SEM 2008 Panel: “Techniques of consumption: Rethinking kids and commercial music”

Jenny Woodruff and I have organized a panel children as consumers of pop music for the 2008 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology. It’s called “Techniques of consumption: Rethinking kids and commercial music.” Andrea Emberly will also present a paper, and Charlie Keil has agreed to serve as the discussant. Abstract after the jump.

This panel focuses on the social contexts of children as mass media consumers. Consumerism is a charged topic in contemporary discourse about children, education, and media, with many commentators identifying childhood as a vulnerable position from which to confront an onslaught of marketing cynically targeted at children and their overworked caregivers. While sensitive to the power imbalances inherent in childhood participation in capitalist entertainment, the papers on this panel present ethnographic perspectives on kids’ consumption of commercial music to emphasize situated social practices and complicate narratives of passive reception or active resistance. The “techniques” by which children consume commercial music, whether sharing portable music players at a small rural Vermont public school, incorporating lessons from educational media into their own musical language in South Africa, or integrating elements from hip hop songs in their conversations and activities at a Boys’ and Girls’ Club in North Carolina, are more often directed toward the complex immediacies of local sociability than to the hegemonic forces structured into media texts and commodities. Therefore, we are particularly interested in how practices of commercial music listening shape children’s everyday relationships with peers and adults and position them among interdependent and competing structures of power, including families, schools, communities, nationalities, media networks, and race, gender, and class. Examining the contemporary exigencies of childhood consumption, we find among children an important site from which to reconsider agency, sociability, and context in the everyday life of capitalist culture.

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