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Sociology of popular Culture - Music. Robert Wonser SOC 86 – Fall 2011. Lesson Overview. In this presentation we discuss: The relevance of pop music The sociological imagination Music as a social product The sociological study of pop music Musical meanings as social constructions

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sociology of popular culture music

Sociology of popular Culture - Music

Robert WonserSOC 86 – Fall 2011

lesson overview
Lesson Overview
  • In this presentation we discuss:
  • The relevance of pop music
  • The sociological imagination
  • Music as a social product
  • The sociological study of pop music
  • Musical meanings as social constructions
  • Sociological theory and music cultures
  • The link between music, identity, self, and the life course
  • The concept of self
  • The concept of identity
  • Music as a symbolic resource for biographical work
the relevance of pop music
The relevance of pop music
  • Many/most people commonly experience music in daily lives.
  • Music accompanies us from the wake-up call and our commute, to the beats of campus life and office cubicle culture, not to mention weekend concerts and movie soundtracks.
  • Music comes to us as the product of technological relations, geographic dimensions, historical trends, social classes and their conventions, as well as gender, age-group, ethnicity, and familial, religious, and biographic particulars.
  • Music is not just sound but more importantly a social product as many people are involved with its creation, distribution, and consumption.
  • Music thus connects with important sociological concepts and processes, and many social worlds.

This way you can make that music in your head audible for everyone else!

the sociological study of pop music
The sociological study of pop music
  • Pop music as a social phenomenon is thought to have emerged during the early twentieth century when music became a commodity.
  • Benjamin (1936) referred to this as the age of mechanical reproduction.
  • During the 1950s youth culture as we know it was born.
  • During the late 1960s and ‘70s music grew to become a cultural entity with broader political implications.
  • In the 1970s and ‘80s rock lost some of its critical appeal and became controlled by the entertainment industry.
  • In the fourth moment of the 1980s and ‘90s, sociologists joined other scholarly observers to conceptualize rock ‘n’ roll as culture.
  • The fifth moment is a postmodern one marked by extreme diversification, by doubt over authenticity, by a loss of musical tradition, by a nostalgic and pastiche-like recovery of the past, and by global fusion of styles and blurring of differences.
music as a social product
Music as a social product
  • Sociologists reflect on the links between musical production, distribution, and consumption, and the behaviors, emotions, and thoughts of music fans, the intentions of producers and distributers, the consequences on local and global cultures and social organization and more.
  • As a product it is subject to classifications (e.g. pop vs. classical)
  • Classifications produce meaning: they are practices that create and reinforce differences that we impute to things ourselves
  • Classifications are motivated, and have political consequences
musical meanings as social constructions
Musical meanings as social constructions
  • Social constructionist theories focus on how things become meaningful.
  • Constructionism is an umbrella category for various theories.
  • All these theories focus on “doing,” that is, on practice, action, conduct, behavior, rituals, work, and in the consequences of ideas, values, roles, scripts, language, and norms.
  • Thus a constructionist believes that social realities are made by people acting in accord with (and often in spite of) one another.
  • Constructionists focus on micro-sociological interpretation but also on the criticism of social inequalities.
what is not the case regarding music
What is not the case regarding music
  • What is music?
  • Music generally defined as some sort of pattern of organized sounds, deliberately created in order to produce certain effects (Martin 1995)
  • It has been argued that we understand music because its meaning is inherent within it and is communicated to us through our ears
  • The sociologist of music is not concerned to establish the ‘true’ meaning of a piece of music, but instead what people believe it to mean, for it is these meanings that will influence their responses to it
music as a social problem
Music as a social problem?
  • Pop music has often been singled out as a negative influence on children, and a cause of social problems
  • Social problems are the outcome of negotiation and advocacy processes known as social problem work
  • “Social problems are what people think they are and of conditions are not defined as social problems by the people involved in them, they are not problems to those people” (Fuller and Myers 1940: 320)
  • Moral entrepreneurs such as the Parents Music Resource Center have done a great deal of work to point to popular music as a social problem
  • Moral entrepreneurs are individuals who work toward the definition and enforcement of moral values.
does music cause deviance
Does Music cause Deviance?
  • Ozzy, Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Rap?
  • Music listening does not cause deviance
  • Rather, music plays an important role within a culture of deviance
  • Is deviance ever glorified within musical cultures?
  • What kinds of deviant acts are typically associated with which musical countercultures?
  • How has the link between different musical cultures and deviance changed over time?
pop music as a feature of children s culture
Pop music as a feature of children’s culture
  • In order to focus on the positive consequences of pop music we ought to see as a feature of youth culture
  • Music plays several functions throughout socialization, including:
    • Bridging generational values
    • Integrating families by solidifying bonds
    • The making of new family roles
music as a tool for reciprocal socialization
Music as a tool for reciprocal socialization
  • Socialization is not one-way, but instead reciprocal
  • Family members socialize one another into multiple roles. This is a form of role-making.
  • A role is a part an individual plays within a social setting.
  • Music is a powerful tool for role-making and an important component of youth culture.
music as a tool for reciprocal socialization continued
Music as a tool for reciprocal socialization - continued
  • Children experience popular music also as a way of learning about their parents’ culture.
  • Similarly, adolescents experience music to extend childhood.
  • Adults often experience rock ‘n’ roll to relive childhood.
  • Music aids in parenting, especially in bonding with children.
  • Music also serves a leisure space and as a tool for religious, moral, and historical socialization.
music is a socializing force
Music is a Socializing Force
  • Music is not a direct cause of social problems, but a socialization agent.
  • In what ways has music served, and is music playing a factor in your socialization?
  • Has music ever served as a tool for bonding in your family?
  • In what social contexts do you see popular music as a potential source of social problems?
conspicuous consumption the case of hot topic
Conspicuous consumption: the case of Hot Topic
  • Music-related merchandise has grown massively in volume and choice.
  • The chain store Hot Topic has a vast catalogue: a system of commodities available for the presentation of the musical self.
  • In purchasing these commodities many customers are arguably more interested in impression management than authenticity.
music as a commercial technology
Music as a commercial technology
  • Music is used in a variety of contexts, for a great variety of functions.
  • When we understand music as a means to an end we can conceptualize it as a form of technology.
  • In this sense, music is often used for the commercialization of human feelings.
  • Emotion workHochschild’s term for the work required to manage one’s emotions as part of their job
    • How is music related to emotions?
music as a commercial technology the case of holiday music
Music as a commercial technology: the case of holiday music
  • Holiday music is a big business.
  • Music serves well the purpose of creating a holiday ambiance.
  • This contributes at least in part to the maintenance of public order and the growth of the world’s economy.
  • Yet Christmas music is not the only type of commercial “functional” music.
  • Consider wedding music, workout music, store muzaak, etc.
  • The link between music and the market in inevitable in a capitalist society.
  • In such a system, can indie music exist? And if so, can it survive?
  • Is conspicuous consumption everything, or is authentic expression of musical identities possible?
  • Can you think of other ways in which music serves as a commercial technology?
  • A simple definition views ideology as a set of ideas, values, beliefs, and ideals about something.
  • Ideologies are created by people, yet not all agree with a particular ideology.
  • Ideologies are powerful because they legitimize behavior and become reified.
  • Ideologies are supported through forceful and symbolic means.
  • When people faithfully believe in an ideology supported by an alliance of powerful groups in charge of the status quo we have a condition called hegemony.
  • Mainstream music culture is an example of hegemony.
