Section 001, MW 1-2:50 pm, HHH 230    

    Office: HHH 425,  Office Phone: (715) 836-4369
    Office Hours: MW, 3-4 pm and 7:20-7:50 pm, as well as By Appointment



    I conceive this course as an advanced introduction to: 1.) bringing key concepts from critical theory to bear in making sense of contemporary popular music and 2.) approaching popular music from the vantage point of cultural studies–i.e.,  making sense of popular music within the context of particular cultures, subcultures, scenes, and styles.


    According to ethnomusicologist Kay Kaufman Shelemay, writing at the beginning of her popular textbook introduction to ethnomusicology, Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World (2nd Edition, New York: Norton, 2006), music can be defined as “the purposeful organization of the quality, pitch, duration, and intensity of sound” (4) and “as organized sound that is meaningful within a specific place and time.”  After positing these two broad definitions of music, Shelemay continues, “we must understand what sounds people select and how they define music.”  In other words, music becomes meaningful, taking on distinct form and exerting distinct impact, within particular “soundscapes,” and it is situated in this kind of context that music becomes available as a subject for critical theoretical inquiry.  A “soundscape” refers to the result of a complex intersection among a broad array of shaping factors in constituting a spatially and temporarily particular sonic environment.  A “musical soundscape,” therefore, involves an interconnected array of elements that collectively result in a purposeful organization of the quality, pitch, duration, and intensity of sound such that this becomes meaningful to a specific group of people at a specific place and time.  The aforementioned shaping elements operating to form a musical soundscape include all of the following–and more:

1.)  Physical characteristics of sound and of sound instruments and technologies.

2.)  The physiology and psychology of reception and response to particular articulations of sound.

3.) Conventional (and non-conventional) forms, patterns, textures, styles, means, and media for organizing, expressing, communicating, and sharing sound.

4.)  Economic, social, political, and historical characteristics of the locally particular expanse of space and of the locally particular duration of time in which the ‘musicking’ in question takes place–as well as the economic, social, political, and historical characteristics of this specific spatio-temporal location’s interrelations with other times and other places.  [‘Musicking’ refers to music as activity in multiple senses–e.g., actively making music, actively responding to and relating to music, and actively engaging with and making use of music.]

5.)  Philosophical, including ethical and aesthetic, as well as religious, spiritual, and other ideological frameworks directing how to make sense of and respond to particular organizations and articulations of sound at particular times and in particular spaces.


6.) Interconnections between specific articulations of organized sound and a host of social functions and activities–including, for example, signification, memory, dance, ritual, securing and re-securing of terms of identity, structuring and restructuring of everyday life, marking out the extraordinary or the unusual from the ordinary and the everyday, and aiding and inspiring work and struggle for change.  

     In this course, “Critical Studies in Contemporary Popular Music Cultures,” we seek to make sense of the meaning, value, and significance of music in specific cultural contexts.   This means we here explore music as a powerful dimension of specific cultures in two principal directions:

1.)  First, as it is formed and constituted by conditions of possibility and forces of generation operating from within–and across–these cultures,


2.) Second, as it contributes substantially, in turn, a.) not only toward determining the nature of the lived experience of conditions of existence prevailing for those who participate within these cultures, b.) but also toward maintaining, reproducing, reshaping, and transforming the fundamental structures of these cultures.   

In other words, we focus on making sense of what music means–and does–for people as part of distinct cultures.  And given the inclusion of “popular” in the title of the course we are focusing, even more precisely, on what music means when it exercises substantial appeal–and becomes a highly significant dimension of life-experience, as well as  life-practice–for a broad array of people.  “Popular” directs us away from focus on music made by and for a narrow caste who maintain highly advanced knowledge and training in elite and restrictive forms and styles.  It also directs us away from a focus on music involving rigidly fixed divisions between musical performance on the one hand and musical reception on the other hand.  In addition, “popular” means that we focus on music as representation, expression and communication of (at least prospectively) commonly shared interests, concerns, needs, desires, hopes, and fears.  And, following directly from the last point, “popular” means we focus away from music as representation, expression, and communication of interests, concerns, needs, desires, hopes, and fears only shared by–and for that matter often only intelligible to–a narrow social, intellectual, or artistic elite.  

    Beyond our focus on the “popular” this course also focuses on the “contemporary,” and of course this is another difficult term to pin down in any precise way, as it is even more obviously elastic in its relativity than “popular.”  Yet for those working within the emerging field of popular music studies, “contemporary” tends to mean one of four things: 1.)  Post-World War II; 2.)  From the 1960s onward, 3.) From the mid-1970s onward; and 4.) From the beginnings of the ‘Rock Era’ onward.  We will work with all four of these conceptions of “contemporary” at various points in this course, especially the last three.

