Popular culture is variously conceived of and defined. Within the framework of institutional Cultural Studies, as is manifest, for instance, in the early work of the work of Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, and Edward Thompson which conceived of culture as the everyday practices of ordinary people, rather than as the property of a chosen few. In variance from official culture whose modes of production and consumption are vulnerable to regulation by the dominant system, and from mass culture which is more tied to market considerations, popular culture is a less striated field of cultural production. However, like all cultural practices, it represents a site of struggle over meaning, or over the interpretation of the world within the spatially and temporally specific moment of consumption (Hall, 1996 and 1997).
Changes of power relations in any society are usually accompanied with the emergence of new voices which claim a share of representation (William, imMukerji and Schudson, 1991), and it is here that popular cultural expression is intertwined with emerging changes, pushing towards the creation of a counterhegemonic new common sense (Gramsci, 1999) emerging in defiance of established power hierarchies.
Through the expression of discontent, popular culture is identified by its resistive nature and the centrality of ordinary people’s agency to its mechanisms of performativity. This notion of resistance is double-edged; it is directed against the hegemony of both the elite establishment and of mass cultural products (de Certeau, 1984; Fiske 1989). This is what has made popular culture emerge not only as representing struggle over cultural capital, but also as a terrain of social and cultural conflict, and a weapon of political mobilisation in the last two decade of the twentieth century (Mukerji and Schudson, 1991).
During the past decade in the Middle East, popular cultural production has been a sign of the mobilisation of people and of their desire to engage with centres of power, and to claim their means of representation and imagined solidarity (Bayat, 2009). This, we have seen continuing in a remarkable manner during the latest popular uprisings not only throughout the Arab region,but also almost simultaneously in protest and occupy movements in Turkey, Spain, Brazil, USA, Britain and other parts of the world.
More like a carnival (in Bakhtinian sense) than a performance, the participatory nature of popular culture is one of the key points in our conceptualization of the term. Because of its local and temporal circumscription, popular culture depends on the involvement of large numbers of people in the process of meaning making. Meanings proliferate in as much as there are recipients, who in their turn become part of the production of the work. This appears more clearly in the emerging field of digital popular cultural production (as in digital memes and remix for instance).
This is primarily a digital forum which aims at promoting research in the field of popular culture, regionally and internationally. For this end, we seek to create a network that would facilitate the exchange of expertise among scholars in the field of popular culture, and to encourage and sponsor young researchers from Egypt and the Arab region who opt for studying this under-researched field.
Our activities take place both on the ground and in the digital world, and include:
– organising panel discussions, workshops, and digital conferences dealing with popular culture
– exchanging scholars,lecturers, and graduate students with international research institutions
– setting up a small specialised library