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"Locating the Popular in Arab countries"

Organized by Hatsuki Aishima (ZMO) and Bettina Gräf (ZMO)

This panel seeks to locate the “popular” in contemporary Arab societies by looking at the creative ways in which the producers of cultural commodities strategise to grab the heart, the mind and the wallet of their target consumers. We approach cultural commodities for popular audiences as the fruit of intellectual inspirations, socio-cultural demands and technological possibilities in which the “popular” is imagined, negotiated and materialised. Our inquiries are rooted to two reasons: First is to explore how the term popular or sha’bi is used in various social and historical contexts. Even before the sha’b (people) became the centre of attention in the popular uprisings in the Arab Spring, studies on popular culture, especially those on mass media (i.e. magazines, radio and television programmes, cinema and the internet) have expanded in recent years with an attempt to understand the everyday lives of an ordinary people. However, there still remains the necessity to examine who are the “popular” of the popular culture. How should be the term “popular” situated in relation to the notions of high culture or the public? Second is our interest in exploring the backstage of how the popular audiences are imagined during the making of cultural commodities such as public intellectuals, video games or television serials. Production of cultural commodities for popular audiences involves extensive process of trials and errors in which various actors strive to adopt their skills and ideas to the material and technical conditions of the existing milieu. Our inquiries into the notion of popular encourage us to overcome the boundaries between the studies on consumer culture, mass media, as well as intellectual and social history of the Arab world.

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