Keith Kahn Harris

professionally curious, communally engaged

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  1. Heavy metal and popular culture conference

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    I’ll be giving a keynote lecture at this conference next year. It looks like it”s going to be a great event. No website for the conference yet but here’s the call for papers:


    Heavy Metal and Popular Culture

    April 4-7, 2013

    Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

    The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, in collaboration with Heavy Fundamentalisms: Metal, Music and Politics and the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), announce the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture. The Program Committee of the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture invites proposals for papers, organized panels of 3-4 papers, and scholarly posters. The online submission deadline for all proposals is 1 December 2012. The conference will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, April 4-7, 2013.

    We envision the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture to be a highly selective conference featuring cutting-edge scholarship on heavy metal’s many facets and forms. Papers will be organized into a single track of programming over four days—there will be no overlapping sessions.  Featured at the conference will be keynote lectures by Robert Walser, Laina Dawes, and Keith Kahn-Harris, a screening of the film Motörhead Matters, three roundtables featuring Niall Scott, Steve Waksman, Deena Weinstein and other international metal scholars to be announced, and a special exhibit on facepaint and masks.


    We welcome proposals involving all facets of heavy metal musical life throughout the world, with a focus on the intersections, circuits, and mutual imbrications of heavy metal and popular culture, globally and locally. We especially welcome proposals addressing the following themes:

    • Heavy Metal Consumption:  In what ways has mainstream popular culture changed, prefigured or reversed the consumption of heavy metal?  How has heavy metal, as a subculture, sound or style, affected popular culture?   Are there new forms of popular culture for which heavy metal has become an influence?  Is the intersection of heavy metal, popular culture and consumption creating new questions about authenticity, aesthetics, and soundscape?  (In other words, what does it mean when obscure 1980s thrash metal tracks wind up on Guitar Hero?)


    • Heavy Metal, Popular Culture and New Media:  Given the rise of new media for heavy metal (social networking media, music and video systems online, gaming, music downloading technology), how has heavy metal further saturated the landscape of popular culture?   Are the sounds of heavy metal changing with new technologies and popular media?


    • Heavy Metal Clothing Style:  From the fantastic costumes of bands such as Gwar to the ubiquitous heavy metal t-shirt, the fashion of heavy metal is a vital part of its allure, its popularity, and its criticism.  Why is heavy metal style both controversial and popular?  Where and how has heavy metal style intersected with fashion locally and globally?  


    • American Heavy Metal Popular Culture and Its Circuits:  From films such as Heavy Metal Parking Lot to Kiss’ commercialism and the Osbourne family’s reality television programs, mainstream American popular culture has held a particular fascination for heavy metal, fomenting moral panics against it one day and celebrating its integrity and authenticity the next.  How did American popular culture and heavy metal become so mutually imbricated?  Are American popular culture’s heavy metal appropriations altering the scenes in other countries and cultures?  Do local scenes, including those within the United States, seek to resist mainstream popular culture or embrace it?  

    Research Poster Sessions
    The poster format provides an opportunity for conference attendees to meet informally with authors and discuss research. Each author attends her/his respective 60-minute session, distributes abstracts, and answers questions. Supporting sound and/or video examples (on personal computers and utilizing battery, rather than A/C power) will be coordinated with other presenters once the Program Committee has formed sessions.


    General Guidelines
    Accepted presenters will not be required to pay conference attendance registration fees.   The committee encourages proposals from graduate students and independent scholars.  An individual may submit only one proposal. All proposals must be submitted through the online electronic submission process.
    Proposals must specify whether the proposal is for 1) paper, 2) poster, or 3) either presentation format, the latter to be determined by the Program Committee as it builds sessions. Individual or joint papers should be no longer than twenty minutes.  Posters will be organized in block sessions.   For complete session proposals, the organizer must include an initial statement of 100 words explaining the rationale for the session, in addition to proposals and abstract files for each paper.
    Include the following for all submissions:

    1. Proposer’s name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation or city of residence
    2. 250-word proposal
    3. 100-word version of your proposal suitable for publication in the conference program (.doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf format). Include proposer’s name and email, and the proposal title in this file.
    4. Audio and visual needs: CD player, DVD player, digital projector. Please also specify IBM or Mac platforms, and any special needs.  Request of special audio and visual needs does not guarantee their availability, but presenters will be notified if their requests cannot be met.
    5. Specify whether you are a student.

    All materials must be electronically date-stamped by December 1, 2012 at midnight CST and emailed to with “HMPC Submission” in the subject line and required documents attached. For further information regarding the submission process:  Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Chair, HM&PC 2013 Program Committee, Wood 136B, Department of History and Anthropology, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA,  


    For further information about the conference, please contact the BGSU conference organizers:


    Esther Clinton
    Matt Donahue
    Jeremy Wallach


      Department of Popular Culture, School of Cultural and Critical Studies, 228 Shatzel Hall
    Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403-0190, USA


  2. The pleasure and pain of crowd-funding

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    I bared my soul in a modest way in an article for The Literary Platform about my experience of crowd-funding my book, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg, through the Unbound project. Here it is again:

    I’m stalled – there’s no other word for it – at 8% funded. After a promising start in which a steady trickle of supporters pledged towards my book, no one has signed up for over a week. The giddy hopes that accompanied the start of my project are being replaced with cold, hard reality.