    At the same time, however, as editors Andy Bennett, Barry Shank, and Jason Toynbee write in their “Introduction” to The Popular Music Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2006), popular music studies itself maintains a long pre-history, dating well before 1945, and also frequently enough, especially as the field continues rapidly to grow, engages with popular musics–and musickings–taking place in many distant times at many different places across the globe.  With the emergence of rock music, and especially of a generation of scholars who themselves came of age after rock had clearly established itself as a globally dominant–and indeed economically, socially, politically, and culturally overwhelming–force, contemporary popular music studies began to emerge, at least in the UK and the US, in the mid-1970s, in conjunction with the simultaneous emergence of cultural studies, popular culture studies, and postmodern critical theory.  Moving forward thirty to thirty-five years later, as Bennett, Shank, and Toynbee indicate, “popular music studies has now emerged as a globally established and multi-disciplinary field,” encompassing the work of scholars from all of the following academic areas and more: musicology and ethnomusicology, anthropology, sociology, media and cultural studies, politics, linguistics, history, and English.  And, not surprisingly therefore, the range of focuses of interest as well as approaches toward these subjects operating across this field of scholarship is widely heterogeneous.  Popular music studies engages with all of the following areas of interest–and more: the economics and politics of the music industry, textual and discourse analysis, audience and reception studies, studies of forms of musical production and dissemination, music and performance, music venues and fora, studies of music scenes, studies of music-making practices, music and technology/music and technological development and innovation, music-making practices and the law, music and (specific) subcultures or (neo)tribes, music and diaspora, music and globalization, music and hybridization, music in everyday life, music and other forms of media, music and other forms of art, music and/as politics, music and/as ideology, music of protest and resistance, music and social change, music and race, music and ethnicity, music and nationality, music and gender, music and sexuality, and music and class.  In sum, this is an exciting, still emergent field full of possibilities for you too to contribute in innovative, influential, and compelling ways.  I don’t expect that anyone enrolled in this course necessarily maintains any prior knowledge or experience working within the intellectual field of popular music studies, but I do expect that all of you maintain plenty of other knowledge and experience–including of popular music, as listeners and performers and beyond–that means you are, each and every one of you, well prepared to begin to work within this field, and to do impressive work at that.


    We will begin the course, after an initial period of introduction and orientation, by first reading and discussing selections from Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World that introduce us to some basic concepts in music theory and ethnomusicology concerned with ‘listening to music’: what is a soundscape?, the materials of music, the study of local musics, and music’s meaning in everyday life.  From there we will turn to This is Your Brain on Music, which will help us deepen our understanding of what is music from pitch to timbre as well as in terms of rhythm, loudness, and harmony, while also exploring what makes for musical expertise, and why people have responded so intensely and vitally to music, across the entire scope of known human history.  After that, working with Cultures of Popular Music, we will trace the rise of popular music in the West from the early years of rock ‘n roll, through the 1960s and the impact of the ‘counterculture’, through heavy metal, and on through punk.  Building on the last, we will next study how homocore (or queer punk) developed both out of and in opposition to mainline punk, including by considering how homocore engages with particular issues of–and in fact serves as a means and medium–of glbt struggle for social freedom, justice, and equality.  After that, Popular Music in Theory provides us a comprehensive introductory overview of consensual understandings and major divisions, within popular music studies scholarship, over how to make sense of key concepts in the following major areas: popular music audiences, popular music industries, mediations and popular music, identities and popular music, histories and popular music, geographies and popular music, and politics and popular music.  Then, after Popular Music in Theory, we will engage with Mat Callahan’s provocative critique of ‘The Trouble with Music’ today, and follow that up with Wendy Fonarow’s likewise provocative theorization of what ‘Indie’ means, especially for indie audiences, particularly in a British context (yet with plenty of room for extrapolating and reflecting back on connections with ‘indie scenes’ here in the US).  Next, we will engage the history of popular musical forms and styles where the DJ has been pivotal, moving from reggae through hip hop to disco to hi-energy to garage to house to techno to acid house and to subsequent developments in electronic dance music.  Last up, before student project presentations, we will turn to Sound Unbound, edited by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, where we explore cutting edge thinking and creating in the area of digital music and culture.  Finally, over the course of the last three weeks, students will present excerpts from their final projects in progress to the rest of the class, where we can all help out with constructive critique.


    As I expect has been the case for most if not all of you as well, music has long occupied a central place in my life.  I experience music as exercising immense power:

1.)  The power not only to express and communicate but also, and ultimately much more than this, to literally embody our aspirations for a better world and for a better relationship with the larger world, with each other, and with ourselves.

2.)  The power to reflect, to remember, to witness, to testify, to recreate, to imagine, to fantasize, to question, to challenge, to critique, to protest, to incite, and to inspire.

3.) The power to constitute a preeminent mode of collective knowing, feeling, believing, and understanding.  

4.) The power to serve as indispensable means and medium of experience and engagement with life’s vitality.   

5.) The power to help us grasp the essence of our being–in motion and interconnection.

What’s more, as I experience it, music may not be capable, in and of itself, of changing the world for the better (and then again it may be so capable), but it certainly seems eminently capable of encouraging us, inspiring us, and provoking us to work and struggle to do so.  And sometimes, music simply makes it possible to dream of better days, to pick myself up and move on, or to feel emotions all the more meaningfully (including, cathartically, the incredibly sad and the brutally painful), providing what no other outlet allows me, and thereby helping immensely in making life seem worthwhile in ways that otherwise it does not.  Perhaps my life has indeed been ‘saved by rock ‘n roll’, and, perhaps the opportunity to work closely with music, especially as a dj, has in turn ‘saved my life’ and given me the hope, strength, and resilience to feel like it’s all ultimately worthwhile, no matter what comes.

