Music Scholarship

Music is inherent in human nature and has played a major role in societal evolution and change.  Music is an important part of social living – whether we intentionally choose our soundtracks or not.  It is part of our creative DNA and exemplifies much of what it means to be human.  Music surrounds us in nature — including the constant pounding of surf, the measured rhythm of rain, howling of the winds, and lovely melodic tunes of song birds.  Research proves that music has enormous impacts on individual, community, and societal well-being and development.

Music is a key element of popular culture, yet one that has proven difficult to study.  During the past two decades social scientists have started to take popular music seriously.  Research is underway in psychology, anthropology, and other disciplines, but so far sociologists have made little contribution.  There is a great need to describe and model how music and society interact.  My research will help build this sub-discipline by looking at the social qualities of popular or folk music.  Some key questions include:  how and what music means to different listeners, as well as the obvious and subtle roles of music in society (e.g., as part of personal and collective identities, a mode of self-expression, and as a spiritual activity).  I will also focus on the influence of technological change, social norms, and public policies on the production, distribution, and consumption of music.

Research indicates those communities that are best able to tap their people’s creativity will be in the forefront relative to economic development.  My own scholarly and musical interests have increasingly focused on the importance of popular music (e.g. folk, rock, and reggae) as a readily accessible, yet poorly understood form of bridging social capital.  My goal is to model how and why certain communities excel in musical creativity and are able to reap other socio-economic benefits from such bridging social capital.  I will pay particular attention to the role of social factors in musical creativity, including: ethnic and cultural diversity; digital democratization of music technology; youth countercultures and the growing generation gap; as well as the important role of political, philosophical, and personal tolerance in fostering individual and community creativity.

Music provides an easy and effective means for unlocking our individual and collective creative potential.  Musical talent is actually more easily accessed and developed than other art forms.  Music also represents what Robert Putnam calls “bridging social capital.”  This notion refers to the associational ties that help create solidarity and empathy among different groups and across lines of social inequality.  Bridging social capital is enhanced by a supportive, open, and tolerant social environment, as well as by a diverse blend of cultural practices.  In fact, music can serve as the vital force that brings communities together and shapes interpersonal interaction.  Ready access to such capital will have important implications for the type and extent of true creativity that a community develops and supports.
The latest trend in community development is to try and foster what Richard Florida calls a “creative economy.”  Communities are courting what has become known as the “creative class.”  This elite group broadly includes artistic types as well as scientists, lawyers, and other knowledge workers.  Society must tap the creativity of our communities to promote development, solve problems, and provide services.  Unfortunately, most of the current approaches to community development actually discourage and disadvantage truly creative individuals and businesses that form a counterculture.  Such “fringe” groups are now recognized as the source of most true innovation (e.g., organic food, eastern spirituality, personal computers, and other now mainstream products).

Research is clear that community context and culture shapes the extent to which individuals and groups are able to express their creative potential.  Richard Florida identifies three key factors to the success of a creative community: technology, talent, and tolerance.  While parts of North Carolina are rich in technology and talent, many parts of the state lag far behind.  However a more serious concern is the widely-recognized lack of tolerance for diversity, deviance, and progressive politics that handicaps the south in general and North Carolina in particular.  When people feel social pressures to conform, their creative spirits shut down.

Popular music has often been a point of conflict among the generations.  We now we realize that music has enormous potential for building connections between generations.  In fact the enduring popularity of bands like the Beatles, Doors, Grateful Dead, and others provide bridging social capital between the generations.  In many ways, today’s youth are asking many of the same questions their parents did in the sixties when this music was created.  Additionally, music and dance are among the few creative pursuits that are widely available to all members of society.

The power of streaming radio shows and music videos can now bring the full potential of technology and talent together for relatively low or even no cost.  Research shows that music is vital for shaping youth values and attitudes.  Music education and appreciation provides a wide range of benefits to people of all ages.  While most research has focused on children and the elderly (who are clearly helped by music therapy), more research is needed about the appreciation and performance of music throughout the life course.

My specific interests involve the role of artistic creativity in community development. In particular, music is recognized as a powerful force for socialization and social change. My research will focus on the role of music in fostering or impeding social change.  I have been conducting research into the role of creativity in promoting economic development and social responsibility for past five years.  This builds on my 25 years experience looking at innovation and social change.  The public and private sectors would benefit greatly from systematic research on ways to encourage more musical creativity within individuals and community.

My work will involve increasing reliance on qualitative data collection, using standard techniques such as: content analysis of documents and cultural artifacts; participant observation at concerts and other counter-cultural gatherings; and interviews with key participants from the social movements of noted above.  My research will also focus on the increasingly important role of the Internet in the creation and distribution of music.  Over the past decade, the power relationships in the music industry have shifted from the music companies and retail outlets to enable direct connections between the actual producers and consumers of music.

My research will pay particular attention to the ways in which community musical collaboration can promote a wide range of benefits for individuals and society.  Methods will include on-line surveys, expert interviews, content analysis, focus groups, and other approaches.  I will focus on publications that will demonstrate the continuity of my work with other social science research into world systems, social problems, social change, and related topics.


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