060. Romance Research with Jayashree Kamble
Jayashree Kamble, a romance scholar and Vice President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, joins me to discuss the various ways romance can be studied. She gives a brief overview of the history of the romance genre and pop culture research, why she doesn't encounter the hierarchy of taste when teaching romance, and explains who romance scholarship is for.
Jayashree Kamble, a romance scholar and Vice President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, joins me to discuss the various ways romance can be studied. She gives a brief overview of the history of the romance genre and pop culture research, why she doesn't encounter the hierarchy of taste when teaching romance, and explains who romance scholarship is for.
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- 58 Romance Novellas For A Quick Hit of Hope
- Check out Shelf Love’s updated website including the transcript for this episode
- Shelf Love episodes with transcripts
Guest: Jayashree Kamble
- Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction, an Epistemology by Jayashree Kamble
- The Romance Fiction of Mills and Boon - 1909 to 1990 by Jay Dixon
- Don't worry, my copy is in the mail so go ahead and order it
- Paratext definition: "French literary theorist Gérard Genette's term for the framing devices authors and publishers use to contextualize works and generate interest (e.g. blurbs, subtitles, celebrity endorsements, and so forth). As Genette points out in Seuils (1987) translated as Paratexts. Thresholds of Interpretation (1997), although not officially part of the text, the paratext can have a significant influence over the way a text is received."
- Two foundational romance scholarship texts:
- A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
- Issue 3.2 of JPRS had roundtable discussions of A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Find them here.
- Reading the Romance by Janice Radway
- Issue 4.2 of JPRS had roundtable discussions on Janice Radway 30 years after the publication of Reading the Romance. Find them here.
- A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
- Frankfurt School
- IASPR Digital Showcase 2020 Conference: View every presentation here! Several of these discussions that happened just before Jayashree and I spoke are referenced in the episode.
- Jen Lois and Joanna Gregson
- They were on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books twice - this link is the latter and links to the first
- Their research: Sneers and Leers: Romance Writers and Gendered Sexual Stigma
- "A very good romance book club in New York. It's run by Madeline Caldwell at Word Bookstore."
[00:00:00]Andrea Martucci: Hello and welcome to episode 60 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought-provoking, critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre: romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And my guest today is Jayashree, Kamble, a romance scholar and vice president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.
In this episode, she shares the various ways romance can be studied and takes us through some highlights of her own deep research in the genre. She also gives me a brief overview of the history of the romance genre and popular culture research. In part two of our discussion, which will come out in a few weeks, we dig into Jayashree's research into My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas
But first a question. What do you do when the rise of multinational capitalism and corporate raiding starts to negatively impact you? Romance says: just marry the CEO! Capitalism can work for you, whether it's the 1980s or 2020. Enjoy this fascinating dive through romance scholarship.
Jayashree Kamble: So my name is Jayashree Kamble. I'm a romance scholar. That is my primary academic identity. And I mainly work with romance novels, but I'm also a scholar of romance narratives in other media, including film and television. And I usually look at those through the lens of globalization and globalization politics. I'm an associate professor at LaGuardia community college in the English department there. It's just part of the City University of New York. And, I'm also a Vice President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. I've been publishing on romance and related narratives since about, I would say 2006 since I was in graduate school and I turned my PhD, which was on romance, into a book in 2014.
So that's called Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: an Epistemology. And it was mostly focused on romance heroes. And, currently I'm wrapping up, a collection of essays for Routledge, which is called The Research Companion to Popular Romance Fiction, which I co-edited with the president of the International Association, which we call the "Yasper" (IASPR) in short, otherwise it's a big mouthful, Eric Selinger and Hsu-Ming Teo, who is at Macquarie University in Australia.
So that's off to the publisher. We're very relieved. And I [00:02:30] think, you may be talking with one of my co-editors in more detail about that. We're very excited about that one.
And my current solo projects are my second book on romance heroines, which hopefully, we'll talk a little bit more in depth later. It actually has a section on Dreaming of You.
Andrea Martucci: Ooh!
Jayashree Kamble: So I think you have much to say. I'm also working on an essay for another edited collection on the representations of London in Victorian romance novels, especially in terms of its racial geography and, I will be starting a project, which I was commissioned to do for Cambridge, for the University Press, which is a survey of romance publishing, mass market romance. So a few different things in the works.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, very cool. just to ask more about the last thing you said, the survey can you talk more about what kind of survey that is?
Jayashree Kamble: It's really just trying to, encompass things that have happened in terms of romance publishing. Like when did the mass market start, like, where is the beginning of mass market romance in the Anglosphere, as it were, and taking stock of which publishing companies went bald, what were the major movements as things progressed over the last hundred years, what has disappeared, and what other recent changes, especially as we move from print to more digital media and what has that allowed and what has that not allowed? So it's really trying to give a broad overview. So the, the book itself is doing broad overviews of different forums, the genre and otherwise. And so I'm doing the romance fiction part.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, that's awesome. I don't know if this is actually a lack or a void in the romance research space, but it does seem to me that a lot of research is very micro level and I feel like I'm really hungry for that macro level view.
And I wonder - I tend to go from a definition of the modern romance genre being like post 1972. Is that also the definition you're working from?
Jayashree Kamble: No, the mass market Anglo romance goes back to 1909. That's where most romance scholars actually trace it back to. Currently a good book that you can look at is by Jay Dixon, so The Romance Fiction of Mills and Boon - 1909 to 1990. Jay's a, I think she's a journalist and she worked for Mills and Boon, which is the original company from which [00:05:00] Harlequin took its cue. And so when we talk about the mass market romance, popular romance fiction in the anglosphere, it's actually going back to 1909 from the start of Mills and Boon in England, in London. The company didn't exclusively produce romance novels till I would say maybe closer to World War II, but certainly there are traces of it, if you look at the very early books, which are, many of them are housed at the University of Redding in England.
Andrea Martucci: So my concept of romance is probably based - so it's like , in my mind the post Flame and the Flower era, how would you define that demarcation or that point in romance? So again, it does go back to 1909, but like what happened then?
Jayashree Kamble: So till I would say, that point in the 1970s, most of romance publishing actually the sort of centers of gravity of it are in England and later in Canada. And all the former, as it were, settler colonies of the British empire.
So, those are the writers who are writing it, and they're typically writing category romance. They're writing the numbered serialized 180-page romance novels under the imprint of Mills and Boon, which then Harlequin starts to republish under the Harlequin imprint and then buys out Mills and Boon and starts to publish Harlequins, sometimes originals, while they're also publishing, under the Mills and Boon imprint for the rest of the, the UK and the former British empire. And so those are shorter novels, but they are very much about that happy ever after narrative. And you see them exist even today, right? Harlequin is still a giant today. So that lineage is actually far older.
What happens in the 1970s with American publishing, with something like the Flame and the Flower is that the romance actually gets very big. And they're starting to do this big sweeping historical saga style of writing. And if you talk to somebody or you read the interview that I think someone did with Bertrice Small, they had no intention of writing a romance.
They just thought they were writing historical fiction, which had this romance plot in it. So this is the era of the big blockbuster. It's the era of what later was termed in the industry, and then now widely is termed the bodice ripper. So it's these like much longer, much more complicated, much more long, drawn out understandings of what love means to one psyche, how it's part of our growth rather than the sort of shorter, much tighter version that you get in a category novel.
There was also the time [00:07:30] when, the names of the authors started to take precedence and the names of the texts started take precedence over the publisher. So with category romance Mills and Boon and Harlequin, or anything else like Silhouette or Dell Candlelight, and so on, the line, the imprint was the thing that was prominent.
So people wrote under the line and readers bought the line. They didn't necessarily buy the author. They weren't necessarily searching for a specific book. They were searching for that concept. But after 1970s, it's the author and the name of the text that starts to become more prominent. And so we make a distinction between the category romance and the single title romance.
And so post 1970s, you actually see the single title really take over and the marketing starts to reflect that too. So if you looked at the work of scholars, like An Goris, who studies the paratext to the paraliterature, she actually talks about the physical changing of the size of the lettering of the author's names and the titles versus that of the publisher
Andrea Martucci: And my understanding is too that, anti pornography laws also changed in America in the 1970s and enabled the more sexually explicit romance novels?
Jayashree Kamble: There were certainly a lot of battles that happened. So it's a post World War II phenomenon because in World War II, you have a lot more pulp. And the covers actually took off from like the illustrations people are doing for pulp magazines and they started to enter into the texts.
And so then you had a lot of censorship battles with people saying, Oh, this is immoral. What are we selling, et cetera. And so a lot of things with clamp down, and then slowly as you start to get into the fight about pornography, alongside feminism, that's when things start to change a little bit.
And I think probably the eighties with Robert McGinnis does the cover for Flame and the Flower, but then there are others who do the covers that become very prominent are the ones with Fabio, mostly for Johanna Lindsey, I think those are prominent. So yeah, I think there's certainly a legal element involved there.
Andrea Martucci: That's - there's so many avenues to go down as we were talking about, there's literally every area of research that you were doing is obviously enormous. This is your life's work. So -
Jayashree Kamble: yes it is. Marker [00:09:41]Andrea Martucci:
So you said you work in an English department. And my understanding is that a lot of romance scholars, while they may teach like one romance class, they don't get to teach a hundred percent romance classes.
So what kinds of classes do you teach and how do you incorporate romance into the [00:10:00] classroom. And then a follow up question maybe in that is how, how do you introduce students to romance? Assuming that they have little to no exposure prior to coming into the classroom? How do they react to it?