    Whether you experience the power of music in any way similar to what I do or not, I hope that you too will approach this course as I do, as offering one opportunity to enrich our understanding and appreciation for whatever we conceive this power to accomplish–and, especially, for what music means and does for people as participants within particular communities, societies, cultures, subcultures, and scenes (as well as individually and in relation to diverse micro-communities and to diverse styles and forms) past and present, from across the globe.


    The following books are available for purchase at Crossroads Books, 301 South Barstow Street, Eau Claire, Wisconsin; all eight are required:

1.    Shelemay, Kay Kaufman.  Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World.  Second Edition with Recordings.  New York: Norton, 2006.

2.    Levitin, Daniel J.  This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.  New York: Penguin/Plume, 2006.

3.    Bennett, Andy.  Cultures of Popular Music.  Maidenhead, England: Open University Press, 2001.

4.    Negus, Keith.  Popular Music in Theory: an Introduction.  Oxford: Polity/Blackwell, 1996.

5.    Callahan, Mat.  The Trouble with Music.  Oakland: AK Press, 2005.

6.    Fonarow, Wendy.  Empire of Dirt: the Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

7.    Brewster, Bill and Frank Broughton.  Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey.  Revised and Expanded, 2nd, Centenary Edition.  London: Headline, 2006.

8.    Miller, Paul D. (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid), ed.  Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.

    Crossroads Books is a locally owned and operated bookstore in downtown Eau Claire.  Steadily more instructors at UWEC are supporting companies like Crossroads rather than local branches of international chain stores (the UWEC campus bookstore is owned and operated by Barnes and Noble).  Crossroads is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 am to 5:30 pm; Thursday from 10 am to 7 pm; and Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm.  The store’s phone number is 715-831-9788; their email contact address is CustServ@CrossroadBookStore.com; and their website, including information about the store as well as a map and directions for how to get there, is available at: http://www.crossroadbookstore.com/.  You need to obtain these books in time to use for class, as assigned in the Schedule section of this syllabus (see below).

    In addition, I am requiring one additional book as well:

9.    Ciminelli, David and Ken Knox.  Homocore: The Loud and Raucous Rise of Queer Rock.  Los Angeles: Alyson, 2005.

Homocore is now out of print and out of stock through its publisher/distributor, but because this is a useful book that offers a perspective on significant issues in contemporary popular music cultures that is not readily accessible elsewhere, and because it is relevant to the focus of our work together, I myself this past summer bought 22 new and previously unused copies through a wide array of dealers so that we would have copies to work with.  I am asking each of you to pay me $5 for a copy; I’m giving you all a significant discount that way.  

    We will focus on only selections from almost all of these books.  But they offer a wealth of interesting and useful information, analysis, commentary, and perspective that you can also draw upon for work on your final projects, as well as for further pursuit of critical studies in contemporary popular music studies beyond the scope of this class, and this semester, alone.  I am impressed with all of these books; they offer an exciting range and a simulating depth of compelling and provocative ideas.  It was fun for me to read through them all, and to select them among many other possibilities.  And I didn’t even mind the substantial amount of investigation and negotiation that I did with publishers and prospective distributors, in collaboration with Crossroads, to obtain these books for you (but I think it is worth mentioning that it did take plenty of work, as the publishing industry, especially the non-profit, education-oriented publishing industry, is in difficult economic straits at this point in the time, in the US and beyond, so securing course books for university classes is becoming more of an adventure all of the time).

    I will supply copies of all additional reading materials we will use over the course of the semester–along with guides, outlines, notes, class activity sheets, and so on.  I will invite students to share from your knowledge, and experience, as we address various topics, and come to grips with particular concepts, including on occasion by playing some brief samples of music for us, as you are interested, wish to do so, and are able to do so.  I will also supply copies of audio recordings corresponding to our readings, and periodically I will post copies of these on Desire2Learn prior to or after related class discussions, so that you can listen to, study, and review these on your own time.  Once again, however, I will welcome students bringing copies of directly relevant and related recordings to class from time to time, especially in areas where you maintain particular knowledge and experience–or at least substantial collections.  You will all be sharing along these lines when you present selections from your final projects in progress to the rest of the class–and you will also be free as well to post materials related to these projects, including to solicit further feedback from the rest of the class on how you are doing, on our Desire2Learn electronic classroom website.  

Week One

W 9/2: Introduction and Orientation.

Week Two

W 9/9: What is a Soundscape? Sound: The Materials of Music.

    Read for Class, W 9/9: Soundscapes, Introduction and Chapter 1, xxvi-li and 1-47.  Include Listening Guides 1-18, Tracks 1-18 on corresponding audio CD1.

Week Three

M 9/14: Setting: The Study of Local Musics, and Significance: Music’s Meaning in Everyday Life.  

