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Sonnet Retman

Sonnet Retman is Associate Professor of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of Real Folks: Race and Genre in the Great Depression (Duke, 2011). She co-directs the UW Women Who Rock Oral History Archive.

“Roundtable: The Voices in Our Head”
Download the fear. In a striking and perhaps notorious study from five years ago reported in the journal Neuroimage, an Emory University professor using an MRI scanner on a group of teenagers was able to track the anxiety coursing through sectors of young brains while teens listened to music that social media told them was wildly popular among their peers. Not liking things “everybody else” likes, especially today, might not just make you a pariah—it could be hazardous to your mental health. Shame, perhaps, never loomed larger than it does when the masses tell you to side with Drake over Meek Mill or be cast out of the village forevermore.

After last year’s “Poptimism” moment, some of us one night were pondering the extinction of “guilty pleasures” in an age when (it is argued) charts are the most reliable barometer of critical consensus. Where previous generations once felt trapped by the hallowed ’60s/’70s Rolling Stone canon, younger Internet-savvy critics now reject the perceived indie-yuppie elitism of the Pitchfork cognoscenti. What we are left with, perhaps, are guilty displeasures. (Hat tip to Carl Wilson, who while not coining this phrase, has certainly made more of it than anyone else.)

The moment that followed our pondering—full of awkward confessions that we’d never really liked a variety of peer/critically favored music—raised a host of questions/topics/thoughts. Has taste become irrelevant, or, rather, is it being contested by younger social-media schooled critics who refuse to be intimidated by it? Are we snobs if we prefer the raw-throated, soulful classicism of Chris Stapleton over the hip-hop-influenced summer beer busts of Florida-Georgia Line, since the latter is far more of a commercial success? Should we question the experimental, lyric-drunk excursions of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly because they don’t tear up the club or top the Billboard charts past its release date? Is it really a problem if Gwen Stefani is now a more relevant pop reference point than R.E.M. or Pearl Jam? What if we like everything about a band’s politics, style, and attack—say Sleater-Kinney—but we just don’t want to listen to them? Where do politics fit in?

This is what happens when the voices out there become the voices in our head. In this panel we will wring our hands and invite the empathy/scorn of our peers by confessing to how a critically championed artist or song has left us cold and unconvinced, then ponder the influence of the subsequent shame; suggest why what you call “Staff Picks” we call cyber bullying; relive that episode of Portlandia where the parents fight over the merits of Mike & the Mechanics at a PTA meeting.

When the decontextualization of music in streaming media collides with the “public shaming” amphitheater of social media, we writhe in humiliation with every Twitter misstep, and twist in guilt at having unleashed an errant idea into media at once ephemeral and permanent. As explored by writers from Raymond Williams to Ann Powers, what does shame as a structure of feeling, "actively lived and felt," tell us about our inter-webbed moment and the perils of critical consensus?

“Roundtable: Archivista Praxis”
This dialogue brings together members of the University of Washington Libraries’ Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities Oral History Archive Collective to discuss archivista praxis as a powerful way to create more access to production, participation, musicology, and music criticism for intersectional gender research. WWR challenges gendered social inequalities through what we call archivista praxis. This praxis is rooted in a method of convivencia, the deliberate convening that builds community, creates a context for social justice work, and inspires new forms of knowledge by preserving collective voices that challenge the status quo.

Michelle Habell-Pallán introduces the ethics of “doing” collective oral histories, and how we became immersed in digital archive content collection, design, development, production, and developed what we call archivista praxis. Riffing on the concept of the artivista, “archivistas” fuse archivist and activist practices to rethink the collective possibilities of the archive, deliberately employing a networked archive as a tool to document and create the conditions of possibility for social change. In the process, we imagine ways to avoid turning human experience and collective voices into soulless data.

Monica De La Torre discusses how Chicanas in the 1970 in the Pacific Northwest on community radio airwaves altered the cultural landscape of public broadcasting by reaching women farmworkers who had never before been directly addressed by radio. In order to excavate the hidden histories of Chicanas in community radio, she remixes artifacts—oral histories, newspaper articles, radio station program guides, to collect artifacts and build archives where none exist.

Angelica Macklin will focus on digital media practices, methodology, and archivista frameworks in relation to building the Women Who Rock Oral History Archive and making media that supports music and social justice movements. As a filmmaker and Women Who Rock media-maker, Macklin uses “story keeping” as a methodology of caretaking of important personal, familial, and communal voices and stories. She mixes short-film form and new media methods with feminist processes of recording, producing, sharing, and archiving oral histories. The digital archive is a trace of the relationships forged through collective archiving or archivista praxis. Macklin will utilize examples of new digital scholarship based built on the archive do consider how we might overturn conventional modes of research that privilege individual findings over collective process.

Iris Viveros considers the decolonial possibilities for use of archival material collected under colonial ethos for academic research by proposing what she calls theor-ethical-based scholarship, one that utilizes Indigenous research methodologies, feminist theories, and archivista practices. This method and praxis reflects upon power dynamics that challenge colonial legacies of knowledge construction and legitimization to decolonize the archive and imagine ways that scholarly research about local communities might benefit, rather than harm, these communities. Viveros moves from her experiences as a scholar and practitioner of fandango––an Afroindigenous community-based music and dance tradition from Veracruz, Mexico––to illustrate the power of participatory music practices in the development and theorization of process-based decolonial research methodologies. She applies Indigenous methodologies to analyze audio recordings of Mixteca healer Maria Sabina’s chants––sung during the mushrooms ceremonies in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca––collected unethically by Robert Gordon Wasson, an ethnomusicologist who studied these ceremonies between 1950-1980.


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