isaScience 2020: Heroes, Canons, Cults. Critical Inquiries

CFP isaScience 2020: Heroes, Canons, Cults. Critical Inquiries
12-16 August 2020
isa – International summer academy of mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria

Organisers: Dagmar Abfalter, Marko Kölbl, Rosa Reitsamer, Fritz Trümpi

Conference venue: Hotel Marienhof, Hauptstraße 71-73, 2651  Reichenau an der Rax, Austria

Coordinators: Karoline Feyertag,  Slavomíra Martišková


Further information:

Download CfP

Submission deadline: 10 March 2020

isaScience 2020 focuses on critical perspectives on heroic imaginations, cultic actions and the formation and maintenance of canons. Across musical styles and cultural spheres, heroes, cults and canons contribute to the creation of normative and exclusionary and even violent settings/stipulations, dictating what ears and eyes should deem adequate and valuable. Likewise, heroisation, cultification and canonisation define what remains unheard, unseen and regarded as unworthy.

Historically, the making of “heroes” and the processes of canon formation have been closely associated with Western art music and the celebration of certain composers as “great artists” as well as the consecration of their works as “masterpieces”. These practices employed for the production of artistic values are informed by the ideology of the autonomous artist and the increasing formation of a museal culture that developed throughout the 19th century. Moreover, these practices supported the emergence of a more strictly defined boundary between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” cultural forms and became the dominant standard by which popular and traditional music forms were evaluated. These developments are closely linked to Eurocentric, imperialist and elitist institutions such as opera houses, concert halls and music conservatoires that allowed for classed, gendered and racialized modes of producing, performing, consuming and appropriating music.

Later on, despite discursive struggles over cultural authority, the music industry  ̶  including music publishers, record company personnel, journalists and other cultural intermediaries  ̶  as well as the development of recording technology, the internet and social media have played a significant role in the definition of stardom, the making of heroes and the processes of canon formation within diverse cultural worlds, including jazz, rock/pop, hip hop, traditional music, classical music and folk music, among others. The introduction of electrical recording, for example, allowed for the availability of vernacular musics in locally specific languages and dialects, giving rise to colonial ethnographies of indigenous music. Simultaneously, this technological innovation offered colonised populations the opportunity to hear themselves, to construct musical canons and to gain a sense of identity which was necessary for anti-colonial action. More recently, individuals and groups have made use of the technologies afforded by the internet in order to document, preserve and disseminate alternative music histories and to challenge the mainstream musical canon that has traditionally marginalised artists of colour, non-western performers, female musicians and queer figures.

However, mainstream musical canons provide the raw material for the commercial music industry to make a profit, while the tourism industry builds on nostalgia and the commemoration of musical heroes, traditions and canons to actively brand and market cities or even nation states like Austria. Commemoration can result in fandom culture, possibly culminating in religious and spiritual ascriptions and cults around music and musical heroes, with some fans strongly engaging in brand communities. Moreover, commemorative cultural policies manifest themselves in monuments, archives and festivals, maintaining and reinforcing canons at the expense of innovation and diversity. In that respect, canonical usages of traditional music as normative representations of regional and national culture—as evident for example in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage lists—obscure various strata of other forms of cultural expressions, particularly those of marginalized groups.

Academic and artistic research on musical heroes and canons have frequently further reinforced dominant structures and perceptions of music, for example the image of the white male composer or the representation of certain musics as part of the world’s cultural canon, often deeply rooted in colonial imaginations and corresponding ethnographies. Feminist critiques of “founding fathers”, their followers and successors as well as investigations of how and why women get lost in canonization processes have become important discourses in the current academic debate. The heroisation of (predominantly white, cis-gendered, male) academics corresponds to the canonization processes they have induced. In ethnographic disciplines, fieldwork’s mystic aura as a heroic quest, as brave endurance promising the ultimate accolade, has added to the deification of the ethnographer as a saviour of culture.

