Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Volume 35

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(25 chapters)
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The coeditors of this special issue – Christopher Schneider, Bryce Merrill, and Robert Gardner – have done a wonderful job updating the growing interest in popular music among symbolic interactionists. Their good work is largely a result of their own status as promising junior scholars – as major players in the bright future of symbolic interaction. They bring three key ingredients to the creative mix before you. First, they are themselves researchers and writers in the area of popular music, with interests ranging from the role of technology in shaping the meaning of popular music to the interplay of community and identity in the popular music experience. Second, they are close to ever-evolving trends and fashions in popular music. This analytical stance fits well with the interactionist tradition of monitoring the everyday life features of social change. Third, they are cognizant of the exciting work engaged in by other junior scholars, several of whom are represented in this special issue.

Music is an important feature of human group life. A wide range of journals, books, and other academic avenues pertaining to the study of music now exist to address its increasing scholarly significance. Although the primary theme in the literature seems to be the description and analysis of the role of music in daily life, the time has come for more theoretical examinations of the way music contributes meaning to individuals and the groups to which they belong (DeNora, 2003). Our goal as editors of this special issue is to apply the symbolic interactionist optic to the sociological study of music. We hope to build upon the earlier interactionist work of scholars such as Kotarba and Vannini (2006) through the concepts of identity, technology, and music communities. In the present section, we explore the relationship of music and identity.

This chapter provides an analysis of the processes of negotiating identity in the production of improvised performance in the jazz rhythm section. I show that, for jazz musicians, identity is an important and complex concern that is managed through the frame of their various role functions. This analysis aims to expand upon symbolic interactionist studies of music and to provide a critique of the “discursive” focus on music in social life.

We report on an ethnographic study of four established music scenes in which Latino music is produced, performed, experienced, and celebrated in Houston, Texas: conjunto, mariachi, salsa, and Latin jazz. This paper builds upon previous work that has examined emergent music scenes in Houston by incorporating three distinctly interactionist concepts – the scene, idioculture, and place – to illustrate established scenes. Our examination demonstrates that authenticity is a distinctly sociological concept, one that provides valuable insight into understanding the meanings that music has for the everyday actor.

Authenticity is an interactionist distinction that is symbolically created and negotiated in everyday life. This paper (1) investigates “underground” country musicians and their definitions of self, including the process of creating accounts and (2) demonstrates the importance of authenticity-based identity work as a symbolically constituted and socially negotiated process. The purpose here is not to celebrate “authentic” country music, but rather to examine how these artists construct and manage the perception of authentic identities and to also demonstrate how authenticity-based identity work serves as a meaningful addition to these artists’ identities.

The ways that individuals interact with and through music have changed dramatically over the past 70 years. The advent of radio, television, and film brought strange and unfamiliar forms of music into the most remote corners of the world (see Peterson, 2004), profoundly transforming the role of music in everyday life and the spaces in which it is consumed. The rise of the Internet in the past 20 years has highlighted an ever-increasing complexity in communication among people interacting in musical spaces. In the process, music subcultures have become less definitive, static, and exclusive; scenes have become increasingly archetypical and symbolic; while music communities have become more situational and recurring. While each concept highlights a different aspect of music-cultural space, it is important and useful to examine how their evolution highlights the relevance of interactionist approaches to the study of music.

I suggest sociality depends on affective encounters between individuals in particular spaces.

Through an ethnography of Melbourne's grindcore death-metal scene, I examine how belonging in a music scene is constituted by scene members’ affective encounters. In particular, I suggest that a “brutal” disposition is necessary for cultivating the affective intensities necessary for experiencing belonging in the scene. Using scene members’ own understandings of “brutal” I shift from iconic representations of “brutality,” common in other metal scenes, toward a brutal affect. Here, brutality is experienced as a set of embodied intensities, difficult to articulate, but crucial to understanding how scene members cultivate belonging – in the grindcore scene, and in scenic spaces.

While authenticity, gender, and genre have all been studied in relation to music, the links between the three are underdeveloped theoretically. Specifically, the ongoing gendered process of constructing authenticity and the role of gendered authenticity in the creation and articulation of new musical genres remain fairly unexplored. In particular, more work is necessary to explain the role of gender in the emergence of new subgenres, in the ongoing maintenance of genre boundaries, and in fans' identity work as they construct “authentic” participation in “underground” scenes. In this paper, we examine genre as a gendered process in the Extreme Metal (EM) music scene, a popular subgenre of heavy metal. We explore several gendered dimensions of the EM genre, including the music (instrumentation, vocal style, lyrics, record covers, merchandise), live performance (gender distribution and arrangement, moshing/dancing, audience/crowd interaction), and embodied genre performance (fashion, hair style, makeup). We conclude by suggesting that the construction of new subgenres is, in part, a process of reestablishing and valorizing masculine traits, denigrating feminine traits, and connecting such traits to authenticity, thereby perpetuating gender inequality and hegemonic masculinities.

This chapter investigates how musicians at jazz jam sessions engage in what I term “aggressive emergence.” In so doing, they introduce novelty, unpredictability and creativity in their spontaneous interactions with other musicians. In order to discuss this emergence, a notion of signs in musical communications as indexes, in the Peircean sense, is developed. To produce emergence in the ongoing development of a jam session performance, musicians must produce signs that index new directions that jazz playing can take, such as different rhythmic or harmonic accompaniments, or changes to the volume at which individuals play their instruments.

Socialization of young virtuosos in the milieu of soloists involves creating and entertaining particular ties. Those ties, which mix the private and professional lives of teacher, student, and parents, offer an interesting avenue for studying socialization. I examine one relationship crucial to the virtuoso's career: the close-knit relationship between teacher and student, and the effect each one has on the career of the other. I define this process as “career coupling,” where those involved build their careers together. I base this analysis on ethnographic research of the careers of elite musicians.

It's a simple idea, really: music has force. In The Mourning Bride, William Congreve famously wrote that music has “charms to soothe a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Just about anyone who's ever listened to music will agree with that. Upbeat songs energize us, and ballads bring us to tears. Music moves us in so many ways – to say nothing of the ways we use music to move people (see the U.S. Marine Corps use of heavy metal music to extract Manuel Noriega from Panama). It's simple, really.

This paper investigates the meaning of sound in social life through participant observation of Experimental Improv and Noise (EIN) collectives in Virginia, United States. Employing a blend of interactionism and musical sociology, this paper is attentive to the sonic practices of EIN, examining how participants construct shared meanings about abstract, or even antimusical, sounds. The ability to construct shared meanings with nonpractitioners shapes the art world of EIN and has relevance for the resources available to EIN. In this way, I show how sonic practices are involved in the formation of the collaborative networks that undergird art worlds. I argue that the creation of shared meanings in interaction can generate new organizational forms as musicians build their own scenes and audiences in the digital age.

The car is a room stimulating particular senses and emotions.(Urry, 2007, p. 127)

This chapter explores practices associated with musical listening within the car. It embraces DeNora's approach to the social study of music in conjunction with symbolic interactionism. I focus on musical elements partnered with social interaction that commonly occur in automobile commuter situations. Music is deployed as an environmental feature of automobile commuting that transforms the physical space of the car into a symbolic social space where those that occupy this context are afforded experiences of comfort and control. I conclude with a discussion of perceptions of public and private dimensions of car travel.

Musical experiences play a formative role in shaping individuals, culture and society. This chapter descriptively analyzes a six-week study abroad program based in Budapest, Hungary that focuses on music, popular culture, and the politics of everyday life. I begin by describing the program's rationale, goals, and objectives. I then provide insight into the program's content as it relates to music's formative role in sociology and learning. Lastly, I discuss the usefulness of Kotarba and Vannini's (2006) special issue of Symbolic Interaction to assist student learning about music in everyday life. I show how the study abroad program focused on the conceptual, methodological, and substantive significance of music practices in everyday life. I also show how including the special issue of Symbolic Interaction with more general scholarship on music, culture, and society, allowed students and me to share an in-depth, collaborative focus on interactionism that would not be so easily achieved in a normal classroom setting. I close by commenting on the program's impact on students’ conceptions of self.

An autoethnographic account is given in order to depict the building of the author's musical subjectivity through the specific modes of cross-generational and peer-to-peer interaction involving material and emotional investments, discursive constraints, and transgressions. The event of discovering the “sound of silence” is brought in contrast to the more encoded experiences of classical music, especially operatic. Emotionally charged musical events and rituals are revisited (narrated) together with accounts of transgressing the boundaries of inherited musical environments and learned patterns of musical appreciation.

Recalling my first experience of racism in the United States, through this autoethnographic performance text, I challenge a black-white binary and attempt to create a space in order for “yellows” to be heard since they are ignored in the binary epistemology, and, at the same time, they are always hierarchized and exploited in the racialized structure. Also, this autoethnographic project critically engages in history from a marginalized space and explores the intersection of my personal story, history, and popular discourse. Disrupting the binary epistemology from a liminal space, this autoethnographic performance project strives to cross the color line and seeks new, emancipatory possibilities.

This paper focuses on the role of myth in group identity maintenance. It begins by looking at the occupational group, but broadens to show how subsociety and the larger society affected the group's identity and actions. Mississippi Delta blues performers’ use of myth serves as the historical example, and this analysis shows how the group reacted to living in a segregated and racist society. Analysis of songs demonstrates how myth can play a role in tying together this subordinated group in society and perpetuate myth. How the blues subculture still employs these myths today is also addressed.

This brief narrative seeks to capture the 12-year relationship between the author and V. LeRoy Nash, who at 94 has been the oldest death row prisoner in the United States since 1996. LeRoy's life includes many killings, and over 71 years in prison, before Johnson and Nash developed this unique father–son love relationship.

Extensive ethnographic research with wives of professional athletes revealed that in certain sport families, the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is among the numerous unique marital and occupational stressors these wives confront in their everyday life. Many wives believe they must compete with their mothers-in-law for their husbands’ attention, love, and support. This chapter makes a case for their use of the intersecting and complementary processes of “control management” and emotion management, which involve a variety of interactional strategies, in maintaining these relationships. Although these self-management processes tend to further entrench the wives in the subordinate status to which they are relegated in this male-dominated occupational world, they learn to skillfully use these processes as they struggle to preserve their marriages, support their husbands’ careers, and maintain a well-defined sense of self.

This paper develops the concept of a futureless past, drawing upon G. H. Mead's theory of the past. The futureless past is distinct from several other familiar conceptualizations, including symbolic reconstruction, anomie, and nostalgia. Specifically, the futureless past represents acknowledgment of prior significance and the co-acknowledgment that whatever has occurred cannot possibly occur again. Drawing upon films such as The Days of Wine and Roses and No Country for Old Men, the paper explores the notion of moving forward in time with recollections of things that have passed, using such passage as boundaries between what should and must occur and what can never occur in order to project or deny a shared future.

This essay registers the intimations of narrative and dialogue I perceive in G. H. Mead's account of social becoming developed in Mind, Self and Society (1934). I examine interrelationships of narrative and dialogic temporality and describe how dialogue and narrative activity potentially shape and reflect social responsibility, creativity, and imagination. I argue that the ongoing communicative achievement of social relationships can embody a dialogue of narratives and a narrative of dialogues (Rawlins, 2009).

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Studies in Symbolic Interaction
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