The popular is always enmeshed in shifting meanings, evoking both positive and negative connotations. Its basic sense of something that belongs to, is enjoyed by, or is of, the people indicates why this might be so, since “the people” have long been an object of fascination, fear, and fantasy. The popular is often explicitly or implicitly contrasted with other types of culture. So, popular cultures are set against elite or high cultures, marked by distinctions of “taste” (Bourdieu 1984). Elite forms of culture are seen as set apart by the cultural skills and knowledge needed to engage in them, or appreciate them. By comparison, popular products and practices are presumed to be accessible or available to large numbers of people.

These distinctions have positive and negative evaluations attached to them. In one version, elite culture is seen as distinguished, refined, and sophisticated (indeed, as “cultured”), while popular culture is viewed …

This essay may be found on page 143 of the printed volume.

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