Mission Statement


The Popular Music Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology (henceforth referred to as PMSSEM or the Section) was formed by members of the Society to promote the ethnomusicological study of popular music.

Perspective on intellectual community

From its inception, members of PMSSEM have been concerned that the Section be based on principles of flexibility and open-mindedness. While the members of the Section share many common intellectual concerns, political perspectives, methodological approaches and underlying theoretical orientations, the Section's guiding principle is that no single concept dictate the direction of the group or serve as a means of exclusion. In place of a core/periphery model, the Section is predicated on a vision of intellectual community that sees its members as possessing overlapping interests, evolving perspectives and active connections with other institutions and disciplines.

Foundational concepts

In the context of this vision, PMSSEM seeks to promote the study of popular music, construed in ways both broad and narrow. Broadly construed, popular music is conceptualized, not as a sharply delineated and objective phenomena, but as a historically and culturally grounded set of intuitions which inform both music research and the concrete social activities of musical participants. Understood in this way, the concept of "popular music" may include, but is not limited to, mass mediated musics, musics developed on a local level, musics developing outside of established institutional power structures, music emerging in the context of the international industry, musics developing with limited forms of institutionalized pedagogy or orally transmitted musics. Popular music may also be construed in a more narrow fashion, in which case any one of these elements may serve as guiding definition. The Section embraces scholars employing any of these approaches.


As a section with the Society for Ethnomusicology, a wide variety of specific programmatic concerns animate our research, teaching and other scholarly endeavors. While not limited to the following list, PMSSEM hope to stimulate developments in the areas.


PMSSEM seek to encourage:

  • greater interactions between popular music scholars of different disciplines and the development of new approaches to popular music research beyond disciplinary boundaries.
  • research into Non-Western popular music as well as research into Western popular forms.
  • research into musical practices at all levels of social life—local, regional, national and transnational. We also seek to stimulate research into musical practices that emerge in the interactions between cultures as well as those that occur within relatively stable groups.
  • greater attention to musical sound in popular music research. By the same token, we seek to encourage the examination of relationships between musical sound and social life at various levels.
  • the development of a stronger empirical basis for popular music research, including a greater emphasis on ethnography, oral history and archival research.


PMSSEM seek to encourage:

  • greater scholarly examination of pedagogical issues in popular music studies.
  • new methods and techniques for teaching popular music in the classroom.
  • development of educational programming beyond the classroom.

Institutional infrastructure

PMSSEM seek to encourage:

  • new thinking on the ethical dimensions of popular music studies, including fieldwork, classroom education, publication, public sector work and advocacy.
  • the development of a more secure place for popular music studies within the academy.
  • greater cooperation between the diverse disciplines and scholarly societies that explore popular music.

Composed by Harris M. Berger, October 8, 1997
Approved by the Section at the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, October 24, 1997

Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved