Publication Details

Whelan, A. M. (2014). The morality of the social in critical accounts of popular music. Sociological Research Online: an electronic journal, 19 (2), 1-11.


Talk about music, broadly understood, is commonly conducted and regarded as a neutral or transparent window on its topic. However, both vernacular and formal-analytic scholarly accounts constitute music as morally significant, and in doing so, articulate particular narratives of the social. One such contextual frame of reference for talking about music is presented and described here as 'art vs. commerce'. A close analysis is conducted of a sentence in a recent academic paper (with attention to its conceptual buttressing in antecedent texts), and of the opening of a research interview with a musician, so as to show how contemporary articulations of this framework operate, and to demonstrate that vernacular and sociological forms of such thinking are contiguous, and can be taken as analytical objects in their own right. The intellectual and cultural mechanics of this moral work conducted by the articulation of art vs. commerce are highlighted and evaluated. The argument is not that such forms of talk or writing about music are to be 'cleared out of the way' so that music can finally be attended to, but rather that these forms of talk serve to constitute the fields of meaning within which music is understood.



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