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Matthew P Unger

Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Matthew P Unger

Intellectual Biography

Broadly, my research program involves drawing on contemporary theory to interpret current conditions of social, aesthetic, and juridical judgment. I have two main research trajectories: 1) contemporary and historical socio-legal theory and 2) social theoretical analyses of symbols within sound studies and musical subcultures. My research in socio-legal theory focuses on the relationship of accusation to governance. My research on symbols and sound focuses on how symbols change through history, how they interact with social patterns, and how sound and music affect social interactions.  

I examine the 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, (contracted through UAP, TBP 2017). My work within these texts examines contemporary accusatory practices as a form of forgetfulness that is revealed through a deconstructive hermeneutics of the mythological, contingent, historical and discursive aspects within criminal accusation.

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. I showed that what appears to be a set of previously extant symbols might contribute to and constrain our contemporary collective consciousness. Thus, I claimed that 1. symbols of purity and authenticity play a foundational role in our social lives and 2. that in this age, a pressing social and political task is to deconstruct these conceptions. In this monograph, I examine the cultural dynamics of extreme music subcultures situated within contemporary intellectual debates of meaning and identity.

Teaching activities

Courses Currently Teaching

SOCI/ANTH 363: Law and Society

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

SOCI 650: Law and the Irrational


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 insociology, philosophy, and metal studies itself as he advances his refreshinglyoriginal 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. 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 unearthingthe 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 ofPretoria

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

PEER REVIEWED Articles and BOOK Chapters

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. “Contingencyand the Symbolic Experience of Christian Extreme Metal” in The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities. Suzel Reilyand Jonathan Dueck, Eds. Oxford, London: 

2015. Book Review. “Understanding the unthinkable: Beyond the Banality of Evil:Criminology and Genocide (2013).” Theoryand Psychology. 2015, Vol. 25(5) 697 –700.

(Under contract UAP Press,TBP 2017): Unger, Matthew P. “Right to Speech: Accusation and Criminal Entryways in the Thomas Poole Murders of 1879.” in Entryways and Criminalization. Pavlich, George and Matthew Unger,Eds.

(Under contract UAP Press,TBP 2017): Pavlich, George and Matthew P. Unger. “Introduction.” in Entryways and Criminalization. Pavlich, George and Matthew Unger, Eds.

2005. Unger, M.P. “Intersubjectivity, Hermeneutics, and the Production of Knowledge in Qualitative Mennonite Scholarship.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 4(3), Article 4 (2005).

In Process

2017. Unger, Matthew P., Jean-Philippe Crete, George Pavlich. “Beccaria.” The Wiley Handbook of the History and Philosophy of Criminology. Ruth Triplett, Ed. Wiley (contracted 2017). (Invited and submitted)

Unger Matthew P. “Ode to a Dying God: Debasement of Christian Symbols in Extreme Metal” (Invited forspecial issue summer 2017) Théologiques.

Unger, Matthew P. “Winteris Coming: Law, Winter, and the Colonial Encounter.” In Seasonal Sociology. Eds.Tonya Davidson and Ondine Park. (Contracted University of Toronto Press).

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