The musical body : how gender and class are reproduced among young people playing classical music in England

Bull, Anna. 2015. The musical body : how gender and class are reproduced among young people playing classical music in England. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Scholars of western classical music have predominantly studied it as a text and positioned it a site of ‘absolute value’ through which musicians and listeners ‘transcend […] the bodily’ (Johnson 2002). This thesis uses ethnography in order to critique this approach, exploring the experience of young people who participate in classical music ensembles in the south of England. It interrogates the relationship between classical music and the middle classes, asking what classed and gendered dispositions are being (re)produced through this musical practice. The thesis argues that rehearsal processes shape the embodied dispositions of young musicians to cultivate a mode of restraint and gendered control, which is congruent with a particular classed identity. This occurs within a powerful affective group setting, which interpellates participants as subjects of value through the intimate, embodied, non-linguistic call of this music.

This argument is built through four key claims. First, the boundary-drawing which legitimises the protected status of classical music draws on the classed, gendered history of its institutions in the Victorian period. This camouflages the ways in which musical standards of ‘excellence’ are formed socially, in and between certain bodies. Second, this musical practice simultaneously disciplines but also effaces the body. A major theoretical contribution of this thesis is to argue that the dispositions this produces are audible in the aesthetic of the music. Third, an ethic of correction is central to classical music education. Those in less privileged positions capitalise on this as a route towards classed self-improvement, gaining access to a musical world where they find an expressive voice, a strong sense of identity, and a supportive and intimate social scene. Fourth, mediated through sound, the sensuous body acts back against its disciplining to share powerful affective states with others, creating a powerful allegiance to bourgeois social norms and values.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00012299

Keywords:

class, gender, classical music education, youth, body, authority

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology

Date:

30 June 2015

Item ID:

12299

Date Deposited:

22 Jul 2015 14:47

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:11

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/12299

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