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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 379S • Popular Music and Youth Subcultures

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34635 MWF
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
PAR 204

Course Description

As part of our University-directed self-assessment project, the English Department has initiated an ePortfolio program for English majors. You will be asked to submit, in electronic form, two documents--a one page essay on the English major and a copy of your final paper for the seminar. Additionally, you will be asked to complete a brief four question survey. During the semester, you will receive details from your instructor or from the English Department on completing the survey and submitting the documents on your senior seminar's Blackboard website.

Given the near-total neglect of popular music by musicology (fixated on Western classical music), the academic study of popular music has been dispersed across a number of fields, including anthropology, communications, English, history, and sociology. I propose in this course to survey the variety of serious analytical approaches to popular music, from the formalist work of musicologists (on harmony, etc.) to anthropological studies like Sara Cohen's Rock Music in Liverpool. We will take, in essence, the tripartite approach of cultural studies, by covering production (i.e., the music business), texts, and audiences. The students' interest will dictate the genres covered, whether country & western, dance music (including house, techno, and so forth), hiphop, R & B, rock and roll, or worldbeat. This will not be a "history of rock and roll" class: I'm interested not in what year Elvis emerged, but in the question of what a sophisticated (i.e., academic) critical approach has to offer followers of contemporary music-- and I should note that I'm not all that certain academics have much to offer.

Given my doubts about academic approaches to popular music, I will try to make the course of considerable utility, odd as it may sound, to the study of literature. In discussing subcultures (or audiences), for example, we will emphasize more generally the examination of the actual social uses of texts both musical and literary (along the lines of cultural studies). In paying close attention to musical form or style (especially the voice) as well, however, we will also develop a strong text-based critical approach. My own work with music criticism has led to a strong material orientation to literary language.

Grading Policy

Three 5-6-page papers, with substantial revision of the first two, culminating in an 18-to-25-page term paper 85%
Class participation (including at least one oral presentation) 15%


Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin, On Record

Excerpted works include: Simon Frith, Performing Rites, Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces, Susan McClary, Feminine Endings, Tricia Rose, Black Noise, Robert Peterson, Creating Country Music, Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Deena Weinstein, Heavy Metal


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