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Department of Sociology seminar series: the status and relevance of genre in contemporary music cultures and for music sociology

Wednesday 6 October 2021, 4.00PM to 5:30pm

Speaker(s): Dr Raphaël Nowak

As a result of their integration with digital media since the turn of the 21st century, music cultures have undergone critical reconfigurations. Online media saw the emergence of new musical cultures, sometimes appropriating from established music genres, sometimes attracting attention for the originality of their aesthetics. Over the last two decades, musical styles such as breakcore, witch house, SoundCloud rap, vaporwave, UK drill and others have developed, sometimes gaining popularity beyond online niches. Open digital archives of these genres function as resources, facilitating the development of further styles. These styles are largely produced by and in various ad-hoc networks and collectives – of artists and other cultural intermediaries engaged in their dissemination (online netlabels, amateur and professional writers, listeners and users active on Bandcamp, filesharing platforms and so on). In the sociology of music, the dominant analytical tools describing these music cultures predate digital media. They namely are ‘scenes’, ‘milieus’, ‘neo-tribes’, and ‘subcultures.’How these terms differ is often discussed. However, their generative descriptive effects and their referential clarity are less frequently explored. In fact, these concepts have become academic wallpaper over time. 

In this presentation, I will make the case for genre as a cultural category that encompasses practices occurring within music cultures, but also as an analytical sociological tool to understand the constitution and contours of music cultures. I will primarily draw on research conducted with Andrew Whelan (University of Wollongong, Australia), notably on the online genre ‘vaporwave’ (Nowak and Whelan, 2018) and more recently on the concept of ‘genre work’ (Whelan and Nowak, forthcoming), and I will also gesture towards other research and cases studies (such as music taste and music streaming services) to further discuss the status and relevance of genre in contemporary music cultures and for music sociology.

About the speaker

Raphaël Nowak has joined the Sociology Department at the University of York in June 2021. Previously, he held a teaching fellowship position at the University of Bristol (UK, 2015-2016), a postdoctoral fellowship at Griffith University (Australia, 2017-2020), and a teaching and research fellowship at Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle (France, 2020-2021). His research is in cultural sociology and specifically explores issues regarding the contemporary distribution and consumption of music; cultural taste and practices; and cultural heritage. He is the author of Consuming Music in the Digital Age (2016, Palgrave), co-editor with Andrew Whelan of Networked Music Cultures (2016, Palgrave), and co-author with Sarah Baker and Lauren Istvandity of Curating Pop (2019, Bloomsbury). His work has also featured in journals such as Cultural Sociology, The European Journal of Cultural Studies, The British Journal of Sociology, The International Journal of Social Research Methodology, The International Journal of Heritage Studies, and Leisure Sciences.

Location: To be confirmed.

Admission: undergraduates, postgraduates, academics