I. Peddie (Hrsg.): The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class.

Peddie, Ian
London 2020: Bloomsbury
Anzahl Seiten
594 S.
$ 126.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Marco Swiniartzki, Historisches Institut, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

Dedicating a transdisciplinary handbook to the connection between popular music and social inequality is an excellent idea. Due to the diversity of approaches, theories and perspectives in this long-established field of research, a quick and concise overview would be of great help, not only to newcomers to the topic. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class addresses this demand. It promises no less than “the first extensive analysis of the most important themes and concepts in this field” (back cover) as well as impulses for new research.

To reach those ambitious goals, the volume contains 27 chapters written mainly by popular music scholars but also by literary and religious studies scholars, sociologists, media scholars and a few social and cultural historians. The geographical scope is global, and the period covered ranges from the 1920s to the 2010s. Thematically, more than the half of the chapters deal with social class in various music genres. They focus in particular on the reception of music, for example by writers (Bruce Barnhart on LeRoi Jones), by scholars (Chris McDonald on rock music and class), by policy-makers (Hon-Lun Yang on popular music, class, and censorship) or as a part of a “national culture” during political transition (Irena Šentevska on neo-folk music). Other contributions deal with musicians and the question where to locate social class in the authenticity of genres (Timothy Taylor on indie rock), in individual aesthetics (Stan Hawkins and Nina Nielsen on the musician Gaahl) or in local performance practices (Sudiipta Shamalii Dowsett on hip-hop in Cape Town). A third group of contributions is dedicated to “taste cultures” (for example Morten Michelsen on “middlebrow taste”). Beyond that, Rachel Rubin and James Smethurst seek the link between music and social class in labour, while the media aspect of popular music is limited to the contributions of Matthew Ord (“Online Music Discovery Maps”) and Morten Michelsen.

Due to the book’s focus on representation of social class in popular music, individual contributions stand out because they look further into the reciprocities between social change and musical change, thus succeeding in historical contextualisation. Gillian Mitchell does this when she examines the role of class in parental reactions to their children’s musical tastes in Great Britain between 1955 and 1975. Focused on religious musical practice, Sean McCloud exposes the social class as an object of mutual evaluation and offers a brilliant theoretical discussion, while Sergei I. Zhuk spells out the “disco movement’s” implications for communist theory of “proletarian music” and elite-networking between the 1960s and 1990s in Ukraine. David M. Jones, to name another outstanding chapter, connects the genre history of rhythm and blues and soul music with the history of migration and the history of the urban-rural contrast in the USA between 1949 and 1980, revealing the spatial and ethnic aspects of social and cultural change. Jones is not alone in acknowledging the importance of this. Throughout the whole volume, social inequality in its connection to music is recognised as intersectional. All essays are aware of links between class, “race” and gender, but also of generation and place. This complexity makes them highly instructive for further historical research.

To function as a handbook, the collection of essays would have required a more substantial introduction that would have argued the selection of topics, outlined the field of research and sketched an overview of major theories. Peddie’s brief preamble does not do this. Instead, it defends “cultural studies” against an economic class concept without explaining how this is linked to music. The discussion of theoretical approaches also appears limited. Marx, Weber and Bourdieu are referenced, but not the results of subcultural and post-subcultural studies, where correspondences between social inequality and popular music have long been studied. A veritable handbook would also have necessitated a clear, systematic structure that the interchangeable headings, “Methodologies”, “Theoretical Approaches” and “Genres” fail to provide.

Historians may have wished for a chronological order, or at least a thought about the period covered in this book. The absence of temporal reflection suggests that history as a perspective seldom plays a role in popular music studies. The same holds true for regional particularities, which are, in many chapters and the volume overall, as little explored as the historical contexts.

In lieu of a systematic structure, I see the chapters converging to five thematical groups that each have their own way to link popular music with class.

In chapters to a first group, class plays out as protest or resistance, and popular music is said to have provided fans and musicians with a far-reaching political instrument against social inequality. This understanding of popular music is featured in the contributions by Mark LeVine on “African World Music”, by Aileen Dillane and Martin J. Power on “Working-Class British Protest Singers”, by Mara Favoretto on “Argentine and British Rock Music”, and by Cyrus Shahan on “Punk and Social Class” – while the contributions by Rebecca Binns on “Rock against Racism” and by Hon-Lun Yang point to the possibility that political actors may also bring their class background to certain music, thus charging it with resistance.

In a second group, chapters are concerned with class as an element of genre authenticity and examine how social inequality is negotiated in popular music, for example Michelsen’s contribution to the establishment of a middle-class self-confidence of popular music, Shahan on punk, Taylor on indie rock, and McDonalds on rock music. These chapters pursue the ways in which certain social origins became dominant for their “authentic” performance.

A third group of chapters looks at class as an economic instrument. Contributions by Kirsten Zemke on “Women’s Music, #Gayteen, and Lesbian Hip Hop” and Travis Stimeling on country music illustrate that a certain idea of social class can also be constructed by the music industry to generate profits – in these cases by linking “queer music” with the white, wealthy middle class and country music with a white, rural working class. In both instances, large numbers of actual listeners are excluded and the greatest possible proximity between music and social class is established, to the effect that the record industry profits from an “imagined other”.

Chapters to a fourth group make reference to class as a substitute for eroding community: In their instructive contributions to rhythm and blues and soul music and to blues music and African American working-class formation before 1939, David Jones and Roberta Freund Schwartz propose that the combination of music and social class acted as a glue for a community whose cohesion was increasingly eroding due to economic and urban change. The authors thus sketch a perspective that would also be compatible with more recent structural change, namely deindustrialisation, secularisation or new urbanism.

A fifth group would consist of chapters that pursue the dissemination and implementation of music-class nexuses. Alison Butler and Ruth Wright describe the “symbolic violence” in music lessons and conclude that social inequality can also reproduce itself musically. Matthew Ord interprets “digital music maps”, which make every music available, but still extend social boundaries through technical presets. Lijuan Qian claims that sometimes it is musical tastes that show the listeners to which social class they belong. These contributions in particular require historical contextualisation, but they also offer exciting approaches for further research about the question how temporal amalgamations of music and class were stabilised or challenged over time.

In conclusion, the Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music and Social Class contains a great number of insightful case studies that open up a variety of perspectives on the topic. In this way, it is bound to inspire future research, including historical studies. Lacking a substantial introduction and a more prominent, systematic structure, the book is less successful when it comes to its aspiration to provide an overview over central issues and key concepts of class in popular music.

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