Art worlds and cultural production

This book explores the interface between musicological and sociological approaches to the analysis of music, and in doing so reveals the differing foundations of cultural studies and sociological perspectives more generally. Building on the arguments of his earlier book Sounds and society, the author initially contrasts text-based attempts to develop a ‘social’ analysis of music with sociological studies of musical activities in real cultural and institutional contexts. It is argued that the difficulties encountered by some of the ‘new’ musicologists in their efforts to introduce a social dimension to their work are often a result of their unfamiliarity with contemporary sociological discourse. Just as linguistic studies have moved from a concern with the meaning of words to a focus on how they are used, a sociological perspective directs our attention towards the ways in which the production and reception of music inevitably involve the collaborative activities of real people in particular times and places. The social meanings and significance of music, therefore, cannot be disclosed by analysis of the ‘texts’ alone, but only through the examination of the ways in which music is a constituent part of real social settings. This theme is developed through discussions of music in relation to processes of social stratification, the collaborative activities of improvising musicians, music as language, music as a ‘cultural object’ and music in everyday social situations.

This chapter considers a general movement in which the collective concepts established by the early pioneers of modern sociological thought have been reconsidered in the light of both theoretical critique and empirical results. Max Weber wishes to separate the sociological from other perspectives, and thus to establish its distinctiveness as a rigorous mode of analysis. It may be useful, for example for legal reasons, to treat collectivities such as 'states, associations, business corporations and foundations' as if they were individual persons. The chapter argues that the quest for 'sociological knowledge', the collective concepts which were developed in the early phase of modern sociological thought have been found to be theoretically and empirically problematic. It discusses some of the 'collective concepts' central to the conventional sociological discourse is a reformulation of these in terms of general processes of symbolic representation and of enactment.

in Human agents and social structures
Abstract only

Since the mid-1990s, the distinctiveness of a sociological approach to music has become increasingly apparent. This chapter notes that the primary focus of this specifically sociological ‘gaze’ is a concern with examining the various ways in which music is used in a whole range of social situations, and the consequences of this. Sociologists have, with increasing confidence, investigated the use of music by real people in real situations, thus moving away from a concern with revealing the meaning of musical texts. A sociological concern with the uses of music seeks to return such cultural objects to the social contexts in which they are produced and experienced.

in Music and the sociological gaze

Sociology, like music, is a fragmented field. Just as people attach themselves to ‘old’ and ‘new’ musicological work, so there are old and new sociologies, with the latter tending to reject ‘structural’ explanations in favour of approaches which understand patterns of social organisation as the outcome of collaborative interactional practices. This chapter suggests some of the ways in which the agenda of the sociology of music may differ from that of musicology, but yet make a distinctive contribution to the understanding of musical practices in their cultural contexts.

in Music and the sociological gaze

This chapter suggests that it is somewhat ironic that some of the ‘new’ musicologists have adopted a distinctly ‘old’ version of sociology, in which musical forms somehow articulate or represent ideological formations. Despite their fondness for the ‘social’ analysis of music, the work of the ‘new’ musicologists shows little awareness of the contours of the contemporary sociological landscape. There is much of interest in the revived concern with the ‘social’ analysis of music, but the new musicologists should be aware of the very considerable gap between their work and the discourse of contemporary sociology.

in Music and the sociological gaze

Several sociologists have examined ways in which music may be used by people to assert a certain kind of identity. This chapter considers some implications of this on music and the idea of manipulation. It concludes that, theoretically, the ‘meanings’ of music must be understood as embedded in more general configurations of social activity, and methodologically that ethnographic research, rather than the production of decontextualised ‘readings’, is more likely to elucidate these meanings.

in Music and the sociological gaze

For Bourdieu, there is a close relationship — important to his theory of cultural transmission — between musical taste and a person's position in the socio-economic hierarchy, and it has been argued that this is because styles of music symbolically represent class values. However, this chapter suggests that empirical evidence provides little support for the assumption of a tight class-music nexus. At best, the relationship is much ‘looser’ than is often supposed. The discussion proposes that studies of the ways in which music is used and defined by social groups offer a better way of understanding it than the assumption of a ‘homology’ between them.

in Music and the sociological gaze

This chapter pursues some of the implications of William Weber's contention that although they are related in some ways, social class and musical taste must be considered as ‘quite distinct factors’. It develops this theme through a consideration of some of the historical research into the growth of musical institutions in urban areas since the eighteenth century, with particular reference to the situation in Manchester, often considered to be the world's ‘first industrial city’. Here, the emergence of Charles Hallé's orchestra and its symphonic concerts are not seen as the inevitable outcome of class-based ideology, but as a consequence of the successful promotion of a relatively new discourse of aesthetic appreciation by various ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ and the establishment of a ‘classical’ music art world.

in Music and the sociological gaze

This chapter considers the relevance of the art world perspective to an understanding of jazz improvisation. It draws on Paul Berliner's authoritative research, and uses the career of Charlie Parker as an illustration. It argues that while jazz musicians have made contributions to music in a wide variety of ways, their greatest achievements have been the restoration of improvisation to the mainstream of western musical culture.

in Music and the sociological gaze
Art worlds, improvisation and the language of jazz

This chapter develops the idea that musical improvisation within stylistic contexts can be understood as a kind of natural language — but as such must be seen in social, rather than in individual, terms. Thus approaches which decontextualise individuals and concentrate on their assumed innate capacities, or on their cognitive processing abilities, can get at only a part of the story. Performances are instances of collaborative social practices, not the output of isolated brains. However, much of the ideology and mythology of jazz revolves around the image of the heroic individual struggling to express personal truths within, but against, an environment of uncomprehending conformity.

in Music and the sociological gaze