Music sociology

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Music sociology is the application and development of sociological theories and methods for researching the social content, the conditions in which the society arises, the reception and social effects of musical phenomena. Music sociology sees itself as a sociology that researches and develops theories in dialogue with other disciplines (e.g. musicology and music education).

The empirical sociology of music in the tradition of Alphons Silbermann is not about the music itself, while his opponent Theodor W. Adorno places the social content of music at the center of his music sociology.

Another branch of music sociology sees itself as an integral part of systematic musicology alongside branches of research such as music psychology , music aesthetics and music ethnology .

In the sociology of music, the field of reference between music and society is examined. The focus is on the structure and function of the institutions relevant to the music industry (e.g. opera, concerts, mass media) and the functions or symbolic meanings of music in different social groups, times and forms of society. In addition, the social class and gender , working conditions and organizational forms of musicians (including composers) or music mediators ( critics , agents and functionaries ), as well as the social composition, behavior and taste of the audience are examined. Research into the social content of music was particularly important to Max Weber and Theodor W. Adorno.

The empirical sociology of music wants to make statements about the reality of social interaction with music. These statements are to be formulated refutably. Some music sociologists who are connected to musicology are different. With the sociology of music you want to provide a differentiated representation through a tangible sociological deciphering of music. Concretely against this point of view is the consideration of the empirical sociology of music. She does not want to trace the deciphering of the musical code back to music-immanent components. She tries to explain different uses in dealing with symbols with the social meaning of the symbol system within a social structure.

Compared to other sciences, the sociology of music is a very young field of work, which is why there is still no comprehensively accepted definition of its approaches and methods. This view is opposed to the working method of the empirical sociology of music. It places its research systematics with regard to the formation of theories on the methodological foundations of empirical sociological research. In doing so, she uses previously known procedures and develops methods for her questions, which in turn are open to other empirical research projects with different questions.

For musicologists, the sociology of music can be pursued as an independent research approach as well as working together with other disciplines, and taking up suggestions from general sociology , cybernetics or behavioral research , for example , bringing it closer to a systematic science. Empirical Sociology however, does not want to move , it is a systematic science in which it is not engaged , and only speculated but test hypotheses against reality. The hope that cybernetics will lead to theoretical progress with explanatory, refutable statements is not seen as justified.

History and themes

In 1921 Max Weber's writings were published in The rational and sociological foundations of music . This text is a montage of notes and ideas that Weber had already written in 1912/13. One year after his death they were trend-setting, because Weber practiced a synthesis of historical and systematic sociology and showed how historically transmitted facts can be questioned for their sociological significance and subjected to a reinterpretation. He went in search of social regularities and the historical context and dared to take a first step towards explaining the specifics of European cultural history. He set a program for the sociology of music relatively early on. It should represent the overall musical and social context. In addition, Max Weber, who is considered a co-founder of German sociology, tried to break the separation of musicological and sociological methods.

The efforts of numerous scientists are aimed at the "ideal of a sociology that can be used in practice", as Alphons Silbermann put it in 1957. The direction of the so-called “critical music sociology”, which suggests a lack of sociological validity in many music-sociological publications of late, turns against this paradigm. Instead, she demands a music-sociological orientation of self-reflection, self-criticism and renewal, as well as a clear structural model with plausible results. With these demands, she remains behind Alphons Silbermann, who, among other conditions, already presupposed this for an empirical sociology in 1958. In contrast to the empirical sociology of music , the critical sociology of music has been very reluctant to present concrete empirical research results over the past 40 years.

The relationship between historical and systematic musicology seemed tense, especially since most representatives of music history felt challenged by the sociology of music and put the sociological point of view aside as an extra-musical one. This is why the sociology of music did not appear in Das Fischer Lexikon in 1957 . Volume 5: Music . Alphons Silbermann consequently found his basic ideas in Das Fischer Lexikon. Volume 10: Sociology presented under the heading of art and states: "Therefore, statements about the work of art itself and its structure remain outside of art-sociological considerations."

The sociology of music arose at the time when an industrial revolution was going through music. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, new technical intermediaries emerged ( records , radio , later television , tape recorders and cassette recorders ) that made it possible to record audio sources and save them sustainably. In addition, it was possible for the first time to produce large numbers of copies of the recordings without suffering too great a loss of quality. The widest audience could be addressed and won over, which gave rise to a gigantic expansion of music production . It was quickly recognized that “fashions” can be artificially created by directing consumption, which follow one another at shorter and shorter notice and thus maximize the profit of the company. The power of music became a cultural and economic power. The technology continued to perfect itself, which brought new production conditions and changed compositional tasks with it. This changed the way the listeners received them. All of this called on musicology to comment, and it should also provide guidance. However, the instruments of classical musicology failed here, which had only been tried and tested historically and could not face the current situation. Only the new sociology of music offered appropriate criteria and was able to help here. The sociology as an empirical science , however, provided no new criteria, but methods of empirical Sociological Research used and can be further developed. In addition, a paradigm and a methodology that are open to new developments.

Even today, education and awareness are among the priority tasks of music sociologists who come from the empirical field, such as Alphons Silbermann. You can e.g. For example, planning data can help those responsible for music programs in particular to respond to listener wishes and needs. However, the sociology of music was and is almost exclusively concerned with dealing with popular light music. Here, too, empirical science is primarily concerned with what people are doing and not what they should be doing. Research therefore gives preference to popular music, as it has a high priority in most people's social life. That gave Theodor W. Adorno , one of the most famous music sociologists of the last century, the reason to set a boundary here in 1958. In his opinion, the sociological interpretation should refer to the great, autonomous music , because it is questionable in simple, regressive, void music, such as the hit song. Even though three years later he recommended to the sociology of music that the distance between large compositions and autonomous music and society should be explained, he sticks to these great compositions as the real objects of the sociology of music. Only the belief that he could interpret high-level music in an appropriate sociological way was lost, and he was disappointed at the fact that the sociology of music could not be established as a new universal musicological discipline.

The industrial revolution in music did not leave its mark on music education either. Michael Alt put it in 1968: "Didactic considerations are always necessary when pedagogy is faced with a new historical situation". The “new historical situation” was undoubtedly given by the above-mentioned revolution, because the real conditions seemed to have changed fundamentally. Here, the sociology of music should "take control of the drawing up of an overall plan for music lessons in all school types" (Linke, p. 507), as a science that faces the given daily problems and also dares to make predictions for the future. This dark vision of science as the ultimate planning and decision-making authority has not become reality in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Different directions

In 1971, Tibor Kneif distinguished two directions in the sociology of music. On the one hand, as a special sociology that relates to society and its manifestation and in this case to the structure and functioning of musical life. On the other hand, it should serve as an auxiliary science of music history and thus contribute to a more thorough understanding of music and music history. Kneif outlines two access options: on the one hand from the social scientist who deals with musical questions, on the other hand from the musicologist who surrenders to social issues and tries to answer questions there.

In addition, there are other access points that can be identified by their respective representatives. Hans Engel , theater conductor and music researcher with professorships in Königsberg and later in Marburg, represented the musicological and music historical approach. This approach was the most firmly established, as it took shape immediately after the first impetus for a sociology of music was given (the publication of Max Weber's “The rational and sociological foundations of music” in 1921). Engel in particular took up the sociology of music at the end of the 1920s and deepened it in over thirty years of continuous research.

The epistemological and culture-critical approach was represented by Theodor W. Adorno. He was a composer and music critic and later became professor of philosophy and sociology in Frankfurt. Kurt Blaukopf was a music writer and later a professor of music sociology at the Vienna Music Academy. He represented the room acoustics and media critical approach. Alphons Silbermann, who after professorships in Sydney and Lausanne became director of the Institute for Mass Media in Cologne in 1969, was a proponent of the empirical approach. These last three approaches established themselves as complementary and competing approaches in the early 1950s, with the competition of the individual directions culminating in the so-called positivism dispute in the late 1960s . This was a general argument about issues of epistemology and proper methodology in the social sciences . Above all Adorno and also Silbermann (so it is assumed) tried to enforce an absolute claim in their direction. Here Adorno had a clear argumentative advantage, since he had already published some writings of a music-sociological nature. Through his committed cultural criticism, he not only helped himself to a certain popularity, but also the sociology of music. The consequences of this widespread impact, which has turned the sociology of music into a fashion science, were uncomfortable for some scholars, and it was feared, among other things, that the sociology of music could become a science for amateurs. This fear may be appropriate for the sociology of music in the context of a critical sociology of music . In an empirical sociology of music , systematic reflection and work combined with a profound knowledge of contemporary methods of empirical research is essential.

Access via sister disciplines

In addition to the special directions, access to the sociology of music can be found via sister disciplines from the field of systematic musicology, which is the most popular path to musicological research. There are seven assignments.

