CFP: Rethinking Popular Documentary (anthology)


Rethinking Popular Documentary

The renewal of documentary over the past two decades has taken place across significant social, environmental, cultural, technological and geopolitical climate changes.  More than ever, in a time of proliferating voices, documentary may be said to function as a global commodity, its distribution enabled by the rise of digital and video technologies, the dramatic increase in “specialty” cable channel programming (Discovery/History/Biography Channel, Animal Planet, etc.), social media and, of course, the Internet.  Apart from a few notable exceptions, critical attention to “popular” documentary is relatively underdeveloped in the burgeoning field of documentary studies.  When media studies, film studies and cultural studies have expanded their objects of analyses so widely and productively, why have documentary studies scholars tended to ignore popular documentary in favor of films that are (arguably) more formally innovative, ideologically/politically complex and/or intellectually engaging? Does this lacuna relate to the relative lack of coordinated attention to spectatorial pleasure and reception in documentary film scholarship?  What does the florescence of certain popular subject areas or subgenres in documentary (e.g. wildlife, “charismatic mega-fauna”, food, water, oil and other ecodocumentaries) tell us about contemporary culture? How does the explosion of popular documentary trouble or enliven existing theories and critical methodologies for understanding and evaluating documentary?

Possible topics might include:

  • The relationship between documentary and entertainment
  • Popular documentary and/as genre
  • Interrogation of the popular in documentary
  • Popular documentary and popular music, or the documentary soundtrack
  • Social media, networked distribution, and/or web docs
  • The convergence of popular documentary and fiction techniques
  • Popular documentary and emotion (or affect)
  • Humor, irony or satire in popular documentary
  • Witness and intervention in popular documentary
  • Performativity, performance and/or reenactment
  • The documentary auteur and cult of personality
  • Popular documentary and the docu film festival circuit
  • Made-for-television documentaries: formats, constraints, ideologies
  • Netflix and other digital documentary databases
  • Neoliberalism and popular “committed” documentary
  • Popular documentary and the public sphere
  • New technology, delivery and production systems and their relationship to popular documentary
Please submit proposals to by February 1, 2016. Submissions should consist of an abstract (350-500 words), a bibliography (4-6 sources) and brief bio (100 words). If accepted, we will then request a 7,000-8,000 word essay.  Date: TBA.


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