(Left out in) Left (the Field): The Effects of Post-Postmodern Scholarship on Feminist and Gender Studies in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, 1990-2000

By Koskoff, Ellen | Women & Music, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

(Left out in) Left (the Field): The Effects of Post-Postmodern Scholarship on Feminist and Gender Studies in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, 1990-2000


Koskoff, Ellen, Women & Music


SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF WOMEN AND Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective in 1987 I have watched the steady growth of feminist and, more recently, genderist studies in musicology and ethnomusicology. (1) Heavily influenced by postmodern theories derived from history, literary criticism, anthropology, cultural studies, queer theory, and the many "posts" (e.g., postcolonialism, poststructuralism, postfeminism), it is clear that recent postmodern studies have contributed much to our understandings of how both music sound and sociomusical activities are gendered.

What has been less clear, however, are the reasons behind a growing separation between the two fields of musicology and ethnomusicology with respect to this research: after a brief spurt in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, work in feminist and genderist ethnomusicology seemed to slow in relation to that of musicology. Yes, certain recent works stand out, Beverly Diamond and Pirkko Moisala's Music and Gender and Tulia Magrini's Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean, among others. (2) Yet, compared to studies in musicology and especially in popular music studies, there seemed to be comparatively few.

I began to question, first, if this were actually the case and, second, what could explain this disparity, if it did indeed exist. To find some answers I conducted a quick, informal search, scanning the titles of over fifteen hundred books and articles written since 1990 on the subject of women and music, feminist theory and music, gender and music, and, most recently, men and music to see if my perceptions were correct. The book titles were culled from the Voyager Catalog on the University of Rochester's library system, and articles were taken from three prominent journals: the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Ethnomusicology, and Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture.

I knew from previous searches that at least half of the works would not be scholarly but, rather, trade books (more or less) chronicling the lives of famous female jazz singers or rock groups. The remaining 750 or so, that is, those attempting to theorize women, men, gender, and music in some way, could be roughly divided as follows: musicology, including Western classical and popular music, about 90 percent; ethnomusicology, meaning everything else, including non-Western popular and classical music, about 10 percent. I decided to separate musicological from ethno-musicological work on the basis of method: was the work under question derived from textwork or from fieldwork?

Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, the only music journal totally dedicated to publications on women, gender, and music, had a slightly higher percentage for ethnomusicological publications (ca. 17 percent). Table 1 shows the distribution of articles from the initial issue in 1997 to 2004.

We could partially explain these statistics as evidence for the relative numbers of musicologists and ethnomusicologists in the field today. According to the American Musicology Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology websites, about 3,300 people are members of the AMS, and about 1,200 belong to the SEM. Of course, some of these are the same people, but if we accept these numbers at face value, then indeed there are almost three times the number of musicologists than ethnomusicologists out there. It is easy to see why there are comparatively fewer published works in feminist and genderist ethnomusicology.

However, this is not the complete story. I linked Western popular music studies with musicology, not ethnomusicology, although, until recently, all music outside the Western art canon was considered the province of ethnomusicology. Western popular music studies, influenced by the newly burgeoning theories of cultural studies, brought the so-called music of the middle class into the canon--at least for some.

Until the advent of the "new musicology" in the 1980s music studies were traditionally divided into three genre categories: Western classical music, popular music, and non-Western music. …

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