lena book forum – part 1: people get together and make stuff

Jenn Lena’s new book, Banding Together, takes on a major issue in the sociology of culture – how people organize so that they can make culture. In other words, music, or painting, or poetry, just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. There’s usually a community of people who create the music.

Of course, Jenn Lena isn’t the first to make this observation. Howard Becker has a well known book called “Art Worlds,” which describes the world of visual arts, with its gate keepers and taste makers. However, the sociology of cultural production wasn’t terribly well developed in the years after Becker’s work. During the 1980s and 1990s, “culture” took on a different meaning in sociology. It didn’t mean cultural artifacts, it meant the cognitive aspects of behavior, the shared understandings that guide action and provide meaning to the world.

Still, a number of sociologists did continue plugging away at the question of how people came together to actually make stuff that was artistic or “cultural.” Richard Peterson wrote a highly influential book on the social construction of country music. More recently, we have studies of how artistic organizations persist (see Victoria Johnson’s book on operas) and how networks facilitate artistic work (see Gabriel Rossman’s work).

A follower and co-author of Petersen, Jenn Lena brings this literature to a new point. She asks a very simple, yet surprisingly neglected, question. What are the different ways that people get together to make music?

Here answer is intuitive and important. Music communities tend to take on one of four forms – traditional (e.g., think folk music); commercial; avant-garde; and scene based. These forms can mutate into one another and Jenn spends a lot of time describing how that happens. Each type of music community (“genre” in her words) has it’s own type of organizations and networks.

It’s a rich book that pushes the study of markets and culture in the right direction and I think its models can be extended. Next week, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of music production and talk about how the model might be applied to other examples of cultural production.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:47 am

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  1. […] Previous discussion of Banding Together: Part 1, Bill Roy’s comments, Brayden’s comments […]


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