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. I can speak for myself. I can tell you a little bit about my fellow, romance scholars who also teach romance. And my situation is a little different from most people's because I teach at a community college. So community college English departments typically are a major part of our work is taking freshmen students, and we're doing a lot of work with freshmen writing and some with getting them to graduate to our senior seminars and moving them on, into their, the last two years of their program. So my situation is a little bit different from a lot of other romance scholars who teach romance in their colleges.
But it is true. You're right in that most people do not get to teach all of romance all the time. We're not in that place. We don't have a romance chair. We don't have that kind of weight or space in the Academy yet. To make that kind of argument I suspect with the current situation, and financial as a university shrink, that might be a tougher sell even in the near future, but we'll see.
Whereas my own work is concerned, the flip side, even though I do work for, a department where we put a lot of weight on teaching writing, my department is very open to people using whatever texts they want in order to accomplish those things. So what we're really stressing is the critical inquiry side of things and being able to write well, to communicate properly.
And I find that romance novels are just as good, if not better of a method to helping people understand and to get them to model their work and to think critically about themes at the same time, while they're practicing how to write a college paper, how to do research, how to find data and organize it and all of those things.
My specific classes where I can just focus on the literature part of it, apart from those freshmen writing classes, there's a class called Images of Women in Literature that we offer. And it was written to give more prominence to that theme. Obviously part of a more feminist focused part of the English major in my department.
And, in that one, I'll theme it in specific ways. Because my current book is about romance heroines, I've taught that class putting together different kinds of heroic versions of the romance heroine. So I might teach Dreaming of You in that class and have Sarah in Dreaming of You be one kind of heroine.
Or I might take in something like the Ilona Andrews Kay Daniel [00:12:30] series, and have that be a very kind of masculine, goes out and cuts things kind of heroine. And so that's what I'll do in that class. So I can take it three or four romance novels and unpack them with the students to understand what we're doing.
In terms of how I introduce it to them, because none of my classes are explicitly titled romance, no one's there with the contract that they're going to learn about romance novels. So it's not like a traditional romance course that I would teach like I would teach like a intro to modern poetry, right? Like where you really do have to hit certain things in order for them to come out of the class saying yes, now I understand romance that way.
But what I do is I use things like Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel because it gives you these broken down elements of the text. So it's a very easy way for them to understand what the bones of the books that they will be reading really are before we can go into the variations, right? The riffs that authors do on those particular elements, that Pamela Regis offers. So that becomes my way to try to get them to understand the texts.
I have not encountered what you sometimes hear from other folks as the resistance to reading romance. Like my students do not come in with any kind of assumptions about them.
And this is both a positive and a negative. I think it's largely because they don't read and they are, in some ways outside of the hierarchy of taste conversations that students in other colleges sometimes, have already become familiar with though they don't really understand it, but they know that somehow there's some things they should be a little bit more snobbish about and somethings that are supposed to be canon.
My students don't have that kind of hierarchy of taste distinction that they come in with. So in that sense, it's actually really easy for me. I just teach it to them and they are perfectly happy to read. And I get students come in afterwards all the time and talk about like how much they love Dreaming of You and how Derek Craven is the best or, variations thereof.
And I don't encounter the hierarchy of taste. I also don't really encounter gender resistance, which sometimes you'll hear from other folks that the male students in the class will have some resistance because it's so clearly about, to them, a glorification of certain kind of masculinity that they don't feel like it's appropriate for them to be, have to compete with or whatever their assumptions are.
So my classroom experiences are usually very pleasant when I, teach romance.
Andrea Martucci: So again, you teach in English department, I am just coming to understand the different disciplines that you can approach popular romance studies from.
And, so can you, it sounds [00:15:00] like you take a literary lens to the romance genre. I wonder if you could contextualize your approach in the broader scheme of romance scholarship and maybe introduce me and listeners to other approaches, even if they're not your approach and then talk about how they work together and maybe where they diverge. Are they mostly symbiotic or are there major divergences?
Jayashree Kamble: Okay. That's a great question. And yes, it's true. I think romance is very fruitful for any kind of disciplinary approach and it's really something we've tried to encourage. And so when we meet at the Popular Culture Association, which is usually around Easter every year, we've really tried to get every kind of scholar, independent scholar, working scholar to come in, no matter what their background and to give us how they approach romance. So I just want to lay that out first, like it's open to many kinds of approaches.
As far as my own training and background is concerned, I did get my doctorate in an English department. I went to the University of Minnesota, but my actual training and my actual work over there was fostered through cultural studies.
So I'm actually a cultural studies scholar, which for folks who don't know what that means it is a mixture of literary studies influenced through Marxism, that started at the Birmingham school in England. And the whole impetus for that was for people to take pop culture seriously, to treat it as an object of analysis, to really apply the same kinds of critical lenses that you would to otherwise literary canon.
And, that's how I've been trained, particularly through what's called the Frankfurt School. And, sometimes I joke what that means is that I do a little bit of everything when I apply it to my work. And I wouldn't say I'm a master of none, but I am certainly in some ways a Jack of all trades in terms of literary approaches.
