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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.

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