Cuteness has a global reach: it is an affective response; an aesthetic category; a performative act of self-expression; and an immensely popular form of consumption. This themed issue of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is intended to launch the new, interdisciplinary, transnational academic field of Cute Studies.
Cute culture, a nineteenth century development in Europe and the US, with an earlier expression in Edo-era Japan, has flourished in East Asia since the 1970s, and around the world from the turn of the new millennium. This special issue seeks papers that engage with a wide variety of both the forms that express cute culture, and the platforms upon which its articulation depends. Thus, the field of Cute Studies casts a wide net, analyzing not only consumers of cute commodities, but also those who seek to enact, represent, or reference cuteness through personal presentation or behavior. Since these groups intermingle, cute culture may be seen as a type of fan community, in which the line between consumers and producers is continually renegotiated. Cute Studies also encompasses critical analyses of the creative works produced by practitioners such as artists, designers, and performers, as well as the circumstances that determine the production and dissemination of these works.
Defined as juvenile features that cause an affective reaction, somatic cuteness follows the Kindchenschema set down by Konrad Lorenz (1943), and supported by later research: namely, large head and small, round body; short extremities; big eyes; small nose and mouth. Whether genetic, or activated by learned signals, the cuteness response is also associated with a range of behavioral aspects, including: childlike, dependent, gentle, intimate, clumsy, and nonthreatening. Such physical and behavioral features trigger an attachment based on the desire to protect and take care of the cute object. This deterministic nature of the cute affective register is highly pertinent to humanities scholars in the way it is expressed through categories of difference such as gender, race, or class. Furthermore, the difference in status between the subject affected by cuteness, and the harmless cute object, denotes a power differential with important political and ideological implications. The appeal contained within cuteness seeks to establish a reciprocal relationship of nurturing/being nurtured, and the subject who responds to this appeal faces very different ethical obligations depending on whether the cute object is a thing, an animal, or a human being.
Possible topics for papers include the following (Note: a specific focus on the geographical region of East Asia is not required of submissions):
Cute Cultures of East Asia
Cute Commodities and Consumers of Cute: Structure vs. Agency
Cuteness and Gender
The Science of Cute
Practitioners of Cute
Cuteness and Race
Cuteness and Disability
The Cuteness of Animals/Zoomorphic Cute
The Dark Side of Cute (the grotesque, violence, pedophilia, etc.)
Digital Cute (social media, memes, etc.)
The deadline for submissions to this special issue of EAJPC is: 15 April, 2014
Please submit papers to: CuteStudies@gmail.com
Joshua Paul Dale
Editor, Special Issue on Cute Studies
Note: To aid research, an annotated (and annotatable) bibliography may be found at: