Jenkins has a BA from Georgia State University, Political Science/Journalism, an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Communications from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Communications, Ph.D. 1989. His doctoral thesis was “What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Anarchistic Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic”, with advisors David Bordwell and John Fiske.
Most notably, Jenkins was the founder and director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program. He has proven a prolific author, issuing several canonical texts on fandom, technology and popular culture, including Textual Poachers, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, and Convergence Culture. Jenkins is a sure-fire media populist, largely abstaining from the heavy post-structuralist theoretical and philosophical bent of much media and critical theory, and instead emphasizing the role of public policy and media literacy. He cooperates on projects and conferences with academics, media producers, policy makers and media distributors. Jenkins has operated a long-time blog at www.henryjenkins.org, and has testified at the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing into Marketing Violence for Youth, following the Columbine shooting.
Jenkins is sometimes identified with "what's wrong" with cultural studies, as the American incarnation of the discipline has become increasingly collapsed with pop culture-philia. Indeed, Jenkins work on fandom has given a stable platform to bevies of close readings of popular culture phenomenon, some of which tragically misconstrues it relevance to the intellectual field. Jenkins' assertions that we should study what we love and study what matters to us sometimes overlaps with an enthusiasm to "study whatever we want", it's academic merit supported by the sole fact that one has taken an interest.
Regardless of these complaints, Jenkins remains a prominent and potent figure in the constellation of contemporary American popular culture and media studies. He is currently the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture Edit
Jenkins' early 1990s work Textual Poachers is an ethnographic study of television fans, offered just before TV fandam became a massively internet-fuelled phenomenon. Indeed, this work should be understood as foremost a social science text (cultural studies in the old, not-yet-heinously poststructuralist tradition). While this work applied to television studies, it is purely reception, not representational nor technological analysis. In his introduction, he treads the same ground as Donna Haraway's work on "Situated Knowledge" (even using the phrase--and this work itself is also tread by Law's Aircraft Stories) as he summarizes the turn away from totalizing accounts of social and cultural practice to "partial, particularized, and contingent accounts of specific encounters within and between cultures" (4). Jenkins' considers his work inspired by this later tradition. Jenkins documents his own fandom, and suggests that by thinking about how viewers relate to textual materials, we can think ourselves out of being purely ideological subjects of media. To identify with the fan, rather than judge or dictate, is a "process which requires greater proximity and the surrender of certain intellectual pretensions and institutional privileges" (6).
Jenkins' interest in fans is in line with his critical interest in reception, and his interests in how viewers make meaning from the technological and entertainment environments they exist in, as well as fandom's relationship to a larger understanding of media audiences. In many ways, this book (along with Constance Penley's work) established "fan studies" as a distinct academic inquiry, and contested the largely hostile understanding of fandom that otherwise existed in social science.
Jenkins is interested in 5 dimensions of this "subculture" (his words):
- relationship to a particular mode of reception
- role in encouraging viewer activism
- its function as an interpretive community
- traditions of cultural production
- status as an alternative social community
This subculture could be defined as one which is "struggling to define its own culture and to construct its own community within the context of what many observers have described as a postmodern era; it documents a group insistant on making meaning from materials others have characterized as trivial and worthless" (3).
His first full chapter covers extensive ground reviewing cultural assumptions about the "fan". His work is intensely indebted to Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life.