Varshini Narayanan

Varshini Narayanan
Cohort Year: 2018
Research Interests: fusion; autoethnography; critical race theory; sociolinguistics; South Asian diaspora
Education: BA in Anthropology, Princeton University, 2016; MA in Music, University of Chicago, 2021


My research emphasizes the role of music in the formation and expression of cultural identity. Specifically, I am interested in musics and performances that transgress boundaries of some kind, whether race, language, genre, or nation. I ask how musical performance can set the stage for performances of other kinds — performance in the Austinean sense of actively enacting societal change. My dissertation project, "Sounding the Hyphen: Cross-Cultural Performance in South Asian America," explores the affordances of these border crossings for diasporic practitioners of South Asian music, whose classical and fusion performance practices emerge as critical sites of identity formation and interracial dialogue. I am a lifelong practitioner of Carnatic music and specialize as an accompanist for bharatanatyam, contributing to additional scholarly interests in improvisation and intra-ensemble dynamics as well as the transmission and pedagogy of oral traditions that do not fit neatly into Eurocentric modes of analysis. My work has been published in the Routledge edited volume, Navigating Stylistic Boundaries in the Music History Classroom: Crossover, Exchange, Appropriation (2024).