POPULAR INQUIRY: The Journal of the Aesthetics of Kitsch, Camp and Mass Culture

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Popular Inquiry: The Journal of the Aesthetics of Kitsch, Camp and Mass Culture is a peer- and double blind-reviewed open-access online journal dedicated to the study of the philosophical aesthetics of popular culture. ISSN 2489-6748.

We distribute the journal in four different ways. This Aalto University webpage (popularinquiry.aalto.fi) functions as a safe archive for the articles. We use Facebook (Popular Inquiry) and Twitter (@PopularInquiry) to distribute every article. The Popular Inquiry web page (https://www.popularinquiry.com) is our main site, and this is the one where we schedule our fresh updates. By liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter you receive links to all articles as they are published.

We publish annually one spring and one fall issue. The spring issue consists of an editorial, interviews/reviews, and 3-4 articles. The fall consists of an editorial, 3-4 articles, interviews/reviews, and an overlook of what has been happening within the discipline. From time to time we also publish special issues. We also publish non-academic theoretical essays.


Article manuscripts sent to Popular Inquiry have to be previously unpublished and written in English language. Please send your text to us in Word or Rich Text format. Please prepare the article manuscript according to the following guidelines:

  • The manuscript should not exceed 8000 words.
  • The text needs to have a title in the beginning, but we don’t publish abstracts or lists of keywords. If you feel this is a problem, think about a title, which is informative enough.
  • Do not include your name, institution or any other identifying information in the manuscript
  • All citations need to be in the endnotes and not in the main text and they need to be numbered sequentially with rabic numbers. Use the endnote function so that the notes appear at the end of the text.
  • We encourage you to send us articles which do not refer only to Anglo-American white male scholars.
  • Font should be 11-point Calibri, including the endnotes. We would be happy if you wouldn’t insert line breaks in the text or special spacing for formatting.
  • Please follow the Chicago Manual.
  • Only the left hand margin should be justified.
  • Please indicate the paragraph break by an extra line space.

The fall issue always includes reviews and a list of books and articles published on the topic during the current year. If you want your book or article to be mentioned or reviewed, please it to us (snail mail, e-mail (PDF, link)) no later than September 1 (snail mail / e-mail). We welcome you to send books and articles to be enlisted and/or reviewed in the fall issue of the year in any of the following languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Slovakian, Czech, Estonian, Polish, Russian, Ukranian and Hungarian.

Editors in Chief: Max Ryynänen (Aalto University), Jozef Kovalcik (Slovakian Cultural Foundation)

Associate Editors: Michaela Pašteková (Academy of Fine Arts and Design), Zoltan Somhegyi (University of Sharjah), Adam Andrzejewski (University of Warsaw), Yvonne Förster (Shanxi University)

Advisor: Stefan Snaevarr (University of Lillehammar)

International Advisory Board: Jörn Ahrens (Justus Liebig University Giessen), Epp Annus (Estonian Literary Museum), Paco Barragan (University of Salamanca), Patrizia Calefato (Universitá degli studi di Bari Aldo Moro), Arindam Chakrabarti (Stony Brook University), Pauls Daija (University of Latvia), William Erwing (King’s College Pennsylvania), Yvonne Foerster (Leuphana University Lüneburg), Philip Freytag (Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn), Carsten Friberg (independent scholar), Arto Haapala (University of Helsinki), Adam Haupt (University of Cape Town), Anssi Hynynen (independent scholar), Antti Ikonen (Aalto University), Mira Kallio-Tavin (Aalto University), Kari Kallioniemi (University of Turku), Kimi Kärki (University of Turku), Wojciech Malecki (University of Wroclaw), Maddalena Mazzo-Cut (Università degli Studi di Milano), Benedikts Kalnacs (University of Latvia), Andrea Mecacci (Università degli Studi di Firenze), Ossi Naukkarinen (Aalto University), Angela Oguntala (independent scholar), Celeste Olalquiaga (independent scholar), Michaela Pasteková (Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design), Mateusz Salwa (University of Warsaw), Manisha Sharma (The University of Arizona), Richard Shusterman (Florida Atlantic University), Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen (University of Aarhus), Elisabetta di Stefano (Università degli Studi di Palermo), Kevin Tavin (Aalto University), Margus Vihalem (University of Tallinn), Annamari Vänskä (University of Turku), Hiroshi Yoshioka (Kyoto University)

