Cultural Studies Colloquium: Spring 2021 Student Organizing Committee (SOC) Presentations Panel

Thursday, April 8, 2021 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM
Virtual Zoom Event

Please come and join us for this special colloquium event, organized by the Cultural Studies Student Organizing Committee (SOC). CS students will present their papers and share their research with the GMU community. Mark your calendars and don't miss the chance to learn more about current CS students' research projects. 

Please see the program of the panel below.

Affective Musical Memory: Theorizing the Affective Potentials of Music and
Memory; or A Dialectic of Sound

Ian Sinnett


Music has long been considered a fundamental aspect of social movements and progressive political change. There have been numerous researchers and scholars examining the ways in which music has been connected to political activism and sociocultural transformation. For some, musical engagement acts as a means for creating new ways of being and informing radical changes in identity and meaning-making (Eyerman and Jamison 1995, Grossberg 1986, Hebdige 1979). Others illustrate the integral role that various forms of political music have played in tandem with social movements historically (Rosenthal and Flaks 2011). Additionally, some theorize that the embodied affective quality of the group musical experience can inspire social activism (Street 2003, Thompson and Biddle 2013).

It is within this realm of music’s affective experience that I place my analyses. In this paper, I seek to argue that the affective response which one has to musical forms and aesthetics has the ability to provoke and instigate social change. Furthermore, I plan to show how music’s aesthetics, when used in tandem with various displays of historical events—e.g. from lyrics or images—can produce a visceral response in the subject which creates a discernable connection to whatever memory-event they are experiencing. It is through this visceral response that individuals and groups can grow and change, and this growth can inspire further progressive activism.  

To inform my analyses, I will utilize a combination of affect theory, sound studies, and memory studies. For affect theorists, affect is the moment pre or post-discernable emotion, and it is within this “in-betweenness” that change can occur within the individual (Gregg and Seigworth 2010). Others have argued that music creates strong emotional and affective responses within its listeners through various aspects of the semiotics of music and sound (Grossberg 2010, Tagg 2012). In further examining the ways in which aesthetics have an impact on politics and meaning, I will integrate Jacque Rancière’s discussions of aesthetics and their political potential (Rancière 2004). Additionally, memory studies analyzes how past events, when faced in the present, take new form and can shape contemporary understandings (Halbwachs 1992, Rothberg 2009, Sharpe 2016) which will inform my examination of how the explicit use of memory images and events in tandem with music can create further awareness and provoke progressive social change.

To put my theory to practice, I will analyze the sounds, music video, and lyrics for the song This is America by hip hop artist Childish Gambino. In doing so, I interrogate the ways in which the music’s form creates an affective response which coincides with the song’s messages about systemic racism and the violence which Black Americans face within the U.S. Moreover, I show the ways in which the video’s use of historical imagery connects with these aspects of the song’s aesthetics and lyrics in order to provoke a visceral understanding of these atrocities which can have a lasting impact on the subject. In essence, I argue that it is through these visceral understandings which music can invoke that individuals learn and grow.


‘HI SISTERS’: Beauty Boys and Postfeminism

Kylie Musolf


YouTube phenom James Charles is widely beloved as a queer icon by his 25.4 million-subscriber fanbase for his boundary-pushing, gender-playful insistence that makeup is for everyone. While Charles isn’t the first “beauty boy”—or male beauty vlogger on YouTube—he is by far the most prominent and, with his exuberant charisma and fascinatingly complex makeup looks, he is increasingly gaining popularity and influence in the sphere of beauty culture. At the time of writing, Charles has the most subscribed beauty channel on YouTube. Since Naomi Wolf’s scathing critique of the beauty industry in 1990, feminist scholars have devoted considerable attention to the significance of beauty and the role of the beauty industry in constructing meaning in (and about) the lives of women. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of social media influencers, as it stands, there is not a single published cultural analysis of beauty YouTube that accounts for the presence of beauty boys or interprets their significance in the construction of femininity taking place within that sphere.

Thus, in this paper we set out to fill this gap in the scholarly discourse by examining briefly the significance of influencers in consumer culture, considering the current literature regarding the political and cultural significance of beauty YouTube, analyzing Charles’ discourse in light of these commentaries and ultimately offering a postfeminist critique. While there is absolutely no doubt that Charles is opening up new pathways for young consumers to explore gender identity, play in femininity, and delight in makeup as a tool for beautification and celebratory self-expression, there is a dialectical underbelly of this discourse that simultaneously reifies the very hegemony of femininity that it seeks to undermine. In other words, the apparently gender-playful, subversive position evinced in James Charles’ video reproduces a narrowly neoliberal concept of femininity founded on narcissistic consumption. To put it more simply, more bluntly, and perhaps most uncharitably, Charles avows gender subversion only to the extent that it sells his brand, and this has damning consequences for potential feminist resistance to the gendered expectations that perpetuate the subordination of women and reify the gender binary.

This substantial criticism of Charles may be unfashionable, but the stakes are high. The purpose of this paper is not to denigrate or dismiss the young man, but to treat his videos and their effects as symptomatic and emblematic of the beauty culture from which James Charles emerged; the point is to push back against the rise of the hottest selling anti-feminist neoliberal ideology where it is dressed up in its most attractive and misleading packaging.


Special Collections and the Libraries Destroyed in Sarajevo 

Mark Edwin Peterson


It has now been over a generation since the Bosnian War. Global discussions of it focused on the horrifying violence, but another aspect that shocked many was the ways in which the destruction of cultural heritage served as a tool of genocide. In 1992, the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, among others, was completely destroyed, resulting in the loss of thousands of unique manuscripts. Calls went out to rebuild, but results have been mixed. Though there is a new library, few items were recovered. With this paper, I investigate how online collections and social media have been used to understand lost history.

I look to Kracauer's The Last Things before the Last to examine how institutions shape memory, and how this affects modern culture, focusing on conscious actions by universities to make culture accessible. I will include a comparison of three responses to the loss of cultural heritage in Sarajevo: the collection of analogues by Harvard, the inclusion of records of the destruction in the human rights collections of Duke University, and finally the Bosnian Memory Project at Fontbonne University in its focus on the emotional impact of war.

Because I am interested in efforts to influence contemporary culture, I will look at how these issues are discussed on social media. By examining Twitter feeds of the libraries, along with three more in cities with large populations of immigrants from Sarajevo, I hope to show what libraries hope to achieve, and what that means for understanding history, identity, and culture.

Flyer CSC Student Panel S21