De Nora, T. 2004. Music in Everyday Life.

De Nora, Tia. 2004. Music in Everyday Life.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cultural difference in use of music – listening versus integral part of life – question relating to consumption and functions of music in cultures. Music as a “dynamic material, a medium for making, sustaining and changing social world and social activities” (x), however not independent of contexts of production, distribution, or consumption.  Music as tensed between empirical and abstract, the personal and the interpreted – music as product has had priority, but seldom music as process or “in action” – how music is used to foster aesthetic scenes, assumptions, events, routines that make up social life and interaction

Ch1 – cultural studies and grand approaches to music

“Culturology” of Berger (1995) – sociology dedicated to ‘reading’ of works/styles for social content.  Artwork analyzed through the lens that art produced culture – associating styles of art with styles of social life, social thought.  Adorno promoted this – music as a link to modes of cognition, habits, histories. Music, to Adorno, had ability to foster critical consciousness, when music was novel and went against tradition – “By avoiding musical cliché, and by preserving dissonance instead of offering musical resolution and gratification, progressive music had the power to challenge cognitive, perceptual and emotional habits associated with the rise of ‘total sociation,’ habits that reinforced, as a matter of reflex, relations of power and administration in ways that made those relations seem natural, inevitable and real” (1-2).  Music as emancipatory – revealing truth-values, true natures of persons, and the recognition of domination. Shortcoming – Adorno notes that music acts as a social force for building consciousness, however does not note a method for studying how this structure-building occurs. And, does the music that is created or consumed in a culture always best reflect that culture’s intents? We  must be able to, also, demonstrate these intermediary links between music and cultural impacts, never presume them. Sociology of music /=/ musicology – musicology as history, context of music and its cultural production. “A viable understanding of a culture requires an understanding of its articulation through music just as much as a viable understanding of music requires an understanding of its place in culture” (Sheperd and Wicke 1997, 34). Music as a transportational metaphor (Cohen 1993). Use to command attention, gesture, define situations, relate dispositions, incite certain behaviors. Use in managing control, consent in unclear or stressful situations.  “At the level of daily life, music has power. It is implicated in every dimension of social agency, as shown through the previous examples. Music may influence how people compose their bodies, how they conduct themselves, how they experience the passage of time, how they feel – in terms of energy and emotion – about themselves, about others, and about situations. In this respect, music may imply and, in some cases, elicit associated modes of conduct. To be in control, then, of the soundtrack of social action is to provide a framework for the organization of social agency, a framework for how people perceive (consciously or subconsciously) potential avenues of conduct. This perception is often converted into conduct per se” (16-17). “If music can affect the shape of social agency, then control over music in social settings is a source of social power; it is an opportunity to structure the parameters of action” (20).


Ch2 – interactionist – is musical affect direct or attributed?

Shortcoming of semiotic interpretations – often explored through assumptions of what meaning is to listeners, rather than being informed by those who are impacted by it—that is, semiotician’s interpretations of music may or may not be representative or in kind to what consumers interpret.  However, interactionist perspectives do focus on the co-construction and co-production of music’s description as meaning, and vice versa. Music used as a framing device, using tonal and musical qualities to communicate and enhance characters, scenarios, emotions. “In this way, music can be understood as providing non-cognitive resources to which actors may orient and that they may mobilize as they engage in interpretive action, as they formulate knowledge and aesthetic stance in real time. It is worth repeating that this process is by no means always conscious” (26). It is possible to describe content or impacts of music, but never content or impacts through the works as they stand alone.  “Music plays a remarkable role in communicating a notion of the ‘character’ or style of emotional expression of a particular people, nationalities, and historical periods.  It has symbolized collective feelings of grief and joy, excitement and despair” (Harris and Sandresky 1985, 296).  “Artefacts, and the scenarios with which they come (through use) to be paired, provide means for enacting scenarios as motivation and opportunity arise” (36). Affordance of objects to social action. Same music as eliciting different reactions based upon human mood, corresponding actions, surrounding circumstance.

