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Songs of the Factory

Songs of the Factory: Pop Music, Culture, and Resistance

Marek Korczynski
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
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    Songs of the Factory
    Book Description:

    InSongs of the Factory, Marek Korczynski examines the role that popular music plays in workers' culture on the factory floor. Reporting on his ethnographic fieldwork in a British factory that manufactures window blinds, Korczynski shows how workers make often-grueling assembly-line work tolerable by permeating their workday with pop music on the radio. The first ethnographic study of musical culture in an industrial workplace,Songs of the Factorydraws on socio-musicology, cultural studies, and sociology of work, combining theoretical development, methodological innovation, and a vitality that brings the musical culture of the factory workers to life.

    Music, Korczynski argues, allows workers both to fulfill their social roles in a regimented industrial environment and to express a sense of resistance to this social order. The author highlights the extensive forms of informal collective resistance within this factory, and argues that the musically informed culture played a key role in sustaining these collective acts of resistance. As well as providing a rich picture of the musical culture and associated forms of resistance in the factory, Korczynski also puts forward new theoretical concepts that have currency in other workplaces and in other rationalized spheres of society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5481-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Music, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Reach Out I’ll Be There: Pop Music, Work, and Society
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is written to dignify this small moment at the start of the working day in a blinds factory. It is written as an analytical celebration of the beauty, strengths, and limitations of the musically informed “Stayin’ Alive” culture that workers in this factory created. It asks, as Small (1998) enjoins us to ask when considering the playing out of music: What is going on here? What does it mean that this person, in this work role, in this factory, in this epoch of the structuring of work organization, turns around and turns on this particular form of broadcasting...

  5. 2 Stayin’ Alive at McTells
    (pp. 23-40)

    In the introductory chapter, I argued that we needed a grounded sense of context to be able to properly understand musical cultures. The aim of this chapter is to give exactly this sense of context. It is a scene-setting chapter in which I outline, first, the nature of McTells, the blinds firm. Next, I turn to give an overview of the people who worked at McTells, of the way in which they regarded their jobs, and of the nature of the “Stayin’ Alive” shop floor culture they created and in which their musical culture was nested. There are also two...

  6. 3 I Got All My Sisters with Me: Music and Community
    (pp. 41-66)

    When Elvis Presley died in 1977, Lester Bangs wrote in theVillage Voicethat Elvis was the last thing that we were all going to agree on, that his was the last music that we would respond to as one. From then on, music would be increasingly fractured and individualized. Each of us would have our individual heroes and reference points. If he were alive and writing today, Bangs might say that each of us has our own individual playlist that we tailor to our individual musical sensibilities. Bangs’s final sentences to his article were: “I won’t bother saying goodbye...

  7. 4 Music, Machines, and Clocks: Songs and the Senses of Alienation
    (pp. 67-92)

    I start the chapter with this quote from Lemert because this chapter, more than any other, relies on insights that I sensed within my position as a worker at McTells. It was through working in the factory that I came to understand how the sweetness, sadness, and, sometimes, the emptiness of the music related directly to the senses of alienation. These were Lemert’s crucial “small things” found within the interweaving patterns of music and alienation.

    A central argument I have already begun to put forward is that workers at McTells created the (musically informed) “Stayin’ Alive” culture primarily as a...

  8. 5 You Can Tell by the Way I Use My Walk: Music as Aid to Work and Critique of Taylorism
    (pp. 93-111)

    This chapter takes seriously Mark Franko’s (2002, 1) argument that “in the context of production, whether industrial or theatrical, choreography constitute[s] an analytic of organization.” Inspired by Joel Dinerstein (2003), I begin the chapter with two famous pieces of choreography taken from films that feature people at work.¹ The scenes have important connections with the two main ways in which workers comported themselves as they enacted the Taylorized labor processes of making blinds. The first scene comes from Charlie Chaplin’sModern Times.

    The assembly line. The line is moving quickly. Chaplin is keeping pace, just. His job is to tighten...

  9. 6 Pop Songs and the Hidden Injuries (and Joys) of Class
    (pp. 112-139)

    Patti Smith wrote “Piss Factory” after a summer doing piece-rate production in a New Jersey factory (O’Brien 1995; Shaw 2008). Her desperate call for music to help her through the day invites some crucial questions. We know about Patti Smith’s feelings about the factory through her own song, but did her fellow workers have songs that spoke to them about their experience of the workplace—probably not songs that they had written but, more likely, songs they heard and that somehow articulated how they felt about the factory? Patti Smith assumes not, for she feels alienated from the rest of...

  10. 7 Collective Resistance on the Shop Floor
    (pp. 140-163)

    In chapters 3–6, I painted a picture of the musicking within the rich “Stayin’ Alive” culture that was lived out by workers on the shop floor at McTells. I have shown how underneath the apparent banality of the pop song on the radio a whole multitude of significant social processes were unfolding. Overall, I have argued that the workers used the pop music at McTells as part of a dialectical culture that enacted the social order even as it expressed a spirit of resistance toward it.

    My industrial sociology and industrial relations background, with its emphasis on acts of...

  11. 8 Dotted Lines on the Shop Floor: Cultural Connections with Collective Resistance
    (pp. 164-189)

    The previous chapter detailed important and widespread forms of collective resistance on the McTells shop floor. It has not been unusual for ethnographic research to uncover collective resistance, but the patterns of resistance at McTells were particularly notable because they occurred without union presence and because they took place in an era of heightened management control of the organization of work. How can we explain such forms of informal collective resistance within a nonunion workplace? And, in particular, what is the link between the musicking “Stayin’ Alive” culture and the collective resistance at McTells? This chapter focuses on these questions....

  12. 9 Conclusion: Pop Music, Culture, and Resistance
    (pp. 190-210)

    Chapter 1 began with the scene of Lana pausing to turn on the radio at the start of the shift. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” came on, and I let Christopher Small ask the deceptively simple question, “What is going on here?”—a question that asks us to look for meanings within everyday, usually unnoticed, musical practices. The close analysis of the textures of the “Stayin’ Alive” culture provided in this book has allowed us to see the deeper social processes unfolding in this scene, the sort of scene that neither industrial sociologists nor musicologists had previously focused on. Lana...

  13. Appendix: An Ethnography of Working and of Musicking
    (pp. 211-214)
  14. References
    (pp. 215-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-223)