University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis , CA 95616
Office Hours for Fall 2015 :
- On sabbatical
- Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara
Laura Grindstaff is Professor of Sociology at UC Davis and a faculty affiliate in Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, and Performance Studies. Her research and teaching focus on American media and popular culture and their role in reproducing gender, race, and class inequality. She has authored or co-authored papers in Social Problems, Annual Review of Sociology, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Text & Performance Quarterly, and Cultural Critique, among other journals. Her ethnographic studies of media include the award-winning The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows (University of Chicago Press) and a series of essays on the production of "ordinary celebrity" in contemporary reality programming. Grindstaff has also published widely on the topic of gender, sport, and cheerleading, focusing primarily on competitive coed college cheer. She is co-editor of the Handbook of Cultural Sociology (Routledge).
cultural studies • popular culture • media, film and television • gender/race/class inequality • gender and performativity • ethnography • qualitative methods
I. The Importance of Being Ordinary: Celebrity in the Age of Reality TV
Reality programming has inexorably altered the landscape of American television over the past decade, ushering in new industrial labor practices, new narrative/textual codes, a heightened interdependence of broadcast and digital platforms, and more “ordinary” forms of celebrity. This manuscript focuses on the concept of ordinary celebrity, which derives its claims to “reality” by highlighting the emotional expressiveness of so-called ordinary people and branding this expressiveness as a signifier of genre as a whole. I tease out the cultural politics of this emergent category both in terms of its performance demands (of what does the performance of ordinariness consist?) and in terms of the broader social forces in which these performances are embedded (the rapid development of new media technologies, a changing industrial context characterized by financial scarcity, and an increased emphasis on performativity and surveillance in everyday life). Along the way I grapple with the following questions: What is the relation between “real” and “ordinary” celebrity? How does the rise of ordinary celebrity alter traditional class and cultural hierarchies? What structural/institutional supports exist to cultivate the emotional/affective displays on which reality TV depends? Why are people interested in, and hailed by, the prospect of achieving ordinary celebrity? Is it a form of cultural power or distinction? If so, what kind, and for whom? In addressing these questions, I position the rise of ordinary celebrity in the context of “self-service television.” This refers to reality-based genres which offer celebrity, cafeteria-style, to ordinary people without the bother of extensive training or formal credentials because the pre-conditions of a successful performance are already in place, enabled both by strategically assembled frameworks of action and a surrounding infrastructure – what I call an “emotion economy” -- which cultivates and encourages performativity. The research for this manuscript consists of in-depth interviews with selected reality television participants and the founder of the New York Reality TV School (a training program for aspiring reality TV participants) alongside a detailed content analysis of “how to” books, blogs, and instructional videos authored by reality-TV casters targeting the ordinary people seeking to get cast.
II. Gender, Sport, and Spectacle: Cheerleading in American Culture (with Emily West, U-Mass Amherst)
The research for this project is a long-term collaborative effort involving more than a decade of ethnographic fieldwork, primarily interviews with cheerleaders and participant observation with cheer teams at colleges, competitions, and summer training camps. The question originally motivating us was why, in the wake of second-wave feminism and the passage of Title IX, did cheerleading in the US not only survive but grow and thrive? A key reason is that cheerleading reinvented itself to keep up with the times, shifting from a primarily female, sideline activity geared toward supporting school athletics to a more gender-mixed, competitive activity that often transcends the scholastic context altogether (in all-star cheerleading, for example, participants train in private, for-profit gyms for the sole purpose of competing with other all-star teams). Another, less obvious, reason is that cheerleading made this shift without getting rid of (and in some respects heightening) the "feminine" appearance- and performance-demands of the activity. Consequently, the status of cheerleading is unstable and contested, the main point of controversy being whether cheerleading is a “real” sport. The bid for sport status on the part of cheerleaders reflects the desire for respect more than a desire for official recognition by athletic organizations; cheerleaders recognize the prestige associated with sport, a function of its historic association with men and masculinity, and they seek to claim that prestige for cheerleading by highlighting its recent "athleticization." But the residual tradition of sideline cheerleading, associated with supportiveness, combined with the activity’s continued emphasis on aesthetics and performativity, make the bid for sport status controversial. Male cheerleaders in particular distance themselves from the feminine elements of cheerleading because they want to avoid being perceived as gay. The gender politics at work here illustrate both the elasticity of gender categories and the limits of that elasticity, as gendered boundaries are drawn and redrawn between what gets to count as sport and what does not, and as cheerleading simultaneously challenges and reinforces the notion of sport as a male preserve. We argue that cheerleading is not only an instance of popular culture reinventing itself, it is also a good barometer for understanding how young people “do” (enact, inhabit, and perform) gender and sexuality in the US today because it throws into high relief the taken-for-granted cultural scripts underpinning normative notions of gender and gender difference as they intersect with race and sexuality.
- Grindstaff, Laura (2015). “From the Networks to New Media: Making Sense of Television Audiences,” in Manuel Alvarado, Milly Buonanno, Herman Gray and Toby Miller (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Television Studies. Sage Publications.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Susan Murray (2015). “Reality Celebrity: Branded Affect and the Emotion Economy,” Public Culture 27 (1), special issue on celebrity and publics in the Internet era.
- Grindstaff, Laura (2014). “DI(t)Y reality-style: the cultural work of ordinary celebrity,” in Laurie Ouellette (ed.), A Companion to Reality Television. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Andrea Press (2014). “Too little but not too late: sociological contributions to feminist media studies,” in Silvio Waisbord (ed.) Media Sociology: a Reappraisal. Polity Press.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Emily West. 2011. “Hegemonic Masculinity on the Sidelines of Sport,” Sociology Compass 1-23. DOI: 0.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00409.x (Online ISSN: 1751-9020).
- Hall, John, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-Cheng Lo (eds). 2010. Handbook of Cultural Sociology. Routledge International Handbook Series. London/New York: Routledge.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Emily West. 2010. "Hands on Hips, Smiles on Lips! Gender, Race, and the Performance of 'Spirit' in Cheerleading," Text & Performance Quarterly 30 (2): 143-162.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Joseph Turow. 2006. "Video Cultures: Television Sociology in the 'New TV' Age," Annual Review of Sociology 32: 103-125.
- Grindstaff, Laura and Emily West. 2006. "Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport," Social Problems 54 (4): 500-518.
- Grindstaff, Laura. 2002. . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.