Call for Proposals

Liminality & Borderlands

International Association for the Study of Popular Music, US Branch

2013 Annual Conference

Austin, Texas, February 28 – March 3, 2013

Crossover stars, vampires and zombies, gender-bending divas and divos, international sensations who truck cultural ideas across borders: popular music and culture are full of performers and characters who move through and effectively occupy zones of “in-betweenness,” carrying signifiers of more than one identity at a time while fully embodying none. In light of the many pop culture projects that inhabit these less-definite stations and/or spread across and blur boundaries, the 2013 IASPM-US Conference in Austin, TX, will explore the ideas of liminality & borderlands in popular music, focusing on those things (artists, genres, textures, developments, etc.) that are “neither” and “both” at the same time.

Whereas liminality’s temporal underpinnings index as a processual transition betwixt what has been and what is yet to come, the notion of borderlands (exemplified by the work of Gloria Anzaldúa) attends to the dynamic and tangible spaces that exist between binaries and geographies. Both concepts challenge norms by unsettling accepted practices and conventions, but can also serve as bases for disenfranchisement, preventing groups from forming the sort of cohesive, affirmative identities that emerge from traditions and shared histories. In-betweenness can function as a position of emancipatory release or an intermediate zone of structured initiation. Thus, depending on one’s experience, both the process and state of straddling border(s) may be characterized primarily by either lack or abundance. The 2013 IASPM-US conference will consider a variety of the possible motivations and ramifications of liminality and existing at the borderlands. The following ideas represent topics that may be explored at the conference, but we anticipate and encourage many more approaches to liminality & borderlands and will consider any topic on popular music for inclusion on the program:

Inter-mediate(d) Identities: As performers and audiences seek out unique experiences of music, they often find themselves at the border of many different genre distinctions without fully belonging to any one. Some musicians, like MIA, play at international boundaries, existing in many spaces at once while risking being misunderstood. Still others—Lady Gaga, Elvis Presley, LMFAO—work with racial and gender signifiers that suspend them between traditionally constructed groups, expanding both their mobility and their vulnerability. In what ways do musicians and listeners construct multiple, overlapping identities through popular music? How are these identities critiqued, ratified, or sometimes even created by the mainstream? How do the political, aesthetic, and commercial aspects of music performance intersect in material ways that are lived out in and on the body?

Emergent Performances: As a form of expression, music performance is necessarily liminal, with intention and interpretation always dynamically moving among all participants in a communicative web. Through performance, artists are transformed and audiences lose themselves in the spatial and temporal liminality it engenders. How do we understand performance as on the one hand multivalent and on the other nascent? How can we study popular music as an emergent practice? And what does it sound like when framed this way? What are the unique roles that listeners and performers play in the in-between spaces of performance? When musicians discuss their performances, do they tend to understand what they’re doing more as emergent or fixed? What roles are played by technology to encourage us to understand music as either emergent or fixed?

Methodologies and Pedagogies in Progress:Popular music studies is a relatively new field, and its boundaries and practices are in constant negotiation. When considering liminality & borderlands in popular music, it seems helpful to also think about the “in-betweenness” of popular music in the academy and in public discourse. How does our experience of popular music translate in our methodologies and teaching? How does popular music studies interact with its border disciplines in the academy? How do scholars navigate the boundary between “popular” and “classical,” and how do popular and classical music studies inform one another? As a nascent discipline, should popular music studies seek definitive methodologies or choose instead to remain at the borderlands?

Pastiche and Layered Meanings:One hallmark of postmodern style is pastiche, and popular music—from mashup artists to singers who incorporate unexpected genre markers in their music—includes a variety of instances of stylistic agglomeration and intertextual reference, resulting in sounds that reside at the borders of music genre-fication without fitting neatly into any particular category. This sort of liminality represents a move away from clear definition toward blurrier boundaries. Practices like signifyin(g) also upset the notion of definitively grasping music by allowing many different possible interpretations at once. What do we make of music that chooses ambiguity as its own end? How do we account for multiple meanings and interpretations afforded by liminal practices of signification? How do we fit our understanding of this sort of “in-betweenness” into the postmodern critiques of pastiche and capital?

Industry at the Crossroads:Popular music has long been tied to the demands and needs of the marketplace, with various entertainment industries influencing the ways music has been produced, distributed, mediated, and consumed. In past decades, for example, corporate conglomerates have helped define the accepted boundaries and practices of musical genres and subgenres, styles and substyles. While participants and observers have long contested these borders (and their perceived dominance), they have recently become increasingly porous and fractured as new technologies and business models emerge. How do musicians, mediators, and listeners navigate these new in-between spaces of production and consumption? In what ways might participants strategically seek liminal spaces or borderlands for their commercial musicking? How do we relate these new market realities to previous narratives that often assumed a monolithic, undifferentiated popular music mainstream?

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 The United States branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music is situated on the cutting edge of popular music studies and has remained an important part of the popular music landscape since the early 1980s. Over the years, our Annual Conference has nurtured stimulating intellectual, professional, and musical exchanges, not to mention countless scholarly collaborations and partnerships. We are excited to carry this tradition into our 2013 conference, hosted by the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas, in the beautiful and immanently musical city of Austin.

This year’s conference program committee includes Anthony Kwame Harrison (Virginia Tech), Justin D Burton (Rider), Kevin Fellezs (Columbia), Elias Krell (Northwestern), Andrew Mall (DePaul), Katherine Meizel (Bowling Green), Karl Hagstrom Miller (University of Texas), and Ali Colleen Neff (University of North Carolina).

Deadline for proposals is Thursday, November 1. Please submit proposals to Individual presenters should submit a paper title, 250-word abstract, and author information including full name, institutional affiliation, email address and a one-page c.v.  Panel proposals, specifying either 90 minutes (three presenters) or 120 (four), should include both 125-word overview and 250-word individual proposals (plus author information), or 250-word overview and 50-word bios (plus email addresses and vitae) for roundtable discussions. Please send abstracts and vitae as separate MSWord attachments. All conference participants must be registered IASMP-US members. For membership information visit: For more information about the conference, go to or send email inquiries to Anthony Kwame Harrison, program committee chair, at

See you in Austin!


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