MusM Music (Ethnomusicology)

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Popular Music and Identity

Course unit fact file
Unit code LALC61052
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This team-taught course unit is available as an option to all postgraduate students of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures. Its object of study is the expression and representation of cultural identities through popular music, with changing emphases on nation, ethnicity, gender and generation. Defined inclusively, ‘popular music’ allows us to examine and compare different music genres from the late 19th century to the present, ranging across (depending on staff availability and specialism) American blackface minstrelsy, Russian guitar-poetry, Spanish flamenco, Latin American cumbia, French yéyé, and other genres. Popular music is studied from the combined perspectives of artistic production and critical reception, with primary material encompassing lyrics, music, performance, record sleeves, fan response and reviews. The theoretical framework is interdisciplinary and dependent on each case-study, mainly drawing from sociology, history, ethnomusicology and area studies, while the concepts discussed incorporate those of race, class, gender, diaspora, authenticity, consumerism, prestige, heritage, and more. This unit also draws on the rich soundscape and music-playing facilities of Manchester itself, and may include, depending on funding and risk assessment, visits to local landmarks, guest talks, concerts and immersive fieldwork.

By encouraging students to think critically and comparatively about popular music and about the meanings of cultural practice, the course develops the analytical skills and inter-cultural awareness central to postgraduate study in the Humanities. This course also allows interested students to develop their own popular music-related topics for their MA Dissertation, and to think ahead to PhD study thanks to the highly regarded specialist supervision available in SALC in this area.

No prerequisite in a modern foreign language or in musicology is needed.


  1. To provide graduates holding a first degree in a Humanities subject with the opportunity to acquire an advanced understanding of the formation of cultural identities through popular music, across a range of national contexts.
  2. To provide a thorough grounding in current theoretical approaches to race, gender, prestige, authenticity, nostalgia and heritage, as applied to specific cultural and musical contexts.
  3. Through reading, listening to songs, using web resources, leading seminar presentations and the writing of essays, to make students fully conversant with the methods of scholarly enquiry in a Humanities discipline, and with the resources necessary for such research.


This syllabus is indicative of the taught programme, and remains subject to variation depending on staff availability.

Weeks 1 and 2: Introduction (taught by Barbara Lebrun, French Studies) The academic study of Popular Music –an interdisciplinary approach. Key issues in the study of ‘musical identities’.

Weeks 3 to 9: A selection of case-studies of different musical genres and identities, taught by various SALC colleagues depending on availability, which might include:

- Race and rock’n’roll (taught by Molly Geidel, American Studies)

- US hip-hop (taught by Eithne Quinn, American Studies)

- yéyé in 1960s France (taught by Barbara Lebrun, French Studies)

- Flamenco and national identity in Spain (taught by Samuel Llano and Carlos van Tongeren, SPLAS)

- Guitar poetry in late 1950 and 1960s Russia (taught by Rachel Platonov, Russian Studies)

- TBC Weeks 10 and 11: Essay Preparation (with course convenor and seminar leaders) Folllowing methodology workshops, students will give brief oral presentations on their choice of essay topic, and receive extensive peer and tutor feedback on their assessment preparation.

Teaching and learning methods

A combination of tutor-led and student-led seminars, where key theoretical concepts are deployed (e.g. race, class, diaspora, authenticity, commercialism, prestige, nostalgia and heritage) and specific case-studies of popular music genres are used to illustrate the use of these concepts.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the course unit students will normally:


1)      Have acquired an advanced knowledge of selected aspects of the popular music genres covered on the course.

2)      Have developed an understanding of theoretical and methodological approaches to the advanced study of cultural identities in popular music.

Intellectual skills

By the end of the course unit students will normally:


1)      Have mastered the essential skills necessary to pursue independent research in literary, cultural and social studies in relation to popular culture. These include analysis, argument, independent thinking and effective oral and written self-expression. (NB for students proceeding to doctoral research in a modern foreign language, the relevant language skills must be acquired, and for those proceeding to doctoral research in music, the relevant musicological skills must be acquired).

2)      Have demonstrated, through seminar presentation and the writing of an essay, their specialized knowledge of a chosen field, and their ability to analyse and evaluate material (including print, electronic and audio-visual resources) and to construct an argument in an appropriately lucid, rigorous and scholarly manner.

Practical skills

By the end of the course unit students will normally:


1)      Have mastered the use and relevance of a range of primary sources.

2)      Have demonstrated their capacity to think critically and to demonstrate an argument with supporting evidence.

3)      Have demonstrated their capacity to speak clearly in public.

