2015 IASPM-US ANNUAL CONFERENCE: “Notes on Deconstructing Popular Music (Studies): Global Media and Critical Interventions”

by Jessica Dilday on August 15, 2014

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As the director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham, Stuart Hall (1932-2014) called for a groundbreaking critical practice that takes seriously the political heart of popular culture, “one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is the stake to be won or lost in that struggle…” From the contours of digital video’s gendered representation, to the politics of ethnicity in the recording studio, to the affect of co-movement on the dancefloor, the sounds and styles of popular music both reproduce and trouble the cultural status quo. Popular music studies itself also unfolds on contested political terrain, as we struggle to transform–rather than reproduce–pop’s place in the discourses and practices of dominant world systems.

Hall outlines a popular cultural studies that offers an intervention into established regimes of representation, and the 2015 IASPM-US conference takes up his mandate for “the deadly seriousness of intellectual work” on popular culture. In a neoliberal age in which the substance of political struggle organizes around unequal flows of global capital and the elusive politics of everyday empowerment and disempowerment, popular music studies becomes an amplifier by which the radically contested and otherwise fugitive strains of musical practice become audible. Here, the study of Black aesthetics, youth culture, disability, socioeconomic class, postcoloniality, queer identities, and Third World feminisms, among others, hangs together with attention to the textures of musical composition as well as the patterns of global media markets.

Hall locates the struggles of power in the realm of aesthetics and politics. Central to this work is a nuanced consideration of the ways in which media (for McLuhan, “any technology by which the human body is extended”) serve both to reproduce established discourses and to generate new possibilities for artistic liberation, decolonization, self-authorship, and the imagination of alternative futures. Popular music studies mobilizes an inclusive concept of media studies that acknowledges dominant global digitalities alongside subcultural, stylistic, and other “off-label” engagements with media technologies. In order to account for the breadth and depth of musical practice, the field binds together an engagement with aesthetics, the textures of technology, and the politics of difference.

The 2015 IASPM-US conference will revisit the genealogies of critique that shape popular music studies’ longstanding intervention into discourses on culture, media, and power. An approach that takes into account the radical contexts of musicmaking is key to documenting processes of empowerment and disempowerment in pop. It calls for an understanding of, in Hall’s words, “the effect of the unseen ‘work’—that which takes place out of consciousness, in the relationship between creative practice and deep currents of change.” The field honors Hall’s legacy by practicing popular music studies while simultaneously reflecting on its theoretical and critical arcs. We enthusiastically welcome proposals that creatively engage both popular music and the broader field of cultural and media studies, particularly through these key discourses:

1. Roots and Routes
While popular music studies continues to critically mine the genealogies of genres, lyrics, styles, and sounds in pop, we ask how the field can also better foster a complex, multilinear engagement with globalization, diaspora, and the mobility of musical practices. Reflexively, what continuities does pop music studies have with other modes of engaging music, culture, politics, and history, and how can attention to these strengthen critical work? Who are we as a body of scholars who converge at IASPM-US, whom does the field currently include and exclude, and who do we hope to be?

2. Defining the Struggle
What populations exist on the periphery of or fully outside dominant world systems that control the flow of money, availability of vital resources, and ease of mobility? When these populations make popular music, what does it sound like, how does it circulate, and what interventions become possible through these sounds? How has/does this music fit into the field of popular music studies? In what ways might popular music studies take up the political work of contributing to the empowerment of the subaltern?

3. A Detour through Theory
What happens when we apply Hall’s mode of conjunctural analysis–a mode of studying culture that takes into account the intersecting histories, polyvalent meanings, cultural genealogies, media technologies, politics of place and time, and other radical contexts that reverberate in a given pop genre/scene/style? How can the field of popular music studies, which so often draws from theories generated in literary studies, sound studies, gender and sexuality studies, ethno/musicology, anthropology, sociology, multicultural studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, and communication and media studies, articulate a theoretical legacy from within?

4. Pedagogy and Intervention
The demands of work in the academy and contemporary media challenge pop music scholars to balance theoretical rigor and readability that, like popular music itself, reaches wide audiences. How can intellectual work about popular music circulate in formalized, institutional settings as well as in public venues? What are the opportunities and pitfalls of the growing acceptance of popular music studies within academia? What role do popular music scholars play in light of widespread de-funding of higher education and the increasingly corporate model of university administration?

5. Digital Media and Representation
How can popular music studies engage new developments in technology and globalization both in terms of the increasing speed and thickness of their networks, and in terms of their contested, polyvalent, and problematic work in perpetuating global inequality? How do complex forms of musical communication and representation shoot up through the established regimes of representation and make space for new musical possibilities?

Please submit proposals via Word document [last name_first name.docx] to iaspmus2015@gmail.com by 15 October 2014. Individual presenters should submit a paper title, 250-word abstract, and author information including full name, institutional affiliation, email address, and a 50-word bio. Panel proposals, specifying either 90 minutes (three presenters) or 120 (four), should include both 125-word overview and 250-word individual proposals (plus author information), or 250-word overview and 50-word bios (plus names, affiliations, and email addresses) for roundtable discussions. Please indicate any audio, visual, or other needs for the presentation; each room will have sound, projector, and an RGB hookup. We also welcome unorthodox proposals that do not meet the above criteria, including ideas for workshops, film screenings, and other non-traditional formats. All conference participants must be registered IASPM-US members (it’s okay to register after one’s proposal is accepted). For membership information visit: http://iaspm-us.net/membership/. For more information about the conference, go to http://iaspm-us.net/conferences/ or send email inquiries to iaspmus2015@gmail.com.

Program co-chairs: Justin D. Burton (Rider University) and Ali Colleen Neff (College of William and Mary).
Program committee: Rebekah Farrugia (Oakland University), Luis-Manuel Garcia (Freie Universität Berlin), Anthony Kwame Harrison (Virginia Tech), Nadine Hubbs (University of Michigan), Elizabeth Lindau (Earlham College), Larisa Mann (New York University), Shana Redmond (University of Southern California), and Barry Shank (Ohio State University).

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