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The Strange Music of Social Life

The Strange Music of Social Life: A Dialogue on Dialogic Sociology

Andrew Abbott
Judith Blau
Diana Crane
Stacy Holman Jones
Shamus Khan
Vanina Leschziner
John Levi Martin
Chris McRae
Marc W. Steinberg
John Chappell Stowe
Edited by Ann Goetting
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Strange Music of Social Life
    Book Description:

    The Strange Music of Social Lifepresents a dialogue on dialogic sociology, explored through the medium of music. Sociologist and composer Michael Mayerfeld Bell presents an argument that both sociology and classical music remain largely in the grip of a nineteenth-century totalizing ambition of prediction and control. He provides the refreshing approach of "strangency" to explain a sociology that tries to understand not only the regularities of social life but also the social conditions in which people do what we do not expect.

    Nine important sociologists and musicians respond-often vigorously-to the conversation Bell initiates by raising pivotal questions.The Strange Music of Social Lifeconcludes with Bell's reply to those responses and offers new insight into sociology and music sociology.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0725-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tuning Up

    • Program Notes
      (pp. 3-12)
      MICHAEL M. BELL, Andrew Abbott, Judith Blau, Diana Crane, Stacy Holman Jones, Shamus Khan, Vanina Leschziner, John Levi Martin, Chris McRae, Marc W. Steinberg and John Chappell Stowe

      On January 2, 2007, an e-mail popped into my in-box from Ann Goetting. “An Invitation,” the subject line read. At the time, Ann was editor of the journalHumanity and Society.She had enjoyed a book of mine about sustainable farmers, which her journal was reviewing. “I just want you to know that I would welcome a submission from you,” she kindly wrote. Sweet.

      A week later I wrote back, “Hey, nice to hear! Thanks. Actually, come to think of it, I may have a piece for you.” I attached the abstract and a draft of a paper I had...

  4. Theme

    • 1 Strange Music: Notes toward a Dialogic Sociology
      (pp. 15-52)

      Call me a sentimentalist, but I love Tchaikovsky’sThe Nutcracker.One of my favorite moments in it is the harp solo that immediately precedes the “Waltz of the Flowers.” Here, a waterfall of lush arpeggios holds the ear back for a moment, building anticipation for the great tune that follows, which I am listening to as I write these lines. This wash of notes is one of the best-known passages of the harp literature. But nevertheless it must be regarded as a musical curiosity—and, as I will come to, a sociological one as well. As everyone knows, the first...

  5. Development

    • 2 Sociologizing the Strange: A Strong Program for a Weak Sociology
      (pp. 55-74)

      In his essay “Strange Music: Notes toward a Dialogic Sociology,” Michael Bell (this volume) echoes a concern about the epistemological foundation of sociology that has been developing over the past few years. Along the lines of Andrew Abbott’s (2007) call for a “lyrical sociology,” Bell proposes a sociology with two attributes: (1) an appreciation of the dimension of social life that is unpredictable and (in his view) therefore unexplainable and (2) an eradication of the detachment between researcher and object of study. Critical of the discipline’s penchant for “total explanation,” Bell suggests a sociology that views its task less as...

    • 3 Stranger Danger: Response to Michael Bell’s “Strange Music”
      (pp. 75-90)

      Michael Bell proposes that modern composition, like modern sociological theory, has low tolerance for being surprised. He argues that making a space for such contrary action—strangency—is related to a more dialogic conception of music and theory. Although his critiques of composition and theory seem justified, it is far from clear (1) that the “actor” in theory is analogous to the “performer” in music or that the theorist is thus parallel to a composer, (2) that allowing performers more freedom in playing does what Bell seems to want, and (3) that sociology can do much with an attention to...

    • 4 A Sisyphean Process? Dialogue on Dialogical Sociology
      (pp. 91-106)

      It is a great pleasure to respond to “Strange Music.” I almost never get to engage a fellow sociologist in a discussion of dialogics and certainly none more astute to the writings of the Bakhtin Circle than Michael Bell. “Strange Music” is vital not only because it raises the profile of dialogics within the field but also because it highlights current critical debates of epistemology and practice (to which other of the respondents to the essay have been quite central).

      Addressivitybeing a key concept in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of speech communication, I would like to respond briefly to a...

    • 5 Growing a Chorus
      (pp. 107-108)

      I may have skipped a beat somewhere, but the idea that sociology aims for explanation seems old-fashioned to me. My sociology aims for revolution. We live in a small and shrinking world with an out-of-control CIA, Pentagon, and president; a reactionary Supreme Court; and greedy CEOs; and we live in a world that faces looming environmental crises. America has the highest rate of incarceration the entire world, ranks at the bottom of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries on its rate infant mortality, and has the highest Gini coefficient on income inequality. We torture prisoners in violation...

    • 6 Why I Like Contemporary Classical Music and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Three Ironies of Michael Bell’s “Strange Music”
      (pp. 109-136)

      I had never heard of classical music’s first principle until I read Michael Bell’s paper (that principle is “Do what you are told”). In fact, as a violinist, what immediately popped into my head as a “first principle” was “Play in tune!” This is exactly what I was told the first time I ever played for the pedagogue Dorothy DeLay (to be more accurate, I was told, “Sugarplum, you need to work on your intonation”). So I started to ask musicians I know—some known, some working on becoming so, and some just working—“What is the first principle of...

    • 7 Response to Michael Bell: Reflections Based on Perspectives from Popular Culture, Fine Arts, and Globalization
      (pp. 137-146)

      Michael Bell’s proposal for a “dialogic sociology” (this volume) is a response to what he perceives to be an obsession in the discipline with “total explanation,” which means that the sociological researcher attempts to develop a comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon using a conceptual apparatus that emphasizes causality, predictability, objectivity, and neutrality. He argues that sociologists are so preoccupied with discovering whether their preconceptions about social life are correct that they do not attempt to understand the social conditions in which people behave in ways that sociologists do not expect.

      Curiously, Bell does not discuss the principal methods that sociologists...

    • 8 A Three-Part Recension
      (pp. 147-168)

      Although I am buried under overdue commitments, the prospect of talking about music as a metaphor for social life is too great a temptation to resist. I still remember my tutor’s bewilderment at my 1967 paper comparing the “Country,” “Road,” and “Town” sections of Henry Fielding’sTom Jonesto the three sections of theSt. Anne Fugue.And I still remember where I was standing four or five years later in Regenstein Library when it occurred to me—as it no doubt occurs to every social scientist musician sooner or later—that harmony and counterpoint were obvious analogues of synchronic...

    • 9 Strange to the Structure: A Dialogue on “Strange Music,” Performance Studies, Jazz Trumpet, and Billie Holiday
      (pp. 169-184)

      I started playing the trumpet almost fi fteen years ago. Eleven of those years were spent studying classical music and the appropriate techniques of the style. I learned how to play by studying with band directors in school bands and with private instructors. I was taught to read music, to blend in with other musicians in an ensemble, and to take direction from a conductor. In other words, I am a classically trained musician. This training always included a focus on instruction and on learning the correct way to play. As Michael Bell points out, “the first principle of classical...

    • 10 Re-creating Music in the Moment: Reflections on Michael Bell’s “Strange Music” and on Musical Performance
      (pp. 185-190)

      I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Michael Bell’s essay “Strange Music: Notes toward a Dialogic Sociology.” I write from a limited perspective but can offer a few observations on Bell’s essay based upon my experience as the harpsichordist of L’Ensemble Portique that presented the premiere performance of Bell’s composition Assumptions. I would also like to include a few comments about the subjects of agency and the creative process, admitting that I am neither a sociologist nor a musicologist.

      In his paper, Professor Bell cites three problems for a conceptualization of purpose for the field of sociology: the problem of...

  6. Coda

    • 11 If You Have All the Answers, You Don’t Have All the Questions
      (pp. 193-232)

      If you have all the answers, you don’t have all the questions.I serve on the board of a nonprofit group, and this little aphorism came to me during a recent meeting. We were discussing the aftermath of an effort by the group that did not turn out as we had expected. Our emotions were mixed. A disheartened mood washed around with the exhilaration of what we had attempted. The world had critiqued us, yes, but we had critiqued the world. We had spoken and had heard back more than the mere resound of our intervention. No echo. No mimicry....

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 233-234)
  8. Index
    (pp. 235-240)