What that actually means in practice would be that I, for example, in my first book, I looked at four different kinds of hero types or what are actually ideologies that function in romance novels. So ways of thinking, structures of discourse. And so I looked at how capitalism functions in romance. That's very clearly a Marxist lens.
I had to try to understand how money works, how power through money works, how class structures work in romance. Who do we think is worthy of loving based on the class structure, et cetera.
Another chapter looked at heterosexuality, so I was studying the fact that romance novel heroes [00:17:30] particularly now are - and when I say now I meant when I was writing it - were so determinately, heterosexual, and what that meant for queerness and what that meant for the fact that this sort of rigid heterosexuality seems to pop up in the genre the same time as we're having a fight for queer rights, especially in the United States.
And so that's what I mean by applying different lenses. So I come at it in that chapter from the lens of queer studies, but I come at it in another chapter from the lens of Marxist studies. I have a chapter in there that's about the whiteness of the romance hero. And so that one approaches it from the lens of critical race studies.
And so there are ways that you can apply these different approaches into the genre that I try.
The current work that I'm doing on romance heroines does something similar. So I'm trying to study it, looking at the issues of like work and domesticity, which are very crucial to feminist lenses, but I'm also looking at it through the lens of nationality, in my chapter on citizenship, and what does membership in a community mean for romance heroines? And so again, like it's a constantly shifting lens that I tend to apply when it comes to the sort of cultural studies part of my approach.
Andrea Martucci: Before you answer the rest of the question I asked you, I wonder there's two things in particular that you were just talking about that I have had burning questions about.
Jayashree Kamble: Very good.
Andrea Martucci: So number one, what you were talking about, the aggressively heterosexual hero in the midst of a time where queer rights were a topic of conversation culturally.
Basically in essence, the romance publishing industry in that period of time is, both reflecting, but reinforcing the status quo and resisting that forward movement. And I think about this often in the context of my admiration for the romance genre, but also my understanding of it's failings.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Particularly when you layer in the publishing industry on top of it. Right? Cause like, just because what is published is what is seen doesn't mean there were things that were not written that, did not adhere to those same things that was not published and not, did not get past those gatekeepers.
So I think my question around this is - and I think that this is not a question that we tend to ask about any other type of art, where we allow the exemplars to [00:20:00] exist. and we talk about the examplars like, wow, look what this genre or this media medium is capable of while being able to like critique the ones that fail at that.
But that's not a necessarily like the entire genre or the entire medium needs to be thrown away because of those issues.
Jayashree Kamble: Absolutely. What I often tell people is that think about the volume of what even a year of romance produces. And that's just, as you say, the things that saw the light of day.
It's not including any of the things that didn't make it through those gatekeepers, though of course things are changing now. And so in terms of sheer volume, of course, they're going to have things in them that are very good, that fall on the right side of history. And then there are going to be a ton of things that aren't very good in that sense.
And partly, if you listened to our round table yesterday, as Jodi McAllister was pointing out, if you look, we could do a very broad division of romance scholarship and how part of it at the beginning seemed to really focus on the flaws and the problematic part of it, because that's how you establish yourself as a scholar of this form at a certain point in academic history and how things seem to have flipped.
But I think it's important, and I wish I'd had time to talk with Jodi a little bit more about this - it's important for us to realize that we don't want to be in either extreme and that we want to make space for people to talk about exemplars and to talk about failures. But also as Jodi said, just to ask more interesting questions rather than thinking in terms of the binary, right rather than saying, this kind of hero is bad and this kind of hero is good. Right? To think about what is it that we're desiring? What do these things appeal to us for? And so to ask more granular questions I think is the thing that most people are now trying to do.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. so then, uh, to speak of Marxism for a second, I have a friend, in real life who started listening to the podcast because they were a friend, not because they were a romance reader and, he sent a very interesting question.
So I mean, basically somebody who is an outsider to the romance genre, but he himself is pretty steeped in doing Marxist reading and, is in a polyamorous relationship. And, I believe is gender queer, although identifies as a he. He made a comment that was basically like, I wonder this, um, focus in romance novels on [00:22:30] possession, how much that ties to capitalist constructs basically interrogating that.
So part of this is like the nuclear family aspect of capitalism, right?
Where it's we have to create these heterosexual family units that, strive to acquire things and produce children among other things. But basically even just challenging this idea of, two people committed solely to each other, like thinking about that through the lens of ownership and possession.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to say that there is someone who's written a little bit, I think, I can send you a follow up email, but it might be called The Erotics of Property, in relation to romance. But, certainly there is something about, sole proprietorship when it comes to the monogamous couple, to use very much the language of capitalism. It's sole proprietorship, right? That's what you're looking for. I am sole owner of this, but, I think there is, apart from that sort of almost as an epistemological issue in the genre, I think we always want to also consider, as you said, those are the exemplars, but I think people writing poly for a long time.
