Sex, Race and Rock: US Culture


This innovative and exciting unit explores the cultural history and intersections of sexuality, race, and rock music in the United States, from Elvis and Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé. Influenced by black and working-class cultures, and with sexuality embedded in its form and practice, rock music challenged and transformed existing norms of family, sex, and gender.

Georgia Hitch
“The unit ‘Sex, Race and Rock’ showed me that careers in music journalism and scholarship are possible and that the history of politics, race and gender throughout the course of popular music isn’t superficial and is a legacy that continues to have ramifications and ripple effects today. As a news reporter with the ABC in Canberra it’s essential to have that kind of embodied general knowledge to give perspective and relevance to news events.” Georgia Hitch, Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications)

Through subjects including black women, groupies, glam rock, disco, and grunge, students will learn that rock music provided a vital realm for the creation and deconstruction of identity, as well as for rebellion, profit, community, and freedom.

Through this unit, you will develop a body of knowledge about the cultural history of American rock music – both mainstream and alternative – and the transformative role rock culture has played in American society.

Special guest speakers in previous years have included MTV co-founder Les Garland, renowned music critic Simon Reynolds (author of Energy Flash and The Sex Revolts among others), Hayley Mary (frontwoman of ARIA-winning Australian band The Jezabels), Rod Yates (editor of Rolling Stone magazine), and Anwen Crawford (music critic for The Monthly and the New Yorker).

Learning outcomes

At the end of this unit of study, students will have the ability to:

  • Understand sexuality and race in the cultural history of American rock and its impact on cultural norms inside and outside the US
  • Critically analyse popular cultural forms in scholarly ways
  • Express conceptually difficult ideas and independent critical thinking in oral and written forms
  • Pose research questions and access and synthesise diverse sources to build and defend a reasoned position in response to those questions
  • Identify values and beliefs inherent in a culture superficially similar but in other ways unlike their own
  • Appreciate the role of reasoning and creativity in communication.

The fine print

Available as a July Intensive in 2021

15% annotated bibliography (500 words)
25% research paper proposal (1000 words)
40% research paper (2500 words)
10% group presentation (500 words)
10% class participation

More details
Visit the University of Sydney website for information about fees, cross-institutional and non-award study, and more.

Unit coordinator