Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects

By Eric Clarke; Nicholas Cook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Musical Practice and Social Structure:
A Toolkit

Tia DeNora

The sociology of music has a strong empirical tradition, yet retains inspiration from its more philosophically oriented past. For sociologists, especially in recent years as the field has experienced a cultural and interpretative turn, the study of music has been linked to wider questions concerning social structure, stability and change, the interaction between social networks and musical production, the emotions, the body, the study of social movements, identity politics, and organizational ecology. In all these areas, sociologists of music have sought to ground their enquiries through the use of empirical methods designed for the scrutiny of behavioral trends, organizations, and forms of action. In this chapter I take stock of the sociology of music’s “toolkit” and present some of the best-known empirical work within the field. My discussion is organized around two broad areas of study: musical production and musical consumption. To contextualize these topics, and to differentiate the empirical sociology of music from musicology’s growing interest in social constructionism, I begin with a brief sketch of classic, and more overtly theoretical, work in music sociology.


Sociology of Music: The Classic Legacy

The most sociologically ambitious theoretical perspective to be developed during the last century is to be found in the work of T. W. Adorno (1903–1969). Adorno’s perspective is distinguished by its comprehensive vision, and for the central place it accords to music within modern (and, as Adorno perceived, often repressive) culture and social formation.

In contrast to Max Weber’s more formal concern with the origins of musicaltechnical practices specific to the West (Weber 1958), Adorno focused on the question of music’s ideological dimension. In line with classical philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, he pursued the question of music’s ability not only to reflect but also to instigate or reinforce forms of consciousness and social structures. For Adorno, different forms of music were homologous with (structurally parallel to, and thus able to inculcate) cognitive habits, modes of consciousness, and historical developments. As he saw it, music’s compositional processes—its degree of conventionality, the interrelation of musical parts or voices, the arrangement of consonance and dissonance—could serve as means of socialization. This ultimately structuralist notion

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