Sunday, January 23, 2011

Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the 20th Century

I have just finished reading a book called 'Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the 20th Century'. This was a fascinating look at the intersection between music and the civil rights movement, the student movement and reactions to the Vietnam War. "This book argues... that the collective identity formation that takes place in social movements is a central catalyst of broader changes in values, ideas, and ways of life" [pg 7]. Thus music is seen as a key agent of cultural transformation.

Furthermore, as 'the carrier of (past) traditions music bears images and symbols which help frame (present) reality.' [pg 45] Distinguished from ideology through its open-endedness and need to be interpreted, music is a seen as the glue which helps form identities and create communities. [pg 45 & 98] Speaking of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s they write:

"As the movement developed so too did the music and its functions. The music continued to server as a means of identification, but added other communicative functions as the boycott took its toll and patience waned. Music served as a source and sign of strength, solidarity, and commitment. It helped build bridges between class and status groups, between blacks and white supporters, and between rural and urban, northern and southern blacks. It bridged the gap between leaders and followers, helping to reinforce the notion that all belonged to the same 'beloved' community." [pg 98]

They contend that music itself can be a form of social movement, suggesting that the folk revival of this period in time was itself a distinct community:

"The Movement provided folksingers with more than an audience, it provided content and a sense of mission over and above the commercial. In fact, it helped justify an anti=commercial attitude and foster a sense of authenticity as well as lifestyle, that motivated an interest in folk music as such. What was opposed by both the politicos and the folkies, was the massification of American society, the domination of commercial and military values over American life."[pg 118]

The direct connection between activism and the artists involved in the folk revival produced the folk music social movement. Indeed, it is suggested that without the political upheaval of the time there would have been no folk revival at all [pg 119].

Protest songs have continued, albeit in a minor role, to influence the popular music which came after the 1960s to today [pg 127]. The authors suggest that while the poltical forces have faded away, the music of this time remains as a memory from which new waves of protest are sourced [pg 2].

Further Reading
Ron Eyreman and Andrew Jamison, Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the 20th Century (1998) <>

No comments: