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

Rock, Activism and Liberation (1950-2020)

Posted: April 18th, 2024 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | Comments Off on Rock, Activism and Liberation (1950-2020)

International conference organised by Jean-Christophe Aplincourt, Pascal Dupuy and Joann Élart
Université de Rouen Normandie, GRHis – Le 106
12-14 March 2025

In the collective consciousness, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) represents the embodiment of a musician fighting social and economic injustices. One of the most renowned singers of the first half of the twentieth-century, Guthrie, in a testament to his conviction of the power of music and lyrics, inscribed on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists.” John Steinbeck even associated him with the spirit of freedom and resistance that animates the American people. The reality, as revealed to us by his biographers, suggests a musician whose progressive ideological commitment needs to be partially tempered. Nevertheless, despite his ambiguities, he represents a singer who, through his words, courageously expressed his convictions against oppression and in favor of freedom of expression. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for rock fans, he was the artist who inspired Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen in the United States and Joe Strummer (known as Woody during his pre-Clash years) in the United Kingdom, three emblematic figures of the politically engaged musician of the last third of the twentieth century. Similarly, though more discreetly, there have been a number of bands / singer-songwriters who have displayed support for right-wing and/or extremist ideologies. A tradition of political commitment from various ideological perspectives animates rock music and can be traced back to individual charismatic musicians from the past. This tradition is constantly being reified, renewed, and reshaped by new generations of musicians.

Political activism in songs is obviously not a new phenomenon. From the ballads of the Middle Ages through to the songwriters of the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries, various crises (wars, revolts, uprisings, revolutions) inspired the creation of music that was like a weapon, utilized by activists and feared by authorities. Rock music and all its variations have also never been immune from political discourse, even if in the case of a genre born in the early 50s, it has occasionally appeared naïve or rather superficial. Similarly, in recent decades this political awareness has been transformed into a device for empowerment, raising awareness on many fronts, from the defense of a number of major environmental causes to the fight against sexual, social, political and economic injustice on a global scale. The objective of this conference is to take a closer look at the various forms of activism and empowerment of rock and contemporary music performers, through their work, their positions and their career, focusing in particular on activism based on a desire for liberation and in opposition to ideological, social, economic, cultural or religious norms. These topics will be addressed within a broad chronology, from the aftermath of the Second World War to the present day, through all types of music that fall within the loose definition of “rock”, and on the basis of deliberately interdisciplinary approach. Proposals from historians, sociologists, musicologists and political scholars are particularly welcome. Proposals must address one of the following predefined topics:

Theme 1. Creation, activism and emancipation

At its inception, rock music was decidedly apolitical. However, beginning with the political turmoil of the 1960s and continuing to the present, bands and singer-songwriters have tackled controversial topics and engaged actively in the cultural conflicts, social causes, and political battles of their day. The papers in this section will interrogate the positions adopted by musicians through their statements, music, and activism with regard to contemporary controversial issues; artists who became generational spokespersons; and music and musicians that became counter-cultural touchstones.

Theme 2. Promoting activism

Papers in this section will focus on venues for music and activism. More specifically, papers will address concerts and festivals as platforms for promoting activism and expressing empowerment, and solidarity. These spaces of communion brought together artists and their audiences in support of particular causes and shared values.

Theme 3. Activism and protest

The second aspect of public activism involves protest concerts and rallies. In addition to humanitarian causes, artists can also take part in major protest events. The artists’ notoriety helps to publicize the struggle or to legitimize their beliefs to a wider community. In addition to the organization of these events, the causes and the role of the artists – a whole range of issues that could be the subject of communications – this section welcome papers on international organizations (UNICEF, UN, Amnesty International, etc.) for whom these major media concerts become an extraordinary mass communication tool and a means of federating or attracting new supporters.

Theme 4. Empowerment and cultural sector

What are the effects of a song or concert on personal liberation? How does one become involved in supporting a cause and how is the activism of an artist and/or their audience generated? Does the cultural sector promote these emancipatory impulses or, on the contrary, does it seek to normalize, appropriate or erase them?

This section will address issues relating to radio, television, cinema, the press, record companies, social networks, advertising, etc. In an attempt to gauge the attitudes of the above to activism and empowerment, the following questions are amongst the many that can be asked: how does the cultural sector serve a cause or, on the contrary, manipulate it? What role have records companies played in the ideological disputes that emerged over the last fifty years.

Conditions of Registration

Proposals should be sent in either French or English before 30 June 2024 and addressed to Pascal Dupuy ([email protected]) and Joann Élart ([email protected]). They should include the paper’s title, a brief abstract (1000 characters maximum), and a short bibliography (500 characters maximum).

Papers accepted by the scientific committee will have to be presented in French or in English.

Unfortunately, we are unable to cover travel expenses (special conditions will be granted to doctoral students), but meals and accommodation will be provided for all participants.

MORE INFOS : https://grhis.univ-rouen.fr/grhis/?event=aac-cfp-rock-engagements-et-emancipations-1950-2020