    That’s crowd-funding a book for you. Unless you are a household name or have a loyal following, it’s an insecure and even gut-wrenching business. However, my experience of crowd-funding has mainly been positive. Over the last year I’ve been working with Unbound, the crowd funding platform in which authors pitch their ideas directly to readers. Unlike other platforms, Unbound is not open to all and you have to submit your idea to them as you might do any other publishing company. If you’re picked up, Unbound kicks in a significant amount of money towards making a professional-quality pitch video and if the book gets funded, it’s published through their own imprint – so you’re not self-publishing.


    My Unbound project, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds, is a travel book in which I set myself the challenge of meeting the unknown heroes of obscure small worlds. I was one of the first projects Unbound took on and I benefited from the wave of publicity that accompanied the launch of the company. We started cautiously, as while I have published academic books, this was my first trade non-fiction work. From September to December 2011 the first chapter of the book, in which I aimed to meet the best water skier in Luxembourg, was open for funding. A gratifying number of people supported the chapter (helped by some novel incentives such as a postcard from me from Luxembourg) and I raised enough to visit Luxembourg and investigate the water skiing scene.

    So far so good, but the real challenge has been the full ‘phase two’ of the project, in which I need to raise a lot of money to visit Iceland, Malta, Alderney, Suriname and Botswana. Since the project went up in the start of July, it’s been noticeably tougher to get support for the book than was the case last year. Pledges come in fits and starts, without any real momentum.

    Crowd funding a book through Unbound requires hard graft. If you’re a relative unknown like myself, you have to get out there and ‘sell’ the project. And I’ve done just that: I’ve blitzed my Twitter and Facebook followers, sent emails, written articles and blog posts, appeared at literary nights and followed up any conceivable lead. I’ve risked annoying my friends with not-so-subtle requests for their pledges.

    There are three principle challenges to this. The first is that it’s almost impossible to know in advance what will work. Some literary nights have brought me new supporters and others have not. Some tweets get retweeted and others never do. An email to something called The Listserve – a giant email list for which one person gets chosen at random every day to post to the list – unexpectedly resulted in many new pledges.

    The second challenge is in converting interest into pledges. Everywhere I’ve talked about the book, I’ve had people approach me to say how interesting it sounds. I give them a promotional postcard and often never hear from them again. There’s plenty of good will but this doesn’t necessarily translate into cash.

    The third challenge is finding people who will pledge at a high level. My project has levels of support, going up from £10 to £2000, with incentives to match. While every pledge is precious, what I really need is a few ‘whales’ – people who will give larger sums of money without necessarily being motivated by what they will get in return. On phase one of my project, the generosity of a couple of people like this did much to get me funded.

    This ‘upfront’ work to get the book published is nerve-racking. What will happen if I don’t get funded? Here there is a parallel with more traditional publishing models. Unless you’re a writer with a proven track record and a multi-book contract, you have to do a lot of work to get picked up by a publisher or agent. For those at the start of their writing careers, it can take years to hone a book or book proposal into a state in which it will be picked up – with absolutely no guarantee that there will be anything at all to show for it. At least with Unbound I didn’t have to go through the agonies of drafting and redrafting proposals and sample chapters. Once I have the funding, it will be full steam ahead.

    I’m sure that many would argue that it would be ultimately more beneficial for one’s career as a writer to front-load the actual writing of the book rather than front-loading the publicity for thebook. Yet there is a hidden benefit. One thing that will console me if my book never gets funded is that much of the work of selling my book idea has not only been fun, it has been worthwhile for its own sake: I’ve spoken to people I would never have spoken to before, I’ve written for publications I’d never have written for before (such as this one!), I’ve forced myself to get out there on twitter not just for self-promotion, but to contribute to the vast ongoing discussion.

    In a much quoted and retweeted article a few weeks ago, Ewan Morrison convincingly argued that social media was not an effective tool for promoting self-published and other books. This may be correct – although social media have brought me new supporters – but it also misses the point a bit. If the networking and publicity work that crowd funding and other new publishing models require is not seen as a means to an end but an end in itself, then perhaps frustrated authors should learn to enjoy the process more. The challenge then is to find modes of self-promotion that are satisfying even if they do not lead to sales. This is why literary nights, speaker events and festivals are so important. Even if they don’t ‘work’ as forms of publicity, they certainly do work in being fun to take part in and as a way of meeting and connecting with people.

    So I’m frustrated at how my project seems to have stalled. But I haven’t given up hope. And I don’t regret the work I’ve put into it. It’s been a blast even if the dream of a book at the end of it might be deferred for a while.

    Keith Kahn-Harris is a London-based writer and sociologist, and you can find out more about his Unbound project here

  3. Why I want to visit Iceland

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    This is the second in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    The chapter I plan to write on Iceland represents the toughest challenge of the whole book. Not that visiting Iceland is difficult – it’s cheaper than ever before since the economic crisis of a couple of years ago. It’s what I want to investigate in Iceland that’s the tough part. The subject of the chapter is Iceland’s special forces, the Víkingasveitin or ‘Viking Squad’.  And generally speaking, special forces tend to be publicity-shy, especially to long-haired sociologists writing strange travel books.

    Why the Icelandic special forces? Soon after I came up with the idea of writing a book on big fish in small ponds, I decided that I really wanted to do a chapter on a small country’s armed forces, preferably the armed forces of a country that did not have a history of conflict. Iceland seemed the sort of place to try but after looking online I found out that the country does not have an army. What it does have though is the Víkingasveitin. Officially a branch of the police, they perform functions that special forces do in other countries, such as counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. And that was all the info I needed – I would travel to Iceland and meet the Víkingasveitin.

    As with all my other missions, what interests me most is the squad members stories and experiences. What’s it like to be the only real military in a small country? Is it frustrating training so hard for a day that may never come? Is there a sense of being an elite? How hard is it to be chosen for the Víkingasveitin? How do they manage to stay discreet in a place where it is hard to stay anonymous? What do they do on a daily basis?

    I have to confess also to being slightly in awe of special forces. I’m not a bellicose person and I don’t celebrate conflict. But even if I may sometimes be highly critical of the conflicts that the UK SAS, the US Delta Force and the Russian Spentnatz are sent into, I have no doubt that they are incredibly skilled and disciplined. I have no contact with the military in the UK and certainly not with the SAS, so in meeting the Víkingasveitin (hopefully) I know I will be a fish out of water. Will I be able to make a personal connection with people who have lives that are massively different to my own?

    Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will be allowed to meet members of the Víkingasveitin. There are no shortcuts here – I have to respect hierarchies and approach people in the right way. I will presumably have to use pseudonyms, ensure confidentiality and allow them to vet what I write.  I’ve already approached people and hopefully access will be granted.

    So that’s my Iceland mission. Please support it!

  4. Why I want to visit Alderney

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    This is the first in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    I’ve always been fascinating by ‘things in between’, things are not the biggest or the smallest, the famous or the unknown, the successful or the unsuccessful. Wherever there is a spectrum or continuum you’re likely to get attention paid to both ends but the middle gets neglected.

    Alderney is an archetypal place in between. Of all the Channel Islands, dependencies of the UK near the French coast, Alderney is probably the one that outsiders know least about. Jersey and Guernsey, the two largest, are well-known as tax havens and holiday destinations. Sark and Herm, the two smallest (excluding a number of tiny islets) are reasonably well-known as Lilliputian, idyllic havens (although Sark has received quite a bit of attention recently due to the machinations of the Barclay Brothers in the island’s affairs). But Alderney? Well it’s somewhere in the middle and so it often drops off the map.


    Alderney is small – 3 square miles with a permanent population of around 2,400. From photos it looks lovely, but it is by no means untouched by civilization. It has the only railway on the Channel Islands, it’s dotted with fortifications left over from the wartime Nazi occupation (as well as the remains of the only concentration camps ever set up on British soil) and although it hasn’t opened itself up wholesale as a tax haven, it does host various e-commerce and offshore gambling companies. It also has a reputedly vigorous nightlife, with numerous pubs – islanders sometimes joke they are ‘2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock’ – and parties held in abandoned World War Two bunkers.  


    But while Alderney may have some interesting and quirky features and may well be a great place for a holiday, this isn’t really why I want to visit. What really attracts me is how power and politics works on a small island with a small island.

    And that’s why my mission for the book is to find ‘the most powerful politician on Alderney’.

    As with all the chapters of the book, the mission doesn’t just involve meeting one person – it involves finding out about an entire small world. Because the question of who is the most powerful politician on Alderney isn’t a simple one.

    Of course, Alderney’s elected representative body, the States of Alderney, has a President (currently Stuart Trought). But pinning down who holds power is often an elusive matter, like nailing jelly to a wall. For one thing Alderney’s constitutional status is complex – it is a British crown dependency, part of the Balliwick of Guernsey, but with a high degree of self-government. On top of that, politicians are never the only people with power – who are the real movers and shakers behind the scenes of Alderney politics?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am really looking forward to finding them out. I’m looking forward to meeting the key people in Alderney and hearing their stories. Above all, what I want to know is what it’s like being involved in the politics of a small island. How do people deal with political disputes in a place where everyone knows each other? Does that make for more civil disagreement?

    So that’s my Alderney mission. Please support it!

  5. The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg – The Next Phase

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    So I’m pleased to announce that the next phase of the book I’m crowd-funding The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds is now open for funding. The first chapter is virtually completed and those who funded it will get a copy in the next week or two.

    If you want, you can help by liking the Facebook page or by mentioning the project on twitter. But the best thing you can do is to help fund it!

    There’s a great new pitch video:



    And you can also read an extract from the first chapter.