Summary of interests: Sociology of contemporary culture, with specific reference to the interdependence of consumption, media and sport; changes in the form and matter of racism.
Cashmore’s research centres on consumption: specifically how and what we consume, the conditions under which consumption has become a prominent – perhaps the prominent – social practice and the cultural implications of new, sometimes insidious forms of consumptive activity. These include engaging with media, sports and the entertainment industry. Cashmore’s central interest lies in the interdependence of culture, sport and consumerism and his research reflects this.
His recent title Beyond Black: Celebrity and Race in Obama’s America assesses the social and cultural impact of African American entertainers and politicians who have emerged over the past twenty years. The work extends his interest in celebrity culture, particularly the social conditions under which it emerged and developed. There is an html version of the full text available at http://bit.ly/-BeyondBlack.
Celebrity has become measurelessly important in contemporary culture: consumers are guided by people who resemble themselves but whom they do not know. Cashmore explores the fascination with celebrities and the effects of this fascination in Celebrity/Culture the second edition of which is published in a digital format as well as a traditional paper book.
The material prerequisites for the particular form of the good life offered by celebrity culture are feasible only as long as humans make themselves available to be treated as (or perhaps turned into) commodities, products than can be bought and sold on the marketplace. This has several important consequences in practically every sphere of contemporary culture. One is the reduction of everything to the same dimensions, another is the creation of a new apparatus of dependence and another is the installation of imperatives to upgrade consumer tastes and sensibilities into practically all facets of culture. Advertising is all pervasive.
The study of racism and ethnic relations occupied much of Cashmore’s empirical and theoretical research since the 1970s. He believes it is a subject that demands practical engagement as well as analysis. Even in the twenty-first century, racism remains a bedevilling problem for Britain, the USA and much of Europe. Cashmore has approached the subject in a number of ways, employing participant-observation, face-to-face interviews, focus groups, historical exposition, biography and online methods. Beyond Black is an exploration of how African American celebrities have affected the contours of race relations in the USA.
Sport has also featured prominently in Cashmore’s research portfolio. Sport’s reinvention of itself as a constituent of the entertainment industry and its migration to the centre of popular culture has occupied his attention. Cashmore’s focus has been both on the sometimes-labyrinthine connections between sport and the global media and on the ways in which sport excites thoughts and emotions in its consumers.
In practical terms, Cashmore’s recent empirical research involves the use of online methods to elicit qualitative responses. Online research typically involves survey checkbox styles and yields quantitative data. By contrast, Cashmore’s work with Jamie Cleland essays methods that incorporate elements of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Cashmore and Cleland have established a digital research platform and completed three projects (four journal articles thus far). Subjects considered taboo (on gay footballers) or inaccessible by conventional methods (views on race and ethnicity) are approachable via online methods.
Cashmore’s next challenge is to align online methods with face-to-face interviews and focus groups. Sociological research must take account of people’s propensity to communicate in several different ways.