music and tech

I made a comment about this on Steve Wheeler’s blog a few days ago, and have been thinking about it since. In the many conversations I’ve had recently about edupunk, the term punk has been as much of an obstacle as it has illustrative. Now, admittedly, this probably has more to do with the staid nature of historians, and our tendency to think about categories as, well, historical. Punk didn’t change the world, though it was musically and socially important to people interested in certain types of music and sociability. That said, I think the fate of punk was the fate of most any successful creative movement in the world of late capitalism– commodification. Not only that, but punk suffers/suffered from the types of internecine squabbles on group authenticity that get just so tiresome.

I like the term edupunk– it captures a certain sentido for sure, a sentido towards authority, institutions, corporations, profiteering, etc. that sits well with academics on an emotive level, even as we toil away in the heart of some rather conservative institutions that are increasingly being subjected to market ideology. But punk is certainly not the only metaphor that would work here. Most any music subculture would. Why do I say this? The sundry music subcultures that I have found moving– punk, ska, alt country, swing, rap and hip hop, rockabilly, etc.– were built on creative movement that looks both forward and backward simultaneously. They are built on roots music, but they deploy those roots in contexts far removed from the original. They are derivative, but not inauthentic. the successive waves of musical reinvention are spurred by a distaste for commodification, a search for authenticity in earlier music, and its re-engagement. Punk certainly did this in the mid to late 1970s– looking to the grinding, driving rock’n’roll of a Link Wray and the repetition and simplicity of roots ska, and more. Rap and hip hop are the epitome of the process. For Dylan, it was Woody Guthrie.

Maybe that’s a bit of what edupunk is doing with pedagogy and tech in the classroom– looking both the a “roots” sense of education mission, and mashing it up with the new context of 2.0. The critical thinking I want to foster in my students is a form of thinking educators, and historians in particular have always sought to develop. Illich, McLuhan, Friere, etc. would feel at home with an edupunk pedagogy, even if not with the technophilia of these discussions. But, that is the changing context. Is it a game changing context? Well, sure, except when it’s not. There is nothing inherently revolutionary about hyptertext, or an rss feed, or social bookmarking, or any other technological innovation. Now, revolutionary potential….


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Digital History, Teaching

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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