  • The historical musicology leads to Historiosoziologie whose representative, Hans Engel, like for example with the social influences and dependencies in the formation and in the further development of musical genres and forms dealing.
  • The acoustics lead to acoustosociology, which deals with topics such as the "new musical behavior of young people". A well-known representative is the author of the font of the same name, Kurt Blaukopf.
  • The psychology leads to psycho-sociology, according to Albert Wellek is another focus next to the historic and often under the heading of " empirical sociology " is used with its main representatives Alphons Silbermann.
  • Theodor W. Adorno is one of the representatives of musical composition sociology, in which music theory and sociology are assigned. Here an attempt is made to prove sociological facts in the deciphering of music.
  • The aesthetics of music leads to Ästhetosoziologie whose representatives, as Tibor pinch and also Theodor W. Adorno, investigate valid judgment criteria for music.
  • The music pedagogy leads to the sociology of education, which is not applied so far.
  • The ethnosociology of music is a very extensive area . The classification of ethnomusicology and sociology is treated as a separate scientific discipline in the USA .

These assignments are primarily about working with a sister discipline to work out what is common and what separates them in a meaningful way. Another possibility for music-sociological research is to relate all seven subject areas to one another and combine them with one another, thus practicing a “complex music sociology”. In addition, there is the “autonomous sociology of music”, which only examines those topics that are not already dealt with by other sciences.

Sociology as an empirical science, on the other hand, is alien to familial, biological categories. It also does not want a popular approach , but rather a systematic approach. Her concern is not with sisterly, natural relationships in science, but with competing explanatory paradigms with empirical theories, which she can take into account and develop further in her theories.

Current position of the sociology of music

Nowadays music sociology is viewed by musicologists as an independent discipline within systematic musicology. Sociologists, on the other hand, see it as part of sociology, which is about music as an object (especially Max Weber and Theodor W. Adorno) and as an activity.

In the German Society for Sociology (DGS) a working group music sociology was founded in the section cultural sociology .


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  • Alphons Silbermann : What does music live on? The principles of the sociology of music. Bosse, Regensburg 1957.
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Web links

Wikibooks: Max Weber: On the sociology of music  - learning and teaching materials

Individual evidence

  1. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 499.
  2. ^ Kaden: Music Sociology. 2004, col. 1618f.
  3. See Renate Müller: Social conditions of the way young people deal with music. Theoretical and empirical-statistical analysis of music education (= musicology, music education in the Blue Owl. Vol. 5). Verlag Die Blaue Eule, Essen 1990, ISBN 3-89206-373-7 , p. 61 (also: Hamburg, University, dissertation, 1990).
  4. ^ Kaden: Music Sociology. 2004, col. 1618.
  5. ^ Kaden: Music Sociology. 2004, col. 1620.
  6. Cf. Karl-Dieter Opp , Hans J. Hummell: Critique of Sociology (= Problems of Explanation of Social Processes. Vol. 1). Athenäum-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1973, ISBN 3-7610-5869-1 , p. 45.
  7. ^ Kaden: Music Sociology. 2004, col. 1612.
  8. a b Linke: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 502.
  9. ^ Kaden: Music Sociology. 2004, col. 1621f.
  10. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 501.
  11. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 524
  12. a b Alphons Silbermann: What does music live on? The principles of the sociology of music. Bosse, Regensburg 1957
  13. See Renate Müller: Sociocultural Music Education - unreflecting? A response to Vogt's question "Empirical research in music education without the positivism dispute?" In: Zeitschrift für Kritische Musikpädagogik. 2003, p. 4, ( PDF; 29 kB ).
  14. The Fischer Lexicon. Volume 5: Rudolf Stephan (Ed.): Music. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1957.
  15. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 504 f.
  16. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 500.
  17. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, pp. 505f.
  18. quoted from Linke: Musiksoziologie. 1985, p. 507.
  19. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, pp. 507f.
  20. Cf. Erich Honecker : Questions of science and politics in the socialist society. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1972.
  21. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 508.
  22. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 510.
  23. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, p. 511.
  24. Left: Music Sociology. 1985, pp. 511-516.
  25. ^ William G. Roy, Timothy J. Dowd: Music sociological. In: WestEnd. 8th year, issue 1, 2011, ISSN  0942-1378 , pp. 21-49, here pp. 22ff.
  26. Gernot Saalmann: Report of the 1st working conference of the "AG Music Sociology" in the Cultural Sociology Section of the DGS (June 24/25, 2005 University College Bommerholz) , PDF; 110 kB ( Memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /