The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2020 | Urbanism and activism in contemporary indigenous music-making
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Urbanism and Activism in Contemporary Indigenous Music-Making

Principal supervisor: Rachel Harris  (SOAS)

Research webpage:

Co-Supervisor: Robert Topinka (BBK)

Award includes tuition fees and a stipend of £17,009 including London Weighting (at 2019/20 rates, so slightly higher for 2020 entry)

100% FTE for 3 years, from September 2020.

Project Description:

Contemporary styles of music-making, from country music to hip-hop, created and performed by self-identifying indigenous artists in different locations across the globe have become an important medium for the assertion of indigenous identities and values, critiques of historical colonialism, and exploration of the ways in which neo-colonisation affects indigenous lives in the present. As postcolonial researchers have argued, indigenous cultures have been historically portrayed as less human, “lacking” the “virtues of civilisation” such as elite arts and institutions. These narratives of dehumanisation intersect with long histories of objectification and romanticisation of indigenous peoples. Contemporary musical performance now provides multiple platforms for indigenous voices to convey counter-narratives, to assert new political messages, and to re-humanise indigenous peoples.

A significant body of ethnomusicological research on indigenous musics focuses on music practices in remote community settings. Whilst this body of literature has provided many valuable insights into, for example, the complex and fragile ecosystems which link music-making, community and the natural environment, they uphold a perception of indigenous musics in terms of traditionality rather than contemporaneity, situating indigenous musics as phenomena remote from transnational flows of capital, ideology and power. These approaches sideline the fact that today, many indigenous peoples live in urban centres, often occupying marginalised positions within sites of globalised modernity while simultaneously identifying with, and promoting, notions of indigeneity.

This project follows new directions in ethnomusicology which focus on contemporary indigenous performance as an active response to the colonial impact on indigenous lives, as a vehicle for new forms of activism, and for creating new, transnational political movements. The project seeks to establish a musician-researcher dialogue through experiments with forms of co-research and cultural activism, developing multiple modes of conversation and engagement, co-performance and co-creation between musicians and listeners which aim to bridge academic and public debates.

Although identity formations are a significant part of indigenous cultural articulations, this project focuses on the experience of indigenous music-making. What is it like to be an urban musician who performs and inhabits contemporary re-appropriations of indigenous identity? How do these musical expressions affect indigenous and non-indigenous listeners? How should we engage with performative and embodied responses to colonialism, and how best to explore questions of voice, race, and musical genre in the context of radical historical rupture?

Subject Areas/Keywords:

music – urban – indigeneity – performance – activism

Candidate Requirements:

The successful candidate will have an excellent Masters degree in Ethnomusicology, Urban Studies or other relevant Humanities/Social Science subject. Desirable qualities include a track record in cultural activism, previous engagement with indigenous communities, and/or experience carrying out ethnographic fieldwork.

The studentship is open to applicants assessed to have UK/EU fee status.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed during the week commencing 20 April 2020.

Key References:

Fisher, Daniel. The Voice and its Doubles: Media and Music in Northern Australia. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.


Latour, Bruno. An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, transl. by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.


Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books Ltd., 2013.


Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Rachel Harris (

Co-Supervisor: Robert Topinka (

Further information about PhDs at

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Instructions for applicants

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2020 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

STEP 1: Admissions Application: 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 27 February 2020

Apply for the Research Degrees programme: MPhil/PhD in Music using SOAS’s online admissions form. See HERE

for information and ‘Apply Online’ link

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 27 February 2020).

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme and documents you need to submit is available at this link HERE

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship (Urbanism and Activism in Contemporary Indigenous Music-Making) as your Research Proposal Title and state Prof. Rachel Harris as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

STEP 2: Studentship Application: 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 12th March 2020.

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting the studentship application form HERE

as soon as possible but no later than 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 12th March 2020.

Closing date for applications is: 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2020).