Overcoming stereotypes

Scholar An Goris read English-language romance novels in Dutch translation as a child. Today, she studies popular romance and has experienced firsthand both the support of other popular romance scholars and outsiders’ skepticism about the field. Still, Goris is optimistic about the future of popular romance scholarship.


Is romance scholarship accepted?

There’s not one attitude towards romance scholarship, I think there’s two kind of extremes.

There are certainly a lot of people who are still quite skeptical about people studying romance. You certainly still have scholars who think this is not something that we should study in any extensive way, and certainly not in English departments; perhaps its something for communications or sociology, women’s studies—but not in English. We look at serious literature in English. So those people certainly still exist and I think will perhaps always be there [. . .]

[. . .] when I talk to people outside of my immediate scholarly field about the fact that I study popular romances, a lot of them are surprised at first and then potentially interest[ed]. If you have something interesting to say, they will certainly pay attention to it. There is certainly almost in any situation a barrier to overcome, but I think certainly in the last decade I would say—although I am still a young scholar—I think the fact that I have gotten a Fulbright grant for my research, that means something. That a society like Fulbright is willing to support romance scholarship. Romance scholarship has been published in the highest journals in several fields, so there has been a change, but it is slow going and there’s often still stereotypes to overcome.

How global is the romance scholarship community?

I think the global scholarly community is very important to my work, certainly, [and] I think to the work of others as well. It is still very much developing, but the sense that there are people in different contexts, in different disciplinary and national contexts, in different languages—although English is still pretty dominant—working on this vast area that we still have so much to learn about. That is, I think, something that gives you both hope as a scholar and a sense of what I’m doing is actually relevant, it’s a good feeling.

For me that is very, very important. That we are—that romance scholars are no longer working in isolation. And from what I understand from other scholars in the field for a long time this was the case.

How is romance scholarship changing?

An important change that is ongoing is that romance scholarship used to study the genre as a whole and used to want to think about and articulate how do romance novels differ from other kinds of genre or other kinds of popular literature.

The move that I am seeing is that now we look at the differences within the genre. We are thinking not about romance as one homogeneous whole anymore but about—we see it as a genre that has very many different aspects and different subgenres and series and authors, etc. etc. And I think more and more we are studying that and looking at that inner scholarship and I think that’s one of the very exciting things about what is happening now.

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