John Cage
J-S Bach
John Zorn


Interactionist Sociology

[1] Some casual remarks. Very rudimentary. By way of a footnote. In Susan McClary's Feminine Endings. Music, Gender, and Sexuality, music becomes a cultural field where underlying gender structures need to be uncovered. In Deconstructive Variations. Music and Reason in Western Society, Rose Subotnik reads Chopin's A-Major Prelude, op.28, no.7 against the background of issues concerning personal freedom (cf. Of New Musicology) . Still, this does not necessarily lead to a model of representation that both authors seem to apply. An example of an alternative is given by Peter J. Martin who, in Sounds and Society. Themes in the Sociology of Music, appears to subscribe to the so-called interactionist sociology.

[2] Like most sociologists, Martin starts from the premise that the words, thoughts, and deeds of individual human beings are profoundly influenced by the nature of the social circumstances in which they occur. However, this does not mean that individuals are simply conditioned by the culture of their society. The process of social interaction is one in which meanings are constantly affirmed, modified, abandoned, negotiated, and so on (cf. Martin, p.29). According to Martin, the prime concern of sociologists must be with the interactional processes through which a variety of meanings, and the consequent conflicts, challenges, negotiations, accommodations, disputes may be produced. Taken together, these constitute the social world that provides a context in which the various groups and individuals pursue their interests and that is also a source of the meanings and schemes of interpretation that are available on which they can base their actions.
According to Martin, these interactional processes also determine the significance that is assigned to music at a given time and place. Martin states that musical knowledge is socially derived, transmitted, and approved. A useful approach to musical meaning must focus on this joint interpretive activity by individuals and groups. Music - considered as a given cultural and institutional pattern at a particular time – should not be considered a reflection of society's basic artistic infrastructure, but rather as the temporary outcome of a perpetual process of conflict, competition, negotiation, coercion. Cultural and institutional patterns such as music are considered as perpetually developing in response to new contingencies (cf. Martin, p.163).

[3] This perspective implicates that thinking on music can no longer be centered on a search for correspondences between musical structures and social structures. The general supposition that art 'reflects' society can no longer be sustained; there is no necessary connection, for example, between the form of music and the class structure (cf. Martin, p.164-5). Approvingly, Martin quotes sociologist D.F. Wright who states that music may be defined as expressing 'social' messages of one kind or another. However, this may be understood as a result of the ability or the attempts of some individuals or groups to influence the ways in which the sounds are heard (cf. Martin, p.172). Music is actively and collaboratively produced in specific social contexts; one cannot simply assume that it represents the values of social groups, or that it reproduces their organizational features. The work of critics and theorists must be seen as an integral part of the process through which music is constantly reconstituted. In this sense, styles of music are socially organized. 'The music does not express the essential qualities of any group or individual (though it may believed to do so) but is formed and changed in the constant process through which people sustain, modify, transform and abandon conventions' (Martin, p.171). According to Martin, according to interactionist sociology, this thinking is free of the difficulties encountered by 'reflection' theories that see art as a representation of underlying structural patterns.

[4] It might be clear that Martin's views and those of other interactionist sociologists are opposed to deconstruction and post-structuralist ideas - the central topics of this site - in many ways. It should suffice to mention one briefly. Martin's premise that the words, thoughts, and deeds of individual human beings are profoundly influenced by the nature of the social circumstances in which they occur is far removed from Derrida's 'il n'y a pas hors texte'. The 'transcendental signified' of interactionist sociology, the center that guarantees all meaning and that is itself beyond everything else, seems to be the social or social activities. A metaphysics of presence to which deconstruction opposes. However, it is outside the scope of this site to deal with a deconstruction of interactionist sociology in detail. I let it rest here as this entire page is only a sidetrack, a side-shoot. Nevertheless, it would be beneficial to investigate into possible similarities and complements between interactionist sociology, post-structuralism and deconstruction, particularly with regard to the possibilities of contextualization, decontextualization, and recontextualization by which musical meaning constantly changes. (I enter at length into the possibilities of de- and re-contextualization at (D)(R)econtextualization.) Following naturally from this, the question could be asked as to how, for example, interactionism and dissemination relate to each other.