    Read for Class, M 9/14: Soundscapes, Chapters 2-3, 48-167.  Include Listening Guides 19-40, Tracks 19-40 on corresponding audio CD1.

W 9/16: What is Music?  From Pitch to Timbre, and Foot Tapping: Discerning Rhythm, Loudness, and Harmony.

    Read for Class, W 9/16: This is Your Brain on Music, Chapters 1-2, 13-82.

    Initial Short Paper Assigned in Class, W 9/16.

Week Four

M 9/21: What Makes a Musician? Expertise Dissected, and The Music Instinct: Evolution’s #1 Hit.

    Read for Class, M 9/21: This is Your Brain on Music, Chapter 7, 193-221, and Chapter 9, 247-267.

W 9/23: Post-War Youth and Rock ‘N’ Roll; Sixties Rock, Politics and The Counter-Culture; and Heavy Metal.

    Read for Class, W 9/23: Cultures of Popular Music, Chapters 1-3, 7-57.

    Initial Short Paper Due by 12 noon, F 9/25, in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405.

Week Five

M 9/28: Punk and Punk Rock; Queercore.

    Read for Class, M 9/28: Cultures of Popular Music, Chapter 4, 58-73, and Homocore, Chapters 1-5, 1-59.

W 9/30: Homocore Continued.

    Read for Class, W 9/30: Homocore, Chapters 6-7, 60-71; Chapters 14-15, 106-124; Chapters 21-22, 155-167; and Chapter 26, 188-192.

Week Six

M 10/5: Audiences, and Industry.

    Read for Class, M 10/5: Popular Music in Theory, Chapters 1-2, 7-65.    

    Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Assigned in Class, M 10/5.

W 10/7: Mediations, and Identities.

    Read for Class, W 10/7: Popular Music in Theory, Chapters 3-4, 66-135.

Week Seven

M 10/12: Histories, Geographies, and Politics.

    Read for Class, M 10/12: Popular Music in Theory, Chapters 5-7, 136-224.

W 10/14: Speaking of Music: Critics, Experts and the Education of Audiences; Dirty Work: The Hidden World of Music Production.

    Read for Class, W 10/14: The Trouble with Music, Chapters 2-3, 21-65.

Week Eight

M 10/19: Out of Control: Music of Liberation and the Liberation of Music; From Lyre to Lyric and Back: Words and Music; Nets, Webs, Chains and Domains: Music and Ownership; and Conclusions and Solutions.

    Read for Class, M 10/19: The Trouble with Music, Chapters 7-9 and Conclusion, 133-238.   

W 10/21: What is ‘Indie’?

    Read for Class, W 10/21: Empire of Dirt, Chapter 1, 25-78.

        Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Due by 12 noon, F 10/23, in my English Department Mailbox, HHH 405.

Week Nine

M 10/26: The Zones of Participation.

    Read for Class, M 10/26: Empire of Dirt, Chapter 2, 79-121.

W 10/28: Zone Three and the Music Industry, and Afterword: My Music is Your Dirt.

    Read for Class, W 10/28: Empire of Dirt, Chapter 3, 122-153, and Afterword, 242-249.

Week Ten

M 11/2: Introduction: You Should Be Dancing; Reggae: Wreck Up a Version; Hip Hop Roots: Adventures on the Wheels of Steel; and Hip Hop: Planet Rock.

    Read for Class, M 11/2: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, Chapter 1, 12-27; Chapter 5, 116-131; and Chapters 9-10, 226-287.

W 11/4: Disco Roots: Love is the Message; Disco: She Works Hard for the Money; Hi-Energy: So Many Men, So Little Time; and US Garage: I’ll Take You to Paradise.

    Read for Class, W 11/4: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, Chapters 6-8, 134-223, and Chapter 11, 290-310.

Week Eleven

M 11/9: House: Can You Feel It?; Techno: The Sound; Acid House: I’ve Lost Control; UK Sounds: Keep on Moving; and Today: I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.

    Read for Class, M 11/9: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, Chapters 12-13, 312-371; Chapters 15-16, 398-474; and Chapter 20, 540-552.  

    Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Assigned in Class, M 11/9.

W 11/11: An Introduction, or My (Ambiguous) Life with Technology; The Ecstacy of Influence: a Plagiarism Music; Quantum Improvisation: The Cybernetic Presence; The Musician as Thief: Digital Culture and Copyright Law; and The World of Sound: A Division of Raymond Scott Enterprises.

    Read for Class, W 11/11: Sound Unbound, Chapter 1, 1-4; Chapter 4, 25-51; Chapter 11, 119-130; Chapter 13, 135-150; and Chapter 18, 181-202.

Week Twelve

M 11/16: In Through the Out Door: Sampling and the Creative Act; ‘Roots and Wires’ Remix: Polyrhythmic Tricks and the Black Electronic; South Africa’s Rhythms of Resistance; On Improvisation, Temporality, and the Embodied Experience; and Fear of a Muslim Planet: Hip Hop’s Hidden History.

