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A Dialectic With the Everyday: Communication & Cultural Politics on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club
Unformatted Document Text:  Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 3 simultaneously to distance themselves from and to engage more intensively with the everyday demands they face living in a patriarchal and otherwise socioeconomically stratified U.S. society – a relationship I call a “dialectic with the everyday.” Notes on Method Studies like this one typically employ interviews and/or ethnographic methods to ascertain, on the one hand, the history, decision-making, and ideological predispositions of media texts and institutions, and on the other, patterns of reception and use among “real” readers of specific media genres (see, e.g., Morley, 1980; Radway, 1984; Bobo, 1995; Radway, 1997). Initially I had planned on following a similar tack for researching the cultural politics of Oprah’s Book Club. I quickly learned, however, that of the people involved in producing The Oprah Winfrey Show, only Winfrey herself is allowed to discuss it publicly; in my case, one of her media relations representatives explained to me, “that’s not going to happen.” Having been turned away from The Oprah Winfrey Show forced me to rethink my larger approach to this research. I have opted, therefore, to draw the bulk of the data in this essay from transcripts of all forty- five episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring Oprah’s Book Club. 4 These materials, at minimum, provide a reasonably accurate and accessible public record of how the value of specific books and books in general, in addition to the norms and protocols for engaging with them, were conceived of and talked about regularly by Winfrey, Oprah Winfrey Show producers, authors, and viewers invited to join them on the air. 5 Indeed, the transcripts provide some evidence of how approximately two hundred Club “members” publicly have discussed the selections and the role of books in their daily lives. 6 And if nothing else, the televisuality of Oprah’s Book Club further warrants my turn to transcripts of the show. All viewers invited to discuss Book Club selections on the air, it must be pointed out, distinguished themselves by taking the time to write in to The Oprah Winfrey Show. In other words, they demonstrated a level of interest and practical involvement setting them apart from the majority of

Authors: Striphas, Theodore.
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Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club 3
simultaneously to distance themselves from and to engage more intensively with the everyday
demands they face living in a patriarchal and otherwise socioeconomically stratified U.S. society – a
relationship I call a “dialectic with the everyday.”
Notes on Method
Studies like this one typically employ interviews and/or ethnographic methods to ascertain, on
the one hand, the history, decision-making, and ideological predispositions of media texts and
institutions, and on the other, patterns of reception and use among “real” readers of specific media
genres (see, e.g., Morley, 1980; Radway, 1984; Bobo, 1995; Radway, 1997). Initially I had planned
on following a similar tack for researching the cultural politics of Oprah’s Book Club. I quickly
learned, however, that of the people involved in producing The Oprah Winfrey Show, only Winfrey
herself is allowed to discuss it publicly; in my case, one of her media relations representatives
explained to me, “that’s not going to happen.” Having been turned away from The Oprah Winfrey
Show forced me to rethink my larger approach to this research.
I have opted, therefore, to draw the bulk of the data in this essay from transcripts of all forty-
five episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring Oprah’s Book Club.
4
These materials, at
minimum, provide a reasonably accurate and accessible public record of how the value of specific
books and books in general, in addition to the norms and protocols for engaging with them, were
conceived of and talked about regularly by Winfrey, Oprah Winfrey Show producers, authors, and
viewers invited to join them on the air.
5
Indeed, the transcripts provide some evidence of how
approximately two hundred Club “members” publicly have discussed the selections and the role of
books in their daily lives.
6
And if nothing else, the televisuality of Oprah’s Book Club further
warrants my turn to transcripts of the show.
All viewers invited to discuss Book Club selections on the air, it must be pointed out,
distinguished themselves by taking the time to write in to The Oprah Winfrey Show. In other words,
they demonstrated a level of interest and practical involvement setting them apart from the majority of


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