Happiness and Culture—Special Topic 2021

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Call for papers: 

Special Topic: Happiness and Culture

Popular Culture Association (PCA) National Conference

June 2-5, 2021


We are seeking paper proposals for the special topic Happiness and Culture to be presented at the 2021 PCA National Conference.  The proposals should focus on the relationship between happiness (understood as subjective well-being) and broadly defined popular culture.  Our purpose is to examine the role that human desire for happiness plays in cultural products and practices (including the relevant cultural institutions and industries) and vice versa: we wish to illuminate the impact of cultural products and practices, the values and beliefs they embody, and the economic laws that govern them on popular definitions of happiness and how best to pursue it.

Philosophers and scholars have long argued that humans seek happiness above all else.  There are very few goals more important to us than happiness and very few things that motivate us more strongly to action. You can get us to do, buy, create, accomplish, watch, and attend almost anything if the promised payoff is happiness.  In short, the desire for happiness is potentially among the most significant forces in any culture.

While the desire for happiness is universally human, beliefs and attitudes about happiness vary with historical periods, changing cultural values, socioeconomic conditions, political ideologies, religious and philosophical views, geographic location, and other factors.  Individual attitudes and beliefs about happiness (as well as one’s ability to access it) are partially shaped by the culture/country/time period in which one lives, including by the specific position one occupies in that culture/country, such as one’s gender, ethnicity, class status, sexual orientation, or minority/majority status. 

 The appreciation of happiness has always been an essential part of American culture. It’s in movie plots, in advertising, in how-to books, in popular music (unless the song laments its loss), in amusement parks, in positive thinking movements, in the way the news shows end on a positive note, in that wide smile flashed during public encounters by…just about everybody. The pursuit of happiness is one of the three unalienable rights; the right to it is one of the truths considered to be self-evident.

But, what are people pursuing with the expectation of finding happiness?  Financial success and material possessions? Fame? Stardom? Love? Advantageous marriage? A career? A family? Why pursue that and not something else? Where do the ideas about happiness come from? Do media and popular arts disseminate certain images of happiness? If so, are these portrayals helpful or misleading?  Whose interests do they serve?  What impact do cultural, social, and economic forces have on what people (are encouraged to) pursue as happiness? Do different groups in a society have different views on happiness? If, as some scientists claim, happiness is partly learned, what role does popular culture play in this process? Do different cultures look for happiness in different places? Do they define it differently?

Possible topics include  (but are not limited to):

  • Portrayals of happiness in popular products and practices, such as books, movies, comic books, songs, advertising, dating apps, sporting events, and holiday celebrations.
  • The happiness-making properties of popular genres and products, such as romantic comedies, sitcoms, video games, and meditation apps. Why do  these genres and products make one feel good?  What definitions of happiness do they imply? What beliefs and values do they embody?
  • Portrayals of happiness in different historical periods. For example, is women’s happiness (its causes and its display) portrayed differently in the movies today than in the 1950s?
  • Compare/contrast beliefs about (portrayals of) happiness in different cultures/countries.
  • Compare/contrast portrayals of happiness in different popular genres, such as action/adventure, drama, or comedy.
  • The relationship between the prevailing ideas about happiness in a certain culture and the dominant values and beliefs.
  • The relationship between socioeconomic class and ideas about (portrayals of) happiness.
  • The attempts to manipulate human desire for happiness: by using it as a carrot to elicit desirable behaviors, such as compliance, hard work, and purchasing choices; by portraying the oppressed people as happy, often to justify the oppression; or by depicting the misery and tragic endings of characters who failed to make culturally preferred life choices.

We especially welcome papers from members of ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, and immigrant communities, as well as from the members of non-mainstream, alternative cultures.

We are considering proposals for individual papers and/or complete panels.  Sessions are scheduled in 1.5-hour slots, typically with four papers or speakers per standard session.  Individual presentations should not exceed 15 minutes.  Please submit a 100–150 word abstract for individual papers and/or a 250–300 word abstract for panels.  Please include the title of the paper and/or panel. Working professionals, scholars, educators, and graduate students are all encouraged to submit.

 All submissions must be uploaded through the PCA website: http://www.pcaaca.org.  To submit to the conference, individuals must be current, paid members of the PCA.


Area Chairs:

Vida Penezic

E-mail:  vida_p@hotmail.com




David Silverman

Kansas Wesleyan University



2021 Conference Dates and Deadlines

13-Aug-20 Submission Page Goes Live
28-Feb-28 Deadline for Proposals
10-Apr-21 Presenter Registration Ends at 11:59 pm: Non-registrants Dropped from Program
15-Apr-21 Preliminary Schedule Available
01-May-21 Non-presenter Registration Continues Through May 31

June 2-5, 2021 

Virtual Conference


All presenters must be current, paid members of the PCA and registered for the conference. Non-presenters who attend the full conference must also pay membership fees.  

The last day for all refunds is February 15, 2021. No refund requests will be honored after this date. Membership fees are non-refundable and non-transferable.












Please check back soon for updates for 2022 conference updates.





Area chairs

David S. Silverman

Vida Penezic