CfP: The Critical Imperative (Popular Music)

Special Issue of Popular Music:
“The Critical Imperative”
Guest editors: Tom Perchard (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Devon Powers (Drexel University)
Deadline: March 27th 2015

This special issue will address what we call the critical imperative: the demand that academic writing on popular music place new primacy on sounds as made and heard, and for that writing to be styled in a way that foregrounds not just its academic rigour, but also imaginative description, creative interpretation and bold evaluation.

Scholarly publishing in the humanities is held hostage by the requirement to keep its bases covered and escape routes available. This caution – often reinforced by the peer review and editorial process – can elevate word count while limiting ambition, scope and argument; too often, exhaustive qualification crowds out provocative judgment, and the weight of scholarly precedent flattens unusual interpretation. Popular music studies is not immune, and the discipline has earned its place in the university through subscription to these standards. Yet that alignment also marks a rejection of the demotic and often radicalising critical discourses through which writers, fans and players have for a century intertwined popular music’s sounds and meanings.

Meanwhile, new media have upended traditional journalistic practices and industries. The implications for professional criticism have been dire, and many music writers have sought a place in the university as a result, whether as professors, contingent labour, or students aspiring to full-time academic employment. But emerging platforms have also offered a new generation of commentators the freedom to explore popular music in new detail. Can we who work in popular music studies learn from this influx of critical nous, and take the opportunity to reconsider the field’s standards of thought, argument and expression?

Can we afford not to? Calls to prove the worth of the academic project come from funders and policy makers; they come from uninitiated readers baffled to find music they love written about in such an alien (sometimes alienating) way. Now is a good time to reassess and perhaps reshape these critical discourses.

But this is not a call for the simple translation of journalistic or blog practice into an academic context, or for the total overhaul of scholarly technique. Everyday writing can rarely observe the standards of sourcing and argumentation that gives academic work its claim to credibility and its nuance. Deep research, critical (self) reflection, sophisticated argument, accurate citation: we should celebrate these as techniques of value. Nevertheless, we imagine a new kind of academic writing is possible, one in which the rigour of scholarly practice combines with the interpretive attitude and formal experimentation found in the best popular criticism. Could authors find ways of acknowledging and working with the extant literature on their subjects without letting long reviews of that work sap their writing’s energy? Could linear narrative and cumulative argumentation be productively disturbed or fragmented? Might the exhortation to explore new kinds of expressive and descriptive vocabularies lead writers into innovative areas of thought?

We seek contributions that will take these ideas as the basis of an experiment in academic writing. Prospective authors should focus their efforts on the thoughtful criticism of music and ideas, using lively language and direct argument. We demand reading, rigour and standard source citation, but also that scholarly scaffolding does not become the construction itself. Most of all we demand that most precious of critical qualities, concision: pieces published will be no longer than 6000 words in length, including (minimal) endnotes and bibliography.

The issue editors will be Tom Perchard (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Devon Powers (Drexel University). In the first instance, abstracts of 200 words should be sent to t.perchard@gold.ac.uk by March 27th 2015. These will be reviewed by the Editors and Editorial Group of the journal, and full article contributions invited for a deadline of December 15th 2015. Articles will then be subject to peer review.

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