Editorial Assistant Oleksandra Sushchenko (Aalto University)

Contact information: popular.inquiry(at)aalto.fi; We are thankful to Aalto University for making possible the publishing of this journal and to Svenska Kulturfonden for funding the development process. ISSN 2489-6748.

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Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 83
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    Uncanny attraction: intercultural remarks on the aesthetics of gynoids and sexbots in pop culture
    (Aalto University, 2023) Euron, Paolo
    This article offers some examples of female pop culture robots and shows how gynoids and sexbots suggest a simplified and stylized human relationship model. In some cases, this representation is ironic and/or edifying. In other cases, the artificial being offers a more complex representation of human destiny not influenced by moralism. In doing so, on the one hand gynoids become the occasion for an insight into the conditions of human existence or even an implicit criticism of sex as a power strategy. On the other hand, as my intercultural analysis suggests, gynoids introduce a stylization of desire that allows for an increase in freedom from social and economic pressures, as a playful and liberating opportunity of exploring the possibilities and limits of human relationships.
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    Meliorism and excess aesthetics
    (Aalto University, 2023) Stojanovic Prelevic, Ivana
    Meliorist pragmatism (or perfectionistic pragmatism), defended by Richard Shusterman, is a view in which ethical and political dimensions are intertwined with epistemological dimensions (Mathias Girel). Experience, the main issue in Shusterman’s aesthetics, which is focused on the body, is of great importance in the aesthetics of the digital era as well. The body has become significant again not just as a subject that affects our experience, but also as a subject-object that is particularly important when it comes to receiving messages from various digital forms and popular programs such as film, video games, selfies, social media etc. In this paper, the author begins with the thesis that the aesthetics of the digital era amounts to the aesthetics of excess (Gilles Lipovetsky), which is superficial and based on stimuli and external impressions. By considering the body indispensable from the aesthetic experience, and accepting the thesis of meliorism, it seems that the aesthetics of excess could be socially desirable, especially if we invoke Shusterman’s third argument for the aesthetics of popular culture, according to which entertainment plays a positive role in human life. However, in this paper it is argued that the above-mentioned aesthetic theory faces some other problems related with loneliness, emptiness, and passivity.
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    Between west & east: historiographic approach and contemporary shifting discourses on kitsch in Central Europe
    (Aalto University, 2023) Migasova, Jana
    The main goal of the research approach is the historical reconstruction and interpretation of the development of the kitsch concept as an aesthetic and art-theory position of thinking about visual culture. According to the hypothesis, kitsch is dialectically related to modernity. It can be proved by dissolving boundaries between kitsch and art, as well as the disappearing of negative connotations connected with kitsch – in the area of visual art practice, as well as in the current discourse of theoretical conceptions of kitsch. Revealing a specific, Central European way of thought on kitsch illustrates that the development and transformation of the concept is more complicated. The contemporary understanding of kitsch can be grasped in two ways: a) as a postmodern, reassessed understanding of kitsch related to a transforming concept of art (from Eurocentric to global); b) as an aesthetic expression of falsehood, beautification of moral failure, which was a striking part of the aesthetic experience from totalitarian societies.
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    A new twenties: Notes on Instagram and the return of the centrality of montage and slapstick in contemporary moving image
    (Aalto University, 2023) Ryynänen, Max
    According to many early film theorists, the novelty and aesthetic potential of film was based on montage – something which lost its edge when film was taken over by the ‘talkie’ in the late 1920s. Theorists of the 1920s also accentuated the originality of slapstick as a form of expression. These days an incredible number of clips with moving images circulate in social media, often based on slapstick, but even more on not just montages made by the people who make these films, but also the machinery itself which distributes and cuts together this spectacle. Have we not somehow entered into a situation which seems to call for a look at the last 20s? Have we now suddenly realized the old potential of film which e.g. Gilbert Seldes, Henry Parland and Sergey Eisenstein wrote about?
