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When 36 people were killed in Oakland, Calif. at a dance party at a warehouse that had been serving as makeshift art studios,  Larisa Mann was furious.

"I knew people there," said the newly appointed assistant professor in the Department of  Media Studies and Production. "It was horrifying. The person on the lease was unconcerned about safety."

For her, the tragedy in December went well beyond personal loss.

It symbolized the difficulty artists outside the cultural mainstream experience in finding suitable places to perform.

Among other things, Mann is a scholar of music outside the mainstream and people who make it.

"It's about understanding how communities that don't have power carve out spaces for themselves where they create a culture that helps them engage society on their own terms," she says.

"Spaces like that are really important….People who are outside the system are vulnerable."

She adds that safety goes beyond the physical: "Police and security guards aren't necessarily 'safe' for these people."

Mann brings an unusual resume to the Media Studies and Production department and the Media and Communication faculty. She holds both a Ph.D. in in jurisprudence and social policy from Berkeley Law and a master's degree from the London School of Economics. She is also a practicing DJ, performing regularly in New York City and touring in the summer to Mexico and Europe.

She has also been a columnist on technology and intellectual property rights, a visiting assistant professor of music business at New York University, and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University on subjects including gender and technology.

At NYU, she helped students run an in-house record label and promotion company.

She has moderated panels on copyright, culture and technology at venues including museums, prisons, community centers as well as in academic settings.


Mann says she is "especially interested in historically marginalized communities' abilities to create autonomous cultural expression -- especially music -- and in the capability of music to generate intimacy and decolonize identity among oppressed people."

She is currently finishing an article on pirate radio (unlicensed broadcasting) in London and writing a book on street parties in Jamaica and "how the urban poor create music that centers on their own experience."

She calls the music "a powerful cultural force that is not welcome in elite spaces."

Geoffrey Baym, chair of the Department of Media Studies and Production, calls Mann "a brilliant interdisciplinary thinker.

"She sees important connections among aspects of our global, mediated society that others might miss," he says. "Because of that, she complements so much of what our department already does while at the same time taking us in exciting new directions."

While she hopes to develop new courses at the school, Mann is currently teaching more traditional offerings in information technology and media criticism.

"It's helping (the students) make sense out of the world we live in…how to critically assess what media means in your life, "she says. …"I want to give them the tools to assess what's happening.

"It's good for people to be critical of media sources, even if it's the New York Times, but what do you put in its place?" she says.

"You have a President for whom the truth doesn't have an important function. There are facts. That's one of the challenges of teaching right now. All my teaching says that it does matter.

"My real hope is that the students come out with a moral core, not just techniques for analyzing but a sense of what matters in the world."

A native of Boston, Mann got her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College.

She divides her time between Brooklyn, where her partner lives, and South Philadelphia, where she lives in the Point Breeze neighborhood.