And so I wouldn't say that they're in that sense that the romance is inherently tied to capitalism because it's just that certain things got published. And a lot of other things had to circulate in other ways on the internet till then they got their spaces. So I think those forms of resistance or opposition exist. They're just not that mainstream.
My own reading or my own work on capitalism in romance really is a very straight up reading of capitalism in that, especially once, We get to post World War II and we get to the seventies and American writers start writing romance, there is a very clear that sense of this is what an upper-class life is, and this is aspirational, right?
And oftentimes the hero tends to emblematize the rise of multinational capitalism. Like, he owns a bunch of things. He owns properties. He owns land, labor, capital, and very classic sense of the bourgeoisie. And then the woman, oftentimes, especially if you look at Harlequin and Mills and Boon romances that were being put out in the eighties, they're often part of a small firm or small something that is being taken over by the large company that this man owns and they're dramatizing very directly what was happening in the world. So both in the United States and the UK in the eighties, they dismantled the welfare state. [00:25:00] Multinational corporations started to go global. They lost pretty much any control by the nation. And they started to destroy small firms and oftentimes women suffered for it because women were still the caregivers and when you dismantle the welfare state, then you're giving a potential problem, which we see right now, also in the pandemic, women are bearing the brunt of it, is that you don't have support for childcare. You don't have support for adult care. At the same time, your job is getting bought out and you might have to do the most terrible possible work.
And so the fantasy there was, then you have to figure out a way to make capitalism work for you. And so you get married to the CEO. That it's a very direct kind of, it's not even like a hidden reading of capitalism. That's what the books idolized. They're like, here's where the power structure is. And how do you gain access to it? Typically it's through marriage cause otherwise it'll crush you.
Andrea Martucci: oof.
Jayashree Kamble: And then your friends' sort of idea of the gender queer thing is, and I'm not a scholar in this nor do I intend to critique folks who have, a polyamorous or, other life.
But I will say that personally on a very sort of anecdotal note, when I, I hear what's his name, Dan, the columnist guy talk about how you shouldn't have just one partner, many people are needed to fulfill. To me that feels very consumerist his, his - not your friend, but his way. So to me, that's like a, an advancement of consumer capitalism.
So I'm not inclined to think that one partner is bad capitalism and multiple partners is good communism or socialism, because that's not about possession. I sometimes I worry that's just another form of, I should have another thing cause you can't be happy with just one thing.
Andrea Martucci: That's super interesting because,
Jayashree Kamble: I'm not critiquing queer life!
Andrea Martucci: Right. And that's just super interesting. Cause like, so I mean like, look I'm an introvert. The idea of juggling multiple close relationships sounds terrible to me. Being married to one person works really well for me, but I am definitely very interested in some of the ideas that I've heard people talk about, like around polyamorous relationships.
Because you're right - the way some people talk about polyamorous relationships is very much like partners are disposable and less of that like I value this one person so much that it's worth not continuing to go out and seek better alternatives.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And again, yeah, a lot of this is obviously how individuals approach polyamory.
Some people probably have [00:27:30] motivations that are questionable and some people have very, I don't know the word I'm looking for. Every word is so loaded. Other people have other intentions that are , you know, not problematic.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. Yeah. And so that's why I don't want to, devalue one form over the other.
Because sometimes I think that's what happens when you come to things with a certain lens, where if Marxism tells you that sole possession maybe is too steeped in a certain kind of capitalism maybe this other thing is, and I'm like, I think both, I think in stand scrutiny, in certain ways.
Andrea Martucci: And I totally interrupted your train of thought, but I think the original question that I had asked was around like how the disciplines work together in romance scholarship. And, I remember reading, I got as far as the intro recently in Janice Radway's Oh my God.
Jayashree Kamble: Reading the Romance?
Andrea Martucci: Thank you.
And I had so many like moments I made a, yeah, people can't hear the motion I made. It was frazzled, but she was talking about the schools of thought. And I was like, what do these mean? So you mentioned Birmingham and Frankfurt, or are these two different schools of thought?
Jayashree Kamble: The Frankfurt school of thought is what infused the Center for Cultural Studies at Birmingham University.
Andrea Martucci: So they are basically aligned,
Jayashree Kamble: They're aligned. So the Center for Cultural Studies at Birmingham is the physical place where Cultural Studies started, but they were, their scholarly bent is called the Frankfurt school of Marxism.
And, you get an assortment people - Stuart Hall helped to establish the Center for Cultural Studies there.
You have the work of people like Theodore Adorno. so all of these folks are really trying to evaluate pop culture seriously. Give it that status. Now of course, people can look back on people like Adorno and say Oh my God, he just hated pop culture. Thought it was the, you know, opium of the masses, whatever.
That's not really true. I mean, they really have an important place in cultural studies history because they took something seriously, which nobody else would. Right. It wasn't Shakespeare so what was the point? And so that's what that particular school is.
In terms of. giving you an overview of disciplinary approaches, which is really sort of a research 101 overview in the liberal arts.
So the basic division is between qualitative work and quantitative work. These are the two approaches you can take to any kind of research. I personally am a qualitative study scholar. I was trained in qualitative work, so that's why I'm a literary studies person who does a lot of close reading in my work.
I study themes. I'm trying to look at dialogue. I'm trying to look at the way [00:30:00] characters are described. And I might look at one book or two books or for something that the scope of my book, I'm looking at eight novels. But again, as we've said, because there are so many produced in the genre that certainly in no way, is a representative sample in terms of quantity, it's, I'm a qualitative researcher.
So most people who come from literary studies tend to be doing qualitative research. The predominant strain though, in romance, especially older and Radway herself is a quantitative strain. Okay. So Radway is a sociologist. She comes from the discipline of sociology. And within that, what she was essentially doing was doing ethnography.
So her entire book is about talking to a specific sample of readers. Giving them a specific list of questions and then tallying up the answers and then coming up with a conclusion based on that data. So she really creates a dataset for herself through this ethnographic approach, that approach of interviewing people and figuring out what that data means.
So she follows that and for the longest time, and even today, when we get new scholars, when we get young folks who are undergraduates, they think that's the only way. That's how you should approach romance scholarship. Pretty much everybody comes in going Oh my God, I can't believe that people well think romance is not feminist and I'm going to talk to readers.
And so that is often a dominant impulse that romance studies, and we've tried quite hard a) to maybe improve that impulse or B) just get younger people to understand there are many ways you can approach it. You don't have to think that this is the only way that you can do it. So even in my own trajectory, in my own career, there's a part of my dissertation that was ethnographic.
I talked to readers in India through a public library and it was also autoethnographic because I use myself in the scholarship to try to talk about my own experience as a reader, growing up in India and reading a lot of these novels and what it meant to me. And so that's part of what quantitative approaches can do.
Another kind of quantitative sociological approach is for example, something that's being done by two scholars out in Washington state, Jen Lois and Joanna Gregson who have studied - they took, I think about three years just to talk to romance authors. So they went to RWA, they set up interviews, they compiled a lot of data based on certain things that they had a list of questions and the idea.
So they were only exploring one concept and the idea was of stigma. So sociology has that concept in it, and they were trying to figure out how that worked for romance authors. [00:32:30] So that's another sort of ethnographic sociological approach that you can take is to talk with authors or I guess readers or whatever other members of the community.
Those are some things that you see very often. You certainly, like I said, see a lot of close literary analysis, right? If you take certain sections, you try to understand how certain things are being portrayed. There are people who study, like me, a certain sort of larger, macro issues of, race or, they want to study, masculinity or queerness or, the feminism of heroines in a certain point in time in the genre. So people will approach that, but they're basically doing a literary study. They're just looking at a certain book or certain group of books, or a certain time period, and then say I looked at, the winners of a certain prize within these years and these years.
And so that's how they'll narrow it down because there's so much of it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Because a conversation I have often with, Nicole Jackson is actually, she's a historian and she often tells me she's like, I don't understand romance scholarship, which led me to believe that as a historian.
Although, it sounds like, you know, history, psychology, gender studies, racial studies, all kind of fall under this umbrella of cultural studies. Yeah. how are the approaches different?
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. So we actually do have two, two very prominent historians in the field. So Jodi McAllister, who you saw in the panel yesterday is a historian.
She's a trained historian. And so she's really very interested in the unrolling of history, which is why she did the presentation that she did. Right, like talking about, like, where was the field and where is it now? And what are some of the patterns that have emerged? So she really is looking at it in terms of that historical survey.
The other person is the one who I mentioned before who is the co-editor of the research companion, Hsu-Ming Teo. She's also a trained historian. And so she also does work where she looks at, or she has in the past, her book was about Orientalism in romance novels. And so she's looked at versions of the sheikh narrative and what that means.
I'm not a historian myself. I wasn't trained as a historian, but what I think historians bring into the romance is that they're really about the hard facts, right? Like they want to see when something was published, what else was happening around that same time? Like they don't not speak in the abstract. They don't make sweeping statements. They're really about finding hard evidence to back up anything that they're saying, and they really want context. And they often looking for [00:35:00] multiples so that you can actually match things against each other so that you have a verifiable claim at that. And there is again, a huge lack in this sense, we need lots more people to be doing a lot more digging.
One person who is doing some of that is Amy Burge who's in Birmingham now. And she's one of the organizers of the IASPR digital showcase that's happening this week. Amy is a trained medievalist, which is a medieval studies scholar.
And so she, I believe in her dissertation and in her first book, did a comparison between how Arabs or Muslim people are visible in medieval versus modern romance. And so she really does a comparative approach across two different historical periods to see if there is in fact similarity or difference in what that actually means for those societies and what conclusions we can draw.
So that's another kind of comparative historical approach that people take.
Andrea Martucci: And so all of these questions, this entire conversation is really just all a very selfish goal for me, which is partly to understand how what I'm doing fits into the Ecosystem, let's say, of romance publishing.
And so my next question hopefully will help me get there also I think this is a really interesting conversation and lots of people will benefit from it, so it's not purely selfish.
Jayashree Kamble: Okay.
Andrea Martucci: But, this was actually something that came up yesterday, the accessibility of romance scholarship came up yesterday in the first panel for the, how do you pronounce it?
Jayashree Kamble: IASPR (Yasper) .
Andrea Martucci: The IASPR conference was, the question was how can we make romance scholarship more accessible, so I'm curious what you think specifically, how you think romance scholars should engage with the romance writing and reading community and maybe there's another community I'm not thinking of in there. What benefits do you see for non-academics? And then what benefits do you see for academics in that engagement?
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah, I'll back away a little bit from the idea of how people should engage, because I don't want to be prescriptive about any of it.
Andrea Martucci: That's a very academic. uhhh I'm not going to do that,
Jayashree Kamble: We
Andrea Martucci: like to split those hairs.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. We like to split those hairs. and I think, folks in the romance community are very perceptive, but they also catch you on things. So I want to be careful.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It's, it's true. don't get on the wrong side of Romancelandia. Yeah.
Jayashree Kamble: As yesterday showed that was an excellent example, but yes. How could people engage and how could there be interactions and engagements between people? I won't say entanglements.
Andrea Martucci: That's another [00:37:30] loaded phrase now.
Jayashree Kamble: Always. Yeah, that was trending. But I think the field is actually already very ripe for it because unlike many other academic subjects, currently, at least romance scholars have all come out of being romance readers.
So there's already a connection, almost none of us, as far as I know, came to the genre from that outsider lens that maybe exists or existed in the past. And so that connection, we already into it, we tap into it with ourselves. Yeah, tap into our own reader experiences, whether we explicitly speak of it or not, but certainly we tap into it with each other when we engage as romance scholars. Because again, we're all romance readers.
So if you ever come to IASPR conference, or if you come to the Pop Culture Association conference around Easter, it's just a gab fest. It's just romance readers who know how to speak the language of romance scholarship, but we're still just being romance reader's. It's not any different in a sense from what with any other romance readers.
So where we really pull off of each other's insights and energies. And to expand that, to speak to your question, I think now we can certainly do it through the internet. There are so many more opportunities for scholars to engage both with readers and with writers online. The pandemic has made that even more somehow, accessible. as you said, you couldn't have come to the Canaries, but you came to the IASPR round table.
And so I think the same thing applies, like not everybody could have gone to a reading in some other part of the country or some other part of the world, but we can all log in and we can all ask questions, which is precisely, I think what was happening at the round table yesterday there were readers asking questions of scholars, chatting with the readers, with the ideas that they had, or the thing that they really liked that the reader said.
So I think there's a lot of space for that to happen. Certainly there are, other more sort of formal structures that are in place. So you have, people are doing was it book tube? yeah, there's a lot more of those, I think. And many of them, I think are fairly regular, just like a podcast like yours.
So I think there's a lot more gathering that's happening through that. I think there are people who are crossing over as it were from a reader to a scholar perspective as a sort of public scholar of the genre, even though you're not teaching romance classes or you're not, a scholar through the academic world, you are practicing a kind of public scholarship as a romance reader who wants to understand more about romance, wants to talk about it in a much more formal way, but I think we're seeing a lot of podcasts that are doing [00:40:00] that.
I don't know of a lot of romance scholars themselves who doing any of those things, but I think the reverse is certainly happening. There's a lot of folks who would otherwise just identify as readers or writers who are doing that kind of public scholarship. And so I think I learn a lot from that. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I think, Oh, that's probably the way to say it, that would be heard and understood by a lot more people.
And, I think there is a sort of selfish thing there for me or for people like me and that universities love public-facing scholarship, and university presses want scholars to write in a more accessible way. They love it. And so I think there's a lot for us that we can unlearn that we had learned in grad programs and learn a more accessible, better way to speak about it by listening to our readers, by listening t writers. So those I think are some great possibilities.
I also mentioned that I'm in a really good romance book club in New York. It's run by Madeline Caldwell at Word Bookstore.
And it's just an extraordinary community. It has a very consistent membership. I think I've been going now for five years and in any given meeting in a month, maybe we have from 12 to 24 people. They're all super well-read not just in romance but in other fields, they all are highly professional and people come in with extraordinary readings that I've never thought of. So those are also, I think some places which in the pandemic, I think again, have all gone online for readers and scholars and writers to engage because some writers come to that book club as well. And so there are lots of spaces I think for intersection.
Andrea Martucci: You can reinterpret this question, but who is romance scholarship for? Why is it important and what impact should it have? Should it impact the genre in writers?
Jayashree Kamble: I think this sort of was the, the question partly underneath yesterday's romance round table as well, right?
