A Star Down-to-Earth: On Social Critique in Popular Culture

  • Désirée Waibel
  • Robert SchäferEmail author
Part of the Sociology of the Arts book series (SOA)


How does social critique work in popular culture? The critical capacity of popular culture has both been categorically denied and emphatically affirmed. In the spirit of the pragmatic sociology of critique, this chapter makes no such assumptions but instead asks how social critique in popular culture actually works. To this end, we analyse Beyoncé Knowles’ Formation (2016). We argue that the success of social critique in popular culture depends on whether it adheres to specific rules of legitimate representation. According to our analysis, legitimate representation requires a dialectic of both distinction and identification between the critic and the victims of the denounced injustice. We illustrate how Formation invests in this dialectic by means of various manoeuvres and systematic switching between different orders of worth. In doing so, Formation cautiously pre-empts potential counter-critiques—which ultimately limits its critical capacity.



The authors thank Anna Sommer and Daniel Künzler for their expertise in African and African American culture, the editors for their thorough reviews, and Pranathi Diwakar and Ewgenia Baraboj for their diligent copyediting.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BremenBremenGermany
  2. 2.University of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland

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