Amateurism revisited: singing, activism and the limits of (post)socialist racialization

Contemporary approaches to amateur music making discuss the professional-non-professional, the non-educated/educated, and aurality/literacy distinctions as saturated with an array of binaries such as primitive/civilized, emotional/rational, authentic/inauthentic, improvised/composed. In contrast to the scholars who put at the center of amateur music-making a celebration of multicultural society and diversity, particularly in the context of the West or Global North, the recent studies focus on the very production of amateur, uneducated subject as constituted by a racial order forced by contemporary capitalism. While simultaneously drawing on such approaches and questioning them, in this talk I explore how amateur music making do not just naturalizes the difference but also evokes social equality that is in the post-socialist setting saturated by the particular affective and symbolic values. In doing that, I argue that the post-socialist context offers the insights into the category of an amateur beyond a celebration of diversity and freedom on one hand and the principles of racialized order, on the other. From an ethnographic focus on the selected examples of activist singing, I aim to analyze affective, symbolic and social capacities of amateur music-making as a form of life that mobilizes an affective infrastructure of commons (Berlant 2020). Taking a perspective contextually grounded in the Yugoslav historical legacies of amateurism as a dynamic process of constant renegotiation of social positions and subjectivities as a part of striving toward socially-owned organization and communal forms of life, I raise following questions: What affective charges behind amateurism as social positions and auditory regimes associated with it can tell us about unexpected alliances or interruptions in the post-Yugoslav identity politics? Whether and how amateur music making can be ambiguous spaces of experimenting with equality beyond commodified behavior and neoliberal production of subjectivity?


Ana Hofman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Culture and Memory Studies of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts in Ljubljana. She uses both archival and ethnographic methods to examine musical sound during socialism and the present-day conjuncture of neoliberalism and post-socialism in the area of former Yugoslavia. She was a postdoctoral Fulbright Fellow at the Graduate Center of the City University New York in spring semester 2018. The same year she was awarded with the Danubius Mid-Career Award by the Institute for Central Europe and Danube Region and the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research. She has published many articles and book chapters, including two monographs: Staging Socialist Femininity: Gender Politics and Folklore Performances in Serbia (2011) and Music, Politics, Affect: New Lives of Partisan Songs in Slovenia (2016). She is currently working on the monograph Socialism, Now! Singing Activism after Yugoslavia (Oxford University Press).