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    Björk: the Rousseau of rock
    (Aalto University, 2023) Snaevarr, Stefan
    I introduce my concept of artworlds; they are meaningful artistic wholes. Björk is situated within such “worlds” as the one of progrock, the world of experimental art, the world of literature, and the popworld. Björkworld is on the crossroad of these worlds. Her music is compared to the experimental progrock of Frank Zappa; if he is tough, then she is soft. Then she is being compared to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who celebrated childishness and the beauties of nature, much like Björk. Comparing artworks and ways of thinking is often a fruitful way of determining their identity. Comparing Björk to Rousseau and Zappa helps us understand the Björkworld. And aspects of Western culture, for instance the Christian celebration of childishness.
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    Editorial
    (Aalto University, 2023) Ryynänen, Max
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    Nature versus culture?
    (Aalto University, 2022) Welsch, Wolfgang
    Arnold Berleant has claimed that we get rid of the dualisms which haunted Western thinking for millennia. This paper tries to confirm his thesis by examining one of the most prominent dualisms: that of nature and culture. In antiquity, the opposition between nature and culture was not yet total, but limited and moderated. In modernity, however, nature and culture were believed to represent completely different spheres, corresponding to the Cartesian dualism of res extensa and res cogitans. Contemporarily, however, undeniable entanglements between nature and culture are being put on the agenda. The future is likely to be marked by the interweaving of nature and culture.
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    Peace with nature, peace in the creation! An ethically and aesthetically durable nature relationship
    (Aalto University, 2022) Sepänmaa, Yrjö
    I will examine two concepts, the Creation and Peace with Nature. What is the Creation like and what does it mean to conclude a peace treaty, Peace with Nature, with it? These questions have become timely in Finland in two projects. The first was a camp-based environmental education project "The Creation – Joy from Nature and Animals: Environmental Education for Children and Young People" (2018–2020), aimed at 8–12 year-old girls. The second is the ceremonial Midsummer event ”PAX NATURA – a Proclamation of Peace with Nature” (2017–).
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    Landscape, phenomenology, and aesthetics
    (Aalto University, 2022) Salwa, Mateusz
    This paper presents the contemporary phenomenological intepretations of the concept of landscape. It confronts phenomenology of landscape as an example of non-representational theories of landscape developed in anthropology, archaeology and culture studies with approaches that are focused on landscape as a phenomenon. Furthermore, it is claimed that phenomenological approach to landscape may be applied to aesthetics and Arnold Berleant’s theories of aesthetics of engagement as well as of descriptive aesthetics are presented. The final conclusion is that conceiving of landscape as of an aesthetic phenomenon is fruitful since it better explains the relationships between people and the environment.
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    Arnold Berleant, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Mikel Dufrenne
    (Aalto University, 2022) Saison, Maryvonne
    Berleant and Dufrenne were both simultaneously benchmarks in the IAA for many years. They knew each other and Berleant refered to Dufrenne occasionally. Starting from some quotations of Dufrenne by Berleant, I propose to show how both of them differ from Merleau-Ponty when thinking that perception is not only an act of vision but a somatic process. The originality of Berleant associating phenomenology and Anglo-Saxon way of thinking could lead to suggest that Environmental Aesthetics has a feedback effect opening a new reading of Dufrenne.
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    Aesthetics and ethics of relationality: philosophies of Arnold Berleant and Watsuji Tetsuro compared
    (Aalto University, 2022) Saito,Yuriko
    Arnold Berleant’s oeuvre spanning half a century is remarkable in its rescience and global reach. One of the most important contributions he makes is to illuminate the relationality that characterizes our aesthetic experience. His notion of aesthetic engagement, extending also to define our mode of being in the world, overcomes the dichotomy between subject and object, a long-held and well-entrenched legacy of Western philosophy. This relational account of human existence is also developed by a twentieth century Japanese philosopher, Watsuji Tetsurō, in his ethics based upon the notion of inbetween-ness. Despite the shared concern to emphasize the interdependent and intertwined relationship with the world as the nature of human existence and aesthetic experience, Watsuji’s interest focuses on self-cultivation, without sufficient attention paid to its social and political implications. Berleant, in comparison, develops the notion of negative aesthetics to highlight those aspects of our lives and environments in which our relational existence and aesthetics are damaged and advocates the importance of utilizing aesthetic sensibility as a critical instrument for social improvement.
