Introducing July’s theme: Music and Sound

This month’s digital theme is Music and Sound. Music opens up all sorts of tantalising possibilities for sociology. Music – and sound more generally – are also bound up with social arrangements and everyday practices in all sorts of ways. We’re not the first people to think this of course, and sociologists have long explored music, in lots of different ways. However, as befits our manifesto commitment to push at the edges of the discipline, this month our digital content comes from sociologists, as well as music photographers, and record label organisers.

We are thrilled to be publishing a real range of blog posts this month from academics (and others) who responded to our call. From Agata Lisiak’s analysis of Fiona Apple’s new album, to M.F. Campbell’s exploration of communal listening off the dancefloor in the Detroit techno scene, the sounds we take in differ widely. JaQuon Epps’ piece with accompanying images explores rap music as a mental health intervention in African American lives, while Melissa Martin writes on the social world of the orchestra and ableism within it. K V Sybil examines devotion and transgression in Bharani songs, and Alex Skandalis curates a playlist highlighting socio-political aspects of popular music. Finally, Les Back write about the impressive singing voices of W.E.B. DuBois and Max Weber in ‘Singing Sociologists’.

Our Instagram Residency this month is taken on by Richard R. Ross. Ross’s career photographing various music scenes in the US has been rich and varied: from photographing the Ca$h Money Records family in the 1990s, to documenting the contemporary New York experimental music and noise scene. His images capture the intensities of the spaces where music is experienced, and the act of music and sound in the making. Side-stepping the tropes of usual gig-photography, Ross’s images result from his entanglement in the social life of the spaces he photographs. Ross’s residency is introduced by Geng of New York’s PTP, a collective and record label which features many of the artists Ross photographs. Bertelsen reflects on the role of Ross in the scene, and the relationship between his images and the social-sonic spaces they capture. Follow us on thesociologicalreview for all the images; you can support Ross’ new project here.

Each month we make a series of papers from The Sociological Review’s archive which relate to our digital theme free to access. This month, we have gone all the way back to 1909 to bring you ‘Music as a Social Discipline’ by M. E. Robinson. ‘In musical circles,’ Robinson writes, ‘there is a certain tendency to the prevalence of a parochial mind’- we leave it up to you how true this rings over 100 years later. We also bring you Tia DeNora’s 1995 ‘The Musical Composition of Social Reality? Music, Action and Reflexivity’. This paper explores music as an active ingredient in the constitution of lived experience. Finally, Lambros Fatsis’s ‘Policing the Beats: The Criminalisation of UK Drill and Grime Music by the London Metropolitan Police’ from 2019 reveals the discriminatory nature of policing of young Black people who make Drill and Grime music by the London Metropolitan Police as the coercive arm of the British state.

Finally, to complete the content for this month in a musical way, we invited sociology colleagues from different disciplines to make us a “Sociological Playlist”: either a selection of tracks that speaks to their own enquiry, music that they work to, or music that – to them – does the work of sociology. We have seven brilliant playlists to share with you throughout July – from Jack Halberstam, Akwugo Emejulu, Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock, Phil Scraton, Raewyn Connell, and Satnam Virdee. The short texts that accompany some of these playlists, demonstrate that not only do lots of people listen to music while doing sociology, but sociological themes and analyses are evident in the lyrics and similar. We hope you enjoy listening to these as we publish them throughout the month.

With this collection, we have only hoped to graze the surface of sociology’s relationship to music and sound. Whether practices of listening or making music, cultural understandings of ‘music’ as opposed to ‘sound’, or music making as a sociological method, there is much to explore. Until we can be at gigs again, with our bandmates, or browsing freely at our favourite record stores, we hope this collection celebrates the everyday importance of music and sound. In the meantime, we leave you with Professor Shirley Anne Tate’s “sociological recommendations”: Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and Get up Stand Up, of which she said; these songs keep going through my mind and are constant companions at the moment.

We urge you to press play on them now and start your July listening to them.

– The Digital Team

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