Friday, February 25, 2011

Acting in Concert Part 1

The most recent book I have read (yes I am in a reading phase at the moment) is a text called ‘Acting in Concert: Music, Community and Political Action’ by Mark Mattern. Of particular relevance to my thesis, Mattern covers some important ground with respect to the meaning of democratic community and by examining its link to popular music and how it builds bridges between individuals by acting as a medium of communication that overrides societal boundaries [pg 7]. This will be a multi post review with the notion of community considered first.

Community represents a theoretical and practical means through which disparate individuals come to recognize and act upon common concerns and interests, negotiate differences, and assert themselves in public arenas. The communities that musicians have helped to form and sustain provide the social basis for political action that would be difficult or impossible among individuals who are not tied together thin this way [pg 4-5]... I argue that popular music can be the social glue for creating and maintaining diverse communities; that these communities support several distinct forms of collective political action including intracommuncal disagreement and debate as well as assertion in external public arenas and that music can increase the capacity, or power, of relatively marginalized people to choose and determine their own fate. [pg 6]

Chapter 1: Popular Music and Community
In the first chapter Mattern seeks to answer the questions: What is Community? How is it tied to popular music? [pg 9] Of particular interest to him is Democratic Community that has freedom and equality as its basic principles [pg 10 & 12].

He starts by noting that there are many different types of community and many differing justifications for it [pg 6]. In establishing what community is, it is necessary to look beyond mere commonalities but it can be very difficult to establish in the abstract [pg 9]. He writes:

[C]ommunities are defined by specific common traits of political identity, political commitment, memory, history tradition, and culture; by variations in their degree of openness; and in their size and scope... I am interested in a specifically democratic concept of community that is consistent with diversity, supports collective political action and a strong form of democracy, and potentially encompasses extensive populations and geographical regions as well as local settings. [pg 9-10]

Here, he writes, community is justified on the basis of the need to take political action and disagreements are worked out in a democratic fashion rather than enabling the pursuit of self interest as a priority [pg 10-11]:

A political conception of community links community to collective action by providing a framework for recognising and acting upon shared interests and for negotiating and contesting divergent interests. Community is here conceived of as a social basis for political action but not as political action per se. It is an “overlapping and intermediate realm between personal and public environments”... The actual work of politics builds upon, but is not the same as, communal life. The Key challenge lies in finding or creating some semblance of unity in diversity that, however temporary, uneven, and slight enables individuals to engage in collective political action to address shared interests and to negotiate divergent ones...[pg 11]

So, community depends on finding common ground from which political action can take place [pg 11]. For a democratic community to be formed there needs to be commitment to freedom and equality, as well as a common political identity, civic skills and disposition that includes a sense of personal and shared responsibility, a common appreciation of their own as well as others rights, self government skills and a desire to serve others as well as themselves [pg 13].

In response to criticism he writes:

Some critics allege that community is only possible in local neighbourhood settings. Implicitly or explicitly, these critics argue that community requires intimate, face-to-face relations to sustain the common bonds of community. Even some defenders of community make this claim. But this view is a mistake that hinges on an implicit assumption about the nature of communication that brings community into being and sustains it... Most political theorists mistakenly reduce communication to speech, while some theorists and critics of community mistakenly reduce the term even further to speech among neighbours... Even local community need not rely entirely on direct personal interactions, given the many forms of communication possible today: not only traditional print and broadcast media such as newspapers and network television but also burgeoning alternative forms such as electronic mail, the Internet, and cable television market tied closely to distinct neighbourhoods, communities, and cities [pg 14].

Further Reading
Mark Mattern, Acting in Concert: Music, Community and Political Action (1998) < > at 24 February 2011

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