    Read for Class, M 11/16: Sound Unbound, Chapter 2, 5-15; Chapter 5, 53-72; Chapter 20, 215-218; Chapter 26, 273-292; and Chapter 29, 313-335.

W 11/18: The Future of Language; Un-Imagining Utopia; An Interview with Alex Steinweiss; Three Pieces; What One Must Do: Comments and Asides on Musical Philosophy; and Where Did the Music Go?

    Read for Class, W 11/18: Sound Unbound, Chapter 3, 21-24; Chapter 7, 83-89; Chapter 23, 233-244; Chapter 30, 337-342; Chapter 32, 353-359; and Chapter 36, 385-390.

Week Thirteen

M 11/23: Student Project Presentations.

W 11/25: Student Project Presentations.

    Learning and Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Due in Class, W 11/25.

Week Fourteen

M 11/30: Student Project Presentations.

W 12/2: Student Project Presentations.

Week Fifteen

M 12/7: Student Project Presentations.

W 12/9: Student Project Presentations.

* Wednesday 12/16: Final Projects are Due by 12 noon in my English Department mailbox, HHH 405 *



    As a 400/600 level seminar, we will engage with course material by way of collective discussion, following a variety of formats, including, prospectively, a number of creative activities–and it’s important, as this is a 400/600 level seminar, that we hear from everyone on a regular basis, not just when working in small groups.  I do not plan to present, let alone lecture, all that often at any considerable length, as that’s not what an advanced undergraduate (and graduate) level seminar is all about.  But I will direct the course of our discussion at all times.  In addition, our class meets for one hour and fifty minutes twice a week because we are focused on music, and we need the time to listen to music in class; we will listen to a significant amount of music in just about every class period we meet.  Over the last three weeks we meet, you will be each presenting excerpts of work in progress on your individual final projects and the rest of the class will offer you critiques to help you as you develop, revise, and refine your work on those same projects.


    These are the five most important, official goals all UWEC undergraduate courses are designed to help you meet:

1.    Knowledge of Human Culture and the Natural World

2.    Creative and Critical Thinking

3.    Effective Communication

4.    Individual and Social Responsibility

5.    Respect for Diversity Among People

These goals require your striving to meet them.  Striving means learning actively and deliberately, completing assignments in a thorough and timely fashion, participating in class discussion, and making connections between what we do while meeting in class and what you do when engaged outside of the classroom.


    The university is not a completely "safe space" entirely separate from the rest of the "real world" where you can expect to be sheltered from encountering anything and everything you might ever find disagreeable or objectionable.  After all, disturbing positions and practices exist extensively outside of the classroom as well as in what we read, see, hear, and otherwise confront in and for class; what we confront in class is symptomatic of positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the classroom, the course, and the university.  You are here at the university because you are now ready to engage with difficult, challenging, and even disturbing positions and practices–and to make your own contribution toward dealing seriously with them.  Therefore, if ever and whenever you find any text or topic upsetting, you maintain the ethical responsibility, as a university student, not simply to try to hide from but rather to engage with it in an intellectually serious, responsible, mature adult way.  On occasion you will encounter ideas that you may find troubling, in this UWEC course and in almost all others as well; within the UWEC English Department we grant no right of exemption from engaging with these ideas and offer no support for complaining (to any higher administrative authority) about their inclusion.  After all, great works of art–including many great works of literature–are often created with the deliberate aim of disturbing, even shocking, many people who will encounter these; often the intent here is to provoke strong response, as well as thought–and action–that goes beyond what has become familiar, conventional, commonsensical, and, especially, merely “safe.”

    Students should understand, moreover, that a professor differs from a high school teacher in many respects, but one key difference is that we maintain a principal professional, ethical responsibility forthrightly to represent the most advanced knowledges in our fields of expertise and to proceed from there to work toward their further development and dissemination.  (A professor is not merely a ‘teacher of other people’s ideas’, and a professor maintains many more responsibilities beyond teaching his or her classes.)   In short, professors must create, advocate for, and profess these knowledges; you should expect that your professors may from time to time take controversial positions on difficult and challenging issues, refusing the pretense of disinterested neutrality.  To do anything less than assume this responsibility would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to render ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial positions.

    I expect students in this course to strive to become sincerely interested in learning about the subject matter of this course, and to be consistently intellectually serious as well as academically diligent in their pursuit of this learning.  I expect students to strive to bring actively and extensively to bear–in your writing and in your contribution to class discussion–insights you gain through your engagement with the texts and topics addressed as part of this course, and I expect you to strive at the same time to relate these texts and topics as closely and as fully as possible to subjects of genuine interest and concern in your own lives, past and present.  And I expect you to let me know right away when and if you have any questions or problems about any aspect of how you are doing in and with the course, so that I can do whatever I possibly can to help answer these questions and solve these problems.