4)      Have demonstrated their capacity to organise and structure an essay in a rigorous and convincing, logical fashion. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

All the above are transferable skills and personal qualities, as are the employability skills listed below (e.g . independent research, critical thinking and analysis, inter-cultural awareness, writing and speaking, meeting deadlines). 

Employability skills

Students on this course unit will demonstrate skills of intellectual, analytical skills, oral and written communication, decision-making and initiative , IT skills, networking and time management.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)

1 academic essay on a music genre, national context and key concept(s) of the student’s choice



Feedback methods

 Feedback method

Formative (during the semester) and Summative

Individual written comments on draft essay plan


Oral individual and global comments about in-class participation


Further individual feedback by appointment



Recommended reading

This list is indicative; the final reading list will be provided to students in relation to the finalised programme on a particular year

. Popular Music Studies

: Adorno, Theodor. ‘On Popular Music ’ [1941] in Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (eds), On Record (London: Routledge, 1990) 301-14.

Machin, David. Analysing Popular Music: Image, Sound, Text (Los Angeles: Sage, 2010).

Longhurst, Brian. Popular Music and Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995) especially Chp 1: ‘Arguments and Framework. Adorno and Popular Music’, 3-26.

Paddison, Max. ‘The Critique Criticised: Adorno and Popular Music’, Popular Music, vol.2, pp. XXX

Blackface minstrelsy:

Lott, Eric. ‘The Seeming Counterfeit: Racial Politics and Early Blackface Minstrelsy, American Quarterly, 43.2 (1991) 223-254.

Sotiropolous, Karen. ‘The “Coon Craze” and the Search for Authenticity’, in Staging Race: Black Performers in Turn of the Century America.

Filene, Benjamin. ‘Creating the Cult of Authenticity: The Lomaxes and Lead Belly’ in Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (UNC Press, 2000).

Race and rock’n’roll:

Hamilton, Jack. Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.

Brooks, Daphne. ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’: Surrogation & Black Female Soul Singing in the Age of Catastrophe’ , Meridians 8.1 (2008) 180-204.

US hip-hop:

Quinn, Eithne. Nuthin’ but a G thang. The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap (Columbia University Press,


Gosa, Travis and Erik Nielson (eds) The Hip-Hop and Obama Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Yéyé in 1960s France

: Briggs, Jonathyne. ‘Sex and the Girl’s single: French Popular Music and the Long Sexual Revolution of the 1960s’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21.3 (2012) 523-48.

Saladin, Matthieu. ‘From yeah yeah to ‘yéyé’: cover versions as inaugural listening in French 1960s popular music’, in Made in France ed. by Gérôme Guibert and Catherine Rudent (Routledge, 2017)

Stratton, Jon. ‘Coming to the Fore: The Audibility of Women’s Sexual Pleasure in Popular Music and the Sexual Revolution’, Popular Music, 33.1 (2014) 109-28

.Flamenco, ethnicity and national identity in Spain (taught by Samuel Llano)

Charnon-Deutsch, Lou. The Spanish Gypsy: The history of a European obsession (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, 2004)

Manuel, Peter. ‘Andalusian, Gypsy and Class Identity in the Contemporary Flamenco Complex,’

Ethnomusicology, 33.1 (1989), 47-65

. Washabauh, William. Flamenco Music and National Identity in Spain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012)

Cumbia music: the Caribbeanisation of Latin America (taught by Ignacio Aguilo)

Fernández L'Hoeste, H. and Pablo Vila. Cumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013)

Wade, Peter. Music, Race and Nation: Música Tropical in Colombia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

Quispe Lázaro, Arturo. ‘Chicha Music, Urban Subalternity and Cultural Identities in Peru: Construction of the Local and Translocal Scene’, in Made in Latin America ed. by Christian Spence Espinosa (Routledge, 2015) 99-110.

Guitar poetry in late 1950 and 1960s Russia (taught by Rachel Platonov)

Cherniavsky, V. I. ‘Politics in the Poetry of the Grat Bartds: Vladimir Vysotsky’, Russian Studies in Literature 41.1 (2004-5): 60-82.

Bittner, Stephen V. ‘History and Myth of the Arbat’, in The Many Lives of Khrushchev’s Thaw: Experience and Memory in Moscow’s Arbat (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 19-74.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Barbara Lebrun Unit coordinator

Additional notes

As stated above: 22 contact hours plus a minimum of 3 hours of independent study per week; 1 dedicated consultation hour per week with tutors; 1 scheduled visit to the Salford Lads Club and other co-curricular activities.

Work placements are not a requirement of this course unit but may be organised in the local North West area, subject to UK government guidance, if students wish to write their Dissertation on a related topic, and a placement is deemed necessary.

Return to course details