Social Scientist. v 16, no. 183 (Aug 1988) p. 53.


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Negotiating Totalities: Towards an Analysis of Popular Magazine Fiction

The investigation of cultural forms has significant implications for the development of critical sociology since it allows us to raise issues of ideology by linking cultural 'objects* with societal discourses. My attempt, in this article, is to focus on popular magazine fiction as a cultural form, that is, as a cultural and ideologically specific world, involved in negotiations over social meanings.1 I also suggest that the part conventionally assumed to be played by popular fiction in cultural reproduction is not self-evident. Rather, popular magazine fiction must be approached as fielding contested social meanings, as both 'an arena of consent and resistance'2 to structures of dominance.

In this essentially programmatic account, I wish to draw attention to the implications of investigating popular magazine fiction in terms of its links with the production and reproduction of social realities. How, then, we must ask, should one pursue the specificity and effectiveness of the 'world* of magazine fiction? Why do these narratives make such compelling reading? What are the socially significant claims of this 'world* and what are its institutional locations? How does one read its textures? By what filtering process does 'reality' come to be selected and 'represented'? What are the socio-cultural assumptions running through the narratives? How does one undertake a critical reading of cultural forms, simultaneously reading along and against the grain? Can such a strategic reading be charged with attributing significations unperceived by readers? How, in other words, does one tread the ground between the immediacies of 'experience-near' concepts and the abstractions of 'experience-distant' concepts?3

The first step toward? answering these questions would lie in conceptualizing popular magazine fiction as a discursive field, a space where cultural contradictions are aired, negotiated and disposed of. Its attempts to pose and suggest solutions to the problems of social life are not necessarily coherent, but are contestable. This also implies that its meaning is not an inherent quality (to be discovered in the text), but is processually constituted through the text's encounter with other ongoing social discourses. Consequently, interpretations will differ according to the cultural codes brought to bear by readers and according



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