Words, Music and Marginalisation 6th Biennial Conference of the Forum of the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMAF)

deadline for submissions: 
March 27, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Forum of the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMAF)
contact email: 

1-3 September 2020
University of St Andrews
United Kingdom

Keynote Speaker: Prof Alexander G. Weheliye (Northwestern)

The Forum of the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMAF) invites contributions, including 20-minute conference papers, performances and presentations in alternative formats, on the theme of Words, Music and Marginalisation for its 6th Biennial Conference at the University of St Andrews on 1–3 September 2020. We welcome contributions from all colleagues, irrespective of career stage or institutional affiliation, and from any disciplinary background (including but not limited to Modern Languages, Musicology, English, Film Studies, Theatre and Performance Studies, History, Classics).

Topics might include:

-        theorising or challenging concepts of ‘marginalisation’, ‘marginal’ or the ‘margins’ in word and music studies

-        marginalisation on grounds of gender, sexuality, religion, race or ethnicity, disability, age or other characteristics in writing about music or the wider culture around music

-        the structures of marginalisation in the music industry or in scholarship on words and music

-        strategies in writing and music to expose, protest or combat marginalisation

-        the use of music in writing, film or TV dealing with themes of marginalisation

-        the use of words, lyrics or other forms of writing in music to address forms of marginalisation

Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to Tom Smith (St Andrews) at tas3@st-andrews.ac.uk by 27 March 2020. More information will be posted on our website: wmaf2020.wordpress.com.

How has music been part of community building or world-making for people marginalised by their societies?

How do music industries exclude or discriminate against certain writers, musicians, artists or styles?

How do musicians, writers and other artists expose, combat or refuse the structures that would marginalise them?

How useful is the idea of margins/periphery vs. centre/mainstream?

How does our work on words and music change when we centre it around work by queer artists, artists of colour, artists with disabilities and other voices historically excluded from canons and bibliographies?

‘All today’s journalism is nothing more than a giant inertia engine to put the brakes on breaks, a moronizer placing all thought on permanent pause, a futureshock absorber, forever shielding its readers from the future’s cuts, tracks, scratches. Behind the assumed virtue of keeping rhythm mute, there is a none-too-veiled hostility towards analyzing rhythm at all.’

These words from Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun (1998) express frustration with how writing on music marginalises dance music, electronic music and especially music centred not around song, melody or harmony, but around rhythm. Eshun’s pioneering book on electronic music and Afrofuturism engages with these marginalising processes in two ways. He focuses on how certain forms of music have been marginalised because their artists are Black, because they are driven by rhythms not words, and because they are made by collectives and computers rather than individual stars. But he also shows how writers and musicians have used music to expose, protest and refuse the societal forces that marginalise them.

Work on ‘marginalisation’, ‘marginal’ voices and the ‘margins’ of society have, somewhat ironically, become central to work on music and the wider cultures around it. On the one hand, this work has been – and has to be – about calling out the structures that Eshun so wryly decries in his book. On the other, Eshun and other pioneers in the 1990s like Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Kramer and Susan McClary have explored how artists use different styles of classical and popular music to explore alternative visions of society and identity. More recently, writers like Falu Bakrania, Gayatri Gopinath, Jack Halberstam, Kara Keeling, José Esteban Muñoz and Alexander Weheliye have proposed new ways of learning from these practices, contesting the idea that these visions are ‘marginal’ in the first place.