Anthropology of Music Lecture Series

2018 - Valuing Music

Lecture Series (June 27-29)

This year, we will focus on the topic of Valuing Music, and are therefore glad to welcome Timothy Taylor, professor of ethnomusicology and musicology at the University of Los Angeles (UCLA). In a series of three public lectures held on three subsequent days, Timothy Tayler will explore questions of value with respect to music as a form of cultural production. Questions of value have concerned anthropologists for generations. However, only recently there have been concerted attempts to try to formulate a more general theory of value that can encompass both Marx’s and Mauss’s seminal writings. Linking up to this recent work—by David Graeber, Michael Lambek, Fred Myers, Anna Tsing, and others—the lectures explore questions of value with respect to music as a form of cultural production.

Capitalist and Paracapitalist Value of Cultural Goods

Wednesday June 27, 6 pm, Forum 7, HS 13

It is usually assumed that practices and ideological structures such as flamboyance and showmanship in performance, or the attitude held by artists characterized by Bourdieu as “the economic world reversed,” or various conceptions of authenticity, are epiphenomenal, distinct from either the aesthetic value or the economic value of cultural goods. Drawing on David Harvey’s claim that capitalism disciplines other forms of the production of value, this presentation asserts that such ideological structures are in fact disguised and stockpiled forms of capitalist value. The argument is that one of the ways that capitalism operates, at least in the realm of cultural goods, is by disciplining, or creating, forms of value that exist alongside it; they are forms of value that might be culturally viewed as something other than capitalist forms but actually are part of capitalism, disguised and stored forms of capitalist value that I call “paracapitalist.” Three case studies help make this argument: the rise of the virtuoso in western Europe in the late eighteen-early nineteenth centuries as a new social personality, giving profit-oriented concerts managed by concert agents; the history of provenance in the visual arts; and the process of designating a local cultural practice as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which shows how bureaucracies create a form of value that becomes linked to the value of traditional cultural practices but is also stored form of capitalist value—paracapitalist.

Musical Performance as a Medium of Value

Thursday June 28, 6 pm, Forum 7, HS 13

This presentation is an attempt to theorize musical performances as media of value. Drawing on anthropological theories of value, mainly from Terence Turner and David Graeber, this paper argues that musical performances, and those that are caught up in broader contexts such as festivals, rituals, or ceremonies, play important roles in realizing, consummating, establishing, or reinforcing values held by those communities that engage in such performances. I define performance as something that takes place with an audience and that is something that is culturally and socially understood as a performance. Value is built up privately in preparations for performances, but is only realized or consummated in the moment of performance with the presence and interaction of audience members.

Circulation, Value, and Exchange in the Movement of Music

Friday June 29, 6 pm, Forum 7, HS 15

This presentation is an attempt to move beyond the common metaphor of “flows” to describe how music moves in an era commonly thought of as globalized. “Circulation” seems to be a term in frequent usage these days, referring to people as well as goods, an idea has a long history going back to Marxist ideas about the movement of money and is still useful with respect to cultural goods such as music. Drawing on Marx and anthropologists who have studied value and exchange, this paper argues that things circulate because they have value, and circulation therefore manifests as constant exchanges—of time, money, goods, and more—that constantly (re)make social life and relations. Radio serves as a case study in this paper, especially as it plays an important role in the indie rock scene in southern California. Returning to classic theories of the audience as commodity from Dallas Smythe, which are still useful if released from a strict Marxian framework into broader conceptualizations of value, I argue that Smythe’s conception is predicated in the idea of exchange, and that Smythe’s insights can be extended and updated from radio and other broadcast media to the circulation of digital media today.

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