The conference seeks to address the following thematic streams from critical perspectives with a particular focus on post-colonial, feminist, queer or class-sensitive analysis. We welcome proposals from any discipline, using any methodology and addressing any kind of music and dance, including the spheres of film and theatre. Topic proposals include but are not limited to:


  • The historical making of heroes and the processes of canon construction in diverse musical and performing arts worlds and their actors (e.g. the media, critics, nationalists, audiences)
  • Cultural imperialism and Western art music
  • Political functions of musical canons past and present (e.g. nationalism, racism)
  • The significance of canons, heroes and cults in the construction of music histories and heritage formations
  • De/re/construction of disciplinary canons relating to music and performing arts
  • Critical reflections on academic and activist efforts to inscribe female composers in the canon of Western art music
  • Racial oppression and the hegemonies of canons
  • Economic aspects of canonisation
  • The role of audiences, music journalists and critics in creating, fostering and challenging heroes, canons and cults
  • The role of sexual abuse in the construction of musical canons and stardom
  • Digital archives as tools for the pluralisation of stardom constructions and the construction of alternative music histories
  • Places of remembrance, intangible cultural heritage and musical canons
  • Museums and exhibitions as tools for the making of local heroes and the construction of musical canons
  • Music and dance in religious cults


Abstracts should include theoretical framework, methodology and a “key word” line.

Please submit your abstract in English (max. 300 words, including literature) for papers and panels as well as workshops and innovative formats, a short biography (max. 100 words) and your institutional affiliation, until 10 March 2020 to

Decisions on the acceptance of the proposals will be announced by end of April 2020.

Registration fee: € 50

isaScience 2018 “Participatory Approaches to Music & Democracy”

The conference isaScience 2018 is part of isa, the International Summer Academy of the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria.
Conference date: 10–14 August 2018

Conference venue: Hotel Marienhof, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria

Keynote: David Hesmondhalgh, Professor for Media, Music and Culture, University of Leeds, UK

Organisers: Dagmar Abfalter, Marko Kölbl, Rosa Reitsamer, Fritz Trümpi

Over the last few decades, a rich body of literature has explored how individuals and groups use music as a resource to achieve social, cultural and political participation and to bring about social change in society. 
Studies have also investigated music’s use by political groups and parties in the past and present that impose 
authoritarian, neoliberal or even fascist political ideas. Finally, research is concerned with the promise and 
myth of democratization through technology in regard to music production, distribution and reception/appropriation.

The organisers of isaScience welcome papers on music and democracy from a wide range of disciplines 
(e.g. musicology, ethnomusicology, music sociology, cultural studies, queer studies, postcolonial studies, arts and cultural management) addressing (but not limited to) the following themes and topics:

  • Music’s role for historical revolts and revolutions, for propagating national and nationalistic identities in the long 19th century or music’s use in the name of “the people” during fascist and post-fascist periods;
  • Research on performance practices of minorities and marginalised groups that challenge and subvert 
dominant norms and classifications;
  • Democratizing dimensions of orally transmitted music traditions;
  • Grassroots, “bottom-up” and Do-it-Yourself approaches to music and performance propagated by social movements;
  • Research on music and activism: e.g. activist choirs, feminist and queer performance groups, anti-racist rock groups, singer-songwriters etc.
  • Participatory forms of “musicking” (Small) in local, translocal and virtual music “scenes”;
  • Documenting and preserving the “sounds of democracy” and “hidden” popular music’s past: studies on archives, museums and halls of fame;
  • Music, migration, border regimes and exile;
  • Representations of democracy in artistic practices (e.g. composing);
  • Research on “mediamorphosis” (e.g. electrification, digitalisation) and its effects for democratization: “new” possibilities of self-representation, modes of participation for consumers, and business models in the music and media industries;
  • Notions of “epistemic violence” (Spivak) in music research.

Please submit your abstracts (max. 300 words) for papers, panels and innovative formats and 
a short biography and institutional affiliation,

in English language until 15 March 2018 to
Decisions on the acceptance of your proposal will be announced by 5 April 2018.

Complimentary funding for travel and accommodation
will be available to students and scholars in academic precarity.
Please submit your application after acceptance of your proposal to

mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna will cover lunch and coffee breaks for the conference – no registration fee.