It was sent off to the relevant Italian authorities for the third and final time in May 2015 with 573 signatures from 47 nations

Popular Music Studies in Italian Universities
Gli studi di popular music nell’università italiana
Los estudios sobre música popular en las universidades italianas
— a petition/una petizione/una petición —

The Petition in English | La petizione in italiano | La petición en español

This petition is now closed (see below)

anchor Thank you (June 2015)

Many thanks to all 573 of you, from 47 nations, who signed the petition.To get an idea of who actually signed,, take a look at this list. It's encouraging to see the range of disciplines, occupations, ages, and nationalities represented. Some of the comments added at the end of the list are worth reading, too. The petition is now closed. It has been sent for the third and last time to the appropriate authorities in Rome.

Several individuals asked how the situation described in the petition can be so bad. I edited a short explanatory text in English about how the administrative structure of the Italian university system ‘works’ to exclude popular music studies (as well as semiotics, cultural studies, etc!). We’ve also received, unsurprisingly, some extraordinarily hostile (and infantile) comments from the musicological and ethnomusicological gatekeepers of power inside the Italian university system — see ‘Negative reactions from some music academics inside the Italian system’..

Some earlier negative reactions to the petition included disgracefully petty and vindictive comments. They even stooped to insulting Franco Fabbri personally, telling him to shut up, to quit right now and to stop ‘causing trouble’, including one sarcastic “Happy retirement, Fabbri!”. They also said that Goffredo Plastino and I, who put together the petition, were running a “Pro-Fabbri campaign”, just because we cited Franco’s situation as a particularly blatant example of hostility towards popular music studies in Italian universities. Of course, by reacting so churlishly, they provided evidence of how petty and virulent that hostility can be.

Hostility is exacerbated by an apparent indifference to, or ignorance of, the seriousness of the issues set out in the petition. In early June 2014 we sent the petition, signed by 100 individuals, to the Italian ministry of education, asking for a reply. When, in October 2014, we had still received no response, we re-sent the petition, this time with 440 signatures and a request for at least an acknowledgement of receipt. It is now June 2015, and we have yet to receive any response of any kind. That’s why, as a final act of parliamentary democracy on this issue, we have now sent the petition for a third and final time, with 573 signatures, to the Italian authorities. If no satisfactory response is received this time, we will have to radically change tactics.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Philip Tagg


The Petition
Reader-friendly version in Engish / in italiano / en español

As scholars devoted to studying the role and functions of music in contemporary society, we see ourselves obliged to express grave concern about the state of popular music studies in Italian universities.

We recognise the important contributions made over the past thirty years by Italian colleagues to our field of studies but we also recognise — with bewilderment — the indifference and even open hostility of Italian academic institutions towards an area of study that is widely accepted elsewhere the world.

The refusal to accept, or even to just mention, popular music as a legitimate area of study has led to the exclusion of a whole generation of scholars from Italian universities. Moreover, the few that have been allowed to teach in universities (sometimes after turning down offers of employment abroad in order to do so) are relegated to lowly positions shamefully incompatible with their widely recognised competence and international reputation. It’s in this way that a whole field of studies, of strategic importance to the understanding of key aspects in Italian society and media, has been marginalised. There has been effective denial of the essential contribution that popular music studies can make to the modernisation of university courses and to the development of programmes of education appropriate to today’s culture and economy.

One case in need of particular attention is that of Franco Fabbri, one of the international pioneers of popular music studies. Although officially declared "Professor", Fabbri now faces the risk of that new status never being recognised, of having to retire on a teaching assistant’s pension, and being blocked from continuing with his teaching and research work. Fabbri’s paradoxical situation is at the same time scandalous and indicative of the subject area’s exclusion from the academy. Here we need to underline that many other highly competent colleagues have not even had the satisfaction of acquiring any official academic status due to evaluation criteria based on quite different musicological specialisations.

University policies that marginalise innovative studies and that humiliate scholars of established international repute are, in our opinion, tantamout to suicide for Italy’s public universities and for Italian society. We therefore ask the relevant authorities to urgently reconsider the effects of the conservative and, frankly, incomprehensible decisions that have been taken in this matter.


