2013 – 2018 (dissertation, 5-year project)
Elvis has finally left the building?
Whiteness, boundary work and the reception of rock music in comparative perspective
In collaboration with Pauwke Berkers and Koen van Eijck.
Is your taste in music “racist”? Unless you spend your days listening to Nazi punk while strapping the white laces of your Dr. Martens, you probably don’t think so! Music brings people together, as the common saying goes. In reality however, our taste in music is actually less innocent than we would expect at first glance. While attending a rock show for instance, you might notice that the audiences there (and the bands as well) are predominantly white (and male). Rap concerts on the other hand seem to attract a crowd which is more multicultural and diverse. Unlike some of our racial physical aspects, our taste isn’t given to us by birth, so what exactly makes music and race-ethnicity stick together in such a way? And since Elvis Presley “whitewashed” rock music in the 1950s, what has changed? Is there still much inequality in music scenes or is Elvis finally leaving the building?
This project addresses the understudied relationship between popular music and ethno-racial inequality. Music genres do not simply reflect ethno-racial groups, but are often actively structured along racial lines within specific national ethno-racial constellations. Indeed, ever since historically black rock and roll has been appropriated by whites – the “Elvis Effect”, few non-whites have managed to infiltrate this music genre. Even if they do, they risk double marginalization: whites want to know why they are not listening to rap music, while non-whites accuse them of being an Uncle Tom for enjoying the wrong kind of music. The main research question is therefore: To what extent and how do nonwhites and whites construct ethno-racial boundaries in the reception of rock music in the United States and the Netherlands?
Expanding on the innovative field of whiteness studies, this project offers an integrated analysis of three ways in which boundary work takes place. First, it draws on recent developments within cognitive science to understand under which circumstances whiteness – which usually remains hidden or implicit as a category – becomes a marked ethno-racial boundary. In addition, when whiteness can no longer be ignored, the project will analyze how non-white and white rock critics, fans and consumers justify or challenge previously invisible ethno-racial boundaries. Therefore, using insights from ethnic and racial, and media studies, it examines – second – the use of ideological discourse and – third – authentication practices in boundary work. This study examines the everyday practices and consequences of ethno-racial boundaries through the situated experiences of rock critics, fans and consumers, adding much needed nuance to our understanding of racialization processes in popular music, in arts and culture, and society in general. Moreover, as the current absence of non-white others is constitutive of rock music’s whiteness, this study – in contrast to previous research – includes both non-whites and whites in the analysis. Finally, comparing nation states enhances our understanding of the localized relationship between aesthetic and social categories and how racialized cultural products spread from the U.S. and affect racialization in other countries.
2012 – 2015
Religion and spiritual play in Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games
In collaboration with Stef Aupers.
This project addresses the importance of popular culture in 21st Century religious and spiritual meaning-making processes. In ‘secular’ Western societies, religious topics permeate media texts of books, films, series and games, and even inform several religious-spiritual movements. Critically expanding on theories about ‘fiction-based religion’ (Davidsen), ‘invented religion’ (Cusack) or ‘hyperreal religion’ (Possamai), this project studies if, how and why players of the MMORPG World of Warcraft reflect on religious narratives in the game world and what influence it has on their personal perspective on religion. Online games can serve as laboratories where youngsters freely experiment with religion outside the established churches.
So far, the results of this project have been published in New Media and Society (2016) and Online – Heidelberg Journals of Religions on the Internet (2015). (Click here to download pdf). You can also listen to a podcast by Sage Publications/New Media and Society here.
Popular music plays an essential role in the mediated lives of adolescents. Pop music is regularly used for identity work, oftentimes situated in local and trans-local music scenes. Music scenes in general – and metal scenes in particular – are highly stratified along gender lines. This project addresses to what extent female and male musicians navigate online metal scenes differently, and how this relates to the gender dynamics in offline metal scenes. Among other topics, we hereby effectively scrutinize the understudied relationship between online and offline music scenes.
Metal music is often defined as a form of male rebellion vis-à-vis female bedroom culture Furthermore, learning to play in a band is largely a peer-based – rather than individual – experience, shaped by existing sex-segregated friendship networks. The emergence of the Internet and online social media have led to virtual scenes, creating new modes of social conduct which might affect gender inequality. Due to several reasons, social media might facilitate or empower women to actively engage in metal scenes.
The results of our analysis on the online dimensions of gender inequality in metal music production was published in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (2014) (Click here to download pdf). The results of our analysis of online/offline interaction will be published in Metal Music Studies in October 2015. In 2018, we published a monograph on our findings: Gender Inequality in Metal Music Production (Emerald Sociology).