A couple of Cultural Studies questions...
March 28, 2005 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Well, one might be Cultural Studies, at least. I've had a couple of ideas for papers in the last couple days but I am having trouble digging up some preliminary research sources on them and the offerings at my university library are a bit meagre.

Basically I just want to know if there has been much scholarship in the following two (very different) areas:

1) Top XX lists (for music, specifically, but top XX films or any type of "desert island" list would suffice. I am very interested in them as a cultural phenomenon but my queries have turned up dry, so far.

2) Saint Germain figures in literature. Watching the latest version of Doctor Who got me thinking on this. I've read a bit about Saint Germain, in place such as Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum and in books on the "unexplained" and such but I'm interested in academic treatments of such a figure.

My apologies if these are too disparate to put in one post.
posted by synecdoche to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
I can't help on the academic side, but do you know about Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's series about St. Germaine as a vampire?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:08 AM on March 28, 2005

I would think that "desert island" stuff ties in deeply with canonicity, which has seen a lot of play.
posted by Marquis at 5:05 AM on March 28, 2005

Germain: I'm not sure why there is no bibliography list with this article - perhaps scout around the site some more or contact the journal.
Note the pseudonyms pg.1 - may be worth searching.

As for Top 10 lists (weird idea !)....see 3rd entry here but note that it will only bring up reasonably useless abstract (but you may want to buy it). And maybe look through the publications found from 'similar pages' in the first entry (same article - just normal google).
But I'm not really sure what you want on this topic anyways.
posted by peacay at 5:18 AM on March 28, 2005

I don't know anything about cultural studies, and to be honest I'm not a big fan.

However, I know that there's a tonne of research in sociology using Billboard lists. I know because one of my former office mates wrote a paper on how changes to how the lists were compiled over time could compromise the quality of that body of research.
posted by duck at 7:41 AM on March 28, 2005

A quick google scholar search turns up the following:

A Bayesian Lifetime Model for the "Hot 100" Billboard Songs
Authors: Bradlow E. T; Fader P. S
Source: Journal of the American Statistical Association, 1 June 2001, vol. 96, no. 454, pp. 368-381(14)

Consumer Choice and the Popular Music Industry: A Test of the Superstar Theory W. Mark Crain and Robert D. Tollison
Empirica Issue: Volume 29, Number 1
Date: March 2002
Pages: 1 - 9

When Market Information Constitutes Fields:
Sensemaking of Markets in the Commercial
Music Industry
N. Anand Richard A. Peterson
Vol. 11, No. 3, May–June 2000, pp. 270–284

There's a lot more, but those are the ones that jumped out as papers using the lists as their data source. Maybe it would be helpful if you gave a narrower description of what you're looking for.
posted by duck at 8:28 AM on March 28, 2005

I'm struggling to suggest resources without knowing your governing question about "Top XX Lists". Is there a specific question that you would be trying to answer with your research? What led you to look into this topic?

Are you interested in "why human beings use ranking systems?" Or when this type of behavior started? How ranking or lists influences others' choices?

Crafting a very clear question could help me to help you. I used to be a Masters Thesis advisor and I love helping out with searches like this.
posted by jeanmari at 8:30 AM on March 28, 2005

See if your library subscribes to the JSTOR collection of scholarly articles. Definitely has literature and cultural studies categories. There's also Digital Dissertations; all these I've used through my alma mater's library, which is very extensive so you can at least see what resources are out there.
posted by scazza at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2005

Colin Wilson wrote a book called "The Occult." It's not really academic in the contemporary sense, but it isn't completely off the wall either. He has a chapter or part of a chapter on St. Germain, and I am fairly certain it has a decent, if out of date bibliography. Also, it is widely available. There is also this online book called Comte de St. Germain: the Secret of Kings; unfortunately, it is published by the Theosophical Society (who claim to be in contact with Germain via the astral plane as we speak), so it may not be entirely credible.

As far as the list thing, a few months ago I actually wrote a hasty bunch of notes for a planned essay about end of the year lists and the blurring lines between advertising and content in periodicals, and how these lists have become a substitute for actual thought, discussion, and conversation. I am amazed at how ubiquitous they seem to have become. My guess is that they grew from the bestselling book lists of the fifties and earlier, which were essentially advertisements, to the radio "hit lists," which were simultaneously advertising and market research. Unavoidable, they seem to seem to have as much to do now with creating personal identity as with advertising and research. I think that Nick Hornby, the guy who wrote High Fidelity might have written some non-fiction about lists, but I don't know if he ever actually examines the list qua list. Also there is a book called, The Book of Lists, by Irving Wallace et. al. and which I read as a child. It might have something useful

I just had an amazing stroke of memory. I saw Michael Korda on Booknotes on C-Span two or three years ago and he wrote a book called "Making the List," which is a history of the bestseller list going back to 1900 or so. I can't believe that I remembered that. I couldn't even tell you my own phone number.

If you are looking for a history of lists I would suggest you look into scholarship on book II of the Iliad, the "Catalog of Ships," and other "epic catalogs." The learned and prolific Hellenistic poet Callimachus had a work titled Tablets of People Eminent in Every Branch of Learning, usually refered to as the Pinakes (greek for tablets), that was a series of lists. That work and others produced by the Alexandrians, especially their "canons" seem to be the source for things like the lists of muses and lyric poets that Roman writers refer to. Their canons were popular enough that they impacted which classical works survived and which were lost. Quintillian also provides some lists of important writers, I think it is book 11 of the Institutiones, but I could be wrong.

