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Genre worlds and popular fiction: the case of twenty-first-century Australian romance


Fletcher, L and Driscoll, B and Wilkins, K, Genre worlds and popular fiction: the case of twenty-first-century Australian romance, Journal of Popular Culture, 51, (4) pp. 997-1015. ISSN 0022-3840 (2018) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2018 Wiley Periodicals

DOI: doi:10.1111/jpcu.12706


Popular romance fiction is the most prolific and profitable popular genre globally, a robust counter to narratives in the media and academia about the death of the book. Like all genres of fiction, romance has multiple dimensions. Popular romance is a sector of the publishing industry, a social formation, and a body of texts. To date, research has focused overwhelmingly on the third dimension, largely because of the dominance of the conceptual frameworks and analytical techniques of literary critics. To account for the genre’s size and growth, its dynamism and diversity, popular romance studies must not privilege a single academic discipline. Instead, the study of romance—and of popular fiction more broadly — should straddle literary and cultural studies (Butter 201), as well as publishing studies and book history.

This article proposes a new theoretical framework for the study of popular fiction. It introduces the central concept of a "genre world," an adaptation of sociologist Howard S. Becker's definition of an "art world," and models the use of this concept through three interview‐based case studies that reveal key characteristics of popular romance in twenty‐first century Australia. First, the genre world is both national and international. It is attuned to these different contexts, particularly the permeable boundary between small and large publishing centers. Second, the genre world is highly professionalized, oriented toward the accumulation of what we call "genre competence." Popular fiction is a sector of the broader literary field that operates explicitly as a training ground for developing the knowledge and skills required by its members. Third, the romance genre world is built on a dynamic real‐and‐imagined sociality; therefore, people from its past and from its imagined storyworlds are routinely included in accounts of the romance community. The concept of the "genre world" and the methods it invites—reading the texts alongside interviews with authors and intermediaries and with the support of publishing data—thus yield new insights and a fuller, richer understanding of how genre fiction operates.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:fiction, twenty-first-century, Australian, romance, genre, popular fiction, romance
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Literary studies
Research Field:Popular and genre literature
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:Literature
UTAS Author:Fletcher, L (Professor Lisa Fletcher)
UTAS Author:Wilkins, K (Dr Kim Wilkins)
ID Code:123425
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:10
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2018-01-08
Last Modified:2019-02-28

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