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Matthew P Unger

Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Matthew P Unger

Intellectual Biography

My research involves drawing on contemporary theory to interpret current conditions of social, aesthetic, and juridical judgment. I have two main research interests: 1) socio-legal studies, legal theory, and archival analysis and 2) sound and music studies, sonic atmospheres, and musical subcultures. 

For my work in law, I'm currently interested in examining narratives of legal beginnings through theories of settler colonialism, biopolitics, new materialism and post-humanism. This work has been supported by SSHRC and FRQ-SC.

I also currently run a collaborative research program titled "Transgressive Sounds and Atmospheres" which works to build a network (international and local) of sonically and musically informed thinkers, develop unique sonic curations, and hold conversations around relevant texts.  This work has been supported through the Centre for Sensory Studies, CISSC, and the Sensing Atmospheres working group. 

My earlier work (and continuing interests) explores social discourses and political apparatuses of criminal accusation that prefigure Canada’s criminal justice system.  I co-edited 2 collections: Accusation: Creating Criminals (UBC Press 2016) and Entryways and Criminalization, (UAP 2019). My work within these texts examines historical and contemporary accusatory practices as a form of forgetfulness that is revealed through deconstructive, hermeneutic, and phenomenological analyses.

My 2016 monograph titled Sound, Symbol, Sociality: The Aesthetics of Extreme Metal Music (Palgrave MacMillan) draws on the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur to understand the intersection of the social, juridical, religious, and political within aesthetic judgment. In this monograph, I examine the cultural dynamics of extreme music subcultures situated within contemporary intellectual debates of meaning and identity.

Teaching activities


I have supervised students with a wide range of interests including criminology, socio-legal studies, metal studies, social and cultural theory and philosophies, sound studies projects, anthropology of sound and music, media and subcultural studies, and more. I am interested in supervising students interested in any of the above topics within cultural studies, social theory, social studies of law and crime, sound subculture and music studies, metal studies, and others. I take supervision seriously and want to help students achieve their best work possible.  

Courses Currently Teaching

SOCI300: Classical Social Theory

SOCI/ANTH 363: Law and Society

SOCI/ANTH 498: Legal Systems/Socio-Legal Theory

SOCI603: Contemporary Social Theory

SOCI 650: Socio-legal Studies 


SingleAuthored Book: Unger, Matthew P. Sound, Symbol, Sociality: The Aesthetics of Extreme Metal Music. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2016.

“It’s about time someone raised the stakes in metal studies! Unger’s book is analytically sophisticated, theoretically adventurous, rigorous, and places the academic study of metal music right where it belongs: the heart of contemporary intellectual debates on meaning and purpose in modern societies.  Drawing inspiration from phenomenology, religious studies, and other unorthodox sources, Unger is unafraid to break with both time worn and newly-ossified conventions in sociology, philosophy, and metal studies itself as he advances his refreshingly original thesis.  This work will no doubt prove highly influential in the global community of metal and allied scholars, now and in the future, and will catch the attention of scholars who may be indifferent to the music but need to hear its message.” (Jeremy Wallach, Professor of Popular Culture and co-editor of “Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy MetalMusic around the World”)

 “This book is a timely and significant contribution to our understanding of the meaning and purpose of sound and music in our social worlds. Unger adds a richly theorized analysis to the debate about transgression in extreme metal.” (Karl Spracklen, Professor of Leisure Studies, Leeds Beckett University, UK)

Edited Collection: Pavlich, George and Matthew P. Unger, Eds. (Under contract UAP Press, TBP 2017) Entryways and Criminalization. University of Alberta Press.

"We cannot hope to reckon with the inequalities of race, class, and gender that the justice system ramifies without thinking about how the process gets started in the first place. This timely, original, and innovative book will spur ongoing conversations, projects, and work in the field."

– Ben Golder, Associate Professor, University of New South Wales

Edited Collection:  Pavlich, George and Matthew P. Unger, Eds. Accusation: Creating Criminals. Vancouver:UBC Press. 2016.

"Moving far beyond the usual laments about over-criminalization and excessive sentences, this fine collection of thought-provoking essays deeply challenges our usual ways of understanding what it is to accuse, and pushes us toward alternative understandings of responsibility, judgment, and crime."

– LindaMeyer, professor of law, Quinnipiac University, and author of The Justice ofMercy

"Accusation responds to a gap in scholarship – namely the neglect of a thorough exploration of accusation from a theoretical, philosophical, and critical angle. By unearthing the narrative, symbolic, ideological, aesthetic, and cultural dimensions of the ideas and practices through which people are accused of crime, it asks important questions about accusation and lights the way for future work, discussion, and debate."

– Karinvan Marle, department head and professor of jurisprudence, University of Pretoria

Journal Articles:

2023.Unger, Matthew P. “Violence, Misrecognition, Place: Legal Envelopment and Colonial Governmentality in the Upper Skeena River, British Columbia, 1888. Social and Legal Studies.

2022. Unger, Matthew P. “Sovereign Images and Contested Jurisdictions: Legal Personhood in BC Colonial Law and through the Writ of Habeas Corpus.” Interrupting the Legal Person. Studies in Law, Politics & Society , Volume 87, Part B - Chapter 5.

2021. Unger, Matthew P. “Winter’s Topography, Law, and the Colonial Legal Imaginary in British Columbia.” Space and Culture, (May 2021).

2019. Unger Matthew P. "Ode à un Dieu mourant: dégradation des symboles chrétiens dans les métal extrêmes" Théologiques 25/2 (2019).

2019. Unger Matthew P. “Ode to a Dying God: Debasement of Christian Symbols in Extreme Metal.” Metal Music Studies. 5/2 (2019).

Select Book Chapters:

2020. Unger, Matthew P. “Extending Law’s Reach: Winter, Accusations, and the Colonial Encounter.” In Seasonal Sociology. Eds. Tonya Davidson and Ondine Park University of Toronto Press. 155-171.

2019. Unger, Matthew P. “Right to Speech: Accusation and Criminal Entryways in the Thomas Poole Murders of 1879.” in Entryways to Criminal Justice: Accusation and Criminalization in Canada. Pavlich, George and Matthew Unger, Eds. University of Alberta Press.

2019. Pavlich, George and Matthew P. Unger. “Introduction.” in Entryways to Criminal Justice: Accusation and Criminalization in Canada. Pavlich, George and Matthew Unger, Eds. University of Alberta Press.

2018. Unger, Matthew P., Jean-Philippe Crete, George Pavlich. “Criminal Entryways in the Writings of Cesare Beccaria.” The Wiley Handbook of the History and Philosophy of Criminology. Ruth Triplett, Ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2016. Unger, Matthew. “The Forgetfulness of Accusation.” In Accusation: Creating Criminals. George Pavlich and Matthew P. Unger, Eds. UBC Press.

2016. Pavlich, George and Matthew P. Unger. “Introduction: Framing Accusation.” In Accusation. George Pavlich and Matthew Unger, Eds. UBC Press.

2015. Unger, Matthew P. “Contingency and the Symbolic Experience of Christian Extreme Metal” in The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities. Suzel Reily and Jonathan Dueck, Eds. Oxford, London: 

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