Music Matters. Materiality, Knowings and Practices in Performing Arts


Perspectives from Cultural Studies

Andrea Glauser

Cultural studies is a diverse field of research with an interdisciplinary orientation at the intersection of art and literary studies, sociology, cultural anthropology, philosophy and history, etc. It provides numerous links for dissertation projects, from both a theoretical and a methodological point of view, to explore music and performing arts as cultural phenomena. The thematic focal points of the structured doctoral program “Music Matters” are closely linked to current debates in cultural studies: For some years now there has been an intensive discussion of questions of materiality, aimed at better understanding and analyzing the meaning of material culture – of objects and artefacts in the broadest sense and the specificity of media and technologies in the context of cultural and social theories (Hicks/Beaudry 2010; Straw 2012; Eßbach 2011; Bennett/Joyce 2010). With regard to music and the performing arts, the increased interest in embodiment, built spaces and architecture is particularly worth highlighting (Born 2013; Cressman 2012; Müller 2016; Oberhaus/Stange 2017). Of central interest in this context are the discussions about what studying material culture means in empirical terms, whereby strategies of (multi-sensorial) ethnography have increasingly come to the fore and been used (Breidenstein et al. 2013; Pink 2015). An important goal of this doctoral program is to generate opportunities for critical reflection on prevalent approaches to materiality such as ANT or New Materialism and their basic assumptions, perspectives and limits (Eagleton 2016; Fox/Alldred 2016; Latour 2007).

There are also numerous connecting points to cultural studies discussions with regard to the question of knowledge or knowings. In some approaches to cultural analysis, the examination of knowledge is quite fundamental. Here, Foucault's studies (1976; 1969) in particular, in which special attention is paid to the relationship between knowledge and power, have to be borne in mind, but this is also true of approaches and research programs such as (sociological) new institutionalism, which focuses on questions of expert knowledge in the study of cultural globalization and isomorphism (Strang/Meyer 1993; Alasuutari 2015). For the examination of music and the performing arts, the classical and more recent contributions to tacit knowledge are likely to be of relevance (Polanyi 1985; Jung 2014; Zembylas/Niederauer 2017), as well as the question of how and in which contexts innovative knowledge is generated at the interfaces between art and science and across disciplinary boundaries (Born 1995; Scott 2010). Last but not least, questions about the accessibility of knowledge in these areas, for example in the context of arts universities, are of key interest.

The relevance of the concept of practices becomes apparent not least in the notion of the “practical turn”. The increased interest in practices across disciplinary boundaries is closely linked to efforts to understand cultural and social life as a performative reality and to overcome dualisms in the form of the distinction between theories of structure versus theories of action or objectivist and subjectivist approaches (Jonas/Littig/Wroblewski 2017; Schatzki 2008). The focus on practices is typically accompanied by a high sensitivity to specific contexts and to the forms of knowledge, dispositions and objects which are characteristic to them. When dealing with questions of music and the performing arts, this focus is relevant, for example, to understand cultural boundaries and practices of social inclusion and exclusion (Zerubavel 1991). As a reference point, Pierre Bourdieu's work on culture and social inequality as well as more recent studies that deepen and expand this focus can be of interest (Bourdieu 1980; Casanova 2007; Hänzi 2013).


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