Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination (2020)

Case Studies of Creative Social Change

Edited by Henry Jenkins , Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Sangita Shresthova

Published by: NYU Press

Publisher’s Link: https://bit.ly/2Tj0Cni


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.


Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination: Foundations (Henry Jenkins, Gabriel Peters- Lazaro, and Sangita Shresthova)

Part I. How Do We Imagine a Better World?

1 Rebel Yell: The Metapolitics of Equality and Diversity in Disney’s Star Wars (William Proctor)

2 The Hunger Games and the Dystopian Imagination (Lauren Levitt)

3 Spinning H. P. Lovecraft: A Villain or Hero of Our Times? (Michael Saler)

4 Family Sitcoms’ Political Front (Taylor Cole Miller and Jonathan Gray)

5 “To Hell with Dreams”: Resisting Controlling Narratives through Oscar Season (Raffi Sarkissian)

Part II. How Do We Imagine the Process of Change?

6 Imagining Intersectionality: Girl Empowerment and the Radical Monarchs (Sarah Banet- Weiser)

7 Code for What? (Elisabeth Soep, Clifford Lee, Sarah Van Wart, and Tapan Parikh)

8 Tracking Ida: Unlocking Black Resistance and Civic Imagination through Alternate Reality Gameplay (Emilia Yang)

9 Everyone Wants Peace? Contending Imaginaries in the Colombian Context of Peace Creation (Andrea Alarcón)

Part III. How Do We Imagine Ourselves as Civic Agents?

10 Learning to Imagine Better: A Letter to J. K. Rowling from Cho Chang (Diana Lee)

11 Black Girls Are from the Future: #BlackGirlMagic as an Extension of the Black Radical Imagination (Brooklyne Gipson)

12 “Dance to the Distortion”: The Queens of Pop vs. Donald Trump (Jocelyn Kelvin)

13 Changing the Future by Performing the Past: Budhan Theatre and Transformation of Youth Identities (Manisha Pathak-Shelat)

14 Mirroring the Misogynistic Wor(l)d: Civic Imagination and Speech Mirroring Strategy in Korea’s Online Feminist Movement (Donna Do-own Kim)

15 Reimagining the Arab Spring: From Limitation to Creativity (Yomna Elsayed and Sulafa Zidani)

16 DIY VR: Google Cardboard’s Handmade Approach to Imagining the Future of Immersive Technology (Gabriel Peters-Lazaro)

Part IV. How Do We Forge Solidarity with Others with Different Experiences Than Our Own?

17 Training Activists to Be Fans: “The Moral Equivalent” of Pop Culture (Stephen Duncombe)

18 Tonight, in This Very Ring … Trump vs. the Media: Pro Wrestling as Articulation of Civic Imagination (Sam Ford)

19 Ms. Marvel Punches Back: Twenty- First- Century Superheroes and Alienated Citizenship (Rebecca Wanzo)

20 For the Horde: Violent “Trolling” as a Preemptive Strike via #GamerGate and the #AltRight (joan miller)

21 Communal Matters and Scientific Facts: Making Sense of Climate Change (Candis Callison)

22 Imagining Resistance to Trump through the Networked Branding of the National Park Service (Rachel E. Moran and Thomas J Billard)

Part V. How Do We Imagine Our Social Connections with a Larger Community?

23 Moving to a Bollywood Beat, “Born in the USA” Goes My Indian Heart? Exploring Possibility and Imagination through Hindi Film Dance (Sangita Shresthova)

24 “Our” Hamilton: Reimagining the Founders for a “Diverse America” (Henry Jenkins)

25 Participatory Action in Humans of New York (Paromita Sengupta)

26 A Vision for Black Lives in the Black Radical Tradition (Christopher Harris)

Part VI. How Do We Bring an Imaginative Dimension to Our Real-World Spaces and Places?

27 “Without My City, Where Is My Past?” (Ethan Zuckerman)

28 Reimagining and Mediating a Progressive Christian South (Clint Schnekloth)

29 Tzina: Symphony of Longing: Using Volumetric VR to Archive the Nostalgic Imaginaries of the Marginal (Ioana Mischie)

30 What’s Civic about Aztlán? Reflections on the Chican@ Promised Land (Rogelio Alejandro Lopez)



About the Contributors