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Popular Culture Association (PCA) National Conference - Special Topic: Happiness and Culture

Call for Papers
Special Topic: Happiness and Culture

Popular Culture Association (PCA) National Conference

March 31—April 3, 2021

Boston, MA

We are seeking paper proposals for the special topic Happiness and Culture to be presented at the 2021 PCA National Conference in Boston.  The proposals should focus on the relationship between happiness (understood as subjective well-being) and popular culture, broadly defined.  We are interested in papers that examine the role human desire for happiness plays in cultural products and practices (including the relevant cultural institutions and industries) and vice versa. We are looking for papers that illuminate the impact of cultural products and practices, the values and beliefs they embody, and the economic laws that govern them on popular definitions of happiness and how best to pursue it.

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Philosophers and scholars have long argued that humans seek happiness above all else.  There are very few goals more important to us than happiness and very few things that motivate us more strongly to action. You can get us to do, buy, create, accomplish, watch, and attend almost anything if the promised payoff is happiness.  In short, the desire for happiness is potentially among the most significant forces in any culture.

While the desire for happiness is universally human, beliefs and attitudes about happiness vary with changing historical periods, cultural values, socioeconomic conditions, political ideologies, religious and philosophical views, geographic locations, and other factors.  Individual attitudes and beliefs about happiness (as well as the ability to access it) are partially shaped by the culture/country/time period in which one lives, including by the specific position one occupies in that culture/country, such as one’s gender, ethnicity, class status, sexual orientation, or minority/majority status.

The appreciation of happiness has always been an essential part of American culture. It’s in movie plots, in advertising, in how-to books, in popular music (unless the song laments its loss), in amusement parks, in positive thinking movements, in the way the news shows end on a positive note, in that wide smile flashed during public encounters by…just about everybody. The pursuit of happiness is one of the three American unalienable rights; the right to it is one of the truths considered to be self-evident.

But, what are Americans pursuing with the expectation of finding happiness?  Financial success and material possessions? Fame? Stardom? Love? Advantageous marriage? A career? A family? Why pursue that and not something else? Where do the ideas about happiness come from? Do media and popular arts disseminate certain images of happiness? If so, are these portrayals helpful or misleading?  Whose interests do they serve?  What impact do cultural, social, and economic forces have on what people (are encouraged to) pursue as happiness? Do different cultures look for happiness in different places? Do they define it differently?  Do different groups in a society have different views on happiness? If, as some scientists claim, happiness is partly learned, what role does popular culture play in this process?

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Possible topics include  (but are not limited to):

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