Studying popular romance

Since the 1984 publication of Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, popular romance has gradually found its feet in academia. Scholar and editor Sarah Frantz, one of the founders of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, charts the progress of popular romance studies.


How did the field of popular romance studies begin?

Popular romance as an academic field, as a field of study, we owe a huge debt to Janice Radway who published Reading the Romance in 1984 and she was the first person to try to take romance seriously, and she succeeded in taking romance seriously. And we might not agree with some of her conclusions but I think that she did a very good job of saying, “This is a field deserving of study.”

In 2006 and 2007, I got involved in an online community of scholars who were interested in romance. And we all come from different areas. I’m an 18th-century British literary critic; Eric Selinger is a poet critic; Pam Regis just comes from American studies. So we all came from different areas and different perspectives with an ancillary interest in romance fiction and popular fiction. And we all came together at a conference, Popular Culture Association Conference, in 2007 and decided that if we were serious about this, if we wanted this to be a thing, and we wanted this to be a field of study, we needed the same thing that every other field of study has. And we needed a dedicated academic organization, a dedicated academic peer-reviewed journal, and a dedicated academic conference cycle.

And so we went about creating it. And, in 2009, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance took their first membership application and took their first $25 membership dues and we became an association.

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR)

Popular romance really just pervades our culture and what IASPR is interested in, as an organization, is studying all aspects of popular romance. So we would love articles and papers on pop songs—popular romance songs. On Adele’s song about her romance gone bad and Taylor Swift and all her romances gone bad. And advertising and how popular romance is used in advertising.

I’m from South Africa and De Beers basically created the market for diamonds in the 1930s by saying every engagement ring needs to have a diamond in it and using our perception of popular romance and what are the symbols of proving that your romance is successful to sell diamonds. So, that’s what we’re interested in.

So most of us come from fiction studies and most of us are interested in popular romance fiction, but we’re trying to pull in scholars from other areas and from other disciplines: anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, interdisciplinary studies, business, advertising. All of the different fields out there that could comment on popular romance.

Journal of Popular Romance Studies

In 2010 or 2011, we had our first release of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. It is an online, completely open-access, peer-reviewed academic journal about popular romance studies. It was important to me that it be open-access because we didn’t want to be behind a pay wall. We know that there’s a lot of graduate students out there who are still laboring alone and laboring in isolation and we want them to know that there’s a community out there.

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