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Songs of the Factory: Pop Music, Culture, and Resistance

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Having made the case for an ethnographic study of how workers hear and use music, I now turn to connect the topic to bigger questions within industrial sociology, musicology, and cultural studies—questions regarding the nature of popular music in contemporary society, and questions regarding the links between workplace cultures and workplace resistance. In examining these questions, I use Small’s (1998) term “musicking” to denote social practices that involve music. For Small, whenever we are playing music, singing, listening to it, dancing to it, or writing it, we are musicking. Despite the broadness of this concept, so far most writers who have used the concept have tended to follow Small’s lead in focusing on performance as the “primary process” of musicking (113). But there is also a rich potential in seeing musicking in how music is received. Musicking is a term that opens a door into better seeing “music as social life,” to use the phrase of Turino (2008). Musicking as a conceptual lens leads us to focus on the situated meanings of the people who are musicking. As Small puts it (1998, 13), “the act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relationships that the meaning of the act lies.” It is a term that emphasizes the active role of the person who is musicking. It sits well with John Cage’s argument that “most people mistakenly think that when they hear a piece of music that they’re not doing anything but that something’s being done to them. Now this is not true and we must arrange our music, our art, everything ... so that people realize that they themselves are doing it and not that something is being done to them” (quoted in DeNora 2003, 157).

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ethnography; popular music; factory workers; worker rights


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