To unify your disparate topics, here is a list of occultists, including Germain.

good luck and I hope some of that is helpful

p.s. maybe you could find something on this curious rebellion against top ten lists.
posted by mokujin at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. I think part of the problem I am having is that I do not have a unifying research question yet. I had the notion of discussing the construction of authenticity within pop music top ten lists. I was turned on to the idea after reading this piece on Amazon's recommendations. I have no trouble finding information on authenticity in pop music, but was looking to see if there was any background theory about why people feel compelled to make lists of their favorite things. It is an odd phenomenon to me, especially since I do it, too. The studies into the canon might be very useful.

As for Saint Germain, I have no idea where I'd like to go with that. I just watched the episode of Doctor Who and there is a scene where one fellow is showing Rose pictures of the Doctor from the past, and it made me think of Foucault's Pendulum's Saint Germain. This led to my curiousity about studies of Saint Germain figures in literature.
posted by synecdoche at 9:53 AM on March 28, 2005

If you're interested in authenticity with regards to lists, I would look into institutional theory, which deals with how organizations work to be viewed as legitimate. In particular, I would check out this paper:

Zuckerman, Ezra. 1999. “The Categorical Imperative: Securities Analysts and the Legitimacy Discount.” American Journal of Sociology 104:1398-1438.

The paper looks at stocks and whether and how they are rated by analysts. The premise is that the very fact of being rated grants a stock legitimacy. So the basic finding is that since securities analysts are specialized by industries, companies are penalized for not falling neatly into those categories. A company that cannot be easily classified will be rated by nobody and thus have less legitimacy than a company that builds itself in a way that allows it to be easily categorized.

It seems that one could argue that similar things happen in music, where ecclectic, crossover, or difficult to categorize bands may be penalized (which radio station would they fit on? which billboard list? What section of the music store?). Think Moxy Fruvous. I like to think Moxy Fruvous, whenver possible.

Thinking more broadly about your question: There's a trick from Howard Becker's book Tricks of the Tradethat I teach my students when they're having trouble finding relevant literature. The trick is basically to take your problem (finding or whatever), without using any of the words that refer to your specific topic.

You do that by replacing the specifics with more general words. So in your case you would try to state your topic without using the words "music" "top ten lists" etc. etc. and would probably have something like "market commodities" and "rating systems" or something and then search for those things, and for other things that are market commodities subject to rating systems etc.
posted by duck at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2005

And now for something completely different in the world of lists.
posted by peacay at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2005

The article on lists and Amazon and consumer preferences is very interesting. Perhaps you are interested on the effects of lists and connections on consumer behavior? Or the knowledge maps that Amazon uses to create the lists connected to customers' other choices?

If the questions above are closer to what you are interested in, some of the terms you may want to explore include:

preference mapping
market research
consumer research
consumer behavior

Here is a collection of topics that relate to the type of preference mapping that Amazon engages in.

Here is a discussion excerpt on mapping affinity, particularly in relation to Amazon.

There is a lot of good ethnographic research on these topics out there.
posted by jeanmari at 5:52 PM on March 28, 2005

I used to share an office with a Media Studies lecturer whose area of interest was just this -- archivalism in pop music. He was interested in record collecting and list making as an aspect of male gendering, and I seem to recall that there's quite a bit of stuff published recently in this area.

You could start maybe with this:

Roy Shuker, "Beyond the 'high fidelity' stereotype: defining the (contemporary) record collector", Popular Music 23, no. 3 (October 2004): 311-30

It looks at the nature of and motivations for record collecting rather than 'top whatever' list making, but it could be of some use to you.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:15 PM on March 28, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks thanks thanks. Some great stuff here.

I am thinking, at the moment, that what I am trying to get at is the way lists function as a method of justifying (that's not the word I want but I am very tired) one's membership in a particular sub-culture. The sub-culture I am thinking of is "indie" rock particularly. So the list creator's authenticity is defended by his or her selections for the list, I guess. But I am sure that is just part of it and once I start reading, I'll find some other avenue to take-- my worry is that authenticity in pop music is a topic that has been flogged to death (though I am sure it will make interesting reading for me).
posted by synecdoche at 11:30 PM on March 28, 2005

Sounds like you could go the Bourdieu route, if you wanted to, and look at lists as a way of arrogating cultural capital and affirming one's place in a (homo)social network.

Anyway, when I got into Uni. today, I looked up a couple more references:

Ernest A. Hakanen, "Counting down to Number One: The Evolution of the Meaning of Popular Music Charts", Popular Music 17, no. 1. (Jan 1998), pp. 95-111


Johan Fornas, "The Future of Rock: Discourses That Struggle to Define a Genre" Popular Music 14, no. 1. (Jan 1995), pp. 111-125, esp. 115-7,

which kind of glance at your topic.

Hope this helps.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:06 PM on March 29, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks very much. I wish my university carried Popular Music-- it sounds like it'd be right up my alley.

I've ordered some of the articles mentioned here through inter-library loan and I will add those to my list.
posted by synecdoche at 10:55 PM on March 29, 2005

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