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AMS Boston 2019, Seminar 2

Musical Autonomy and Forms of Resistance

Co-Convenors: Sarah Collins and Martin Scherzinger

Participants are warmly invited for this seminar scheduled for AMS Boston 2019. Proposals for papers that consider the topic as outlined below should be submitted via the proposal submission form, available at the AMS website after 15 December 2018. (Deadline: 15 January 2019). See the Seminar FAQ for more information

Music has long been associated with expressions of resistance. It has been used to reinforce modes of political protest and has accompanied assertions of identity and difference. In these contexts, music seems intimately bound up with social change—it is enmeshed in worldly affairs. While these types of resistance involve divergent agendas historically, their scholarly study within current musicology tends to proceed from a particular ethical mode of resistance, arising from an interest in promoting equality, recognition, individual agency, and perspectives attuned to anticolonial imperatives. In this scholarly climate, any claim that music may stand aloof from worldly affairs and structural conditions—namely claims regarding music’s ‘autonomy’—tend to provoke scepticism. Yet recent shifts in the global political landscape have seen a co-option of some of the forms of resistance associated with these values, to distinctly divergent ends. This shift requires us to re-configure the critical strategies of our scholarship, seeking out non-normative approaches that work against easy consensus, and which resist co-option.

Extending upon recent attempts to excavate the history and ongoing critical potential of aesthetic autonomy more broadly, this seminar aims to explore its implications for the task of a twenty-first century musical scholarship. It asks, what can we learn from music’s capacity to subvert processes of rationalization associated with the market, politics, professionalisation and disciplinarity? What does it mean for us to be alive to music’s social embeddedness while also remaining open to its aesthetic irreducibility? How do we work against music’s tendency toward mystification while at the same time harnessing the modes of detachment and disaffiliation that it models as a critical mode—namely as a mode of resistance? This seminar topic is timely in both political and disciplinary terms, and it will serve to consolidate an emerging critical mode of scholarship.


Abbate, Carolyn. 2017. ‘Overlooking the Ephemeral’. New Literary History 48.1: 75-102.

Anderson, Amanda. 2006. The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Borio, Gianmario. 2014. ‘Musical Communication and the Process of Modernity’. In Round Table: Modernism and its Others. Journal of the Royal Musical Association 139.1: 178-83.   

Born, Georgina. 2017. ‘After Relational Aesthetics: Improvised Music, the Social, and (Re)Theorizing the Aesthetic’. In Improvisation and Social Aesthetics. Georgina Born, Eric Lewis and Will Straw (eds). 33-58. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Cheng, William. 2016. Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Clarke, David. 2007. ‘Musical Autonomy Revisited’. In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction. Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (eds). 159-70. NY and London: Routledge.

Currie, James. 2009. ‘Music After All’. Journal of the American Musicological Society 62.1: 145-203.

Elkins, James (ed). 2013. Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Elliott, Jane, and Derek Attridge. 2011. ‘Theory’s Nine Lives’. In Theory After ‘Theory’. Jane Alliott and Derek Attridge (eds). 1-16. London and New York: Routledge.

Felski, Rita. 2011. ‘Context Stinks’. New Literary History 42: 573-91.

Galand, Joel. 1995. ‘The Turn from the Aesthetic’. Current Musicology 58: 79-97.

Gallope, Michael. 2017. Deep Refrains: Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gallope, Michael and Brian Kane (eds). 2012. ‘Colloquy: Vladimir Jankélévitch’s Philosophy of Music’. Journal of the American Musicological Society 65.1: 215-56.

Latour, Bruno. 2004. ‘Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern’. Critical Inquiry 30.2: 225-48.

Levitz, Tamara. 2017. ‘Absolute Music as Ontology or Experience’. British Journal of Aesthetics 57.1: 81-4.

Scherzinger, Martin. 2004. ‘The Return of the Aesthetic: Musical Formalism and Its Place in Political Critique’. In Beyond Structural Listening?: Postmodern Modes of Hearing. Andrew Dell’Antonio (ed). 252-77. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Zangwill, Nick. 2015. Music and Aesthetic Reality: Formalism and the Limits of Description. New York: Routledge.