Associate Professor Sarah Collins

Started at UWA: 2018

Exploring ideas about music in our modern world

We cannot ignore the massive cultural force of a medium like music--a medium that pervades every aspect of our daily lives, from advertising, TV and films, to elevators and shopping malls, from individualised playlists to huge live performance events. Music is everywhere, shaping our thinking and framing our experience. So researching music offers us a unique window into the structuring forces that shape people's view of themselves and the world around them, both now and in the past.

Associate Professor Sarah Collins

Associate Professor Sarah Collins is Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. In her research she seeks to understand how the arts (particularly music, literature and film) shaped ways of thinking about political, ethical and economic concepts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

Over the past five years, Associate Professor Collins has held academic and research posts in Durham, Boston, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and now Perth, with her family coming along for the ride.

Her interest in exploring the aesthetic aspects of politics and the political aspects of aesthetics comes from witnessing large-scale changes in ideas about individualism and liberal democracy in recent years.

Associate Professor Collins is currently working on a range of projects that circulate on ideas about the arts and internationalism, commemoration, cultural memory, ethics and virtue, democracy and the ‘liberal imagination’. This work will help us understand how political ideas and collective identities are shaped, maintained and disrupted by cultural forms.


PhD, BMus, LLB University of Queensland

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British Academy and Leverhulme Trust Grant, with Laura Tunbridge (Oxford) and Barbara Kelly (Royal Northern College of Music) on ‘Music Institutions and the Politics of Internationalism’, 2018–2019

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ARC Discovery Project, 'The Cultural and Intellectual History of Automated Labour', with Ionat Zurr (UWA), Oron Catts (UWA), and Elizabeth Stephens (UQ), 2021-2024

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Elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 2020

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2019 McCredie Musicological Award, Australian Academy of Humanities



Animating the Inanimate

Discussions about opera, public broadcasting, and early sound film during the 1920s and 30s are replete with tropes of musical mechanization: from the depiction of machinic characters that are animated by music, to concerns about the effects of radio music programming on standardizing musical tastes, and nostalgia for performer presence over the disembodied effect of sound recording. It is tempting to view these tropes as a product of the cultural lag that accompanies new technologies, or of concerns over the atomising effects of modern life, capitalist markets or centralised bureaucratic systems. Yet this project explores how the idea of music animating the inanimate had a far longer history, and shows that this idea substantially shaped the aesthetic of new media during this period.

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Person lying back listening to music

Music and the liberal imagination

This project investigates how ideas about music shaped the liberal intellectual tradition, from the height of liberalism in the mid-nineteenth century through to the anti-liberal tendencies of inter-war modernism, and the neoliberalism of the later twentieth century.


Supervisor opportunities

Associate Professor Collins has been supervising PhD students since 2013. She welcomes potential PhD students interested in researching any aspect of cultural modernism, music and literature, and film, or the arts and politics of any era. To enquire about PhD opportunities with Associate Professor Collins, get in touch using the contact details below.

Associate Professor Sarah Collins