    As this is a 400/600 level seminar, I also expect students will be prepared to take greater initiative than would be the case with a lower-level and non-seminar format class.   This means actively sharing the responsibility, consistently, for explaining, and indeed even for teaching the rest of the class (and that certainly includes teaching me–I look forward to learning from, and with, you).  As students participating in an advanced level seminar I also expect that you will engage in extensive dialogue, exchange, and other forms of collaborative–indeed collective–work as a member of this class.  As you do so you need to work together with me, and with your classmates, in a consistently helpful and respectful manner, and to make sure that you always are able clearly to distinguish critique of positions represented by fellow members of the class (and, for that matter, by various theorists, critics, journalists, historians, and musicians we will engage) from criticism of persons.  You may, from time to time, disagree with takes on various issues represented by your fellow classmates, by me, by writers we will read, and by musicians we will listen to and study, but you should aim to do so in a serious, thoughtful, and respectful manner, trying as best possible always first to understand where the other is coming from, how so and why so, in advancing this take, and to grasp what this other’s position indeed means in his or her own terms, as he or she understands it, in order effectively actually to argue versus and critique this position, rather than simply to reject, denounce, or oppose it.  

    One final point about this being a 400/600 level seminar: it should be, and it will be, more demanding than 100, 200, and 300 level courses, especially than GE courses.  You will have to do a substantial quantity of often challenging reading, and likewise do a substantial quantity of rigorous writing.  It’s important that you keep up as we proceed, and, if possible, work ahead (at least read ahead, and work ahead on your final project if and when it is possible to do so).  Everyone enrolled in this class is entirely qualified to do very well in it, but if you don’t put in a consistent, conscientious effort, you may not.  I am sharing this advice in order to be helpful to you, as sometimes students are unaware of the high expectations we, English faculty, maintain for performance at this level; course level really does mean even more here than it does at the 100, 200, or 300 levels.  


General Criteria: Evaluation of Student Performance

    In evaluating all work done for this course, I will take account of how carefully, seriously, intelligently, enthusiastically, and imaginatively students engage with the concepts, issues, positions, and arguments addressed in the course and represented by the texts we read and listen to, by me, and by each other.


    This course cannot contribute effectively to students' learning if students do not attend class.  What happens in class is an indispensable part of this course.  Therefore, the following attendance policy will apply for students enrolled in this section of English 484, except for students who must miss an extended period of the semester due to an emergency for which they arrange an officially authorized absence from class (in the latter case, we will work together to make arrangements to help you make up for what you miss):

1.)    Students who exceed a maximum of two unexcused absences will suffer a penalty of a loss of one full letter grade for each additional unexcused absence.  An unexcused absence is one where you offer no reasonable excuse for missing, but choose this to be a day that you miss class.
2.)     Students should provide me with written confirmation of a debilitating injury or illness, or of any other serious individual or family emergency, for the excusing of any further absences beyond the maximum of two unexcused absences.

3.)    In addition to the maximum of two unexcused absences, students may miss a maximum of three excused absences without suffering a grade penalty.  Six total absences will result in a loss of  two full letter grades.  Students who miss more than six classes total should withdraw from the course and enroll again in a subsequent semester; otherwise they will most likely receive a grade of F.

* Note well I am required to keep attendance records, and will do so, even if I don’t necessarily do so in an overtly attention-grabbing way, such as calling roll, or having people sign in every class period. *

** Students are also expected to arrive for class on time and to stay through the very end of class.  If you don’t do so, you won’t be counted as attending class.  In addition, you need to be awake, alert, and attentive while in class; this means you can’t expect to sleep or rest in class.  Again, if you do so, this will count as an absence from class.  And the same is true of doing other school work in class or attending to other–personal– matters irrelevant to what we are focusing on at that point in time in class (e.g., you should avoid text-messaging, or web-searching, or facebooking, or playing games on your cell phone, or checking out youtube while in class–just to mention a few common temptations).  **

*** In addition, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN THIS CLASS THAT YOU COME TO CLASS HAVING DONE THE READING REQUIRED OF YOU PRIOR TO CLASS.  The quality of your own learning, and that of the rest of your classmates depends upon you taking this seriously and carrying it out conscientiously. ***

Initial Paper

    To give you an early chance to try out initial ideas about some of the issues we will engage this semester, as well as to give me an early sense of where you are coming from in terms of the kind and level of your preparation to deal with these issues,  I’m including an early assignment asking you to write a short critical analysis of a contemporary popular song of your choice.  This early paper will, in addition, give me the chance to give you some initial feedback, including on how you are doing grade-wise.  I will give you a more precise explanation of what I would like you to do with the specific assignment itself, but you should note well that I will ask you to reflect on the music beyond the lyrics with this assignment, and to do so as you are best able.  This is not meant as a particularly difficult assignment, by any means, and I hope that you will find it enjoyable as well as otherwise rewarding to pursue.  Your grade on this initial short paper will be worth 10% of the overall course grade.  And although I will not mandate a page or word target or limit, as a very rough guide you may think of this as a 6-8 double-space page (or 1500 to 2000 word) average-length paper.

Learning and Contribution/Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers

    My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help you to learn something of significance and value.  I will judge you to a significant degree on what you learn, how–and how hard–you strive to learn, and on how–along with how well–you contribute to the learning for the rest of the class.

