Marxist Music Studies Now

Marxist Music Studies Now

Lecturer in music Jo Hicks gave a paper on "green Marxism" and historical musicology at the recent meeting of the American Musicological Society in New Orleans

The university is under threat from two flanks. The first is the neoliberal austerity of revenue-driven management of higher education, born of steady decreases in state support over decades, and increasingly reliant on tuition and fees paid by students. In turn, those students are taught by poorly remunerated and job-insecure contingent faculty members, in contrast to a powerful and well-compensated administrative class. The second comes from various strands within the far right, chauvinistic boosters of “Western civilization,” and crusaders against (the woefully misunderstood) “Critical Race Theory.” With a growing and alarming prevalence in public discourse, this contingent claims to rescue the academy from Leftist dogmatism but in fact seeks to preserve long-entrenched white supremacy in academia by neutralizing diversification and decolonization initiatives.

As some of the most well-known and exciting recent developments across all of the music subdisciplines have shown, these crises in higher education have been robustly approached from critical race and ethnicity, gender, disability, and critical pedagogy studies perspectives. A roundtable discussion at the recent meeting of the American Musicological Society in New Orleans sought to join this chorus by asking what a Marxist perspective can offer music studies as it navigates this dual crisis of neoliberalization and chauvinistic revanchism. Contrary to the regrettable misappropriation of Marxism as yet another flavour of abstract Eurocentric theory, the participants in this roundtable used Marxist thought to help articulate our commitments to activist scholarship and what Naomi André has called “engaged musicology.”

By asking questions guided by anti-capitalist theory and practice, we explored what Marxist critique can bring to these vital discussions in music studies today, thereby drawing connections between multiple critical conversations in our various subfields. For example, what would a Marxist-informed prioritization of labour teach us both about our work as teachers and about how the university exploits that work? How could a theorization of capitalism’s constitutive reliance on racial violence and colonial extraction support anti-racist music studies? We therefore conceived of this roundtable as a starting point for broader dialogues and as-yet underexplored alliances between engaged music scholars. The roundtable proposed a reanimation of Marxist music studies towards a non-reductive solidarity for music scholars committed to a better world.

Chair: Sumanth Gopinath (University of Minnesota)
Discussants: Eric Drott (UT Austin)
Presenters: Derek Baron (New York University), Jane Forner (University of Toronto), Jonathan Hicks (University of Aberdeen), Rachel McCarthy (Goldsmiths, University of London), Daniel Elphick (Royal Holloway, University of London), Nathan Mercieca (Cambridge University)

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