“Music’s semiotic powers may, moreover, be ‘stabilized’ through the ways in which they are constituted and reinforced through consumption practice and through patterns of use over time” (DeNora 198 b). 6Clarification of semiotic force comes through contextualization of biographies, assumptions, situations, etc.

Ch3 – how music is used in self construction – tool of identity, memory, emotion

Self and narrative of self is crucial to modern social organization – though music’s relations to the development and construction of self has been sociologically understudied. Music used in social psychological, physiological, and emotional ways – variance based upon facilitating different recognized circumstances – “fundamentally social process of self-structuration, the constitutions and maintenance of the self” (47). The ability to self-select music to correspond to emotional and physiological states – enhancements and alterations of this. Noting of some music as deviant to certain social situations, consumption as a private practice. Aesthetic reflexivity as a means to cope with clash of perspectives – maintaining “a strategy for preserving identity and social boundaries under anonymous and often crowded conditions of existence” (51) – fueled by post-production economies, post-modern existences.

“Under any historical conditions where tension between what an individual ‘must’ do and prefers to do, or between how he or she feels and how he or she wishes to feel, the problem of self-regulation arises and with it, the matter of how individuals negotiate between the poles of necessity and preference, between how they think they ought to feel and how they do feel. It is often unclear whether engaging in the regulatory work aimed at reconciling these tensions (through forms of cultural and aesthetic appropriation) is self-emancipatory or, as Adorno and other critical theorists have suggested (such as Giddens 1991), whether it is party to the ‘prison house’ of advanced capitalism with its reconfiguration of the subject as a ‘good’s desiring’ entity” (52).  Music acting as a simulacrum for behavior/intents – translating reality into the “virtual”. “Music is thus a device with which to configure a space such that it affords some activities – concentration – more than others” (60). “… music’s ‘effects’ come from the ways in which individuals orient to it, how they interpret it and how they place it within their personal musical maps, within the semiotic web of music and extra-musical associations” (61) – this rebels against Adorno’s ideas of having music being the concept and unit of focus, rather than the interaction (not the meaning) of person and music. Identity as situated, as a process, as directed in presentation to others as well as a presentation of self to self through memory/remembering, reflexivity of past experiences, self-accountabilities for images projected to and from self- as a mediator of future identity and action. A means to dramatize life experiences, to augment experience, as a referent to a previous experience.  “Music thus provides parameters – or potential parameters because it has to be meaningfully attended to – for experience constituted in real time” (67). Music as transposed to reflect self, produce self-knowledge, Music as providing material markers of personality – projection of these markers into environment. Choice of music that is “habitable” with disposition and lifestyle.


Ch4 – reflexivity of music and embodiment

Body as constructed, but this diminishes from body’s “is-ness” and situated agencies.  Not just a representation – false dichotomy.  Body as an interactive realm, embodiment as a series of practices, rooted and (re) defined through cultural contexts. Grounded, empirical theorizing of the body to demonstrate agency, action. Movement to music as a series of body gestures – “the autodidactic accumulation of self and gender awareness” (78). Affordance of exosemantic environments – bodily response to external meanings. A source, not force of bodily agency. “Music is an accomplice of body configuration.  It is a technology of body building, a device that affords capacity, motivation, co-ordination, energy and endurance” (102). Not merely as stimulus, but a grounds for organizing action, self-perception.

Ch5 – role of music within social situations, (re)enforcement of social orders

Action-as-practice: more to do with subconscious iterations of habit, routine; less to do with rational “knowing” and decision-making of actors. “Aesthetic materials may provide paradigms and templates for the construction of  non-aesthetic matters, styles of productive activity in the paid workplace, politics, and statecraft, for example” (110).

Intersubjectivity – “presumes interpersonal dialogue and the collaborative production of meaning and cognition” (149).

