Nancy W Hanrahan

Nancy W Hanrahan

Nancy W Hanrahan

Associate Professor

critical theory, cultural sociology, feminist theory, music and the arts

My research specializations are in cultural sociology, sociology of music, critical theory and feminist theory.  I received my  Ph.D. in 1994 from the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science of the New School for Social Research.  Before embarking on an academic career, I spent ten years in the music business, as a radio announcer in Boston, and as program director of New Jazz at the Public, Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York City.  I served as Director of Women and Gender Studies at Mason from 2002-2009, and spent the spring, 2011 semester as a Fulbright Scholar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as a specialist in feminist theory. 

I am currently working on two research projects.  The first, Music and Democracy in America, traces the meanings of 'democracy' in debates about music in the U.S. from the 1830's through to the present day.  My intention is to contextualize the contemporary discourse of the 'democratization' of music through digital technologies and critically assess these recent claims.  From a historical emphasis on national identity, shared morality and questions of citizenship and racial equality, the current discourse is a highly personalized one in which democracy seems to depend on liberal notions of autonomy rather than on any collective ideals.  Through looking at public commentary about music, I hope to trace the shifting meanings of democracy in the U.S. over the past two centuries.  

The second project, Women Strike for Life: New Women's Movements in Transatlantic Perspective, investigates the recent teachers' strikes as a form of women's organizing and gender politics.  Most often presented in the media as a labor issue, the strikers themselves are drawing on a vocabulary of social reproduction politics, of care for community and the future, that resonates with women's organizing in many other parts of the world.  I am collaborating with Dr. Sarah Amsler of the University of Nottingham to pursue a comparative account of teachers' strikes in the US and UK since the financial collapse of 2008.  Samantha Retrosi, a current PhD student in Sociology, has joined us as a research assistant.  After completing fieldwork this summer we envisage broadening the geographical scope of the study by collaborating with partners specializing in women’s strikes and social reproduction-oriented politics in Europe (Italy and The Netherlands) and Latin America (Mexico).

I teach undergraduate courses in gender and in classical and contemporary sociological theory, and graduate courses in contemporary theory, critical theory, feminist theory and the sociology of culture.  In fall, 2019, I will be teaching a course on Contemporary Women's Movements. 

My two previous books are  Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture (Praeger, 2000) and The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture (co-editor) (Blackwell Publishers, 2004).

Selected Publications

“Digitized Music and the Aesthetic Experience of Difference” in David Arditi and Jennifer Miller, eds., The Dialectic of Digital Culture (Lexington Books) forthcoming, 2019.

"Critique and Possibility in Cultural Sociology" (with Sarah S. Amsler) in John R. Hall, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-cheng Lo, eds., Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology second edition (Routledge: New York and London) 2018.

"Relearning Liberation: Critical Methodologies for the General Crisis" (with Sarah S. Amsler), Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, Volume 2, No 4, October, 2018.  

"Hearing the Contradictions: Aesthetic Experience, Music and Digitization", Cultural Sociology, Volume 12, No 3, September, 2018.

“La Découverte Musicale en Régime Numérique: Personnalisation, Popularité et Possibilité Esthétique,” In Philippe Le Guern, ed.  Ou Va La Musique? Numerimorphose et Nouvelles Experiences d’Ecoute. (Presses des Mines: Paris) 2016.

Big Data, Little Music”, Public Seminar, March, 24, 2014.

“’If the People Like it, it Must be Good’: Criticism, Democracy and the Culture of Consensus” Cultural Sociology, Volume 7 No 1, March 2013.

Music, or the Triumph of Technics?”  January 19, 2012.


Dissertations Supervised

Robert P. Fenton, Guayaquil Antiguo and Cacao Capitalism during the Long 19th Century: On the Peripheral Origins of Planetary Urbanization (2019)

Nicole B. Hindert, The Jeito of the Brazilian Mulata: Race, Identity, and Distinction in a Racial Democracy (2016)