Science fictions, cultural facts: a digital humanities approach to a popular literature

Menadue, Christopher Benjamin James (2019) Science fictions, cultural facts: a digital humanities approach to a popular literature. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Human culture has a necessary influence on the content of popular literature – if only because the interests of a contemporary public determine material success or failure. Authors are products of their time, and popular writers will tend to reflect the cultural expectations and values of their readership. It follows that we should be able to find the imprint of human culture in popular literature if we employ suitable methods. Science fiction (SF) is well suited for such investigation, as it is open in scope and subject, and less restricted by content conventions than other genres. As a publishing medium, magazines, specifically, are valuable literary artefacts of popular culture. They contain fiction, editorials, advertising, reader letters, and features on matters of contemporary importance. These all contribute to build an understanding of their cultural environment. In this thesis, I begin by assessing the relevance of SF as a relevant source of popular insights by tasking SF magazine content as a lens to focus on human culture, analysing the genre and its value in contemporary research and society. I review the uses of SF in academic literature, and analyse public surveys to identify the breadth and relevance of its popular appeal. I describe the phenomenological experience of developing a hybrid digital and traditional methodology from the perspective of someone with no history of digital research in the humanities and employ a series of case studies which test the validity of the approach. The case studies provide insights into the cultural history of two topics: the foundations and subsequent development of Scientology; and the changing representations of tropical environments and peoples.

An aim of this study is to devise and demonstrate methodology that respects the human experience of literature, but also integrates the value of employing technological approaches that expand the scope of investigation. The primary sources comprise more than 4,000 individual magazine issues – perhaps thirty percent of issues of magazines dedicated to SF in the twentieth century – and complete, or near complete runs of major titles. The value to the research process of having a significant number of sources is to counter the bias contained in the phenomenological bracket of the researcher. The expectations researchers are influenced by contemporary culture, and personal preferences, and this is likely to affect the perceived significance of specific historic texts. This selection bias could lead to the rejection of content that contains relevant insights. To address these issues, I devised a digital humanities methodology for selecting primary sources, and to complement discussion of the results. The results of applying the methodology strongly support the proposal that SF can provide a valuable indicator of cultural values, preferences and expectations – being widespread and commonly appreciated by contemporary audiences. SF is confirmed to be a valuable and relevant source of information on the evolving history of human cultural interests.

Item ID: 63526
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: convergence, cult, culture, demography, descriptive statistics, dianetics, digital humanities, education, fantasy, gender, jungle, literacy, literature, magazines, methodology, multidisciplinary, reading, religion, science communication, science fiction, scientology, tropical, two cultures
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Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Christopher Benjamin James Menadue.
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For this thesis, Ben Menadue received the Graduate Research School Medal of Excellence.

Four publications arising from this thesis are stored in ResearchOnline@JCU, at the time of processing. Please see the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter: Research Culture - Menadue, Christopher Benjamin, and Cheer, Karen Diane (2017) Human culture and science fiction: a review of the literature, 1980-2016. SAGE Open, 7 (3). pp. 1-15.

Chapter: Science Fiction Readers - Menadue, Christopher Benjamin, and Jacups, Susan (2018) Who reads science fiction and fantasy, and how do they feel about science? Preliminary findings from an online survey. SAGE Open, 8 (2).

Chapter: Hubbard Bubble: Dianetics Trouble - Menadue, Christopher Benjamin (2018) Hubbard bubble, dianetics trouble: an evaluation of the representations of dianetics and scientology in science fiction magazines from 1949 to 1999. SAGE Open, 8 (4).

Chapter: The Tropics in Science Fiction - Menadue, Christopher B. (2017) Trysts tropiques: the torrid jungles of science fiction. Etropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics, 16 (1). pp. 125-140.

Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2020 04:17
FoR Codes: 22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society @ 33%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160808 Sociology and Social Studies of Science and Technology @ 34%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200506 North American Literature @ 33%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950203 Languages and Literature @ 33%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society @ 33%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 34%
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