     Class participation represents an important opportunity to learn, not just a place in which to demonstrate what you have learned.  By raising questions, testing and trying out ideas, taking risks and making mistakes, you learn a great deal–and help others learn a great deal as well.  You learn through talking, not just talk to show what you have learned.  Don't hesitate to speak forth in class if you have anything at all to throw into the mix.

     At the same time, quality of participation is much more important than quantity, although a sufficient quantity is indispensable to insure quality.  Still, I want to emphasize here that I perceive talking for talking’s sake–especially talking which pulls us off on far-fetched tangents, which remains disconnected from and disengaged with the reading and the rest of the class, or which effectively silences others–to be negative participation.  Quality class participation does not, moreover, involve merely asking questions of me and responding to my questions; quality class participation requires you to work to advance a serious and substantial discussion with your peers about the texts and topics subject to discussion.

     Contribution to the class certainly can extend far beyond mere speaking in class: it may include a variety of ways in which you can bring to bear your insights to help yourself as well as the rest of us gain from the experience of this course.   Excellent writing in and for class is also a valuable way to contribute to class.  At the same time, listening carefully, respectfully, and thoughtfully in class discussions is yet another important means of contribution–as is taking time to meet and talk with me outside of class.  In fact, meeting and talking with me outside of class can be an excellent way to contribute–as well as to show me how seriously interested in and engaged with the course material you are.

    Each of the two learning and contribution reflection papers will offer you an opportunity to engage with ideas we have just been working with.  Paper one will ask you to engage with ideas from Soundscapes, This is Your Brain on Music, Cultures of Popular Music, Homocore, and Popular Music in Theory.  Paper two will ask you to engage with ideas from The Trouble with Music, Empire of Dirt, Last Night a DJ Saved MY Life, and Sound Unbound.  I will ask you questions that will require you to draw directly upon (including directly cite) and to directly grapple with positions, concepts, and arguments articulated in each of the five books I just mentioned for paper number one, and in each of the four books I mentioned in paper number two.  In fact, the more thoroughly, thoughtfully–and, of course,  accurately–you able to do so, the better you will do on these papers.  So once again, doing the reading for this course–all of it, and in a timely way–is crucial.  In addition, with each learning and contribution reflection paper, I will ask you to briefly assess how, along with how well, you have been contributing to your own learning and to that of your classmates in the preceding approximately six weeks of the semester.  

    These papers provide you the occasion not only to show me your learning, but also to advance this, as you most often learn a great deal about something by writing about it.  In addition, these papers provide you the means to demonstrate your critical self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a liberal arts education.  As you are assessing your own contribution, you may include thoughts in reaction to issues raised in class discussion that you did not have the opportunity or did not feel comfortable enough to share in class; these additional reflections can help me get a better sense of what you have been thinking about and how you have been responding to class discussions, as well as to the readings.  I will take all of that into account in determining your learning and contribution grades.

    I  will provide you specific directions in the assignments I give you for each of these papers.  I estimate, as a rough average, you should aim here for an approximate average of 10 to 12 double-spaced typed pages in length (or 2000 to 2500 words) for each learning and contribution reflection paper.  The grade in response to these papers will be worth 25% of the overall course grade in each case, for a combined total worth 50% of the overall course grade.  

Final Project

    Each student will present her or his work researching and critically analyzing a specific contemporary popular music culture, subculture, period, scene, genre, style, or form of her or his own choice as a final–individual—project, to the class; these presentations will take place through a series of stages in the last three weeks of class sessions prior to the final exam week, allowing for useful feedback and constructive criticism from the rest of the class.  Students will determine the focus of their final projects in consultation with me.  You will make use of concepts from readings for this course–and, potentially as well, of other concepts from critical theory, cultural studies, and further readings in popular music studies scholarship.  What you focus on may well be suggested by readings and discussions from earlier in the semester, while the books we will be working with contain abundant material that we will not be directly addressing in class, or only briefly, which you can certainly turn to, and expand upon, in this final project (doing so will be most welcome).  Whatever you choose, try to make it as narrow, precise, concrete, and specific as possible; try to make it something you genuinely are highly interested in–and perhaps already highly knowledgeable about; and try to make it something you think you can do a compelling job making sense of in intellectually serious terms.  I will be happy to work with you throughout the process of working on this project, and in fact I encourage you to seek my assistance as you proceed.  Relatively early in the semester I will ask you to turn in a prospectus for your project describing what specific music culture, subculture, period, scene, genre, style, of form you propose to focus on, how, and why, so that I can give you suggestions and recommendations for how best to proceed with this focus.  What’s more, by identifying this as a final project I am inviting you to incorporate audio, visual, audio-visual, and/or performative components into this work as you are able and interested–and as you think would help make it all the more effective and compelling–although, no matter what you do, each final project will include a significant, formal, written component..   

    You will have the opportunity to present this project in process, in several stages of development, before turning in a final version for a grade.  This way you will be able to receive constructive criticism from me and the rest of your classmates.  I will distribute further information, instructions, suggestions, and recommendations as the semester proceeds–first for the final project prospectus, and second for the final project itself.

