Faculty Feature

Susan Harewood - Music and Bodies that Matter: Caribbean Media as a Global Metaphor

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Whether communication happens through social media or on a drum, the ethical concerns remain similar – it’s always about acknowledging other people’s humanity.

Susan Harewood joined the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS) faculty in 2008 to support the newly formed Master of Arts in Cultural Studies. Harewood arrived in IAS with a strong international perspective on the practice, study, and teaching of communication and cultural studies. A few years later she helped launch the Media and Communication Studies undergraduate major.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in History and English, Harewood worked as a photojournalist for the Barbados Advocate. Her experiences there prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in Communications at Howard University. She then returned to Barbados where she headed the Mass Communication Associate degree program at the Barbados Community College before going on to get her Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her dissertation focused on Calypso (a form of Afro-Caribbean music) and post-national identities in the Caribbean. From there, Harewood returned to Barbados and taught cultural studies at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill from 2005 until she came to the University of Washington Bothell.

Flag of BarbadosHarewood researches Caribbean media and popular culture as an aspect of nation-building. She shows how Caribbean popular arts engage competing views of what the nation is and how it relates to the global community. Caribbean nation-building projects offer particular insights because of the interplay between the colonial legacy, the multi-national makeup of the West Indies, and the pressures of the current era of globalization in terms of trade and cultural production. Her work is highly localized, recognizing the impact of the immediate environment, but uses that local perspective to explore global discourses of identity and social, political, and economic development.

 “I am really interested,” says Harewood, “in the ways in which Caribbean popular arts are a site of contestation, where the Caribbean seeks to fight out its position in a world where it is often an afterthought to many people, a hinterland, or just another stop on their cruise. But the point is that the Caribbean is full of people whose lives matter simply because they are. The Caribbean is therefore a metaphor for many of the world’s ethical problems, where the lives of small groups are not always given the same consideration.”

Barbados on the globeHarewood’s work focuses on both the music industry in Barbados and the regional media industry in the English-speaking Caribbean. Her research understands live performance as a form of media that brings into focus the human body as something that creates political meaning. “One aspect of my research into popular music performance is an exploration of how ideas of what is deemed legitimately ‘political’ are being used to define the nation states within the Caribbean.”  Harewood extends these themes, focusing on live performance of Barbadian music in hotels and resorts.  “In this kind of performance, everyone knows their role. For the performer and the diners, the purpose is to facilitate the enjoyable experience of the tourists.  This type of performance by the tourism worker is often dismissed. But my main question is whether focusing on the sounds of this type of ‘command performance’ might draw our attention to conditions of work in the region and beyond.”  

Her work on Caribbean regional media is equally interested in the use of these media to define the Caribbean. “There was a lot of activity in regional media in the 70s and 80s as part of the independence movements. It was all part of a larger burst of energy in communication globally. There was a rapid expansion of regionally focused media and an equally rapid decline. I explore these decolonizing moves as a way to think about what might be rescued from this burst of activity,” says Harewood.