Gli studi di popular music nell’università italiana: una petizione

Reader-friendly version in Engish / en español

COME studiosi interessati alla ricerca sul ruolo e sulle funzioni della musica nelle società contemporanee, esprimiamo la nostra più profonda preoccupazione per lo stato degli studi sulla popular music nell’università italiana.

Ci sono noti gli importanti contributi che i colleghi italiani hanno dato a questo campo di studi da trent’anni a questa parte, ma ci è nota anche —e ci stupisce— l’indifferenza, a volte l’aperta ostilità, delle istituzioni accademiche nei riguardi di un settore che altrove nel mondo è ampiamente riconosciuto.

Il rifiuto di accogliere, addirittura anche solo di nominare la popular music come disciplina a sé stante ha determinato l’esclusione di un’intera generazione di studiosi dall’università italiana. Anche quelli che, infine, sono stati accolti nelle università come docenti (a volte dopo aver rinunciato a incarichi all’estero), sono confinati in ruoli inadeguati alle loro capacità e al loro prestigio scientifico. Un intero campo di studi, di importanza strategica per comprendere settori chiave della società e del sistema dei media italiani, è stato quindi marginalizzato: è stato così negato il contributo essenziale che gli studi di popular music possono offrire alla modernizzazione dell’università e pertanto alla realizzazione di programmi didattici adeguati alla realtà della cultura e dell’economia odierne.

Un caso esemplare che desideriamo mettere in evidenza è quello di Franco Fabbri, uno dei pionieri di questi studi a livello internazionale. Pur avendo ottenuto l’abilitazione a Professore Ordinario, Fabbri rischia adesso di non poter vedere riconosciuto il suo nuovo ruolo e di essere costretto a andare in pensione da ricercatore: gli verrebbe pertanto negata la possibilità di proseguire le attività di didattica e di ricerca. La vicenda paradossale che Fabbri sta vivendo è scandalosa e insieme simbolica di un più ampio isolamento accademico. Desideriamo inoltre sottolineare con forza che molti altri stimati colleghi non hanno avuto nemmeno la soddisfazione di ottenere l’abilitazione, a causa di un sistema valutativo misurato su altre specializzazioni disciplinari.

Riteniamo che una politica che emargini gli studi più avanzati e che mortifichi gli studiosi di consolidato valore internazionale sia semplicemente suicida, per l’università pubblica e per la società italiane. Ci auguriamo quindi che le autorità competenti provvedano rapidamente a riconsiderare gli effetti di scelte incomprensibili e conservatrici.


Los estudios sobre música popular en las universidades italianas:
una petición

Reader-friendly version in Engish / in italiano

Como estudiosos interesados por el análisis de los roles y funciones de la música en las sociedades contemporáneas, nos vemos obligados a expresar nuestra gran preocupación por la situación de los estudios de música popular en las universidades italianas.

Del mismo modo que reconocemos la importante contribución desarrollada en los últimos treinta años por los investigadores italianos en el ámbito de la música popular, observamos con desconcierto la indiferencia e incluso hostilidad manifiesta de las instituciones académicas italianas hacia un campo de estudio ampliamente consolidado en otras partes del mundo.

La negativa a admitir —o siquiera la mención puntual— a la música popular como un área legítima de estudio ha conducido a la exclusión de toda una generación de investigadores de las universidades italianas.  Así, a los pocos que se les ha habilitado para la docencia universitaria (a veces rechazando ofertas de empleo en el extranjero por la voluntad de ejercerla en Italia) son relegados a posiciones de bajo prestigio vergonzosamente no correspondidas con la competencia y reputación internacional de los mismos. En este sentido, todo un campo de estudio de importancia capital para entender aspectos cruciales en la sociedad y medios de comunicación italianos ha sido marginado. Se ha llevado a cabo una negación de la contribución imprescindible que las investigaciones en música popular pueden ofrecer para la renovación de estudios universitarios y para el desarrollo de planes de estudio acordes con los procesos económicos y culturales de nuestros días.

