Academic Profile: Aaron Klassen

Academic Profile: Aaron Klassen

Dr. Aaron Klassen: Assistant Professor of Sociology, Dept. Behavioural Sciences

Research Interests

My main research interests center on the relationships between music and social change.  More specifically, this leads me to unpack processes of musical self-transformation, including the historical conditions of its complex subjectivity, and related issues of race, class, and gender, and its organizational mediation with various institutions such as the culture industry and religion – basically, how and where music becomes meaningful, to whom, and at what cost.  

For my dissertation research, I studied the case of the Winnipeg-based hip-hop artist, Rob “Fresh I.E.” Wilson.  This project began with a historical study of African-American religious musical practices since slavery, in which I found the sounds of music provided a sustaining power in the face of oppression and in various contexts.  I then spent 26 months “in the field” with Wilson, in which I traced the links between his current musical practice, biographical past, and institutions of the evangelical church and culture industry. Wilson’s recent struggles with self-doubt and suicide provide the springboard for my current work on musical self-transformation and wellbeing.

My current research follows through on my dissertation work in two areas, both of which relate to the suicide epidemic and opioid crisis making up Canada’s “crisis of youth.” At the crux of this crisis is, arguably, a tension between community and individuality, belonging and independence.  Music offers a window into this tension, revealing how music provides a subtle (and not-so-subtle) means of achieving either.  First, on the level of practice, I ask how do certain sounds get into, and play a sustaining or destabilizing role throughout the life of the self?  These questions allow me to identify the mechanisms of musical self-transformation, from digitally-mediated technologies to state-sanctioned institutional structures like the Residential Schools.  Second, and relatedly, I examine the narratives through which the ethos of self-transformation is defined, and trace those discourses to their various contexts, from fluid urban scenes and disadvantaged communities, such as those making up Winnipeg’s North End, to hard and fast institutions like the church or culture industry.

Keywords: music; youth; field-habitus; Bourdieu; complex subjectivity; resonance; risk; precarity; critical social theory; sound studies; cultural sociology; urban sociology.


2020 Musical Self-Transformation: African-American Religious Musical Practice, Christian Hip-hop, and the Case of Rob “Fresh I.E.” Wilson. (Manuscript in preparation) Jackson: University Press of Mississippi

2015 “The Phenomenology of Authenticity: Merleau-Ponty and the ‘Dissonant Sound’ of The Clash,” in Jacqueline Kennelly and Stewart Poyntz (eds) A Phenomenology of Youth Cultures: Meaning and Retrieval in an Era of Globalization.  London: Routledge, pp. 235-252

2019 “Christian Hip-Hop, Suicide, and Musical Self-Care in the True North: The Case of Rob ”Fresh I.E.” Wilson,”(in preparation).

2019 “’Come Together’: An evaluative sketch of a reflexive ethnography in the wake of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” (in preparation).

Recent Conference Presentations

2019 “Rob “Fresh I.E.” Wilson: A Socio-analysis of Musical-Self-Transformation.” Paper presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting. New York City (August 10-13).

“Christian Hip-Hop, Suicide, and Musical Self-Care in the True North: The Case of Rob ”Fresh I.E.” Wilson.” Paper presented at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music conference, New Orleans (March 7-10).

2018 “A Reflexive Ethnography in the Wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Toward an evaluative metric.” Paper presented at the Ecclesiology & Ethnography Canada conference, Winnipeg (6-8 June).