  • Protest music cultures work against the status quo, claiming their own autonomy from hegemony and an ideology based on independent authenticity.
ideology the case of constellation records
Ideology: The case of constellation Records
  • Constellation records attempts to produce authentic indie rock:
  • One way of doing so is by rejecting technologies of mass reproduction.
  • Constellation also attempts to avoid mass-scale distribution.
  • Through their music, instrumental sounds, and lyrics, GYBE and other Constellation bands are also outspokenly critical of commodified and standardized musical and political expression typical of post-industrial neo-liberal society.
  • But is counter-hegemonic authenticity possible?
  • To understand what institution means think of an institution as custom and an institution as recognized social organization.
  • No matter how original a form of art may be, it has to deal with institutional gatekeepers of art institutions.
  • Art institutions are known by sociologists as “art worlds.”
  • Becker (1982:x) defines art worlds as “network[s] of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produce[s] the kind of art works that art world is known for.”
  • Institutionalization may makes life difficult for original expression, but it also allows for familiar and customary performances to register more easily with audiences
institution american idol
Institution: American Idol
  • The success of the show American Idol depends on the solidity of many institution on which it depends.
  • The American idol contest resembles the US presidential election process.
  • American Idol is grounded in the instrumental rationality typical of an advanced market-based democratic bureaucracy.
  • American Idol can also be said to be a case of McDonaldization of popular music talent.
  • Like presidential candidates American Idol winners hope to appeal to a large mass, by offending the taste of as few audiences as possible.
  • Is this a case of talent or predictability?
mcdonaldization of music
McDonaldization of Music
  • Have you felt like you’ve heard a song before on your first hearing of it?
  • The principles of the fast food industry come to dominate social life
    • Predictability
    • Calculability
    • Efficiency
    • Control through non-human technology
  • McDonalization reduces the risks inherent in creativity
  • Music is a business,  minimizing risk and taking the safer bet makes more sense economically standardized and predictable product of mediocre quality
  • Music is a form of communication: a creation of community.
  • The formation of polity—another word for political community—is grounded in discourse.
  • Discourse is a term referring to the whole of communicative exchanges taking place amongst people.
  • Discourse is not only made of talk and words, but also musical sounds.
  • Music is effective in producing both a sense of self and identity as well as a sense of communal inclusion—though participation—to community.
  • What does wearing your favorite bands t-shirt allow for?
community dora and children
Community: Dora and children
  • Dora’s audience is composed primarily of infants, toddlers, and other pre-school-aged children and young elementary school-aged children; girls and boys.
  • The key ingredient of Dora’s recipe for success is repetition: the core of ritual.
  • By partaking in Dora’s rituals children participate to the creation of a mediated form of fellowship.
  • Singing with Dora is a “sacred ceremony that draws [children] together in fellowship and commonality” (Carey 1992:18).
  • Community is made by people in interaction.
  • As John Dewey (1916:5) explained “society exists not only by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly be said to exist in transmission, in communication.”
  • What role do ideologies of technological reproduction and performance play in different musical genres?
  • In what other ways is American Idol/Canadian Idol truly American/Canadian?
  • What other musical rituals are at the center of community-formation?
music and the self
Music and the Self
  • Genetic factors play only a minimal role in the psychosocial development of a person
  • Our socialization takes place instead through various interactions throughout the life course
  • Music plays an important factor throughout the life course for self and identity development, as well as an anchor for telling the story of one’s self
the self
The self
  • The self is an important factor in cultural sociology because it highlights human agency
  • Agency can be understood as human will and the meaningfulness of being
  • The self comes into being through reflection
  • The self is a process of being a subject and an object of human action
  • The subject, or knower, is referred to as the “I”
  • The object, or known, is referred to as the “me”
  • The self is a process, and identities are shapes the process takes throughout the life course.
  • Identities are therefore typifications of the self
  • A social identity is assigned to an individual by other people
  • A personal identity is constructed by an individual in relation to how he/she views him/herself in relation to others
  • A situational identity is a momentary identity which changes from social setting to setting
the life course
The life course
  • A life course is a temporal trajectory of individual experiences.
  • It is rather difficult to identify fixed life stages.
  • Interactionists examine how individuals assign meanings to their progression through life:
  • Holstein and Gubrium (2003: 836) write that: “(1) age and life stages, like any temporal categories, can carry multiple meanings; (2) those meanings emerge from social interaction; and (3) the meanings of age and the course of life are refined and reinterpreted in light of the prevailing social definitions of situations that bear on experience through time.”
  • The life course is therefore about the becoming of self.
the becoming of self
The becoming of self
  • Music provides a set or symbolic resources for the definition and reinterpretation of identities.
  • In other words through music we continuously self ourselves into being.
  • For existential sociologists the self can be seen “as a unique experience of being within the context of contemporary social conditions, an experience…marked by an incessant sense of becoming and an active participation in social change” (Kotarba 1984, p. 223).
  • Middle-aged North Americans work with a self built to some degree on the meanings provided by rock’n’roll
self identity music and the life course
Self, identity, music, and the life course
  • Adult fans nurture their interest in and experience with rock’n’roll music for two reasons:
  • (1) keeping up with the music and the culture that were so important to them when growing up helps them maintain continuity with the past and thus solidifies the sense of self security.
  • (2) working hard to keep rock’n’roll current and relevant to their lives helps adults grow as parents, as spiritual beings, and as friends.
experiences of self
Experiences of self
  • Experience of self, in relation to music, common in the lives of baby boomers show that;
  • Musical resources for self-construction are increasingly available through electronic media
  • Music serves to shape and convey feelings of love and intimacy
  • Music facilitates parenting
  • Music serves as tool for the moral development and political involvement of self
discussion exercise
Discussion / Exercise
  • Music serves an important function in biographic work and the development of self and identity
  • How important is music in the lives of adult figures you know?
  • How do musical tastes change throughout the life course?
  • Write down your favorite 5 artists/songs and why you like them.