Un caso que requiere una atención particular es el de Franco Fabbri, pionero en el estudio de la música popular. Aunque oficialmente acreditado como profesor titular, Fabbri se enfrenta ahora al riesgo de que su nuevo estatus nunca le sea reconocido, a que tenga que retirarse con la pensión de un profesor ayudante, o a su ‘inhabilitación’ para continuar con su labor docente e investigadora. La paradójica situación de Franco Fabbri es a su vez un escandaloso indicativo de la exclusión del área de estudio por parte de la academia. Aquí tenemos que subrayar también que muchos otros colegas altamente capacitados ni siquiera han tenido la satisfacción de adquirir un estatus académico oficial a causa de los diferentes criterios de evaluación en función del área de especialización.

Las políticas universitarias que marginan estudios innovadores y que minusvaloran investigadores de reconocido prestigio internacional representan, en nuestra opinión, un suicidio para la universidad pública en Italia y la sociedad italiana misma. Solicitamos, por tanto, a las autoridades competentes, que consideren con urgencia los efectos de medidas y decisiones conservadoras y francamente incomprensibles que han sido tomadas a este respecto.


Covering letter to the Italian Minister of Education,
Universities and Research, 2 October 2014

Go to final covering letter, 14 June 2015

Egregio Ministro dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca,

Dear Minister,

On 20 May this year we sent you a document, in the form of a petition, in which we expressed deep concern over the lack of recognition accorded to popular music studies in Italian universities, and over the serious difficulties such marginalisation causes Italian scholars in the field. The petition was signed by 100 individuals. 440 scholars and professionals from 42 different nations are today signatories to that same petition. [2015-03-21. We are now in fact 457 individuals in 45 nations].  

Since we have yet to hear from you in response to the petition we sent in May, we take this liberty of re-sending you the  petition —see PDF attachment 1, in Italian and English—, along with the name, position, institutional affiliation and nationality of all 440 signatories.

We still trust that you will read with interest and concern the attached single-page petition, and that you will look through the list of signatories, thereby forming an impression of the seriousness with which hundreds of scholars and professionals from all over the world view the situation. We also hope that you will be able to acknowledge receipt of our petition and to respond to it in some way. We are of course available, at any time convenient to yourself, to discuss, in English or Italian, any of the topics we raise.

With many thanks for taking the time to read this;
looking forward to hearing from you,

Respectfully yours,


1. Petition (Italian, English) and full list of 440 signatories [now 457, 2013-03-21]

2. Basic listing of signatories in alphabetical order of nation.

Covering letter to the Italian Minister of Education,
Universities and Research, 14 June 2015

Italian original
  Go to English translation

Lettera aperta

Egregio Ministro dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca,

nei mesi scorsi le abbiamo spedito due volte un documento sullo stato degli studi sulla popular music nell’università italiana, preoccupati dal loro mancato riconoscimento e dalle conseguenti difficoltà, anche gravi, per gli studiosi italiani di questa disciplina accademica. Il documento, qui allegato, è stato sottoscritto da 573 colleghi (musicologi, etnomusicologi, sociologi, studiosi di cultural studies e di sound studies, musicisti, addetti dell’industria musicale) di 47 paesi, inclusa l’Italia. Ci siamo uniti a loro anche per sottolineare l’importanza di un campo di studi che riguarda le musiche di gran lunga più praticate e consumate nel mondo, che tanta rilevanza hanno nei comportamenti dei giovani e anche dei cittadini di ogni età, che le ascoltano per ore ogni giorno — senza dimenticare il valore economico di settori come l’industria discografica ed editoriale, i social media, la radio e la televisione, eccetera.

Tra i firmatari, come avrà già visto, ci sono figure di primissimo piano degli studi musicali nel mondo. Non vogliamo, ovviamente, che il documento appaia come un’interferenza nella politica accademica italiana. D’altra parte, gli studi sulla popular music sono da decenni una realtà in moltissime università fuori dall’Italia, i colleghi italiani sono stimati dappertutto, e ci sembra davvero un’anomalia inspiegabile il fatto che debbano essere emarginati e impediti nelle loro carriere da un ordinamento che non prevede l’esistenza di un settore disciplinare autonomo. Nella petizione abbiamo sollevato il caso esemplare del prof. Franco Fabbri, che ha con pochi altri contribuito a fondare questo campo di studi, e i cui testi sono stati e sono adoperati da generazioni di docenti e di studenti nei paesi anglofoni, in Europa, in America Latina.

Non siamo i soli a essere stupiti di non aver avuto nemmeno un cenno di riscontro in seguito ai primi due invii. Ci risulta, d’altra parte, che il documento è stato letto e discusso negli ambienti della musicologia italiana, suscitando anche qualche risposta piccata, del tutto incapace di affrontare davvero il nocciolo della questione. Conosciamo abbastanza il sistema universitario italiano per sapere che la questione del blocco delle carriere, e delle abilitazioni senza risultato (un tema trattato anche dai maggiori quotidiani italiani), non riguarda solo la musicologia e l’etnomusicologia, settori disciplinari ormai ridotti al lumicino, di dimensioni largamente inferiori a quanto la legislazione vigente richiederebbe per costituirne uno. Proprio per questo, però, il suo silenzio davanti alle questioni sollevate dal nostro documento è preoccupante. Per lei davvero non ci sono soluzioni di fronte alla incapacità dell’università italiana di assorbire e far progredire gli studiosi migliori?

Ci auguriamo che in questa occasione non mancherà di prendere formalmente atto del nostro documento. Siamo naturalmente sempre più che disponibili a un incontro.

Con i più cordiali saluti,

Prof. Philip Tagg, Università di Huddersfield e di Salford (GB), fondatore della International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)

Dr. Goffredo Plastino, Università di Newcastle-upon-Tyne (GB), attuale Presidente della IASPM

Documento allegato (petizione + firmatari)


Covering letter to the Italian Minister of Education,
Universities and Research, 14 June 2015
English translation  
 Go to Italian original

On two occasions during the past year we sent you a document about the state of popular music studies in Italian universities. In it we expressed concern about the lack of recognition and about the often serious difficulties facing Italian scholars in our discipline. That document, attached to this email, has been signed by 573 colleagues (musicologists, ethnomusicolgists, sociologists, cultural studies and sound studies scholars, musicians, music business practitioners, etc.) from 47 countries, including Italy. We join those colleagues in underlining the importance of a field of studies that deals with musics that are by far the most widely produced and consumed in the world, that have enormous relevance to the lives of both young and old, that are heard for hours every day, and that represent considerable economic value in sectors like recording and publishing, social media, radio, TV, etc.

As you will already have noticed, the list of signatories includes some high-profile music scholars. Obviously, we do not intend the document as external interference in the affairs of Italian university policy. On the other hand, we feel obliged to point out that popular music studies have for decades been a reality in countless universities outside Italy, that Italian colleagues have an excellent reputation everywhere in the field, and that the way in which those Italian colleagues are marginalised and obstructed in their careers by regulations that do not cater for the existence of an autonomous disciplinary sector strikes us as an inexplicable anomaly. In the petition we cite the example of Prof. Franco Fabbri, one of the few individuals who actually founded this field of studies, and whose writings have been used by generations of teachers and students in the English-speaking world, in Europe, in Latin America.

We are not the only signatories to be amazed at not being sent even an acknowledgement of receipt in response to our first two letters. As a consequence, our document has been read and discussed in Italian musicology circles, and has caused some prickly reactions, none of which address the real issue. Of course, we know enough about the Italian university system to understand that career obstruction, national qualification procedures (abilitazioni) that lead nowhere (a topic covered by the major Italian dailies) do not apply to just musicology and ethnomusicology. [Sentence omitted: involves knowledge about technicalities of the Italian university system —SSDs, etc.]

It is for these and similar reasons that we find your silence quite troubling. Do you really think that there are no solutions to the inability of Italian universities to include and to promote the country's best scholars?

We hope this time that you will find time to formally acknowledge receipt of this letter. We are of course, as ever, at your disposal should you wish to meet.

With all good wishes,

Prof. Philip Tagg (retired), Leeds Beckett and Salford Universities (GB),
Founder, International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)

Dr. Goffredo Plastino, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (GB)
Current chair of IASPM

Attached file: petition in Italian and English + 573 signatories and extra comments (28 pp., PDF)

TOF Personal reflections on the petition
Philip Tagg (2014-05-20, upd. 2014-06-21, 2014-10-02, 2015-03-21)

Franco Fabbri is one of IASPM's founding members. I've known him since the first conference in Amsterdam (1981). He's one of those rare IASPM-ites who bridges the gaps between professional musicianship, intellectual rigour, socio-political acuity and democratic humanism.

Since leaving the computing firm he co-founded, Franco has worked mainly on loose hours and short-term contracts at the University of Turin. He even turned down secure and well-paid jobs abroad so that he could devote himself to establishing popular music studies in at least one Italian university. The popularity of his teaching and supervision has clearly irked conservative and mediocre colleagues who see interest in their own specialisms dwindle from year to year.

Unable to secure any advancement in the Italian university system (no reasonable contract, no job security, etc.), we hoped that helping him acquire a doctorate at the University of Huddersfield might persuade his "powers that be" to recognise the scholarly value of the man. Around the same time he was able to apply for and, later, to be declared competent as, "Professore" (abilitazione).

Now, aged 65, Franco has been told that his status as professor will not be recognised, that he has to retire with no more than the state pension, and that he won't be allowed to continue teaching or doing research at his university.

As described in the petition, Franco's shameful treatment is not just a personal issue. It appears to be part of a campaign to rid Italian universities of serious popular music studies. That is unacceptable and the main reason behind the petition.

Goffredo Plastino, current chair of IASPM, wrote the original Italian petition which I translated into English. We attached it to personal emails that we sent to around 100 individuals, most of whom signed without hesitation. Those that hesitated never signed and only one of those had the decency to explain why. The petition was clearly something to be ignored, something that would go away if it were never talked about. Wrong! We collected 573 signatures from 47 different nations.

The problem is partly a specifically Italian one (see this text). The majority of those in Italian positions of power in the world of music studies are rarely, if ever, seen at international conferences. Those I’ve met of that ilk in Italy have, frankly, often been paragons of mediocrity. They appoint ethnomusicologists and jazz experts who know little or nothing about popular music to deal with the uncomfortable reality of our subject area and they consistently obstruct real scholars in our field, both young and old, from developing it. They are the kings and queens of their own little duckpond and don't seem to care if the likes of Frith, Hennion, Middleton, Moore, Nattiez, etc. think they're acting wrongly because we have no say over their duckpond. Their pettiness ruins the lives of not only respected Italian brothers and sisters banished from the pond but also deprives Italian students of real knowledge about the real world of the music of most people in our own times. I think it's scandalous.

(On a personal note, I've heard from doctoral students of musicology in Italy who've been told by their supervisors not to read my articles because, I allegedly ‘know nothing about harmony’. Such petty calumny is comical, not because I'm a Cambridge music graduate but because I was a church organist with euroclassical tertial tonality ingrained in my audiomuscular memory! However, it’s no joke for young Italians who can’t use alternative views of musical reality in their research without jeopardising their academic career. That, I think, is a disgrace.)

Still, the problem isn't just Italian, even if it's particularly acute there. I've heard people in Spain complain that they won't get a university job if they don't join Opus Dei. And I don't know how many times I've seen, in the UK and elsewhere, self-proclaimed popular music experts (quacks) interviewed in the media, how many unqualified individuals have been given teaching jobs in popular music, because ill-informed decision-makers have no idea about (or are scared of) the seriousness of popular music studies. They seem to think it's something you can toss off with your left hand (vulgar connotation intended for ignorance that is itself vulgar).

P.S. Despite the quacks in university duckponds, I have nothing whatsoever against Anatidae.