At the Swiftposium, Scholars Gather to Analyze a Superstar’s Astonishing Influence

The University of Melbourne welcomed academics from all over the world for its Taylor Swift conference

Taylor Swift performs for a big crowd
Taylor Swift performs in New Jersey during her Eras tour on May 27, 2023. Kevin Mazur / TAS23 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

As Taylor Swift attended the Super Bowl on Sunday, researchers at the University of Melbourne kicked off another big event: the Swiftposium, a three-day international academic conference dedicated to the singer’s cultural influence.

Initially, organizers thought they’d be hosting “a small conference with 50 researchers in two rooms,” says Eloise Faichney, chair of the Swiftposium steering committee, in a statement. “Then, when we ended up in publications like Rolling Stone and the Guardian, demand from the academic community to take part was like nothing I’ve ever seen before for an academic conference.”

Scholars from 78 institutions submitted over 400 papers, per the Swiftposium’s website. Of those, 130 papers across 60 academic subjects were accepted. They cover issues related to the music industry, pop culture, gender, literature, economics, health and more through the lens of the iconic pop star.

While Swift is not attending the conference, she will be in town on Friday for the Melbourne stop of her Eras tour.

“People may think we are just going be praising Taylor but, no, we engage in really legitimate critique of both her and the power structures,” sociologist Georgia Carroll, the Swiftposium’s keynote speaker, tells the Guardian’s Sian Cain. “It’s going to be really fun.”

Last year, Carroll completed her thesis on “the role of commodification in participation in celebrity-centric fandom communities,” which focused partly on Swift’s fans. Since then, the pop star’s fame and influence have only increased.

The Swiftposium is not the first academic event to analyze Swift’s meteoric rise. Rolling Stone writer Brittany Spanos, who is a speaker at the conference, launched a course on Taylor Swift at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute in 2022. Ghent University in Belgium also offered a class called “Literature (Taylor’s Version)” last fall.

“It’s just so incredible to see how many different ways you can unpack Taylor Alison Swift,” Jennifer Beckett, a scholar of media and communications at the University of Melbourne, tells Agence France-Press. “There’s a lot that we can learn from her, but we also need to think critically. Do we need to be worried about some aspects of it? Should she be more vocal in her support for certain groups of people or issues?”

The Swiftposium’s leaders know their event is an easy target for critics who don’t consider Swift’s career worthy of academic analysis. Carroll thinks some of that criticism is rooted in gender bias.

“Sociology has been studying sport fans for 60 or 70 years—so how can someone who studies soccer fans tell me I shouldn’t be studying a pop star’s fans?” she says to the Guardian. “They’re the exact same theories, the exact same behavior. It is their biases against female interests.”

While most of the Swiftposium is only open to academics, organizers have added programming for the general public due to the conference’s widespread appeal. On Sunday, RMIT University hosted the Fanposium, which included a public screening of the Miss Americana documentary, conversations about Swift’s influence and a friendship bracelet-making activity.

As the Guardian writes, “How could you not want to study a person who can drive rushes on—of all things—beads; or is so popular that fans’ cheers can generate seismic activity?”

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