Welcome to The International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK and Ireland Branch

Music, Political Activism and the State

Posted: October 26th, 2015 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

Wednesday 13 April 2016
University of Southampton, Highfield Campus, Southampton SO17 1BJ
One-day conference sponsored by the IMR and the University of Southampton
Keynote Speaker: Professor John Street (UEA)

In this one-day conference we seek to cultivate a dialogue concerning the intersections between music, political activism and the State, both among scholars from a range of disciplines and practitioners seeking to use music to contribute to social change. Whilst the importance of musical performance to political activism has long been reflected within the scholarly literature, more remains to be said about the ways that practices of protest or activist musicianship emerge in relation to the State, as an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, as a set of bureaucratic institutions (often with conflicting interests), and as a concept which individuals construct in everyday and official discourse. Particularly deserving of further attention are the ways that States – as legal institution and socially negotiated concept – may condition and create possibilities for creative musical practice.

In this conference, we aim to stimulate a cross-disciplinary debate addressing a number of important questions relating to this topic:

  • How do protest musicians represent the State within their performances, and how may this relate to their own sense of marginality in relation to it?
  • In what ways may the so-called “conspiracy theories” that often result from State opacity create possibilities for creative responses in music?
  • Moving beyond the notion of musical performance as protest, how may the practice of music be seen to contribute to the formation of activist communitiesseeking to undermine State control?
  • How has music contributed to, reflected upon and contested historical processes of State formation, and what insights into internal contradictions among State actors may be gleaned from the study of musical practice?
  • How have politically engaged musicians used creative practice to challenge, undermine or reinforce State legitimacy, and what kinds of practical relationships between musicians and State institutions underpin these forms of expression?
  • Conversely, how may musical performance function as a social practice within so-called “stateless societies”, as well as “failed states”?
  • Finally, taking into account the disjunction between the intimacy and exclusivity often adhering to musical performance and the construction of State power as indiscriminate and universal, how can we adequately research and represent the relationships between States and musicians?


Contributions are invited from researchers working in musicology, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, anthropology, politics, sociology and related disciplines, as well as from musicians and activists. We welcome 20-minute papers or shorter presentations for panel discussion addressing the conference themes. We particularly wish to encourage proposals involving small-scale live musical performance.

Please submit a 250-word abstract, a short biographical note (including name, affiliation/independent scholar, e-mail) to [email protected] by 1 December 2015. Authors of accepted abstracts will be notified by 5 January 2016.

Funding is available to support travel expenses for contributing Early Career Researchers without access to alternative funding residing within the United Kingdom and Ireland. Please email Andrew Green at [email protected] as soon as possible indicating requirements and interest.

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