Deadline for submissions: January 29, 2017
Full name / name of organization: American Studies Association annual meeting, Chicago, November 9-12
Contact email:
Title: “The Empathetic Imagination and the Pedagogies of American Protest Music”.

Music has a longstanding place in the American tradition of dissent. It has featured prominently within large-scale protest movements, such as those associated with antislavery, civil rights, and labor, as well as efforts to resist localized and momentary forms of oppression and exploitation such as the call and response of the picket line. In addition to enriching the history of American protest, this music has also served as a pedagogical tool for dissenters, conveying the ideological commitments of the faithful and persuading new supporters to join causes. Much of the instructive function adopted by dissenting singers and songwriters manifests within the register of empathy, what psychoanalysts might call the empathetic imagination. This panel seeks 20-minute papers that examine this intersection between music, dissenting political positions, and modes of empathetic understanding.

The tendency to link dissent with empathetic songs can be observed in the music associated with such historically significant movements as abolitionism, which deployed music in part to cultivate sentimental responses to enslavement, and the rise of the International Workers of the World, which used songs to instruct laborers in fellow-feeling and class consciousness. In the mid-twentieth century, music was also an instrumental part of the educational workshops that led to the formation of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, an organization whose signature song “We Shall Overcome” uses empathy to foment cross-racial solidarity. In orienting our discussion around ideas about the pedagogical uses of protest music, though, we also hope to gain a new sense of the work this music does for more quotidian oppositional politics as well. Along these lines we might consider how underground movements such as the Riot grrrl combined empathy and angst against the everyday problems of 90s gender politics, or how artists such as Randy Newman or the Drive-by Truckers use empathetic tropes to undo the perspectives of deplorables like Southern racists. Similarly, we might consider how a song like Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost?” uses empathy to blend its critique of race and class. With this in mind, our focus on dissent, pedagogy, and the empathetic is intended to broaden the definition of “protest” music itself

Please send 300-word abstracts to Paul Fess ( by January 29th.