumers?
  • How does the identity of your consumers (e.g. age, gender, race, sexuality) impact their consumption practices, and how does consumption shape people’s identities?
  • How do consumers engage with popular culture to create meaning, emotion, and/or interactivity?
  • How do consumption practices blur into production of new cultural products & texts?
  • How does the context of your research (interviews, observation, textual analysis of webpages or discussions, etc.) shape the reactions and “data” collected?

You should not (nor could you possibly) address all of these issues concerning your example – choose which of these issues (or others drawn from the readings) seems most applicable to your case study.  Good luck!

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