Echoes of Empires: Musical Encounters after Hegemony


Call for papers


IMS Regional Conference held in conjunction with the South African Society for Research in Music (SASRIM)

Department of Music, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


Echoes of Empires: Musical Encounters after Hegemony

 14-17 July 2010

In Africa, the word ‘empire’ today conjures images of foreign hegemony and subjugation. And yet, like every other part of the inhabited world, Africa has had rich and powerful empires of its own, driving processes of political and cultural hegemony. If the current world order suggests the end of the particular kind of hegemony inaugurated by the age of European expansionism in the fifteenth century and culminating in dominance by the United States in the second half of the twentieth century (our most recent ‘age of empire’), history instructs that this extended moment is but an echo of historical precedents (Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman).

Of course Empire does not only belong to the past. As Hardt and Negri (2000) and others have shown, far from going away, Empire ‘is materializing before our very eyes'. New forms of sovereignty regulate the global order: their ‘political subject’ is Empire, and it marshals global cultural and economic exchanges; it is still ‘the sovereign power that governs the world'. Even if the ‘age of empire’ as we used to know it has passed, we still need to recognize what Hardt and Negri call the ‘decentred and de-territorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm with its open, expanding frontiers'.

While recognizing the continuity of mechanisms of empire, this conference wants to focus on the changing nature of musical encounters associated with the growing scope and intensity of cultural interpenetration in our time. The energies unleashed by these circumstances are irreducibly plural. Thus, in the decolonized world the moment is marked by the problems and challenges of post-colonial awareness and affirmation. Yet ‘the moment’ of the post-colonial, as well as its manifestations, varies from Southeast Asia to Ireland to Latin America to Africa. Post-totalitarian Eastern Europe has experienced the end of Ronald Reagan’s so-called ‘Evil Empire’ in as many different ways, from the violence that convulsed the Balkans to the break-up of the Soviet Union itself. The dovetailing of a decline in American hegemony after 9/11 with the rise of a resurgent China (itself arguably in a phase of post-communist hegemony) complements the notion of hegemony being restructured rather than disappearing. In this sense, changing musical encounters in recent times are both encounters after hegemony and exploratory encounters in a new world order in which hegemony has not disappeared, but in which the known forms and conduits of hegemony have changed.

Although applicable in different ways in the creative and cultural lives of the West and the developing world, in South Africa this is strikingly demonstrated by the political end of apartheid hegemony and its succession by both new forms of African nationalism and economic dependency on global Western institutions and China. What is celebrated in the country as a new era of political freedom, could also be viewed as a rearrangement of hegemonic forces: forces that, in turn, influence, shape and produce new musical encounters. Yet, for those who have lived through the collapse of apartheid hegemony, the coming of democracy has also made possible a free exploration of more fluid musical subjectivities.

These musical encounters thus reference many different musical practices and scholarly perspectives:

•Musical embodiments of post-hegemonic energies, or of hegemonic continuities underlying politico-structural shifts;

•Music as an expression of heteronomy in the varied forms of post-colonialism, post-totalitarianism or post-9/11;

•Music historiography as (post-, counter-, or newly-) hegemonic discourse;

•Music theory and analysis as as (post-, counter-, or newly-) hegemonic discourses;

•The plurality of aesthetic tendencies in the twentieth-century up to present;

•Encounters between genres like Pop, Crossover, World music, African music, etc., in a new world order in which the fault lines of hegemony have changed;

•The encounter between critical cultural theory and musicology in shaping (counter-) hegemonic discourse;

•Musical cultures within this new global order.

Submission of papers

Please submit your paper topic to not later than 15 February 2010. Please include a short CV and an abstract of no more than 300 words in English. The language of the conference is English. You will be notified by 1 March 2010 if your topic has been accepted. The time limit for papers is 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of discussion.