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11. Music worlds


The idea of ‘music worlds’ helps us understand music as a complex collaborative process, not just what happens on stage. Image: Grey World. cc15px

The idea of music worlds developed  by Manchester sociologists (Nick Crossley with Wendy Bottero, Siobhan McAndrew, Paul Widdop and Susan O’Shea), builds on Howard Becker’s seminal work on ‘Art Worlds’. Becker views art as ‘collective action’, a collaborative effort involving a complex division of labour and organisational effort (as opposed to the romantic tendency to portray art as the product of a solitary genius). An art world, for Becker, is made up of a network of artists, audiences and various ‘support personnel’ (managers, promoters, engineers, venue owners etc.) – everyone who collaborates in the production of art objects/events. This collaborative network also creates the more enduring social context in which art objects/events co-exist, take on meaning(s) and value, and acquires the status of ‘art’. ‘Collaboration’ is the key term here.

The concept of music worlds focuses on music specifically but also extends Becker’s achievements, highlighting key elements of music worlds to facilitate empirical work. Work at Manchester has identified:

  1. networks
  2. conventions
  3. resources/resource mobilisation
  4. places as key components of music worlds

(and future plans include looking at how ‘body techniques’ might fit in this list).

In addition, the potential for using ‘social network analysis’ to explore music worlds has been explored. Exploiting an ambiguity in the term ‘collective action’, work at Manchester also considers how certain ideas from social movement studies can be used to help to explain the mobilisation and formation of new music worlds. This work is on-going. To date, it has focused on punk and post-punk (drawing on the rich Manchester music scenes) as well as classical, jazz, feminist and folk music worlds.


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  1. […] together with the RSA have explored these ideas recently through a set of projects with a focus on music worlds. In an analysis of the networks of British composers born since 1870, Martin Everett and I find […]

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