The Popular Culture Association conference is my favorite conference, and I have already posted why I love it. But it's hardly perfect, of course.
1. The undergraduate session. I went to a session this morning that included a paper by a college senior. Her presentation was the best organized, more professional one of the panel. Sadly, that is a rare experience these days. There was a time when undergraduate papers were usually scheduled like this, the appropriate area along with professors, graduate students and independent scholars. Then, several years ago, The Powers That Be decided that they should be organized in special undergraduate sessions. There are two problems with this. First, because they are nearly always a mix of subjects and labeled as undergraduate sessions, attendance is poor. Second, they miss out on the interaction and feedback from potential contacts and colleagues. I would like the undergraduate ghetto to disappear.
2. The scheduling. PCAACA is always Easter week. This means that it varies from year to year from late March to the end of April. Maybe this a good thing, because it means that it occasionally coincides with some attendees spring break. Maybe it results in better hotel rates, though it is offset by higher holiday weekend air fares. But it is family unfriendly and hostile to observant Christians and Jews, since the schedule interferes with both Easter week and Passover. As a Unitarian Universalist who has had to miss both our congregations Seder and singing in the choir for Easter, I am doubly offended.
3. Give me a break. Really. There are no breaks at the conference, just fifteen minutes between sessions. I understand that scheduling is complicated when there are so many sessions, but we need sustenance.
In all honesty, #2 and 3 don't bother me all that much. Having planned national conferences myself, I know how hard it is to make people happy. There are no perfect dates for a conference and everyone can't break for lunch at the same time without exploding the hotel restaurants. But getting rid of the undergraduate ghetto? That needs to happen.
I have been attending and presenting research at the Popular Culture Association conference since 1985, a total of eighteen times. This afternoon, I will make it nineteen. It is far and away my very favorite conference, the one that has done the most over the years to support and encourage me as a scholar. Later I will post my pet peeves, but I will start with a love letter to this giant, diverse, crazy-in-a-good-way organization.
1. It's two! Two! Two conferences in one! The full name of the conference is the Popular Culture Association American Culture Association Conference. The two organizations were formed separately a few years apart, and publish two distinct journals, but have sponsored a joint conference since 1979. Recently, their governing boards merged. Briefly, PCA represents folks with an interest in popular culture anywhere in the world, while the ACA has an Americanist focus and may include elite as well as mainstream cultural products and activities.
2. Variety. No matter what aspect of culture you study, you will find kindred spirits here. Topics of interest are sorted by area, each chaired by one or two scholars who issue the calls for papers and organize the submissions into conference sessions. Don't see an area that quite fits? If you can find enough people for a session, you can start an area. I mostly attend sessions in my "home" area -- Fashion, Style, Consumption and Design -- but also drop in to see what's going on in other areas of interest, whether professional (aging and Culture) or personal (Beer Culture). Imagine a four-day-long 50-ring circus.
3. Inclusion. Are you an undergraduate or graduate student? A professor or a middle school teacher? A museum curator or a private collector? A passionate hobbyist or fan? All are welcome to share their knowledge and insights. (Although undergraduates must be sponsored by a teacher, something I will discuss more in my quibbles post.) I have heard amazing presentations and terrible ones from folks from all walks of life and levels of expertise. The PCA/ACA does not decide in advance that some credentials or affiliations are worth more than others. To paraphrase the explanation I heard directly from PCA founder Ray Browne, if some professor wants to come here and stink up the place with a half-assed paper, that's on him, not us.
4. Movie night! The Science Fiction and Fantasy area hosts a fundraiser on Friday night that is open to everyone. It's a free movie and a raffle or other kind of contest, with great prizes. I may be biased,because my son won the grand prize several years ago, but it is one of my favorite events, and pure PCA/ACA.
5. Location, location, location! As a gigantic (thousands of attendees) conference, PCA/ACA tends to take place in great, pop culture-rich cities, and take advantage of their unique opportunities. Think vampire culture events and jazz in New Orleans, for example. This makes this conference the perfect trip to bring along the family or significant other. They can attend as a guest for a very reasonable registration fee, or enjoy the location on their own.