Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Modes of Relating to Music

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Modes of Relating to Music

Article excerpt


The concept of modes of relating to music is presented, consisting of three conceptual levels and organized into thirteen analytical dimensions that may be operationalized for the purposes of observing empirical situations. It involves closely examining a diversified set of relationships specific to musical practices, in an integrated manner, qualitatively typifying the forms of enjoying them around two poles: the essential and the relational. Although formulated to analyze professional musicians, it is maintained that the concept is also suitable (with adaptations) for the analysis of musical consumptions and other spheres of cultural production (intellectual and artistic).


Sociology, culture, music, musicians


Portugal, the westernmost country in continental Europe, joined the European Union in 1986. In addition to its outlying geographical location, the country lived under an authoritarian regime (Salazarism) for forty years, which had a negative impact on its economic, social and cultural development. Democracy was only established after the 1974 revolution, when the country opened itself up again to the socio-cultural dynamics characteristic of western societies: this included the consumption and playing of music. The country became more open to widespread international musical genres (which we can call pop/rock), and also to the emergence and consolidation of more marginal musical genres (such as jazz). At the same time, musical genres with traditional roots were revitalized, which to a large extent involved new performers taking over the lead. Nonetheless, in comparison with other European countries, we should stress that there is little tradition of the teaching (and playing) of music and that this situation did not change substantially in the wake of the revolution.

This article seeks to present the concept of modes of relating to music, which is the main substantive finding of an original sociological study based on the following line of enquiry: how are life-courses, experiences and aspirations modelled around musical objects and practices?

As this is a potentially universal question, the normal contingencies of a research process led us to concentrate on the sub-universe of professional musicians (composers and performers with a musical career, focusing on their condition of music makers/producers), in order to assess the hypotheses that: a) there are different modes of relating to music; and b) they are connected in a congruous manner to different musical genres. So, on the basis of a typology of musical genres designed to be fairly comprehensive, we interviewed2 24 Portuguese musicians who can be categorised as follows: six in the area of academic music,3 six in pop/rock, six in jazz and six in the field of traditional Portuguese music, which then subdivides into fado (four representatives) and non-fado (two representatives).4

It should be stressed that the construction of the concept of modes of relating to music was deeply based in the analysis of the collected data, involving an intense dialogue between theoretical questions and problems, on the one hand, and observable empirical situations on the other.

Anyway, rather than discuss the data,5 this paper aims to present the concept itself, which is proposed as a theoretical frame to analyse empirical data. We follow the Max Weber (1979) principles regarding conceptual constructs as the ideal type. This also means that the modes of relating to music typified above mustn't be imposed onto empirical reality, but are instead intended to facilitate the observation of this reality. The concept identifies a set of analytical dimensions and establishes parameters for their main values (substantial values) thereby providing a helpful tool to guide the discussion of empirical cases and particularly of the axes around which empirical variability or convergence is generated. Furthermore, we believe that the achieved typology of modes of relating to music provides a very substantial and integrated guide to analyse musical identities. …

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