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    Well-construed examples: a shy note on Arnold Berleant's environmental aesthetics
    (Aalto University, 2022) Ryynänen, Max
    Many discussions in aesthetics have, although aiming for universality, through their choices of examples represented only e.g. the middle class and the upper class of/or the Global North, if not only Western Europe and North America (e.g. examples of art in aesthetic theory). Environmental aesthetics looks far more international and open for all kinds of people when one looks at its choice of examples. One major reason for this is Arnold Berleant’s work.
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    Making the world bigger
    (Aalto University, 2022) Naukkarinen, Ossi
    The careers of academics are typically evaluated in respect to their own publications, the number of citations their works receive, awards, positions, their students’ achievements, and sometimes their ability to raise funding. However, they may also have other kinds of interests and activities. I will focus on Arnold Berleant’s role as the founder and long-time editor-in-chief of the journal Contemporary Aesthetics and emphasize his importance as an “enabler” who has opened possibilities for numerous others to broaden the field of aesthetics.
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    Social aesthetics and mental health
    (Aalto University, 2022) Musalek, Michael; Bernegger, Guenda; Scheibenbogen, Oliver
    Social aesthetics is an aesthetics of the social situation as it is lived and experienced. As humans we are always and every-where social beings, so the question no longer arises as to whether we live socially but rather how we live socially. This question of the How – how we experience and structure our life together – determines the core field of work and research in social aesthetics. European intellectual history teaches us that beauty is not just an adornment to life but is also a major source of strength for our life. Moreover, the positive aesthetic experience also has healing power. That beauty is a highly effective antidote to life’s suffering, i.e. acts as an “anti-depressant”. Social aesthetics that wishes also to be understood as the science of beauty in interpersonal relationships provides us with knowledge that in medical-therapeutic practice be-comes a key pillar of human-centered approaches to prevention and treatment.
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    The way of bogs, mires and marshlands: myths, symbols and knowledge
    (Aalto University, 2022) Miller, Mara
    Recent problems in environmentalism, globalization, and global warming reveal the interconnectedness of the various biomes and types of communities within and across them. Difficulties in respecting or understanding even one of these biomes/environments contributes to the perpetuation and exacerbation of problems, at the expense of solutions. Reinterpreting bogs in the light of philosophical approaches that acknowledge their advantages and benefits, such as those of the Japanese, therefore, may be profoundly useful. The social and political difficulties often encountered today in conserving and restoring bogs stem not merely from a lack of scientific knowledge, or the lag in the dissemination of scientific knowledge to the public and decision-makers, but arise primarily from two distinct but related problems arising in relation to bogs understood symbolically and philosophically: first, bogs are a symbol of what we fear and loathe, not merely because of their inherent characteristics and the ways we interact with them, but, more importantly, as a result of the cultural shaping of our understanding; second, bogs do not easily fit into the most prevalent pattern of thinking we have, namely dichotomous or binary thinking. This paper analyzes bogs and swamps, which are disparaged and dismissed in the West, as a culturally constructed symbol in Japan, where positive valuations contrast strongly with the widespread Western aversion. It explores the ways this symbolism, emerging largely from Yin-Yang theory, Daoism, and Buddhism, and reinforced in art and literature, both shapes and is shaped by the intersections of philosophical and customary ways of thinking.
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    The aesthetic field: Arnold Berleant's philosophy as a new understanding of experience
    (Aalto University, 2022) Matteucci, Giovanni
