Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination: Case Studies of Creative Social Changeby Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova and Gabriel Peters-Lazaro New York University Press
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How popular culture is engaged by activists to effect emancipatory political change
One cannot change the world unless one can imagine what a better world might look like. Civic imagination is the capacity to conceptualize alternatives to current cultural, social, political, or economic conditions; it also requires the ability to see oneself as a civic agent capable of making change, as a participant in a larger democratic culture. Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination represents a call for greater clarity about what we’re fighting for—not just what we’re fighting against.
Across more than thirty examples from social movements around the world, this casebook proposes “civic imagination” as a framework that can help us identify, support, and practice new kinds of communal participation. As the contributors demonstrate, young people, in particular, are turning to popular culture—from Beyoncé to Bollywood, from Smokey Bear to Hamilton, from comic books to VR—for the vernacular through which they can express their discontent with current conditions.
A young activist uses YouTube to speak back against J. K. Rowling in the voice of Cho Chang in order to challenge the superficial representation of Asian Americans in children’s literature. Murals in Los Angeles are employed to construct a mythic imagination of Chicano identity. Twitter users have turned to #BlackGirlMagic to highlight the black radical imagination and construct new visions of female empowerment. In each instance, activists demonstrate what happens when the creative energies of fans are infused with deep political commitment, mobilizing new visions of what a better democracy might look like.
Henry Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California.
Sangita Shresthova is the Director of Research of Civic Paths@USC. Her previous books include By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism (with Henry Jenkins et al.) and Is it All About Hips?: Around the World With Bollywood Dance.
Gabriel Peters-Lazaro is Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts where he researches, designs and produces digital media for innovative learning. His current research interests include civic imagination and hypercinemas. He is a practicing documentary filmmaker and his courses deal with critical media making and theory.