American studies or American civilization is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the study of the United States. It incorporates the study of economics, history, literature, art, the media, film, urban studies, women’s studies, gender studies, anthropology, sociology, queer studies, African American studies, Chicano studies, Asian American studies, foreign policy and culture of the United States, among other fields.
The folklore of the United States, or American folklore, is one of the folk traditions which has evolved on the North American continent since Europeans arrived in the 16th century. While it contains much in the way of Native American tradition, it should not be confused with the tribal beliefs of any community of native people. American folklore covers the same broad categories as the folklore of other nations. It encompasses myths, jokes, riddles, legends, cautionary tales, and many other forms of storytelling.
Adaptations based on traditional folklore provide a source of popular culture. This early layer of cultural mainstream still persists today, in a form separate from mass-produced popular culture, propagating by word of mouth rather than via mass media, e.g. in the form of jokes or urban legend. With the widespread use of the Internet from the 1990s, the distinction between mass media and word-of-mouth has become blurred.
Although the folkloric element of popular culture engages heavily with the commercial element, the public has its own tastes and it may not embrace every cultural item sold. Moreover, beliefs and opinions about the products of commercial culture spread by word-of-mouth, and become modified in the process in the same manner that folklore evolves.
Julia at a American Studies blog stated:
Range and Depth of American Studies
American studies are also multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. That is, a person studying American studies depending on the route they choose to take within their degree can study a combination of subjects, such as Politics, Sociology, Geography, Visual Arts, Linguistics, Literature, History and much more. Furthermore, apart from the range of subjects through which America can be explored, American studies are seeking to make connections between subjects. In other words, someone interested in American Studies can become familiar with the American Revolution, for instance, through political speeches of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or through its representation in a film. It is notable to say here that this intermingling of individual principles, which is unique in American culture, allows for an alternative discourse of conceptualizing about the United States.
Popular culture (commonly known as pop culture) is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred through an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given society. Popular culture is heavily influenced by the mass media and permeates the everyday life of many people.
High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture. In more popular terms, it is the culture of an elite such as the aristocracy or intelligentsia. It is contrasted with the low culture or popular culture of, variously, the less well-educated, barbarians, Philistines, or the masses.
Cultural studies is an academic field grounded in critical theory and literary criticism. It generally concerns the political nature of contemporary culture, as well as its past historical precedents, conflicts, and issues. It is, to this extent, largely distinguished from cultural anthropology and ethnic studies in both objective and methodology. Researchers concentrate on how a particular medium or message relates to matters of ideology, social class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, and/or gender.
Cultural studies is extremely holistic, combining feminist theory, social theory, political theory, history, philosophy, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, communication studies, political economy, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in various societies. Thus, cultural studies seeks to understand the ways in which meaning is generated, disseminated, and produced through various practices, beliefs, institutions, and political, economic, or social structures within a given culture.
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture (whether distinct or hidden) which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.
In 2007, Ken Gelder proposed to distinguish subcultures from countercultures based on the level of immersion in society. Gelder further proposed six key ways in which subcultures can be identified:
- through their often negative relations to work (as ‘idle’, ‘parasitic’, at play or at leisure, etc.);
- through their negative or ambivalent relation to class (since subcultures are not ‘class-conscious’ and don’t conform to traditional class definitions);
- through their association with territory (the ‘street’, the ‘hood’, the club, etc.), rather than property;
- through their movement out of the home and into non-domestic forms of belonging (i.e. social groups other than the family);
- through their stylistic ties to excess and exaggeration (with some exceptions);
- through their refusal of the banalities of ordinary life and massification (Gelder, Ken (2007). Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice (Routledge, March 2007; softcover ISBN 0-415-37952-0))
- Ashby, LeRoy. “The Rising of Popular Culture: A Historiographical Sketch,” OAH Magazine of History, 24 (April 2010), 11–14.
