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Faculty Bibliography Highlight: Lisa McCormick

Citation: "Music Sociology in a New Key" in The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The aim of my research is to place music at the center of debates in cultural sociology. I wish to demonstrate that the study of music can engage the theoretical issues at the core of the discipline and, by extension, that the "cultural turn" in the social sciences would be enriched by including non-verbal forms of communication. My most important contribution so far has been the development of a new approach that can take meaning seriously. Through a "performance perspective" I hope to move the sociological study of the arts beyond the current Bourdieuian orthodoxy that has imposed a reductive economistic approach.

"Music Sociology in a New Key," the chapter that I contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology, places the performance perspective in a broader context. After tracing the development of what I call the "production/consumption paradigm," the dominant theoretical framework in the sociology of the music, I develop a critique of its leading proponents. I characterize the existing literature in terms of three categories: those who define music as a text, those who define music as a product, and those who define music as a resource. I include my own work in an emerging fourth category of scholars who are beginning to explore the performative quality of music. The key analytical move here is a reconsideration of music's ontology. While most approaches in the field define music as an object, those who emphasize performance argue that it is better understood as a social action. What distinguishes the performance perspective from other work in this vein is its macro-theoretical orientation.

Handbook chapters are an unusual genre of academic writing. They must be argumentative, and yet they are not held up to the same standards of evidence as peer-reviewed journal articles; they must provide an overview of a field, and yet they must do more than the standard literature review. When I was invited to write this chapter, I took it as a license to be polemical and used my assessment of the existing literature to indicate where I thought the field should be headed. The ideal reader I had in mind was a scholar who was new to the sociology of music, whether it was an undergraduate honing a topic for a senior thesis or an established professor developing a new research interest. While the extensive bibliography was intended to provide a resource in its own right, I believe that my analytical categorization of music (as a text, as a product, as a resource, as performance) will ultimately prove to be the most useful contribution in this chapter.

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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