Gavin Lee lecture: More Difference! Epistemic Delinking from US Music Studies


More Difference! Epistemic Delinking from US Music Studies


Trump‘s racist presidency has arguably left its mark on US music studies by inspiring a plethora of anti-racist and decolonial discourses that were followed in many cases by reactionism or ignorance, leaving music studies reeling in scandal after scandal. With “difference” functioning as the epistemic linchpin of this scholarship as well as the ensuing social media discourse, it has become more important than ever to closely examine the uses to which the concept is put. While difference has long been held up as an ethical standard, its application in US music studies has frequently led to distortions of global milieus and musical others who are constructed in a way that ultimately responds to US contexts. This paper argues that there needs to be “more difference” in the sense of making distinctions between decoloniality in US musical knowledge versus in the world, between general agency and decoloniality, and between colonial and decolonial uses of both Western and non-Western music, rather than relying on overtly constructivist but covertly essentialist conceptions of musics and peoples. Moving from a clandestine binary logic of dichotomous bifurcation that inheres in the invisible meta-discourse of difference (that haunts visible discourses of nuanced reflexivity and relationality), I articulate multiplicity as an epistemic alternative, one that anchors materiality, ethics, and the parallax that arises from locating difference in relation to really-existing macro-systemic universals such as coloniality and geology.


Gavin Lee is a scholar of music studies at the intersection of global musical modernisms, popular music, queer and decolonial theory, posthumanism, and East Asia. His work is published by Journal of the Royal Musical AssociationCurrent MusicologyMusic Theory SpectrumMusic Analysis, and Routledge. An Assistant Professor at Soochow University, China, Lee is the founding co-chair of the AMS Global East Asian Music Research study group and the SMT Global Interculturalism and Musical Peripheries group, and serves in the leadership of LGBTQ+ committees across the music societies.


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January 14, 2021 - 4:00pm