- Ashby, LeRoy. With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 (2006)
- Bakhtin, M. M. and Michael Holquist, Vadim Liapunov, Kenneth Brostrom. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (University of Texas Press Slavic Series). Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
- Browne, Ray B. and Pat Browne, eds. The Guide to U.S. Popular Culture (2001), 1010 pages; essays by experts on many topics
- Burke, Peter. “Popular Culture Reconsidered,” Storia della Storiografia 1990, Issue 17, pp 40–49
- Freitag, Sandria B. “Popular Culture in the Rewriting of History: An Essay in Comparative History and Historiography,” Peasant Studies, 1989, Vol. 16 Issue 3, pp 169–198,
- Gerson, Stéphane. “‘A World of Their Own’: Searching for Popular Culture in the French Countryside,” French Politics, Culture and Society, Summer 2009, Vol. 27 Issue 2, pp 94–110
- Griffin, Emma. “Popular Culture in Industrializing England,” Historical Journal, Sept 2002, Vol. 45 Issue 3, pp 619–35
- Hassabian, Anahid (1999). “Popular”, Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, eds.: Horner, Bruce and Swiss, Thomas. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-21263-9.
- Seabrook, John. NoBrow : the culture of marketing the marketing of culture, New York: A.A. Knopf, 2000. ISBN 0-375-40504-6
- Storey, John (2006). Cultural theory and popular culture. Pearson Education. ISBN 978-0-13-197068-7
- Theodor W. Adorno, 1973-1986: Gesammelte Schriften, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
- Houston Baker, 1989: “Handling Crisis”, paper read at the Symposium Cultural Literacy in the Media Age: The Clash of Values, at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, August 1989.
- Roland Barthes, 1957: Mythologies, Paris: Editions du Seuil.
- Thomas L. Bonn, 1989: Heavy Traffic and High Culture. New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution, Carbondale/Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.
- Pierre Bourdieu 1971: “Le marché des biens symboliques”, in L’année sociologique 22:49-126.
- Pierre Bourdieu: Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistiques, Paris: Fayard.
- Jim Collins, 1989: Uncommon Cultures. Popular Culture and Post-Modernism, New York/London: Routledge.
- Umberto Eco, 1986: Travels in Hyperreality, New York: Harcourt.
- Umberto Eco, 1988 (1964, 1978): The Structure of Bad Taste, Amsterdam: Bert Bakker.
- Alain Finkielkraut, 1987: La défaite de la pensée, Paris: Gallimard.
- Charles Grivel, 1973: Production de l’intérêt romanesque, The Hague/Paris: Mouton.
- Jürgen Habermas, 1981: Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.
- Tania Modleski, 1986: “The Terror of Pleasure. The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory”, in Tania Modleski (ed.), Studies in Entertainment. Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 155-167.
- Chandra Mukerji & Michael Schudson, 1991 (eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture, University of California Press
- Thomas J. Roberts, 1990: An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction, Athens (Georgia)/London: University of Georgia Press.
- Clem Robyns, 1991: “Beyond the first dimension: recent tendencies in popular culture studies”, in Joris Vlasselaers (Ed.) The Prince and the Frog, Leuven: ALW.
- Clem Robyns, 1995: “Defending the National Identity”, In Andreas Poltermann (Ed.) Literaturkanon, Medienereignis, Kultureller Text. Berlin: Erich Schmidt.
- Andrew Ross, 1989: No Respect. Intellectuals and Popular Culture, New York/London: Routledge.
- Barbara Smith, 1988: Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory, Cambridge (Mass.)/London: Harvard University Press.
- Alan Swingewood, 1977: The Myth of Mass Culture, London: Macmillan.
- Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline, edited by Lucy Maddox, Johns Hopkins University Press 1998, ISBN 0-8018-6056-3
- The Futures of American Studies, edited by Donald E. Pease and Robyn Wiegman, Duke University Press 2002, ISBN 0-8223-2965-4
- American Studies in a Moment of Danger, George Lipsitz, University of Minnesota Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8166-3949-3
- Gelder, Ken (2007). Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice (Routledge, March 2007; softcover ISBN 0-415-37952-0)