“Musical Feelings and Affective Politics” CFP for Culture, Theory and Critique

deadline for submissions: 
February 1, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Culture, Theory and Critique

“Musical Feelings and Affective Politics”
CFP for Culture, Theory and Critique
Guest Editors: Nicole Reisnour and Anaar Desai-Stephens

We invite article submissions for inclusion in a special issue of Culture, Theory and Critique (April 2020) on the topic of “Musical Feelings and Affective Politics.”

Over the past two decades, scholars across the humanities and social sciences have highlighted affect as a crucial dimension of political life. This special issue argues that music - as sound and as practice - has an important role to play in this evolving academic conversation. Although music can and does carry symbolic meanings, people are commonly drawn to music because of how it makes them feel. Moreover, these feelings have exceptional potency, enabling the emergence of new subjectivities, social collectives, and political imaginaries. This special journal issue thus offers three important interventions. Firstly, it proposes the term “musical feelings” as an inclusive conceptual framework for examining the myriad sensations and stories that endow music with social efficacy. Secondly, it draws attention to the political projects that musically mediated affects both augur and facilitate. Thirdly, it highlights the insights that musical ethnography can offer in the larger conversation on affect.

Our inquiry into musical feelings pushes beyond overdrawn distinctions - between emotion and affect, subjectivity and materiality, signification and intensity - to allow for a more encompassing investigation of music’s world-making potential. In highlighting the affective dimensions of music, we contend that music acts on bodies and subjectivities in ways that are not reducible to symbolic mediation. However, fully understanding how music shapes social worlds requires attention to the processes by which affects become tethered to particular narratives, identities, imaginaries, and projects. Taking seriously William Mazzarella’s critique of what he calls “the fantasy of immediation,” the ideological fiction of an authentic domain of experience that exists prior to social processes of mediation, we build on recent anthropological and ethnomusicological writings that have sought to study affect, subjectivity, and signification relationally, rather than in isolation from one another (Gill 2016; Gray 2013; Mazzarella 2009; Navaro-Yashin 2012; White 2017). Tracing musical feelings as they circulate and surface across the registers of bodily sensation and discursive signification and between public and private realms, this issue will illustrate the recursive way in which sensory experiences beget narratives about the world which, in turn, (in)form ways of acting and being.

In focusing on the political possibilities afforded by musical feelings, we draw inspiration from recent anthropological research that has highlighted the social utility of affect. Following on Brian Massumi’s claim that affect holds the key to a critical rethinking of the workings of power, anthropologists have shown how the production, circulation, and management of affect lend support to a broad range of social projects (Hirschkind 2006; Kunreuther 2014; Mazzarella 2013; Muehlebach 2011; Rudnyckyj 2010). As a medium in which the affective register is central, music is a particularly effective site for the construction, implementation, and animation of political projects and ideologies. Following musicians and other social actors as they work to manipulate, manage, and commodify musical feelings, this issue will draw attention to the work that musical feelings do in creating space for new subjectivities, social formations, and structures of power. In line with scholars exploring affective cultural formations, we argue that musically-mediated affects allow for the sensing of political possibilities well before movements, institutions, and ideologies are ever articulated or instantiated (Berlant 2011; Cvetkovich 2012). Closely tracking musical feelings as they circulate through sounds, images, words, and bodies, our fine-grained analysis that cuts across registers and sites allows us to glimpse emergent political possibilities and moments of political becoming. In this way, our attention to musical feelings probes the increasingly diffuse line between “the political” and “the social” to question the very boundaries of what counts as political action. Responding to the call to “reapply theory to emerging horizons of affect’s evolving arisings and appropriations,” we draw attention to music, that most potent and profound realm of cultural life, and the affective political work it makes possible (White 2017).


For this special issue, we seek papers that will contribute to the investigation and theorization of musical feelings through ethnographic research at the intersection of music, affect, and politics. Proposed articles may utilize a range of analytical framings, disciplinary perspectives, methodological approaches, and geographical locations. We are particularly interested in work that emphasizes circulation and transformation to help us re-think the very boundaries of “music,” “affect,” and “politics,” as well as papers that expand accepted notions of what constitutes political action. Final articles should be 6,000-8,000 words and be of interest to the journal’s interdisciplinary audience.

Interested individuals should submit an abstract of no more than 350 words to ADesai-Stephens@esm.rochester.edu by February 1st, 2019.

Proposals for articles: February 1st, 2019
Notification of acceptance: February 14th, 2019
Manuscript due for internal review: July 1st, 2019
Articles sent for external peer review: September 20th, 2019
Revised articles: December 6th, 2019
Publication: April 2, 2020