Co-subjectivity- “where two or more individuals may come to exhibit similar modes of feeling and acting, constituted in relation to extra-personal parameters, such as those provided by musical materials… result of isolated individually reflexive alignments to an environment and its materials” (149).

Gendering of music – relaxing, passive as ‘feminine’,  aggressive male-performers as ‘masculine’ – (see also Walser 1993 and Frith and McRobbie 1990 for additional readings).

Use of (perceived, often high culture) prestigious symbolic capital as a means to situate on borders of usual leisure activities – “prestigious imitation” a la Mauss (Lash and Urry 1994, Mauss 1979, page 101) – music as a means to template uncertain situations, prescribe action and dispositions – but, improper use of this ordering device can cause social discomfort – (acts as a template and an item to fit into the template of situation).

“…the role of expressive action is now expanded in late modern culture.  At the level of practice, identity is now construed as put together in and through a range of identifications with aesthetic materials and representations, perhaps most clearly visible in the consumer realm where shopping is now about much more than a status distinction” (Campbell 1987, Baudrillard 1988, Featherstone et al 1991, Bocock 1993).  Baudrillard’s “I shop, therefore I am.” See more about identity construction and technologically-configured ‘landscapes of power’ in Zukin 1992.

“Clothes have always been carriers of meaning (Davis 1985, Lurie 1992, Mukerji 1994) and key resources for identity work, but their role as resources for identity work varies across age lines (Vincent 1995)” (134).  Young shoppers more likely to make impulse purchases, are targets for experiential/emotional purchases – use of clothing as a representation of membership, expressions of emotion or desire to be something, essential to group membership and group culture. Music as critical for facilitating an environment of consumption – of delineating groups as to who ‘should’ purchase their goods, manipulating moods of employees in hopes of improving ‘emotional work’ a la Hochschild (1983) Distinct integration of music and fashion consumption. Consumer purchases as a means to orient to store aesthetics, perceived group memberships or characteristics, and the agency both imply.


Ch6 – conclusions


Baudrillard, J. 1988. ‘Consumer Society’, in M. Poster (ed.), Jean Baudrillard:: Selected Writings. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Berger, Bennett. 1995. An Essay on Culture. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Bocock, Robert. 1993. Consumption. London: Routledge.

Campbell, Colin. 1987. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. Oxford: Blackwell.

Davis, Fred. 1985. Fashion.New York: The Free Press.

De Nora, Tia. 1986. ‘How is Extra-musical Meaning Possible? Music as a Place and Space for Work’, Sociological Theory 4:84-94.

Featherstone, Mike, Mike Hepworth and Bryan S.Turner (eds.). 1991. The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. London: Sage.

Frith, Simon and Angela McRobbie. 1990 [1978]. ‘Rock and Sexuality’, reprinted in S. Frith and A. Goodwin (eds.), On Record: Pop, Rock and the Written Word, pp. 371–89. London: Routledge.

Harris, Catherine and Clemens Sandresky. 1985. ‘Love and Death in Classical Music: Methodological Problems in Analyzing Human Meanings in Music’, Symbolic Interaction 8:291–310.

Lash, Scott and John Urry. 1994. Economies of Signs and Space. London: Sage.

Lurie, Allison. 1992. The Language of Clothes (2nd edn). London: Bloomsbury.

Mauss, Marcel. 1979 [1934]. ‘Body Techniques’, in his Sociology and Psychology, pp. 95–123. London: Routledge.

Mukerji, Chandra. 1994. ‘Toward a Sociology of Material Culture: Science Studies, Cultural Studies and the Meanings of Things’, in D. Crane (ed.), The Sociology of Culture, pp. 143–62. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shepherd, John and Peter Wicke. 1997. Music and Cultural Theory. Cambridge: Polity

Vincent, John. 1995. Inequality and Old Age. London: University of London Press.

Walser, Robert. 1993. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Hanover, NH:Wesleyan University Press.

Zukin, Sharon. 1992. Landscapes of Power. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.


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