Founded in 1979, the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) has met throughout the Southwestern United States for more than 40 years, with Albuquerque, New Mexico, its primary annual meeting host. But this year, the association — which aims to promote an innovative academic movement in the humanities and social sciences as they relate to America’s cultural heritages and diverse population — decided to shake things up with its first-ever Summer Salon, a two-day online-only conference.
Several factors contributed to this decision, including receiving “a significant number of requests for virtual attendance to the in-person conference in recent years,” according to Lynnea Chapman King, executive director of SWPACA. Making its conference a hybrid event would exceed the association’s resources, Chapman King said, and she also cited a lack of funding “for travel in higher ed and a desire to be inclusive in opportunities” as reasons behind the creation of SWPACA’s inaugural virtual conference, separate from — but similar in content to — its in-person annual meeting in February.
SWPACA event attendees marry the worlds of academia and popular culture — they are academic professionals, including junior and senior faculty members, as well as graduate students and high-school students who attend with their teachers.
Some sessions covered topics that many might have taken as college classes — film studies, Native American/Indigenous studies, and women’s studies — but the program also delved into the parts of American culture that aren’t standard fare in higher-ed curriculums, such as, “Music/Rap and Hip-Hop Culture: Formations of Identity and Agency,” and “Mothers, Motherhood, and Mothering in Popular Culture.” SWPACA’s “area chairs,” academics who specialize in fields such as Harry Potter studies, stardom and fandom, zombie and pandemic culture, and even the Grateful Dead, decide on session topics.
Sessions on that rock band, game studies, and film resonated the most with online participants, Chapman King said, although sessions were well attended across all subject areas. “As with all SWPACA conferences,” she added, “we trust that our attendees were both enlightened and challenged by the presentations.”
Horror and horror-adjacent topics have deep roots at SWPACA events. At the Summer Salon, sessions included:
- Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic 1: The Oneiric Music of Electric Dreams
- Adaptation: Adapting Ghosts, the Underworld, and the Underland
- Horror: Homes and Families
Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene. Illustration by Carmen Segovia
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