Popular Music Studies and Interdisciplinarity


  • Steve Waksman Smith College




interdisciplinarity, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, academic organizational history, IASPM-US


Recent trends suggest that the interdisciplinary character that defined popular music studies in its formative stages has been supplanted by retrenchment along lines of disciplinary or sub-disciplinary alliance. In this article, I briefly survey some of the signs of the field’s realignment in the past two decades, drawing upon my experience as president of the US chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US) and my longer career as a popular music scholar. One of the primary signs of the vitality and strength of popular music studies is also, somewhat paradoxically, a source for this shift in the field: namely, that popular music studies has a much wider variety of institutional homes today than it had in the early 1980s, when IASPM as an international organization was founded, or in the late 1990s, when I first began to attend popular music conferences on a regular basis. Most major North American music organizations of standing—the American Musicological Society, Society for Ethnomusicology and Society for Music Theory among them—now have sections or interest groups dedicated to popular music studies. This proliferation of settings where popular music scholarship finds support is no doubt a positive development, but I would argue that it has fostered a move away from the more dedicated sort of interdisciplinary space for popular music studies represented by IASPM-US. I consider some of the structural factors within academia that would lead scholars to prefer conducting popular music scholarship under the rubric of a more finite disciplinary affiliation and argue for the continued value of an interdisciplinary popular music studies.

Author Biography

Steve Waksman, Smith College

Steve Waksman is Professor of Music and Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies at Smith College. His publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press, 1999), This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press, 2009), and the SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (2015), which he co-edited with Andy Bennett. Past president (2017– 2019) of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, US chapter (IASPM-US), currently he is writing a new book on the cultural history of live music and performance in the US, tentatively titled, Live Music in America: A History.


Swiss, Thomas, John Sloop and Andrew Herman, eds. 1998. Mapping the Beat: Popular Music and Contemporary Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Tagg, Philip. 1982. “Why IASPM?” Review of Popular Music 1: 1.

Waksman, Steve. 1999. Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



How to Cite

Waksman, S. (2019). Popular Music Studies and Interdisciplinarity. Journal of World Popular Music, 6(2), 232–236. https://doi.org/10.1558/jwpm.40177



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