Conference 2018

‘Can Musical Conservatism be Progressive?’

2nd Annual Conference of the Critical Theory for Musicology Study Group

Supported by the Institute of Musical Research and Music & Letters

In association with the School of Advanced Studies

12th–13th January 2018

University of London, Senate House


Keynote speakers:

 Professor David Clarke (Newcastle University)

Professor J. P. E. Harper-Scott (Royal Holloway University of London)


Registration is now open for the 2nd annual conference of the Critical Theory for Musicology Study Group! Registration is available here.

 There is a registration fee of £20 (+ booking fee) for the full conference, which includes lunch and coffee refreshments on both days. We are keen to make our events as accessible as possible, and so there are a limited number of bursaries available to cover the fee and partial travel expenses. If you need to be considered for one of these bursaries please outline your request to the committee at The deadline to apply for a bursary is Friday 15th December, and you will receive details of the outcome of your application no later than Friday 22nd December.

There will be a conference dinner at Pizza Express on the evening of Friday 12th January. More information about this will be provided to delegates upon registration.

The deadline to register is 5pm on FRIDAY 5th JANUARY.

More information about the conference, including a full programme with abstracts is available here.

Please note that it is each individual delegate’s responsibility to arrange overnight accommodation should it be required. Options in central London are varied and plentiful, though should you need any advice or suggestions about accommodation please email the conference committee at and we’d be happy to help.


Over the last twenty-five years, the premises of music analysis, notation, modernism and formalism have been subjected to a broad critique, resulting in an increased emphasis on performance analysis (Cook 2013), pluralist histories (Tomlinson 1993), and an interest in the range of subjective responses to music which cuts across previous divisions between high and low cultures (Bergeron and Bohlman, 1992). This disciplinary conflict has become increasingly politicised, opening a debate on the precise nature of the relationship between specialist knowledge and social class. On the one hand, ‘traditional’ musicological approaches, and the repertories with which they were usually concerned, have been perceived as regressive (Born 2010), with the newer approaches generally considered politically progressive (Bohlman 1993). On the other hand, an opposing critique is now emerging, which interprets the move away from specialist theoretical training as a de-skilling of the musicological profession. This has led to accusations that such a move is complicit, intentionally or not, with the increasing commodification of higher education, and works opportunistically towards (capitalist) economic ends (e.g. Harper-Scott 2012). Viewed from this perspective, traditional approaches – or ‘musical conservatism’ – might paradoxically be construed as politically progressive, effectively reimagining the classic Adornian position for the twenty-first century.

But what is musical conservatism (or indeed musical progressivism), and is it inherently positive or negative? Are certain genres or sub-disciplines within musicology conservative whilst others are progressive? What effect might these assumptions have on the study of music? Is ‘traditional’ musicology, however that might be defined, outmoded? And is there an appropriate response to these questions?

This conference aims to address these questions in light of renewed concerns over the future of music studies in the academy. The greater public scrutiny that academia now attracts has direct ramifications in the allocation of funding and resources, as exemplified by the demands of REF and TEF. There is therefore a pressing need to examine the question of the discipline’s function in these broader socio-political terms, since the direction that musicology takes now will have an impact on the training of students and the research of academics for decades to come.

-The call for papers has now closed. Please see the full programme here.


For more information about the Critical Theory for Musicology study group please see our website: