Listening, Memorizing, (Un-)Forgetting: Popular Music as a Climate-Related Knowledge Resource (keynote)

Sweers, Britta (5 July 2022). Listening, Memorizing, (Un-)Forgetting: Popular Music as a Climate-Related Knowledge Resource (keynote) (Unpublished). In: IASPM World Conference XXI, Daegu, South Korea. Daegu. 05.-09.07.2022.

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Human interactions with climate-related issues are reflected in many popular musics. Uncovering these interrelations and concepts not only requires an understanding of corresponding environments, but also of human listening strategies and processes of memorization. Based on four case studies, this presentation discusses the role of popular musics for a deeper understanding of climate-related aspects, here within a Western context. As is argued, popular musics contain a vast climate-related knowledge that is, however, easily forgotten. Given that related analyses provide deep insights into changing perceptions of and interactions with the environment, this presentation also reflects on methodological approaches to this topic.
Starting out with Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads (1940), the presentation first discusses a human-made disaster that, by ignoring climatic conditions, has been exerting a long-term impact on the environment of the US-American Great Plains. Which role does popular music play in the memorization of such events? This is followed by a discussion of the role of popular musics in addressing unspoken human responses to environmental threats, such as European North Sea Storm tides that, while shaping everyday life, have been, in contrast to US-American hurricanes, mostly avoided in local music. Subsequently, the presentation will highlight how popular music can reveal altering dystopian environmental climate-related visions. Many music videos of the 1980s featured atomic bomb explosions, while the environmental future was, consequently, not that of a global warming, but that of a global ice age. The final example addresses the need of a closer awareness of alternative narrations beyond the mainstream, such as of the First Nations in Canada who have not only been addressing water issues in rap music, but also reveal the interconnection with the situation of indigenous women. How can these voices get heard by related stakeholders? Which role do popular music studies play here, also within the broader context of ongoing climate debates?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for Global Studies (CGS)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Musicology

UniBE Contributor:

Sweers, Britta


700 Arts > 780 Music
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
900 History




Britta Sweers

Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2023 09:17

Last Modified:

11 Aug 2023 09:17

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Climate-related knowledge, listening strategies, memorization, Western popular music


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