Bourdieu and the Production and Use of Contemporary Western Popular Music Essay

Submitted By Priscila3
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Bourdieu and the production and use of Contemporary western popular music

“Music is both art and commerce (Mike Byrne), and ‘its meaning inform people, quite profoundly, about who they are’ (Timothy Dowd, 2010).” The socio - philosophic work of Pierre Bourdieu can be understood as a theory of social structures based on key concepts, such as agency, structure, and to further explain the first too, habitus, field and fields of work. His work takes on other major theorists, such as Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, but unlike them, whom each created opposed theories, Bourdieu presents the relations between the two opposed sides, agency and structure, and tries to resolve the dichotomy that exists between them. This social theory can be applied to a range of different fields, such as art, education, sport and music, and its application on the latest one, in particular, can help understand the contemporary production and consumption of music in our western society. Before applying his theory to other fields, a basic understanding of the key concepts that make it is necessary. As Jen Webb states, “Bourdieu insists that practice is always informed by a sense of agency (the ability to understand and control our own actions) but that the possibilities of agency must be understood and contextualized in terms of its relations to the objective structures of a culture (structure)”. Therefore, agency and structure are related, as the capacity we have to make choices and actions will always be molded by the structures of the society we belong to. The key to understanding such relationship is the key concept “habitus” created by Marcel Mauss and re-elaborated by Bourdieu. Bourdieu defines habitus as "the past which survives in the present", "immanent law.... laid down in each agent by his earliest upbringing", "dominated by the earliest experiences" (Bourdieu 1977: 81-83, 87). Habitus can also be described as a “feel for the game”, or a practical sense, or even tacit knowledge. It is a long- lasting “set of dispositions which generates practices and perceptions”, and does not work in a conscious level, but in an oblivious sort of way. “These inherited and circumscribed dispositions engage with objectivated structures which are themselves institutionalized forms of dominant habitus.” (Edwards, 2007). Furthermore, every agent belongs to a field (economic field, political field, cultural field), or what is described as an “area of contestation where struggles for dominance (and capital, whether economic or not) takes place”, and where everyone has the same or similar cultural capital. Within the field is where each of them will act based on their habitus, therefore being able to change the dynamic relations between agents and contributing to the changing of the field’s structure (Bourdieu). Also, it is important to notice that one must “possess the habitus which predisposes one to enter that field” (Bourdieu). In this case, the field we will talk about is music. Music is something that exists in our Western culture since the beginning of civilization. Before the printing press, music was passed on orally, and then through music sheets, and its popularity always depended on the audience and their way of spreading it (from public appearances by popular performers to sing along at home). Since then, in the music industry, there has been a structure inhabited by songwriters, performers, agents, producers, record companies, video producers, music journalists, distributors, promoters, managers, consumers, music retailers, etc. All of them interfere, in some way or another, to the way the music is produced and consumed. The process of creating a song always starts with the songwriter. However, there are many elements that…