Andy Bennett on the cultural sociology of popular music

Today, a quick look at Andy Bennett’s review article from late last year in the Journal of Sociology.  This paper, “Towards a cultural sociology of popular music” [Volume 44(4): 419–432] is an excellent resource for those (like me) looking to get their heads around the historical development of this debate:

… popular music is often quite literally read off by popular music theorists as a mirror of reality – for example, punk is assumed to be the soundtrack of an angry, dispossessed, white working-class youth (Hebdige, 1979), while rap is represented as the voice of an equally angry and dispossessed, inner-city African American youth (Rose, 1994). From such a position, musical texts and the narratives they allegedly bespeak have come to be regarded by many popular music academics as a singularly rich source for the construction of analytical discourses concerning the relationship between music and culture. Other voices that may have entered into this debate, typically those of social actors involved in the production, creation and appropriation of popular music texts, are summarily excluded from consideration. This oversight has often been held up as a point of criticism.

Later, he remarks:

Instructive in relation to the above point is a series of what could be
termed post-cultural turn studies in the sociology of popular music.
Although not abandoning the notion of musical life as a collective and often
politicized practice, these studies nevertheless endeavour to illustrate the
highly nuanced, localized and subjective ways in which music and cultural
practice align in everyday contexts. For example, in her highly important
work on popular music festival culture, Cummings (2006) illustrates how
contemporary youth audiences, while ostensibly a part of particular music
‘scenes’, display a diverse range of ideological positions in relation to the
commodification of the festival scene by organizers and their sponsors.
Moreover, as Cummings observes, such ideological positions have in turn
been picked up on by organizers and sponsors, who have endeavoured to
construct festival spaces in ways that align with the particular sensibilities –
anti-capitalist, environmentalist, and so on – exhibited by festival crowds.

Instructive in relation to the above point is a series of what could be termed post-cultural turn studies in the sociology of popular music. Although not abandoning the notion of musical life as a collective and often politicized practice, these studies nevertheless endeavour to illustrate the highly nuanced, localized and subjective ways in which music and cultural practice align in everyday contexts. For example, in her highly important work on popular music festival culture, Cummings (2006) illustrates how contemporary youth audiences, while ostensibly a part of particular music ‘scenes’, display a diverse range of ideological positions in relation to the commodification of the festival scene by organizers and their sponsors. Moreover, as Cummings observes, such ideological positions have in turn been picked up on by organizers and sponsors, who have endeavoured to construct festival spaces in ways that align with the particular sensibilities – anti-capitalist, environmentalist, and so on – exhibited by festival crowds.

It’s well worth a close read, which is what I will be doing in the next few days or so.

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3 thoughts on “Andy Bennett on the cultural sociology of popular music

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