Introducing SASE Executive Director Annelies Fryberger & the New Host of SASE’s Office: MPIfG

Annelies Fryberger


Annelies Fryberger holds a PhD in sociology from the EHESS, where she was a member of the Analysis of Musical Practices team at the IRCAM and the Center for Research on the Arts and Language (CRAL) of the EHESS. She wrote her dissertation on peer review in contemporary art music in France and the United States. She held postdoc positions with the DAAD, the LabEX CAP, and the New School, and she continues her research on artistic practices and evaluation. Her research has been published in Poetics, Contemporary Music Review, and Curator: The museum journal, among others.

Read interview with SASE Executive Director Annelies Fryberger

Interview of the new SASE Executive Director, Annelies Fryberger
by SASE Executive Director Emerita, Martha Zuber

By temperament, biography and intellectual curiosity, Annelies is the ideal person to be the new Executive Director of SASE.  Especially in this new era. She is multilingual, reading sociology in English, French, and German. From North Carolina to Ohio, from Guadaloupe to 10 years in Paris (where I first met her), with the last five years in Cologne, she is a person who thinks out of the box while at the same time resonating with the ideas of others. 

Do you have any feelings about being brought up in the South ? And then studying in Ohio, was this a shock? And then the Caribbean… Paris, and now Germany?
I grew up near Asheville, North Carolina, which has more hummus, yoga, and banjos per capita than any other place on the planet, I would venture! It’s not the South one typically thinks of when thinking about the former Confederate states. My parents were also both from the North (New Jersey and upstate New York), so I didn’t have a typically Southern upbringing, if such a thing even exists anymore. In that sense, going from North Carolina to Ohio, where I studied at Oberlin, was not much of a shock. For better or for worse, I existed in a left-leaning, academic bubble for most of my youth.

I then spent two years teaching English in a piece of the French Caribbean, Guadeloupe, which was indeed a shock, in the best possible sense! I left to pursue studies in translation in Paris, where I lived for 10 years before moving to Germany with my German husband.

Tell us about your academic adventures, beginning with the piano.
I studied classical piano very seriously starting at a young age. I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts at 15 to pursue these studies full time, and then to Oberlin Conservatory. I also did a degree in French at Oberlin. Somewhere along the line, I became disenchanted with the conservatory setting, and by the end of my 5 years at Oberlin, I was trying to figure out where to go if the piano wasn’t at the center of my life. That’s a difficult process – when something is so intimately connected to your identity, it is very difficult to understand what life could look like without it. This is what led me to seek out a more unusual opportunity, that of teaching English in the Caribbean. In my French studies, I had focused on Caribbean literature, specifically Aimé Césaire, whom I was fortunate enough to interview before he died. I had spent some time in Martinique at that point, and I was curious to explore Guadeloupe. I taught students from age 3 to 18 for two years, and it was quite an experience. I very easily could have stayed there forever!

At that point, translation and interpreting seemed a decent way to use the language skills I had developed, so I moved to Paris to pursue a Master’s in conference interpretation. I enjoyed this work, but missed the academic side of things, so I pursued in parallel a Master’s, and then PhD in sociology of music at the EHESS in Paris. I enjoyed the 3 years I spent writing my PhD more than anything I have encountered before or since – it was downright magical to be given the time and resources to pursue a topic that fascinated me.

What made you choose the thesis topic you did?
I wrote my PhD on peer review in contemporary art music. I had often worked with composers as a pianist, and had frequented the world of contemporary music as a student, audience member, and performer, and I was constantly mystified by how reputations were formed and decisions were made regarding artistic quality. I was able to observe the deliberations of a panel at a US organization where composers were tasked with evaluating the work of their fellow composers, and this became the heart of my PhD dissertation. I compared this with a similar body in France, and it was fascinating to see all the mechanisms involved in these decision-making processes, especially with the comparison between France and the US.

How did you first encounter SASE?
I first encountered SASE because a dear friend of mine, Miranda Richmond, went to the US in 2008 to work on Obama’s campaign. She was working at the time for you, Martha, and she asked me to take over some of her duties while she was gone. My interaction with the organization definitely changed my research direction and the literature I was reading, certainly for the better. And I’m delighted to continue that adventure, stepping into the very big shoes that you have left for me!

After your long years of studying piano, how has the musician part of you shaped your thinking during your PhD? What were the surprises?
I think it’s important to realize that when you’re dealing with musicians, or other performers – also athletes – you’re dealing with people who typically started working very hard in their chosen field at a very young age. When you start playing the piano at the age of 6, and then you reach the age of 10 and the first question anyone asks you is about the piano, and the praise you get for that work is excessive, it very quickly becomes part of who you are. It can be very hard to separate yourself from the instrument or from your accomplishments as a musician/athlete, etc. So you’re looking at people who are extraordinarily invested in the networks and value systems they are part of, and who often lack the ability to critically reflect on them. It’s important to understand that when you’re looking at how these individuals do this evaluative work – there is simply a lot at stake at a highly personal level. This is true elsewhere, of course, but I think the highly conservative nature of musical instruction can be traced back to these dynamics. Grappling with these questions during my PhD was a tremendous relief, as it was the first time that I could critically engage with a system that had been so formative for me. I don’t think I’m alone in writing a PhD that had roots in very personal struggles!

You have joined SASE at a very particular moment. Its first virtual meeting recently took place. How do you foresee SASE's future?
SASE is a unique organization, in that it is highly interdisciplinary and also draws its members equally from around the globe. This is a tremendous strength, but one that must be actively maintained in these times of isolation and lockdowns. I hope that SASE can critically engage with these turbulent times – I’m delighted to see that the theme of the conference in 2021 deals directly with the multi-dimensional COVID-19 crisis. I have been struck by what a strong community SASE is, and how much energy members are willing to put into this organization. I think it has a very bright future, and I plan to help it, in whatever way I can, to remain relevant and critical no matter what coming years hold for us.


Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG)


The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) conducts basic research on the governance of modern societies. It aims to develop an empirically based theory of the social and political foundations of modern economies by investigating the interrelation between economic, social, and political action. Using a variety of approaches and research methods, it examines how markets and business organizations are embedded in historical, institutional, political, and cultural frameworks, how they develop, and how their social contexts change over time. The Institute seeks to build a bridge between theory and policy and to contribute to political debate on major challenges facing modern societies.
The directors of the MPIfG are Professor Lucio Baccaro and Professor Jens Beckert. The MPIfG is one of the largest social science research institutes in Germany – with around sixty researchers including research staff, postdoctoral and visiting researchers, and doctoral students – and works in close collaboration with many leading institutions in Germany and around the world. The MPIfG is also home to the International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy (IMPRS-SPCE), a unique doctoral program run jointly with the Department of Management, Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Cologne and the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

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