Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Acting in Concert Part 3

Further to my recent posts about the text Acting in Concert: Music, Community and Political Action Mark Mattern goes on in Chapter 2 to discuss popular music, political action and power.

He starts by outlining three ways in which acting in concert can take place – confrontationally, deliberatively and pragmatically. I am particularly interested in the confrontational form of acting in concert and with respect to this he writes:

A confrontational form of acting in concert occurs when members of one community use musical practices to resist or oppose another community. Music helps assert the claims of the community, which are believed to stand in direction opposition to the claims of others... Community members use this confrontational form of acting in concert to enlist sympathy and support for the claims of their community, to draw attention to their concerns, and to assure that the interests of the community take precedence over the interests of other communities. This form of acting in concert has a potentially positive role to play in a democratic politics as a way of enlisting support for the political agenda of a particular community, for publicizing a political issue, for drawing citizens into active participation in the public life of a community, and for galvanizing action on specific issues [pg 25].

The example that he gives is protest music [pg25]. Here:

there is an implicit effort to create enduring ties among individuals who share commitment to a particular issue or cause. Typically, the intent of protest musicians is to oppose the exploitation and oppression exercised by dominant elites and members of dominant groups. Musicians typically couch their music in confrontational terms that draw sharp distinctions between the perceived forces of right and wrong [pg 26].

The second form of acting in concert uses music as a medium for negotiating differences within a community [pg 28]. Mattern refers to the dialogue of female rap musicians as an example [pg 29].

The third form of acting in concert is the pragmatic form where music is used to promote shared interests and collaborative efforts to address issues [pg 30]. The environmental statements made by Sting are given as one example of this form of acting in concert [pg 31]. He notes however that these forms are not mutually exclusive and that in practice they overlap [pg 31].

These forms of acting in concert take place in a myriad of settings not restricted to town halls or party headquarters on election night but including dance and concert halls and social spaces wherever music is produced and consumed [pg 31 – 32]. They do however share a common element and that is some form of social criticism [pg 32].

Mattern then goes on to explore popular music and power and notes the differences between ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ in the question of how actual social change is produced [pg 32].

Power, like community is a much debated term. A common, although by no means simple or uncontested, distinction is between “power over” and “power to”, referring to a sense of power as domination and constraint on the one hand, and power as a positive capacity on the other hand. Power as domination refers to inegalitarian social relations based on differences of class, gender, race, and ethnicity in which certain individuals or groups control, in varying egrees and ways, other individuals or groups... Power as capacity refers to the skills and resources that enable critical choice and successful action by individuals or groups. Here, power represents the means of overcoming barriers to political participation and democratic change... power as capacity refers to an ability to critically formulate and attain goals [pg 32 -33].

He notes that the psychological function of popular music in which a sense of solidarity and unity is produced does not of itself create social change [pg 33 – 34]. However music can be a powerful tool when connected to the means for social change which include access to votes, money and politicians [pg 36].

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

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