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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michelle Habell-Pallan
WOMEN 542
Seattle Campus

Gender, Music, Nation

Music criticism and music studies as a site of feminist intellectual practice. Explores the ways gender and race/ethnicity shape musical discourse as well as narrative constructions of nation in regional and transnational contexts. Considers the influence of feminist theory, queer studies, performance studies, and cultural studies on music scholarship.

Class description

Making a Scene: Girls and Boys Play Indie-Rock

In this course, we will explore how indie artists and performers make local scenes and sometimes, also, make a living; how writing about indie music makes a scene; and how academics make scenes around indie music. More specifically, this class thematizes “the making of scenes" in relation to the cultural meanings, pre-histories and legacies of “indie rock," using the story of Seattle’s Nirvana as a central point of entry.

If Nirvana’s extraordinary success occurred in conjunction with Olympia, Washington’s Sleater-Kinney, the Riot Grrrl movement and an increasingly visible cadre of bands featuring women who rock nationwide, how did this moment come to be? What are its effects twenty years later? And where do race, sexuality, class and region fit into the picture? To grapple with these questions, we will contextualize 1980s and ‘90s “indie rock" by tracing the sonic and performance influences of a range of genres and sub-genres such as blues, gospel, estilo bravío, punk, disco, hip hop and metal. We will focus on cultures of performance and the politics of identity in music, always attending to the sound, structure and format of the music. We will explore the ways music builds community and creates a foundation for social justice movements.

The class draws upon methodologies from cultural studies, popular music studies, ethnic studies, Chicana and Black feminist thought, ethnomusicology, feminist and queer theory and performance studies to think through the innovative work of these performers and scenes. Our aim isn’t simply to review the criticism but to generate knowledge. As we listen to music, watch performances and read music journalism and scholarship, we will consider the pleasures and perils of music writing as a form of community building in our own praxis.

Students will collect oral histories of women who rock in the PNW region.

This class is offered in coordination with the upcoming Women Who Rock Symposium to be held at UW on February 17 and Seattle U on February 18th, and the “Nirvana? exhibit opening at the EMP in March 2011.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Michelle Habell-Pallan
Date: 10/29/2010