How does the romance reading community understand the genre in relation to sociopolitical concerns? This paper draws on interviews, observations of romance writers’ conferences, and a variety of text data to explore how popular romance fiction functions as an aesthetic public sphere, a site of political discourse. While I find that romance novels and the romance community address a range of sociopolitical issues, readers and writers debate whether they should address these issues. Some think romance should only provide entertainment, while others embrace the genre’s potential for active engagement with sociopolitical issues. These expectations play out in both romance novels and in community relations. Despite debate over the ideal purpose of romance, there is widespread agreement among readers that the genre is fundamentally about hope and the belief that love—and romance reading—can transform the world. This research extends the aesthetic public sphere concept to popular genre fiction, showing that romance is a particular kind of reading experience that allows readers to engage with serious sociopolitical issues with the promise of a happily-ever-after.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 13, 2021
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