Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Colloquy/débat: Theory and Fieldwork

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Colloquy/débat: Theory and Fieldwork

Article excerpt

Editors' Note

To inaugurate this feature, we have asked two prominent Canadian music scholars to respond to the following question:

How do you view the relationship between theory and fieldwork in the work that you do, and how do you see them having an impact upon musicology?

While we present the contributions as separate texts, they both complement each other and interact with each other as a type of dialogue, and should be read as such. We invite responses to the following "Colloquy" contributions in the new "Communications" feature.

My purpose in contributing to the new "Colloquy" section of the Review is to suggest that the recent and welcome emergence of fieldwork as a prominent feature of much current work in my own field of popular music studies has unfortunately deflected attention from an undertaking that characterized the early days of popular music studies as a continuing intellectual tradition in the 1970s: that of developing from within the various protocols of extant cultural theory concepts to explain the meanings, significances, and affects that music as a socially and culturally constituted form of human expression holds for people. This undertaking, and the theoretical questions it raises, remain, I believe, of importance to the future of musicology and its place in the academy.

This does not mean, however, that I am arguing for theory at the expense of fieldwork. It was ethnomusicology-a discipline founded on fieldworktogether, later, with popular music studies and its critical approaches, that was responsible for challenging within academic music the notion of art's "autonomy." Further, it has quite reasonably been argued on more than one occasion that to seek explanations for the meanings, significances, and affects that music holds for people without talking to people about their use and understandings of music is to engage in work that in the end can only be speculative. Both theory and fieldwork are as a consequence implicated in any attempt to understand the processes through which music is constituted as a social and cultural form of human expression and communication for individual people. Acceptance of this dual role for theory and fieldwork does, however, give rise to two questions: the extent and limits of fieldwork, and the possible ways in which the findings of fieldwork might meaningfully connect with the fruits of theoretical speculation.

It has often been held that the research questions that drive the professional lives of scholars are frequently a consequence of biography, both personal and intellectual. The question that has driven my own life as a scholar is that of music's seeming capacity to instill in people experiences of a quite distinctive order.1 I have been intrigued from a quite early age by the character of these experiences and the processes that underwrite them. The question that I cannot leave alone is: "how does it all work?" My current interest in the relations between theory and fieldwork is as a consequence motivated by my own biography, both personal and intellectual.

It is important to my polemic to establish that biography can be thought of as a form of fieldwork underwriting theory. The term "biography" refers to an individual's passage through life. "Biography" in its literary form seeks to make sense of this passage. In the course of this passage, and in the context of a series of possibly quite different circumstances, individuals develop preoccupations, concerns, questions, understandings, and sometimes, even, propositions and answers. As a consequence, and whether we like it or not, people theorize. They develop sets of premises about the worlds in which they live which enable them to negotiate everyday realities on the whole successfully. For the most part, these premises remain pretty much taken for granted. They are "routinized" into the dimmer realms of awareness. Premises do, however, come up for examination, adjustment, and even, on occasion, quite radical rethinking, reformulation, and redeployment when people are faced with the unexpected, the paradoxical, the inequitable, and the immediately unresolvable. …

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