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Not Ready to Make Nice – Power, Threats and Harassments in Popular Music

Posted: December 18th, 2019 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

30. Annual Conference of the Gesellschaft für Popularmusikforschung
Host: Popakademie Baden-Württemberg
Dates: 25. – 27. September 2020

Locations: Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim/Popakademie Baden-Württemberg, Mannheim
in cooperation with Leuphana Universität Lüneburg as well as with the Jahrestagung des Bundesverbands Musikunterricht e.V.
Organizers: Michael Ahlers / David-Emil Wickström
Theme: Not Ready to Make Nice – Power, Threats and Harassments in Popular Music

Popular music cultures always reflect current social developments and debates, sometimes even forming a burning glass under which processes and products become even more clearly visible: In the context of the #metoo debates in the film industry, it quickly became clear that, unfortunately, various misconduct and institutional cover-up processes also take place on a regular basis in the music industry and at educational institutions. These processes have arguably existed for decades within the institutional education of prospective musicians and artists worldwide (!) (Lazar 2017; Payne et al. 2018; Knobbe & Möller 2018; Kerst 2019; Bartsch et al. 2019), but also within the global music industry. What is new is that musicians now have courage to speak up, show solidarity and increasingly bring accusations against sexual assaults to the public. One outcome is that in the area of so-called art music, for example, the Maestro cult is being demystified (Johnston 2017).

At the core of the threats and assaults is the exploitation of power and its preservation (Bull 2019). To what extent the structure of conservatories in the tradition of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is stronger or equally susceptible to this than university systems is one subject of discussion.

Active processes of (physical/sexual) threat often play just as an important role as does exclusion via censorship (e.g. who may play where and when) or processes of hassling/cyber bullying – also within the status groups. Reputation is sometimes seemingly more important than morality and decency. But also more subtle (non-reflected) gestures like body contact and use of language (Josefson 2016) play a role. These power relations are not limited to the educational institutions, but are also present outside – both as a continuation of educational relations (e.g. professors on scholarships committees and in competition juries), but also in booking agencies, labels, publishers, live venues and between other actors in the music industry and state funding bodies.

Following the ideas of “new materialism” non-human actants and artificial intelligences could be understood as threats to the music industry posed by algorithms. Another group of threats in this area is the (interface) design itself which in addition to the power relations between human actors is also part of these ascriptions and processes. Examples of this are when predominantly male subjects are repeatedly (re-)created or addressed in program interfaces and in music production environment presets (Simon 2018).

Finally, the conference also explicitly welcomes research that explores how artists deal with and process experienced threats as well as critique hegemonic power relations. This not only touches the different facets of power and how these power relations and ideas are reproduced and kept alive, but also the consequences this has for music education as well as for the music industry.

The aim of the annual conference is to take these threats, which have become public especially in the recent past, as an opportunity to reflect on power relations and specific threat scenarios or experiences within popular music cultures, to discuss strategies of resistance and (self-)empowerment, and to talk about current developments and (conceivable) alliances.

Inequalities and emerging threats are recognizable on various levels. They include, for example, lines of difference such as:

  • Male/female/divers
  • Theory/Practice
  • Artist/Educator
  • Economy/Art
  • Knowledge/Status
  • Technologies and gender imbalance
  • Mind/Body
  • High-brow/Low-brow Music
  • Eurocentric canons in (admission) exams, competitions…
  • and other topics

Organizational matters

  • Academic presentations (30 min presentation + 15 min discussion)
  • Organized academic panels (90 min, 3 persons, plus 10 min discussant)
  • Artistic contribution (30 min + 15 min discussion)
  • Poster contribution

Abstracts (max. 300 words) in German or English as a Word or RTF file. Please do not mention the author within the file.

  • Include five keywords related to the presentation in the abstract (not part of the word count)
  • Short curriculum vitae (max. 100 words) in English, as separate file
  • In order to promote young academics, it is possible to add a reference that this is the “first paper” when submitting the application. Similar to the initial DFG-application, an adapted peer review process is then carried out.
  • GfPM members are as always invited to present their current research as a free contribution, independently of the conference theme.
  • Deadline for submissions: 28 February 2020
  • Double blind reviews until the end of March, a decision of acceptance will be made by 01 April 2020

Please send your abstracts to: [email protected]


