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Sociology of popular Culture - Music


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 ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Sociology of popular Culture - Music

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
  • 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

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
  • 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
  • During the late 1960s and 70s music grew to
    become a cultural entity with broader political
  • 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
  • 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

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 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?
  • 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
  • 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

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
  • 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 childrens culture
  • In order to focus on the positive consequences of
    pop music we ought to see as a feature of youth
  • 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
  • Socialization is not one-way, but instead
  • 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 -
  • Children experience popular music also as a way
    of learning about their parents culture.
  • Similarly, adolescents experience music to extend
  • Adults often experience rock n roll to relive
  • Music aids in parenting, especially in bonding
    with children.
  • Music also serves a leisure space and as a tool
    for religious, moral, and historical

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
  • 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 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 work Hochschilds term for the work
    required to manage ones emotions as part of
    their job
  • How is music related to emotions?

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
    worlds 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Protest music cultures work against the status
    quo, claiming their own autonomy from hegemony
    and an ideology based on independent

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
  • 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
  • Art institutions are known by sociologists as
    art worlds.
  • Becker (1982x) defines art worlds as networks
    of people whose cooperative activity, organized
    via their joint knowledge of conventional means
    of doing things, produces 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
  • The success of the show American Idol depends on
    the solidity of many institution on which it
  • 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
  • Is this a case of talent or predictability?

McDonaldization of Music
  • Have you felt like youve 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
  • Music is a business, ? minimizing risk and taking
    the safer bet makes more sense economically
    ?standardized and predictable product of mediocre

  • Music is a form of communication a creation of
  • The formation of polityanother word for
    political communityis grounded in discourse.
  • Discourse is a term referring to the whole of
    communicative exchanges taking place amongst
  • 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
    inclusionthough participationto community.
  • What does wearing your favorite bands t-shirt
    allow for?

Community Dora and children
  • Doras audience is composed primarily of infants,
    toddlers, and other pre-school-aged children and
    young elementary school-aged children girls and
  • The key ingredient of Doras recipe for success
    is repetition the core of ritual.
  • By partaking in Doras rituals children
    participate to the creation of a mediated form of
  • Singing with Dora is a sacred ceremony that
    draws children together in fellowship and
    commonality (Carey 199218).

  • Community is made by people in interaction.
  • As John Dewey (19165) 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

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 ones

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
  • 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
  • A life course is a temporal trajectory of
    individual experiences.
  • It is rather difficult to identify fixed life
  • 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
  • Music provides a set or symbolic resources for
    the definition and reinterpretation of
  • 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
    experiencemarked 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

Self, identity, music, and the life course
  • Adult fans nurture their interest in and
    experience with rocknroll music for two
  • (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 rocknroll current and
    relevant to their lives helps adults grow as
    parents, as spiritual beings, and as friends.

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
  • 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
  • Write down your favorite 5 artists/songs and why
    you like them.