    The essay aims to identify the original matrix of Berleant’s aesthetic thought by deepening his initial research on the notion of “field”. Berleant analyzes the “aesthetic field” by considering it as a dynamic texture that stands outside the dualisms that have characterized modern philosophy. At the core of this analysis is the fruitful convergence between different traditions from which Berleant draws for laying out his philosophical program. In particular, if phenomenology leads him to thematize the connection between experience and judgment, pragmatism leads him to establish the cornerstone of the experiential (and above all perceptual) character of the aesthetic as such. Thanks to this, the perspective developed by Berleant since the seventies of the twentieth century still proves to be largely vital, as it is capable of delineating an anthropological horizon centered on the analysis of the “environmental” practices of the so-called “aesthetic engagement”.
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    An asynchronous dialogue on core ideas
    (Aalto University, 2022) Mandoki, Katya
    I had the privilege of enjoying a dialogue with Arnold Berleant as we met during congresses on several occasions and by writing to each other on various questions throughout the years. All of these have been precious to me. On the occasion of his Festschrift, a new opportunity opens up in which I revise some of his ideas on aesthetic field, aesthetic disinterest, aesthetic engagement, and negativity along his career. Even if we both have focused on similar subjects and approached them through a pragmatist framework, our common starting point has taken each of us through very different paths. Berleant’s utopian views of aesthetics projected into the political somehow echo Frankfurt School’s emancipatory demand on the aesthetic, and I do hope he may be right. Although we may dream for a better world, whatever values and directions aesthetics takes requires us to underline its specificity well aware of political and ethical implications in which it is always already entangled with.
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    Arnold Berleant - master of the art, life and philosophy
    (Aalto University, 2022) Lukaszewicz, Aleksandra
    Arnold Berleant is one of our contemporary philosophers: not just scholars in philosophy, a philosopher is a person who, according to the Greek etymology of the term philosophy (philósophos meaning “loving knowledge”) loves wisdom. In this definition should be stressed not only knowledge or wisdom – which used to be in myopic focus in Western reflection, and could be called the ‘Faustian curse’ of pursuing knowledge while overlooking ethical values – the same importance should be recognized in love, which entails the emotional and sensory engagement of the whole human being. Being ethical goes hand in hand with being wise or knowledgeable, which is presented throughout all his life in his oeuvre by Arnold Berleant.
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    Berleant as educator
    (Aalto University, 2022) Leddy, Thomas
    Berleant was and is an educator in a variety of ways essential to aesthetics and philosophy of the arts. I use both tenses since Berleant’s contribution to an environmental and holistic approach to aesthetics is both historical and ongoing. Foremost has been the impact of his key idea of “engagement” on a generation of younger aestheticians (he was unfortunately neglected by many of his contemporaries) in such areas as feminist, nature, landscape, architectural, and everyday aesthetics. Berleant was/is an educator of both national and international scope, not only for his contribution at the highest institutional levels but also for his creation and nurturing of the groundbreaking journal, Contemporary Aesthetics. But, more, through the great range of his writings he has touched for the first time a multitude of aesthetic topics, including, even, riding a canoe down a river. Finally, Berleant has educated by bridging chasms between many schools of thought on several continents. For some, he has played a role much like that of Schopenhauer for Nietzsche, hence the title of this paper, not so much in ideology as in being a philosophical exemplar. This paper is also a personal deeply felt Thank-you from a younger admirer, and, in a sense, follower.
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    Arnold Berleant - a life for nature and for art
    (Aalto University, 2022) Erzen, Jale
    Arnold Berleant has been, since many years, both a friend and a guide in my work on aesthetics and in the IAA. His congenial approach to nature and his sincere and clear language has contributed to developments in environmental aesthetics and in attracting readers and students to his ideas that also implicate social values. Berleant’s engaged concern about values of life and of the world have been pioneering efforts in ecological discourse. Berleant’s own engagement with nature and with art gave fruit to his creative work in music, as he has been composing all along his academic career. Contemporary Aesthetics, a high-quality online journal that he created has been an indispensable international forum for all writers and readers of aesthetics.