Who is romance scholarship for? I'm not a huge fan of utilitarian questions like that, because if I feel like it falls into the trap of the neo-liberal rhetoric of like, well, if you're doing research, it has to be for a thing. Are you producing a vaccine? No. Then you don't get any money.
I think questions are worth asking, because they're about the human condition, right? So who is it for? It's anybody who's interested in the human condition and typically, that would be the folks who are reading that genre, but it could be folks who are reading other things. And want to understand how our society functions, how do we handle our emotions?
How do we interpret the ways that larger forces of ideology work on us? And so romance scholarship, like [00:42:30] any other scholarship, is for a better understanding of the way we live and maybe how we'd like to live. So that would be my answer to the first part of your question.
Andrea Martucci: I'm curious. Maybe in a more micro level, so I think you did address it's not like we're expecting romance scholarship to be read by 50% of the population, like at large, but even within the romance genre, how does romance scholarship within the ecosystem of the romance genre?
Like what impact should it have - and again, I'm using the should term, but like what impact do you think it could have, maybe you would like to see it have, should it be interacting and impacting more the genre and writers? Could it be?
Jayashree Kamble: I think it certainly could. I personally, I can't speak for all of my academic friends, but I think while it can, and in many places will help people understand their own reading better.
It'll give them a richer, I think, more, if you will, classroom-based experience, like they can get a reading out of a romance novel that they would get if they took a class with me that otherwise they don't have access to for whatever reason. So I think it can give you a richer, more critical experience if you're the kind of readerwho wants that.
That's not every reader, right? Some readers want to enjoy it and they don't want to analyze what that means. And that's totally fine. I'm completely supportive of that reading as well. But yes, in that sense, it could give people, a more deeper, finer, understanding. It could give them a meta-language to talk about what is that they're interested in that genre.
Oftentimes I think, even this is personally not a concern of mine. I know it is for many people- it could give them language to talk to other people who don't read the genre, in a way that conveys sophistication and the depth and the history and the changeability of the genre and why people read it.
So that could be useful to sort of say, you know, so, and so scholar who's written on this particular subgenre of romance actually says - that could, I can give you a certain amount of cache at the dinner table, right? If that's the thing you're worried about, If that's a concern that you have, I think it can certainly function in that way.
I personally don't think I write for anybody in particular. I don't think, Oh, this is for academics or this is for romance readers. I write because I enjoy unpacking something. And I think there's got to be some other nerd out there who will think this is [00:45:00] interesting to read. So if you wanted to push me to think about who my audience is, I would just say it's like fellow romance nerds or fellow pop culture nerds, who think, Oh, I did not think of that that way. That's interesting. Or I should go look at that book. So that's really in terms of audience, who I'm looking for. I would certainly like my own scholarship to be more popular reader friendly. I think as I said, grad school makes you think in much more complicated ways.
And sometimes after grad school, you have to unlearn that language while keeping the complexity of the thinking going, and that's still a work in progress for me.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I mean, I think your writing is very accessible without I truly do. I mean, having read some amount of romance scholarship, and in my day job reading a lot of like medical research, I find your writing to be very accessible without decomplicating it to the point where it doesn't mean anything. Right. I only had to look up a couple of words.
Jayashree Kamble: Okay.
Andrea Martucci: But that's, I mean, look, I'm fine. Looking up a couple of words, because I think sometimes once I look it up, I'm like, that was completely the appropriate and very specific word to use there, and I'm glad it was used. I'm glad I know what this means now, but I also certainly understand how intimidating it can be to look at something that in one paragraph you'd have to look up the meaning of like 10 words. Yeah. and again, they're not the wrong words.
They're just so highly specific.
Jayashree Kamble: It's a lot. They're very dense. Yes. Sometimes the academic writing can be very dense. And so I think for anyone who is looking to appeal to a wider readership, whether it's other romance readers or the wider public, that's certainly something for us to be conscious of. And like I said, maybe listening to some of the podcasts, watching some of the BookTube stuff can help us access some of that language that maybe otherwise we can't see the wood for the trees as it were.
So I think that's certainly something that a lot of scholars I think would like to do, even if we can't do it very well yet.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So something to work on.
Jayashree Kamble: Yeah. Marker [00:47:07] Andrea Martucci: Thanks for listening to episode 60 and thanks to Jayashree Kamble for joining me. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com.
Coming up next, Jodie Slaughter shares her problematic favorite trope: Alphaholes. Then Jayashree will be back to discuss My Beautiful Enemy by [00:47:30] Sherry Thomas.
In the meantime, I'd be grateful if you rated and reviewed the podcast on Apple Podcasts. I love to hear your thoughts on the show and it helps other romance nerds find the podcast. You can also skip the middle man and tell a friend about Shelf Love. Also, I am sticking with Saturday releases for a bit, so watch for new episodes of Shelf Love every Saturday at midnight Eastern time.
Thank you so much for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com.
Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.