    Your grade on the final project will be worth 40% of the overall course grade.  And yet once more, although I will not mandate a page or word target or limit, as a very rough guide you may think of this as a 18-20 page double-space (or 4500 to 5000 word) average-length paper.

General Formatting Requirements: Papers

    All papers should be typed, double-space, on single sides of standard white letter-sized (8" X 11") typewriter, computer printer, or photographic paper.  You may use any standard font you wish but your print size must remain between 10 and 12 points.  Pages should be numbered, and your name should be at the top of the first page.  The pages of your paper must be stapled together and you are responsible for doing so; I do not bring staplers to class.  You are also responsible for proofreading your paper before you turn it in; if you catch any typographical errors, you should neatly cross these out and write your corrections on top of these with a pen (but not a pencil).  I will expect you, furthermore, to observe the rules and conventions of Standard Written English to the very best of your ability in writing these papers, including MLA format for citation and documentation of sources for the argument and research paper.

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty

    Plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses.  They not only undermine the goal of learning but also are exploitative of the work of others.  Dishonesty in written work as part of this course will result in a failing grade.  In addition, dishonesty may result in further disciplinary action on the part of the University administration; dishonesty can ultimately lead to expulsion from the University.  Also, if you directly echo someone else’s thoughts as articulated in the course of class discussion you should add the last name, followed by the letters CD (for class discussion), followed by the date, in a parenthetical citation right after the end of the sentence, viz: (Nowlan, CD, 9/19/09).

Late Papers
    Late papers (and late final projects) will lose 1/3 of a letter grade per day late unless you have made arrangements ahead of the time with me to turn in these papers late due to a serious personal or family problem.  Alternately, if you provide a reasonable explanation why you are late (again, due to a serious personal or family problem) shortly after the paper is due, you won’t suffer any grade penalty.  It is best to talk with me directly about this, and to make sure to do so within a week’s time of the due date at the absolute latest.  I do understand that at times real problems come up for all of us, no matter what we might intend or prefer.   

Capstone and Graduate Students

    Any undergraduate student doing her or his capstone project as part of this course will prepare a more ambitious, higher-level, individual final project than expected of the rest of the undergraduate students enrolled in the class; details will be explained with the assignment.  Capstone students will also respond to somewhat different assignments for learning and contribution reflection papers #1 and #2.  Capstone students should be especially sure to seek out my assistance and to keep me informed as you work on your final project.

    Graduate students will also prepare more ambitious, higher-level, individual final projects than expected of non-capstone undergraduate students enrolled in the class; again, details will be explained with the assignment.  And once again as well, graduate students will also respond to somewhat different assignments for learning and contribution reflection papers #1 and #2.  Graduate students too are especially encouraged to seek out my assistance and to keep me informed as you work on your final project.  

    I encourage you to meet with me in conference during office hours or at another mutually convenient time to discuss any issue of interest or concern related to what we are doing in this course.  Learning that takes place in conferences can be equally as important, and at times even more important, than what takes place in class.  Please do not hesitate to meet with me during office hours or to ask for an appointment at any time you think this might be helpful; making myself available for conferences with you outside of class is part of my responsibility as your teacher.  Moreover, I always sincerely do welcome getting to know and work with my students outside as well as inside of class.  I am ready to do whatever I can to help you in your understanding of issues addressed in discussions and readings, as well as to help you in your writing for and participation in this course.  And, definitely, you should consult with me as you are working on your final project, and I’ll be glad to give you whatever help I can, including as you proceed through successive stages in the process of preparing, developing, and revising that project.  I want to make sure that I do all that I can to help you succeed in this course and I want to help you, as far as I can, to gain as much out of it as possible through your participation in and work for it.  You may also feel free to write me via e-mail, and to call me–or leave a message for me on the answering machine–at my office.  Keep in  mind–“my office hours” are for you, and I would rather talk with you during my office hours than do anything else, so please do not worry about “disturbing” me in coming to talk with me.   These office hours are time that I have set aside to meet, talk, and work with you.  And also, even though I’ve only designated three regular office hours a week, I can arrange to meet you at other times as well, if and when you need or would like to do so.

    * Any student who has a disability and is in need of classroom accommodations, please contact both the instructor and the Services for Students with Disabilities Office, Old Library 2136; for more information on the services the latter office provides you, check out their webpage: http://www.uwec.edu/ssd/index.htm *


    In the interest of accountability–me to you–I am here providing you weblinks: 1.) to my statement of philosophy as a college teacher: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/philosophy.htm and 2.) to my autobiographical profile: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/PROFILE_.htm.  You are also welcome to check out 3.) my myspace page, http://www.myspace.com/insurgentseanmurphy, and to look me up 4.) on facebook, http://www.facebook.com, where I just started a page this past summer under ‘Bob Nowlan’.  [If you are interested in becoming myspace or facebook friends, feel free to contact me about that.]  In addition, you can find 5.) my professional vita (the academic equivalent of a resume) at: http://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/VITA.htm.  I encourage you to check these sites out; it is useful for you to know who your teacher is, what he’s about, and where he’s coming from–and I like to be very open, honest, and forthright with you about all of that.  I look forward to a great semester working together with you!