Bartsch, M., Knobbe, M., & Möller, J.-P. (2019). #MeToo-Vorwürfe gegen Professoren in Hamburg und Düsseldorf – Seine Erwartungen – ‘reden, trinken, vögeln’. Spiegel Online, 26.04., https://www.spiegel.de/plus/metoo-vorwuerfe-gegen-professoren-in-hamburg-und-duesseldorf-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000163612070 (accessed 20.05.2019).
Bull, A. (2019). Class, Control, and Classical Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Johnston, J. (2017), Yes, classical music has a harassment problem – and now’s the time for change, The Guardian, 8/12. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/dec/08/jennifer-johnston-comment-classical-music-cult-of-the-maestro
Kerst, M. (2019), Missbrauch an Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie und Musikhochschule? Westdeutsche Zeitung. URL: https://www.wz.de/nrw/duesseldorf/kultur/missbrauch-an-kunstakademie-und-musikhochschule-duesseldorf_aid-38471545
Knobbe, M., & Möller, J.-P. (2018), Sex im Präsidentenbüro, Der Spiegel 20. URL: https://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/sex-skandal-an-der-musikhochschule-muenchen-a-1207253.html
Payne, C., Annetts, D. & Pohl, N. (Eds.) (2018). Dignity in study: a survey of higher education institutions. Incorporated Society of Musicians. https://www.ism.org/images/images/Equity-ISM-MU-Dignity-in-Study-report.pdf(accessed 25.07.2018).
Simon, V. (2018). Guided by Delight: Music Apps and the Politics of User Interface Design in the iOS Platform. Television & New Media, S. 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476418794634
Josefson, C. (2016). Svart pedagogik. Fokus, 27.05.–02.06.2016, 31-33, https://www.fokus.se/2016/05/svart-pedagogik/ (accessed 18.04.2019).
Lazar, K. (2017). Berklee let teachers quietly leave after alleged sex abuse, and pushed students for silence. The Boston Globe, 08.11., https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/11/08/berklee-college-lets-teachers-quietly-leave-after-alleged-sexual-abuse-students-least-one-found-another-teaching-job/yfCkCCmdJzxkiEgrQK4cWM/story.html(accessed 24.05.2019).

Seminal papers

Armstrong, V. (2011). Technology and the Gendering of Music Education. Surrey, Burlington: Ashgate.
Bishop, J. (2005). Building international empires of sound: concentrations of power and property in the “global” music market. Popular Music and Society, 28(4), 443-471.
Born, G., and Devine, K. (2015). Music Technology, Gender, and Class: Digitization, Educational and Social Change in Britain. Twentieth-Century Music 12 (02): 135-72, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s1478572215000018.
Bretthauer, B., Zimmerman, T. S., & Banning, J. H. (2007). A feminist analysis of popular music: Power over, objectification of, and violence against women. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 18(4), 29-51.
de Boise, S. (2017). Tackling gender inequalities in music: a comparative study of policy responses in the UK and Sweden. International Journal of Cultural Policy, pp. 1-14, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10286632.2017.1341497
Goßmann, M., & Seeliger, M. (2015). Männliche Strategien im deutschsprachigen Gangsta-Rap im Umgang mit weiblichem Empowerment. A. Heilmann, G. Jähnert, F. Schnicke, C. Schönwetter, & M. Vollhardt (Eds.), Männlichkeit und Reproduktion (pp. 291-307): Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.
Hess, J. (2017). Equity and Music Education: Euphemisms, Terminal Naivety, and Whiteness. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 16 (3): 15-47, http://dx.doi.org/10.22176/act16.3.15 (accessed 15.07.2019)
Heilmann, A., Jähnert, G., Schnicke, F., Schönwetter, C., & Vollhardt, M. (Eds.). (2014). Männlichkeit und Reproduktion: Zum gesellschaftlichen Ort historischer und aktueller Männlichkeitsproduktionen. Springer-Verlag.
Leibetseder, D. (2012). Queer Tracks: Subversive Strategies in Rock and Pop Music. Farnham: Ashgate.
Leonard, M. (2017). Gender in the music industry: Rock, discourse and girl power. New York: Routledge.
Minors, H. J., Burnard, P., Wiffen, C., Shihabi, Z. and J. van der Walt, S. (Eds.) (2017). Mapping trends and framing issues in higher music education: Changing minds/changing practices. London Review of Education 15 (3): 457-73, http://dx.doi.org/10.18546/lre.15.3.09
Rappaport, J. (1994). Empowerment as a guide to doing research: Diversity as a positive value. In E. J. Trickett, R. J. Watts, & D. Birman (Eds.), Human diversity: Perspectives on people in context (pp. 359-382). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.
Randall, A. J. (2004). Music, power, and politics. New York: Routledge.
Walser, R. (2015). Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown: Wesleyan University.
Whiteley, S. (2013). Sexing the groove: Popular music and gender. New York: Routledge.

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