CALL FOR PAPERS: Music and Cultural Diplomacy in the Middle East: Geopolitical Re-Configurations for the 21st Century

The Department of Arts and Cultural Studies of the University of Copenhagen is pleased to announce the conference ‘Music and Cultural Diplomacy in the Middle East: Geopolitical Re-Configurations for the 21st Century’ to be held on 10-11 September 2020 at the University of Copenhagen.

Keynote speakers

  • Professor Virginia Danielson (Harvard University)
  • Professor Jonathan Shannon (New York University Abu Dhabi, NYUAD)

This conference seeks to critically examine the relationship between music, power and cultural diplomacy within the Middle East, as well as between the Middle East, the Western world and other regions.

In recent years cultural diplomacy has gained renewed attention given the social, economic and geopolitical transformations that have underpinned rise of neoliberal economies (Zamorano 2016, Ney 2008). Broadly defined as a soft power tool for building long term influence, cultural diplomacy is a contested term since it can be located on the same spectrum as state branding, propaganda and public diplomacy (Goff 2013). However, cultural diplomacy may also be expanded beyond the remits of the state to encompass international organizations (EU, UNESCO), non-sate actors (NGO’s), communities and individual musicians. All of these contribute to the constant flows of ideas, images and sounds circulating through a plethora of platforms that characterize today’s highly mediatized global world.

While key studies from the fields of musicology, popular music studies, political science and diplomacy have addressed the role of music in cultural diplomacy during the Cold War period (Fosler-Lussier 2015, Mikkonen and Suutari 2016), cultural diplomacy has barely been addressed in the context of the Middle East. Here, the work of musicians such as Umm Kulthum or Fairuz has arguably served cultural diplomacy purposes. This conference aims to tackle a lack of contemporary accounts on the role played by musics, musicians, music institutions as well as non-state actors in mediating between contemporary sound practices, power and cultural diplomacy within the Middle East as well as those between the Middle East, the Western world and other geographies.

In the aftermath of the 2015 migration crisis, cultural diplomacy gained further relevance with the EU claiming it to be ‘at the heart of European International relations’ (European Union External Action). Music has served to manage cultural difference between European states with their external ‘Muslim neighbours as well as internal Muslim citizens’ (Shannon 2015:168) in what can be perceived an asymmetric exchange that serves political, economic and rhetorical functions. In light of the increasing ways in which the term ‘cultural diplomacy’ is being applied, we invite proposals that can help problematise Middle Eastern musical practices in their relationship to power and cultural diplomacy in order build a broader and pluri-dimensional account on these contentious relationships.

To address these issues, we invite the submission of proposals that can present further in-depth critical enquiries into the role of contemporary musics, musicians, music scenes, industries and state and nonstate actors within the Middle East and between the Middle East and other geographical areas. We particularly welcome papers in the fields of ethnomusicology, popular music studies, musicology, anthropology of music, cultural studies and music, international politics and development.

Interdisciplinary approaches are strongly encouraged.

Proposals of no more than 300 words should clearly outline the scope and shape of the presentation, as well as its relationship to the focus of the conference. We welcome contributions in the format of individual papers (20 minutes), group panels, roundtables, posters and ethnographic films. Abstracts should be submitted as a single PDF file to with a cover letter written in the body of the email that provides the title of the paper, as well as the author's name, institutional affiliation, email address, and telephone number. The deadline for submissions is the 15 April 2020.

This event is organized by Dr. Maria M. Rijo Lopes da Cunha and Associate Professor Søren Møller Sørensen from the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies (IKK) of the University of Copenhagen.

Reference list

Fosler-Lussier, D. 2015. Music in America’s Cold War Diplomacy. Oakland: California University Press.

Goff, P. 2013. “Cultural Diplomacy” in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy. Cooper, A, Jorge Heine and Ramesh Takhur (Eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mikkonen, S. and Pekka Suutari. 2016. Music, Art and Diplomacy. East- West Cultural Interactions and the Cold War. London & New York: Routledge.

Ney, J. 2008. “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power” The ANNALS of American Academy of Political and Social Science, AAPSS, 616, March 2008. Sage Journals.

Shannon, J.H. 2015. Performing the al-Andalus. Music and Nostalgia Across the Mediterranean. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Zamorano, M.M.2016. “Reframing Cultural Diplomacy: The Instrumentalization of Culture under the Soft Power Theory”, Culture Unbound, Volume 8, 2016: 166–186. Published by Linköping University Electronic Press: