CALL FOR PAPERS: Rhythm: Affect, Technology, Aesthetics

Rhythm returns, it makes a habit of it. This is in its nature – repeating itself, reiterating, doubling-back. [...] There is a rhetoric to rhythm, we feel it, it carries an affective charge, conveying meaning as feeling and tone, rather than logic or information.

J. Henriques, M. Tiainen, P. Väliaho, “Rhythm Returns: Movement and Cultural Theory” (2014)

Etymologically, rhythm refers to a distinct form that performs a relation between repetition and variation. Think of the beat, cadence, or tempo of music. Or the meter, stress, and accent of a poem. Or the patterns of bodily movements in dance, at the conveyor belt in factories, or in traffic. Rhythm, as Henriques, Tainen and Väliaho note, is “both flow and form, that is, both meter and music, quantity and quality” (2014). Hence, rhythm is a concept in movement, one that traverses disciplines in music, art, culture, nature, politics, and economy, giving attention to the mediation and organization of sensory, representational and political worlds.

This seminar seeks to discuss the different rhythms that are at play in art and cultural studies – from rhythm in music/sound, rhythm as a mode of analysis, rhythm as a theoretical concept, and rhythm methods. The potential starting points for such an interdisciplinary conversation on rhythms are many. In Rhythmanalysis (1992), for instance, Henri Lefebvre suggests the importance of not limiting studies of rhythm to music and dance, instead he positions rhythm as a framework of analyzing the interrelation of space and time in everyday life, as the enmeshment of the biological and social body.

In Keeping Together in Time (1995) William McNeill analyzes rhythm as a powerful means of organizing collectives in a variety of domains: music, the military, politics, and religion to name a few. Michel Foucault also gives “collective and obligatory rhythm[s]” a central role in his discussion on modern disciplinary forms of power in Discipline and Punish (1979). In his descriptions of disciplinary institutions such as prisons and schools, Foucault highlights how time tables and other measures of punctuality made time “penetrate the body with all the meticulous controls of power” (Foucault 1979). The importance of rhythms to the biopolitical organization of life has also been central to queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman’s conceptualization of chrononormativity, described as the “inculcating [of] particular cultural rhythms into the flesh such that they feel organic” (2018).

These embodied effects of rhythms are central to how the concept has been taken up in affect studies and new materialism. Take for instance the discussions on “entrainment”, described by Teresa Brennan as the “rhythmic means whereby one person’s affects can be linked to another” (2004). Or Erin Manning’s discussion of rhythm as a “prearticulated feeling in motion” in her discussion of the editing flows in Tarkovsky’s films (2008). This affective force is also central to how rhythm features in black studies, from Fred Moten’s riff on improvisational rhythms in black avant-garde aesthetic in In the Break (2003) to the experiments with polyrhythm and syncopation in the novels of Toni Morrison.

The pervasive presence of rhythm across different domains raise a number of questions for aesthetic and cultural analysis: What is the material basis of rhythms and what are their aesthetic consequences? Which hermeneutic practices do different rhythms of production invite us to engage in? How does rhythm work to establish bonds that shape them into a community, what is the nature of such communities, what are its borders? And which values crystallize around the phenomenon of rhythm. In music, for example, a distinction between rhythm and meter became salient in the Romantic period: Meter was traditionally viewed as conservative, simple, mechanical, while rhythm was elevated as creative and complex, even as the mark of the human. How have the values attached to rhythm and meter been tested and changed over time - and not just in music but across the arts?

This course welcomes presentations that find inspiration in political, spatial, aesthetic, musical, or theoretical dimensions of rhythm.


  • Rhythm as a structuring principle, forming time and creating sense of time.
  • Rhythm as a concept both taking place in and configuring time and space.
  • Rhythms of the body, rhythms monitoring our everyday work life
  • Rhythm and the biopolitical, digital technologies surveilling bodily actions.
  • Rhythms creating affects in specific social and political contexts
  • Rhythm in a media archaeological sense for analyzing cultural objects and their relation to media based cultural situations
  • Rhythm as a sonic way of knowing


This graduate seminar is co-organized by graduate schools in literature, art and cultural studies at the University of Southern Denmark, the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University.

In case that the covid-19 pandemic will make us unable to travel and meet in April we are working with a digital backup plan where the seminar will take place on Zoom.

Paper proposals (abstracts)

Paper proposals (abstracts) of 200-300 words should be sent before January 15, 2021 to Birgitte Stougaard Pedersen (, Anders Engberg-Pedersen, (, and Mathias Danbolt (