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Postdoctoral Fellow Brings Expertise in Black Sound Studies to Campus

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As a white queer woman working in the field of Black studies, Christine Capetola knows the importance of discussing her racial identity in relation to her work — so much so, that it’s always one of the first things she addresses with colleagues and students.  

“While I don’t have the lived experience of being Black, becoming a scholar in Black studies was critical to pursuing my research interests and becoming a music critic and essayist,” said the Cal State Fullerton visiting faculty member. “I rely heavily on the artist narrative and don’t speak for anyone. And I have always felt very supported and uplifted in the field.” 

Capetola, who holds a doctorate in American studies from the University of Texas at Austin, joined CSUF in fall 2021 in a postdoctoral fellow position awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies.

In 2020, the College of Humanities and Social Science was selected to receive a postdoctoral fellowship from ACLS — the first awarded in the California State University system — for its commitment to diversifying its faculty. The position was designated for the Department of African American Studies, and next year Capetola will transition to an assistant professor of African American studies.

In a typical award from ACLS, university faculty are released from teaching and service responsibilities to focus on research. However, CSUF insisted that the award be restructured to allow Capetola to teach during her first year and become acquainted with colleagues and the campus community. 

Why did you choose to pursue African American studies? 

As an undergraduate, I minored in gender and sexuality studies but knew that I eventually wanted to write about pop music in both a scholarly and music criticism way. As I began my master’s degree in performance studies at New York University, I spoke with mentors and advisers who felt that I needed Black studies to have a full body of knowledge to train as a sound studies scholar.

In terms of your expertise, what do you hope to bring to the CSUF academic community? 

As someone who works at the intersection of queer, Black, sound, affect and performance studies, my work is considerably specialized. I am excited to bring this knowledge niche to both my courses and conversations with colleagues. As I transition into an assistant professor in the next academic year, I am especially excited to help grow the department, grow the presence of sound studies at CSUF and collaborate with colleagues. 

What is your book project about? 

My first book project, “Sonic Femmeness: Black Culture Makers, Felt History, and Vibrational Identity” explores Black genders and sexualities in popular music and culture through the lens of femmeness, or those things deemed “feminine.” Femmeness, which has a root in the femme identity of working class, women of color lesbian communities of the mid-1900s onward, can be both a gender identity and a form of gender expression. Typically, it is used to describe a person who visually presents femininely, although its definition varies among those who identify with the term. Many scholars focus on the visual aspects of femme, but I focus on Black popular music and culture’s sounds, affects and vibrations to demonstrate how femmeness can help us bring the senses of hearing and feeling together with that of seeing.

I theorize a notion of sonic femmeness via the Black feminine androgyny that I trace across two different sets of 1980s and 2010s Black pop stars, including Prince and Janelle Monáe. I propose that we can understand contemporary Black pop artists’ reaching back to the sounds of the 1980s and their shared aesthetics with said artists as a sign that we are still dealing with much of the same political and cultural problems today as we did decades ago.

What do you find most exciting about being at CSUF? 

I am elated to be part of the tenure-track faculty at a highly diverse university like CSUF. I felt compelled by the university’s shared commitment to teaching, research and service, and I wanted to start easing into all three right away. For my first semester here, I strategically chose to teach a course I am very familiar with, “African American Music Appreciation,” so that I could focus more on getting to know the student body than designing a new course from scratch. And the fact that the fellowship was attached to a Black popular music/popular culture studies position says a lot about CSUF’s commitment to opportunities for Black people in the U.S. and to popular culture as a site of knowledge generation that we should be sharing with students. 

Learn more about CSUF’s African American studies offerings by visiting the department website.  

Written by: Zak Minert
Karen Lindell